Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Reconciling the World": The Beauty of Universal Atonement (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)

In my last post, I tackled John 3:16-18 and demonstrated that “the world” cannot refer to the elect only...for if it does, then “the world might be saved” implies that the elect “might not” be saved (which is not a belief Reformed theology holds to). “The world,” then, must be more inclusive than the exclusivist view of the Reformed camp (which argues for “Limited” Atonement).

In today’s post, I will tackle the passage of 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, another passage used by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in their book, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented.”

The passage reads as follows:

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, IN CHRIST, GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF, NOT COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:14-19, English Standard Version).

While verses 14 and 15 reference “all” three times; but we don’t receive clarity on “all” until verse 19: “that is, in Christ God was reconciling THE WORLD to Himself, not counting THEIR trespasses against THEM.”

What do we do with “the world” here? Calvinists could easily say, “this refers to the elect”; but if they do, they are defeated exegetically once more---for the believers are not the only ones whose sins count against them; the unbelievers’ sins count against them as well (which is why unbelievers receive eternal damnation because of unbelief). This can be clearly demonstrated in Peter’s Second Epistle to the scattered Jewish believers:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, EVEN DENYING THE MASTER WHO BOUGHT THEM, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).

Who is “denying the Master who bought them”? Those denying their Master, Christ, are the “false teachers.” This implies two things: (1) even those who are redeemed can turn from the righteous way of salvation. Peter writes of these same teachers in 2 Peter 2:15 that they are “forsaking the right way” and “have gone astray.” (2) from 2 Peter 2:1, we see that the Master bought even those who stray, who ultimately reject the grace of God. If God “redeemed” these teachers who would ultimately go astray, then He purchased the redemption of many who will not accept Him. This is an important point to make because it refutes the Calvinistic Doctrine of Limited Atonement. As Steele, Thomas, and Quinn write,

“Historical or mainline Calvinism has consistently maintained that Christ’s redeeming work was DEFINITE IN DESIGN AND ACCOMPLISHMENT---THAT IT WAS INTENDED TO RENDER COMPLETE SATISFACTION FOR CERTAIN SPECIFIED SINNERS, AND THAT IT ACTUALLY SECURED SALVATION FOR THESE INDIVIDUALS AND FOR NO ONE ELSE...Christ did not die simply to make it possible for God to pardon sinners. Neither does God leave it up to sinners to decide whether or not Christ’s work will be effective. ON THE CONTRARY, ALL FOR WHOM CHRIST SACRIFICED HIMSELF WILL BE SAVED INFALLIBLY. REDEMPTION, THEREFORE, WAS DESIGNED TO BRING TO PASS GOD’S PURPOSE OF ELECTION” (“The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented,” Second Edition. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, pages 39-40).

So, “the world” in 2 Corinthians 5:19 refers to both believers and unbelievers alike.

Now, this makes sense in light of the references that “one has died for ALL,” “ALL have died,” and “he died for ALL.”

But there is a particular redemption, however. Only “those who live” are those who receive the purchased redemption. As Paul told the Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were DEAD IN OUR TRESPASSES, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ---BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED...” (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

Those who have been “made alive with Christ” are those who have received the purchased redemption of Christ’s suffering on the cross by faith in Christ Jesus. “Those who live,” then, are those who have received the grace of God in Christ.

The beauty of the atonement has been demonstrated not just in this post, but in the post on John 3: that being, the atonement is offered to all but is only obtained by faith. As a result, while all CAN receive the atonement of Christ, only some WILL take hold of it by faith.

I will cover more on the Doctrine of Singular Redemption in posts to come...

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