Archive for the ‘New Testament’ Category

Should Baptism be a Prerequisite for Church Membership (and other issues in Acts 2)

Much of what is recorded in Acts is historical narrative, describing many (literal) events that happened during the beginning of the Church Age.  It is essential that one understands the difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of Scripture.  Failure to heed this warning can lead to many misapplications of the Biblical text.  The book of Acts is primarily filled with Descriptive/Narrative passages.  We must keep this in mind before me make NORMATIVE certain events in Acts that where not meant to be duplicated. In short then, Acts shows us what authentic Christianity looked like in all of her blessed simplicity.  This book provides us with many vivid illustrations of discipleship, evangelism, and Biblical church growth. 

Acts 2:41-47 illustrates 4 noteworthy truths:

 

1. Genuine Salvation precedes biblical baptism (v. 41).

Approximately 3000 people “received the word” and were converted before being “baptized” in Acts 2:41.  During the church age, genuine salvation always preceded baptism.  Peter commands his listeners to first “repent” and then to be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38).  This seems to be the clear cut teaching that is illustrated for us in verse 41 (among many New Testament passages).  The practice of the early church and of the apostles is what many refer to today as “believer’s baptism.”

 

Many other New Testament texts could be cited to support this point including a number of historical accounts that are recorded in Acts (Acts 8:30-38; Acts 10:44-48; 16:29-34; 18:7-8).  Again, these passages demonstrate the consistent practice of the apostles and the early church:  people were saved and subsequently they were also baptized.  The early church did not have a category for an un-baptized believer.  In modern day vernacular, “you got saved and then you got dunked.” 

As the second member of the Triune Godhead, Jesus’ word in Matthew 28:19 is sufficient warrant for the baptism of believers.  Jesus commanded his followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  The imperative in Matthew 28 is to go and make disciples.  Jesus’ clearly teaches us that baptism is only for genuine disciples (literally, baptizing “them”).  Jesus and the apostles taught their followers that baptism was a matter of obedience.  It is the first step of obedience after a person submits him or herself to the Lordship of Christ at salvation. 

Baptism is also about identification; both identification with Christ Himself and identification with the Church (which of course is Christ’s body).  Baptism pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on behalf of the believer, while demonstrating the repentance of faith, and new life the believer has in Christ.  Paul asked, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”  (Romans 6:3-4; Col 2:12). 

As we observe our next point (below) we’ll uncover a connection between baptism and one’s personal identification with the local church.

 

2.  Formal identification with a local church appears to have been the normative pattern with the early church. (v. 41)

 

It appears that the early church clearly knew who belonged to their local assembly.  Acts 1:15 says the church of Jerusalem began with “about a hundred and twenty people.”  Specific names from this list are provided in verses 13-14.

After Peter’s powerful sermon on the Day of Pentecost many sinners respond to his exhortation. Those people repented and were baptized in the name of the Lord (vv. 41-42).  Luke, the author of Acts, records that about “three-thousand” were added to the church.  The Greek word for “added” is prostithemi.  This word means to add something to an existing quantity.  In the words of one teacher it “speaks of a deliberate, calculated act of adding a select number to a greater, existing whole.”  Those who were genuinely saved proceeded to be baptized.  Those that were baptized were then consequentially added to the early church.

 

This same verb (prostithemi) is used again (in a different tense) in Acts 2:47.  Luke says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The Greek word used to describe this revival (sozo) is a present passive participle.  Luke wants his readers to understand that this was a continuous revival.  As the gospel was clearly proclaimed the Lord himself was saving sinners on a consistent basis.  This, if you will, was the first revival in the history of the church!

 

In his historical account Luke records that the following sequential events transpired:  In Acts 2:41 the Jews first received the words of Peter (conversion); they were then baptized (identification with Jesus); and as a result they were added to the existing number of those whom were already saved in Jerusalem (further identification with the local church). Following conversion formal identification with Christ and the local church in and through the waters of baptism appears to have been the practice of the local church.  The three verbs Luke uses in v. 41 are in the aorist tense.  These actions are simple facts. This all took place during the beginning days of the church.

 

Acts 4:4 records the continued spiritual growth that took place during the churches infancy.  Acts 4:4 puts it this way, “the number of men grew to about five thousand.”  One author commenting on the word ‘number’ writes, “the word here is the word arithmos from which we get ‘arithmetic’-the science of the computation of numbers.”

 

It seems fair to deduce from passages like these ones that when people repented of their sins they immediately were baptized and thus connected themselves to a local assembly (a church).  They were “added” to some type of official church roster.  The New Testament epistles do not have a special category for ‘Lone-Ranger’ Christians.  As a New Testament saint, you were either part of a local church or you were not.  God saved people, and those same people got baptized.  Water baptism identified them with both Christ and His church.  This was of course a major step of faith for many Jewish Christians, especially during the days of heavy Roman persecution. 

The concept of biblical church discipline (Matthew 18 & 1 Cor. 5) as well as church government (Hebrews 13:17, Acts 20:38, Eph. 4:11ff, Titus 1) seems to imply a formal relationship with the local church. As a pastor, I’m amazed at the excuses Christians make today as to why they have not been baptized.  I’m also bewildered at the large percentage of baptized believers who aren’t formally identifying themselves with a local assembly (church).  Christians who have not been baptized as well as those who do not belong to a local church seem to be at out odds with the New Testament model.

 

One of the footnote questions that arise from this conversation is as follows: Should baptism be a prerequisite for church membership?  Personally, I think one can make a good case that it should be but I don’t know if one can be absolutely dogmatic about this.  If you agree with the basic premises I provided above then you’d probably implement this policy into your church constitution.  On the other hand, you may argue that hypothetically one could identify him/herself with a local church today, with the intention to be baptized in the immediate future, and still join the church as a “member.” 

This concept (namely that baptism is a prerequisite for formal church membership) seems to be inferred in various descriptive passages in Acts but is not directly taught in any New Testament text.  I believe the same thing could be said concerning the concept of formal church membership.  Should a church be dogmatic about matters that are only implied and/or deduced from the pages of Scripture?  What if those examples only come from the book of Acts?  I would argue that it’s something that needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis.  At the very least, a church should strive to be consistent in polity and practice.  With that said, I need to reiterate my first two points.  1. Genuine salvation precedes biblical baptism.  2. Formal identification with a local church appears to have been the normative pattern with the early church.

 

If you are a Baptist (i.e. if you believe in Believer’s baptism), I would be interested in your thoughts pertaining to the footnote question listed above.  What say you? To be continued…. 

Lordship Salvation in the Gospel of John

  • All who believe in Jesus Christ are children of God (John 1:12).

  • All who are children of God love Jesus Christ (John 8:42).

  • All who love Jesus Christ obey Jesus Christ (John 14:15).

  • Therefore, all who believe in Jesus Christ also obey Jesus Christ.

Themes in JUDE

Jude: The Neglected Epistle 

It’s been my privilege and joy to spend hundreds of hours studying and mediating on the inspired epistle of Jude.  Much of this book work has taken place at home during my personal studies.  My first sermon from Jude was preached way back in November, 2005 (no, i am not the senior teaching pastor at my home church).  As we seek to understand this much neglected jewel, here are a few Bible study and outline items to take note of.  I would encourage you to read through this book  (take heart it’s only 25 verses).  I trust the brief summary I’ve created here will be helpful to some of you.  This book has been difficult to interpret at times but is full of many wonderful truths. 

1. Jude’s thesis:  Every Christian is commissioned to fight for this non-negotiable body of objective truth! (v. 3).  I think Pastor’s need to emphasize this point. Jude 3 is not simply a Pastor’s call to arms.  I think Jude 3 was written with laypeople in mind!

2. Why we must fight: The unhealthy presence of stealth unbelievers (apostates) within the church (v. 4, 8, 19, 12, 14, 16, 19).  The gospel itself was under attack.  They attacked in life and with their doctrines.

3. Jude’s sober reminder: Sin and judgment go hand in hand (v. 4, 5, 6, 7, 10-15).  If you preach through this book be prepared to repeat this sober theme.

4. Jude’s favorite literary device are ‘triplets’ (v. 1, 2, 5-7, 8, 11).  For emphasis Jude often writes using triplets.

5. Jude’s use of the Old Testament (vv. 5, 6, 7, 11).  This man knew the Scriptures and used them very well.

6. Jude’s teaching on Divine preservation provides encouraging bookends to this great epistle.  In other words, Christian soldiers can go into battle without fear (vv 1-2, 24-25).  The beginning and the end of this book are well known; that’s not a big surprise after you memorize these verses.

7. The many parallels between 2 Peter and Jude.  It’s my humble opinion that Jude was most likely written a couple years after 2 Peter (Jude 1-25; 2 Peter 2).  Much has been written on this subject.

8. Jude’s references to extra-biblical accounts (v. 9, 14-15).  Some people in history past questioned the canonicity of Jude in large part because of these references.  It really is not a big problem as most of you well known.

Faith and Repentance: The Inseparable Link in the Book of Acts

The Bible teaches that faith and repentance are inseparably linked as two sides of the same “saving response” to the gospel. In the book of Acts—as elsewhere in the New Testament—sometimes only repentance is mentioned (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; 26:20), and other times only faith is (4:4; 10:43; 13:48; 14:1; 16:31). But regardless of which is emphasized in a given passage, the presence of one implies the existence of the other, for a sinner cannot repent without believing, and he cannot believe without repenting.  

This inseparable link is reflected in Acts 20:21 where the apostle Paul states that he testified “to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the original Greek, “repentance” (metanoia) and “faith” (pistis) are connected by the conjunction “and” (kai), and the definite article precedes only the first noun. The use of only one article to govern both nouns indicates a unity between “repentance” and “faith.” As Greek grammarian Daniel Wallace explains:  

The evidence suggests that, in Luke’s usage, saving faith includes repentance. In those texts which speak simply of faith, a “theological shorthand” seems to be employed: Luke envisions repentance as the inceptive act of which the entirety may be called [faith]. Thus, for Luke, conversion is not a two-step process, but one step, faith—but the kind of faith that includes repentance. 

This inseparable link is also reflected in how conversions are portrayed in the book of Acts: Peter exhorts Cornelius and the Gentiles to “believe” (Acts 10:43), and later they are described as having come to “repentance” (Acts 11:18); while Paul exhorts the men of Athens to “repent” (Acts 17:30), and in response some of them are said to have “believed” (Acts 17:34). 

What, then, must a sinner do to be saved? Repent and believe. Anything less falls short of a “saving response” to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:2 and the atonement of Christ

The book of 1 John is an immensely practical book and one that every Christian should be very familiar with.  This Epistle was written so that professing Believers could have full assurance concerning their salvation in Christ.  In the words of John himself, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

 

According to F.F. Bruce the expression “by this we know” (or something similar) occurs frequently whenever a practical test of verbal profession is laid down (note 2:3, 2:5; 3:10, 16, 19, 20; 4:2, 13; 5:2).  1 John is a lot like the book of James in that it forces us to consider whether or not our profession of faith matches our every day practices (and vice versa).

 

Today we are going to briefly scratch the surface of 1 John 2:2 in hopes that it may shed some light on our current discussion regarding the atonement.  Obviously this is one of those controversial passages that often comes up during limited atonement discussions.  John’s purpose in including verse 2 was not to answer any direct questions regarding limited atonement per say which is why we need to briefly examine the context surrounding this text.

 

In verses 6, 8, and 10 of Chapter 1 we find the repeated phrase “if we say.”  In other words if one professes they are a Christian but don’t walk a certain way (v. 6), or repent a certain way (vv. 8, 10), then they’re spiritual phonies.  Obviously there is nothing more important in all of life than to be certain about our salvation in Christ (2 Cor 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10).  Sadly many people today (and many in John’s time) have a false sense of security in regards to their relationship with Jesus Christ.  In verse 8 and in verse 10 of Chapter 1 a professing believer claimed to “have no sin”.  A lot could and should be said about these verses but suffice to say one needs to admit that they are guilty and totally depraved before God will ever forgive him or her (v. 9) of their sins (Luke 18:13).  One also needs to acknowledge this before Christ will serve as their Advocate (2:1).

 

John’s desire was that as we reflect on the wonder of Jesus Christ and the glory of the cross that it would motivate us to pursue holiness (“I am writing these things that you may not sin”), but John knew because of our sinful outer man (to borrow Paul’s language in Rom 6-7) that even blood bought Christians would fall short.  I believe John is reminding us that when we do sin (after we by God’s grace come back to our spiritual senses) we need to quickly run to our Advocate.  As broken vessels we should humbly confess our sins to God and then believe with full assurance that He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We have this assurance because Jesus Christ is pleading His merits before the Father on our behalf.  “Christ’s intercession is the continual application of His death to our salvation” (Calvin).  In the words of one scholar, 1 John 2:1-2 describes the basis on which Christians enjoy a restored relationship with God after we sin.  What a heartening portion of Scripture this really is.

 

So why in the middle of this encouraging discussion does John say Jesus Christ (Himself) is the propitiation not only for our sins but also for those of the whole world? 

 

Jesus Christ as the sinless substitute (see Romans 5, Isaiah 53, 2 Cor. 5:21) bore the full wrath and fury of holy God.  Thus God’s wrath was wholly satisfied in the death of this God-man.  This is the most wonderful example of love the world has ever and will ever witness (note 1 John 4:10-11); In that while we were yet sinners Christ died for US, the just for the unjust.  Even in writing these familiar truths my hearth wells up with emotion and gratitude.  The old gospel truths never get old or become boring to the beloved of God.  We must never lose sight of this even in the midst of a academic dialogue regarding the extent and the intent of the atonement.

 

Ok so back to the discussion at hand.  What does the Greek word holos (translated “whole”) really mean?  In context does it really imply that Christ suffered in some way on behalf of the entire world?  If you believe contextually this is the best interpretation then you probably will hold some variation of universal atonement or at the very least the SFA position.  With that said, one could also argue that the whole world here simply means men from every tongue, tribe, and nation (peoples throughout the whole world or something similar).  If that’s your understanding of this text (and the emphasis you place on it) then you probably hold to John Owen’s interpretation of the atonement or the SFA view.  Over the years, much ink has been spilled over this discussion so I am not going to even try and solve this debate for you today.  Whatever you do, don’t allow your theological system to drive your exegesis (in this or in any portion of Scripture).  Let the Scripture passages speak for themselves and then and only then try and harmonize or systematize your theology.  Too often Reformed Christians and Arminian Christians have been guilty of this hermeneutical error.

 

Is it possible that Christ did suffer on the Cross for the non-elect but in that suffering only purchased non-redemptive benefits for them?  C. H. Spurgeon taught that, “Christ bought some good things for all men and all good things for some men.”  What role does the atonement play in this discussion?

 

John Stott taught that “this cannot be pressed into meaning that all sins are automatically pardoned through the propitiation of Christ, but that a universal pardon is offered for (the sins of) the whole world and is enjoyed by those who embrace it (1 John 4:19, 14; John 3:16).” 

Does this passage support the concept that the atonement is unlimited in its worth, value, and scope?  In the words of Steele and Thomas, “but it (the atonement) was not limited in value for it was of infinite worth and would have secured salvation for everyone if this had been God’s intention.”

In my humble opinion, some pastors spend too much time focusing in on the word “world” (which can obviously mean in some contexts the earthly realm of mankind but not necessarily every individual) and not enough time on the Greek word holos (whole or entire).  Smalley notes that the Greek adjective “whole”, is intensive.  How than does this adjective effect our understanding of Christ’s propitiation?  Finally, would the Gentile and Jewish believers that John addresses in this epistle truly believe the atonement was limited to their church family alone (or families in a specific geographic location)?  I can’t imagine this was the case, but it is a possible answer. MacArthur seems to be attracted to this option in his commentary when he references the words of Caiaphas in John 11:45-52.  In other words, John is saying the propitiation was not only for you (the original recipients of this letter) but was also for all those who ever would believe throughout the whole world.

 

MY CONCLUSION: Christ’s death on the cross did in fact secure eternal salvation for God’s elect (i.e. every person who ever will believe).  God’s election was unconditional and his grace is undeserved (Eph 1-2).  Many portions of Scripture, including this one, make these points crystal clear.  With that said, I am still not fully convinced that the atonement of Christ was limited in extent or to put it another way that it wasn’t sufficient for the non-elect.  It appears to me that the indirect implications of 1 John 2:2 do more to support a SFA view of the atonement than any other position.  Good Christian men disagree on this and I by no means have all the answers.  What say you?  Am I missing something really obvious here?

Thoughts on “His people” in Matthew 1:21

The Calling of Saint Matthew

I want to first thank Caleb for asking me to be a part of this series. I think it’s important that no subject be off limits when it comes to our discussion of Scripture. I’m thankful he asked me to write about Matthew 1:21. I have been living and dining with Matthew’s gospel account for the better part of two years so I have no qualms talking about what is right now my favorite book of the Bible. So let’s get down to business…

Full disclosure: I whole-heartedly believe that the salvation that Christ purchased on the cross is an actual salvation that is not merely promised but fully applied to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that those who die in unbelief can not claim in any sense the work of redemption. To put this in plain terms, if an individual is in hell today then they can never say, whether potentially or concretely, that Christ died for them. If Christ died for all (without qualification) then their experience of God’s wrath (if an unbeliever) is questionable at best and unjust at worst. This is because those whom the Lord purchased will come to him and He will not cast them out but raise them up on the last day. Also every single one that the Lord predestines will ultimately be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:30). So obviously I believe in particular redemption or what is unfortunately titled “limited atonement.” I would also add that anyone who disavows universalism or inclusivism also affirms to some degree a limited atonement.

All that said I would still add two cautions. One, this doctrine should not be a test of fellowship among those who consider themselves evangelicals in the historic sense of the word (see Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical?). It is sad that so much Christian capital has been squandered with heated exchanges between theologs who claim to be “brothers.” I speak as one who has been on both sides of these exchanges and it pains my heart to know that some refuse to speak to each other based on particular convictions on this issue. Secondly, a person’s commitment to a theological system, no matter what it is, should not be the guiding principle in this discussion. Exegesis and exposition should light the way and theology can then come in to tie-up frayed ends. Therefore, though I hold to a “limited” view I refuse to allow this to come between myself and fellow believers who have different convictions and I also pray that I will not allow my convictions to shade the interpretation of whatever text is in front of me at the moment.

Our text: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, NAU, emphasis mine).

The question is, who are “His people” referenced in this text? I want to approach this question from a textual vantage point that takes note of the purpose for Matthew’s writing and the progression (or development) of the Evangelist’s theology in the gospel account of Matthew.

Purpose of this text:
Matthew, a former publican, who in all likelihood was greatly despised by his fellow Jews as a traitor and Roman appeaser (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 10:3) is the last person that any self-respecting Jew would have picked to deliver the written announcement of the Messiah to the Jewish nation. However, the grace of God is like that. The last written message to the nation though messianically positive still held out a threat of judgment (Mal. 4:6). So some four hundred years later this despised tax collector delivers good news to the nation Israel and it begins with a genealogy. He carefully documents the legal ramifications of who this Jesus is and he makes the case that this One is the long anticipated Messiah. Since Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience he assumes a lot. He doesn’t give detailed explanations of Jewish culture and practices since it would be like explaining sweet tea to a Southerner. He assumes that they have a working grasp of the OT so he quotes and alludes to it liberally with sometimes very little explanation (around 60 times). In this regard it is probably not a stretch to see that Matt. 1:21 is an allusion or free quote of Psalm 130:8 which is specifically addressed to Israel (see Psalm 130:7).

Matthew’s purpose is to announce to the Jewish nation that the Messiah they have looked for has been realized in the God-man Jesus of Nazareth. This is the one who stands in perfect succession to Abraham and David. This is the one who has divine authority to teach and heal like no other. This is the one who is the Son of Man (a divine title, see Daniel 7:13) and this is the one who will do what all the Law, Prophets and Writings expounded and anticipated…He will save His people from their sins. In the context of Matthew 1 and situated within the overall purpose of the Gospel, “His people” in 1:21 is a specific reference to the nation Israel. I would agree with D. A. Carson who notes that “This verse therefore orients the reader to the fundamental purpose of Jesus’ coming and essential nature of the reign He inaugurates as King Messiah, heir of David’s throne” (EBC, 8:76). However that is not the end of the story.

Progression of this text: It would be wrong to put a glass down on the page over Matt. 1:21 like we’re trying to trap a grasshopper and ignore the rest of Matthew’s account. There is a progression in his message that unfolds over time and is solidified with the last scene of Matthew’s gospel (“The Great Commission”). Over time we come to see that “His people” are not merely from the commonwealth of Israel (cf. Matt. 8:11) but from among the nations. So the Gospel ends with the resurrected Christ instructing His Jewish disciples to go to “all the nations” and call more disciples to Christ. Again Carson correctly states, “The words ‘His people’ are therefore full of meaning that is progressively unpacked as the Gospel unfolds. They refer to ‘Messiah’s people.'”

Conclusion: Time and space do not permit us to explore all the ramifications of this reality. However, within the context of Matthew’s gospel account we can safely conclude that “His people” specifically refers to those who are regenerate disciples of Christ whether they be from the Jewish nation or from among the Nations. They are the ones whom the Lord purchased and the ones for whom He laid down His life. May Jesus Christ be praised for such a glorious work of grace and mercy!

(Picture: The Calling of Saint Matthew, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome)

Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect

Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect 

Dr. Nettles does a wonderful job of summarizing the “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” position(s) in his book By His Grace and For His Glory (note pages 302-05).  He believes this view represents “a majority view among Calvinists” though as I demonstrated in previous posts, is not the position he himself prefers.  From this point on I will refer to the Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect view as the SFA position.

The SFA position basically affirms both the sufficiency in the nature of the atonement to save all men and the limitation of the atonement to the elect in its divine intent.  It is unlimited in extent but limited in its intent.  According to the Synod of Dort, “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”  W. G. T Shedd (a Presbyterian theologian form the nineteenth century) wrote, “Christ’s death is sufficient in value to satisfy eternal justice for the sins of all mankind…Sufficient we say, then, was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all the sins for all and every man in the world.” 

This view would say Jesus Christ bore the sins of the entire world (Isaiah 53:1-6) on his shoulders when he died on the old rugged cross.  As the sinless God-man He offered up a perfect sacrifice of infinite value.  The extent of the atonement is universal but the intent of the atonement (to save only the elect) is clearly limited.  Steele and Thomas explain it this way, the atonement was limited in its original design; not in its worth, value, or scope. 

Richard Mayhue believes the atonement of Christ is in some ways a paradox.  He argues that this atonement is limited in some senses, and in other ways it is unlimited.  He believes it is limited in that it does not extend to angels or animals (Heb 2:16); and that it is not effaciously applied to all humans by God’s choice (via sovereign election).  It is unlimited in that its message is extended to all humans in its proclamation; Its sufficiency is unlimited in value; it makes all men accountable in terms of eternal responsibility; It makes common grace available in non-eternal ways to all mankind (Matt 5:45); It benefits all the elect in its redemptive, eternal efficacy.  Mayhue points to the Day of Atonement as a OT picture of this NT concept.  He concludes his essay with the following words, “Christ’s atonement is unlimited in a non-saving sense for all of sinful humanity, but it is limited in its redemptive efficacy only to those who God particularly and unconditionally elected unto eternal salvation.”  According to Dr. Daniels Thomas Boston and the other Marrowmen taught that there were two aspects of the atonement, one general for all men and one particular for the elect alone.

So the argument between those who hold a SFA position and a more limited 5 point view is really over whether or not the atonement of Jesus Christ was truly sufficient for all.  In other words, does Jesus’ atonement really cover the sins of the non-elect?  Is that what Isaiah 53:1-6 mean?  Is that what 2 Peter 2:1ff implies?  Is that the John’s intention when he uses the Greek word holos in 1 John 2:2?  Please stay with me friends the biblical exegesis is just around the corner… 

John Owen weighs in…

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

By John Owen

 

“Book III contains sixteen arguments against the “general ransom” idea. All except the third have a directly exegetical basis and aim to show that this idea is inconsistent with the biblical witness to Christ’s work. Between them, they deal with every significant category and concept which the Bible employs to define that work.  These arguments are primarily aimed at “4-Pt” Calvinists and/or Arminians.

 

Arguments:

  1. From the fact that the new covenant, which Christ’s death ratified, is not made with all men.
  2. From the fact that the gospel, which reveals faith in Christ to be the only way of salvation, is not published to all men. (III. i)
  3. From the dilemmas involved in asserting that the divine intention in Christ’s death was to redeem every man.
  4. From the fact that Christ is said to die for one of the two classes (elect and reprobate) into which God divided men, and not for the other.
  5. From the fact that Scripture nowhere asserts that Christ died for all men, as such (III. ii)
  6. From the fact that Christ died as sponsor (surety) for those for whom He died.
  7. From the fact that Christ is a Mediator, and as such a priest, for those for whom He died. (III. iii)
  8. From the fact that Christ’s death cleanses and sanctifies those for whom He died, whereas not all men are cleansed and sanctified.
  9. From the fact that Faith (which is necessary to salvation) was procured by the death of Christ, whereas not all men have faith.
  10. From the fact that the deliverance of Israel from
    Egypt is a type of Christ’s saving work. (III. iv)

(The next five arguments form a group on their own. They have a common form and are all taken from the biblical terms in which Christ’s work is described.)

  1. (i) From the fact that Christ’s death wrought redemption (deliverance by payment). (III. v)
  2. (ii) From the fact that Christ’s death effected reconciliation (between God and men. (III. vi)
  3. (iii) From the fact that Christ’s death made satisfaction for sins. (III. vii-ix)
  4. (iv) From the fact that Christ’s death merited salvation for men.
  5. (v) From the fact that Christ died for men. (III. x)
  6. From particular texts: Gen. 3:15; Matt. 7:33, 11:25; John 10:11ff;
    Rom. 1:32-34; Eph. 1:7; 2 Cor. 5:21; John 17:9; Eph. 5:25.   (III. xi).”

Atonement: questions and answers

Pastor Joseph Flatt provided the following answers to common objections against particular redemption in a seminar he offered church members last year.

1.  The gospel cannot be offered freely to all men if the atonement is limited.  However, this free offer is valid only a limited basis (salvation is offered, not the provision of it).  Christ’s work and the offer of the gospel made indiscriminately are not necessarily co-extensive with the offer.  Yet, our task is to share the gospel indiscriminately.  We should preach the gospel to all men (Rom 1:16, Mt 28).

2. How can I tell men that God loves them and died for them?  You can’t and you shouldn’t.  This is not how you should approach the unbeliever.  Tell them they’re sinners and must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved, etc.

3.  This view limits God’s love.  Yes, it does.  Rom 9:13; Ps 5:5, 11:5.  If God’s love is measured by how far it extends, then the general redemptionist also limits it (it’s not available for angels . . .).  But God does love every man in a non-redemptive sense; in that he gives common grace to every man.  God has compassion on men everywhere, but this is different from a redemptive love for all men—a distinction in His love.

4. The sin question has been cared for by Christ for all men; people go to hell for their unbelief.  But Scripture lists sins for which people will go to hell.

  1. Rev 21:8 – cowardly, unbelieving, immoral, idolaters, etc., à lake of fire
  2. Rom 2:6-16
  3. Rev 20:11-13
  4. 1 Cor 6:9-10

5. The passages which exhort men to believe and be saved argue for the potential nature of Christ’s death on the cross (the “whosoever will” passages). 

  1. Acts 16:31 – believe and you will be saved (≠ regeneration, which comes first; you must be alive to believe!).  This is not a condition; it is a FACT.  Men can’t and won’t “will” (1 Cor 2:14; John 1:13; John 6:44).
  2. Rom 10:13 – everyone who . . .

Final thoughts: 

Boettner notes, “For the Calvinist, the atonement is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian  it’s like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across.”  There’s a disconnect between a Savior who died for all men and the Father who doesn’t save everyone.  Why the difference?

 

For a definitive defense of this position please read “The Death of Death In the Death of Christ” by John Owen.

So it’s “GOOD” Friday

Today is one of my favorite days of the year.  Today is GOOD Friday.  As i stopped to meditate on the events surrounding this celebration i realized that alot could and should be said about this particular day.  Let’s admit it friends the world really does not get this “holiday.” 

 Many think it is crazy enough that we Christians actually believe in the historical nature of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross (let alone his resurrection).  Much could be said by way of apologetics here…

But beyond these things let’s be honest and admit that it’s still a little strange that we call this particular day “GOOD”.  What’s so good about our Messiah, the sinless Lamb of God, being brutally murdered by Jew and Gentile sinner alike?  Have we lost our minds?

 You see we really can’t even talk about this day without bringing in Biblical theology.  This particular Friday is GOOD because on this day many thousand years ago the second Adam died vicariously in our place (Rom 5); He bore the wrath of God that we deserve (1 John 2:2); He endured the shame that we deserve (Phil. 2); He accomplished something we could never accomplish (2 Cor 5:21), etc, etc.

 Beyond all these amazing realities is the essential connection between Good Friday and Easter.  This Friday is now celebrated as GOOD Friday because of what happened on Sunday!  Jesus conquered Sin, Satan, and death itself (1 Cor 15) when he rose again.  God showed his complete satisfaction in the substitutionary death of Christ by raising him up on the third day according to the Scriptures.

 In my estimation we can not forgot this connection.  One of the primary reasons why good Friday is so GOOD is because of “Easter” Sunday.  One of the reasons why the resurrection of Jesus is way more significant than all the previous resurrections is because of what happened on GOOD Friday!

 Brothers i pled with you to preach the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified tonight!  Stir the souls of your congregation to worship the Lamb who is worthy and pray for genuine revival in the hearts of those unbelievers who will no doubt attend your Friday and Sunday services. 

 Just don’t forget that one of the main reasons why today is GOOD is because of what happened on Sunday. 

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,

Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

 

Up from the grave He arose;

With a mighty triumph o’er his foes;

He arose a victor from the dark domain,

And he lives forever, with his saints to reign.

 

He arose! He arose!  Hallelujah!  Christ arose!

 
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