Did Jesus Die to Pay the Penalty for the Sins of Believers Only?
By Don Reiher
Do half-truths bug you? Several things that have really bugged me lately are lyrics and speakers saying something to the effect, "Isn't it wonderful that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins? We will not have to pay the penalty for our sins because of what Jesus did on the cross." This is true. However it is only half of the truth. Of course they may quote a verse like:
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
It sounds wonderful doesn't it? I can't remember how many times I heard this verse quoted at communion. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins? Is this true? Yes! Of course! However, the word our sometimes gets too much emphasis. When spoken by a Calvinist who believes that Jesus did not die for the sins of unbelievers, it sure sounds like we are getting a rather sneaky lesson on the third point of Calvinism, namely, Limited Atonement. But did Christ only die for our sins? Didn't He die to pay for the sins of them too (i.e. unbelievers)? If so, why don't we say during communion, "Isn't it wonderful that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins as well as the sins of the entire world?" Biblically speaking, that would be the whole truth. There are many Scriptures that teach that Jesus died on the cross to pay in full the penalty for the sins of everyone. For example:
And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world
1 John 2:2.
In the words of Zane Hodges, there is nothing in 1 John 2:2 about Jesus Christ being the potential satisfaction for the sins of the world. As Zane said:
The apostle flatly states that Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. He is that. Not that He can be, or potentially is, but He simply is. Note too that this statement is exactly parallel to the truth that He is the propitiation for our sins. In whatever sense He is the propitiation for our sins, he is also the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Very simply put, the propitiatory work of our Lord Jesus Christ is universally effective. That is true whether anyone believes it or not. On the cross, my friends, Jesus paid for every single sin that has ever been committed, by any person who has ever lived on the face of the earth. If you ask me, that is magnificent and overwhelming. (Video, "Propitiation: Does It Only Count If We Accept It?")
Another verse that comes to mind is:
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation
2 Cor 5:19.
Because of Christ's work on the cross, no sin will ever be imputed to an unbeliever. That means that unbelievers are not going to hell to pay the judicial penalty for their sins. Of course there is penalty for sin, but it is not a judicial penalty. That has already been paid. Nobody will go to hell for their sin. They will go to hell because they are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life.
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
There is no mention anywhere in this passage that unbelievers go to hell to pay for their sins. True, there is a penalty for sins we commit now. Believers as well as unbelievers pay for their sins both now and later, but this penalty has more to do with a law of sowing and reaping, as taught in Romans and Galatians, than it does with an eternal judicial penalty. In other words, both unbelievers and believers face God's temporal wrath and judgment for sins. But this is much different than paying the eternal penalty for any of the sins. Only Jesus, the Lamb of God can pay the penalty for the sins of the world:
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
I can remember a lot of songs that say Jesus paid for our sin. Of course this is true. But it's not the whole truth. There is a large part of humanity being ignored. There is no mention of the fact that Jesus paid for the sins of believers and unbelievers alike. Thank God that Jesus didn't forget them.