According to the Scriptures
Paul says that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. What Scriptures was he referring to? Isaiah 53? ~TP, email.
Quite a few, though Paul does not indicate which he has in mind. Here are just some of the OT texts which I believe prophesy about the death of Messiah either directly or using types: Gen 3:15; 22:1-19 (Abraham offering up Isaac); Exod 12:1-28 (Passover is a type of Christ); the entire OT sacrificial system (e.g., John 1:29); Ps 16:8-11; 22:16-18; Isa 53:4-12; Jonah in the great fish for three days (Jonah 2; cf. Matt 12:40); and Zech 12:10. Those are only a few. ~Bob
Propitiation for All?
I have been reading up on GES’s position on propitiation, i.e., that it applies to all people regardless of belief in Jesus. Being a strong believer in unlimited atonement, I am very intrigued by this viewpoint.
I have always been taught that Jesus’ work on the cross was intended for all people but only effective for those who believe, like a gift that is bought for someone but must be received.
I am open to GES’s perspective, but I have one big question: If sin ceases to be a problem for people because of Jesus’ propitiation, then why is justification necessary? Isn’t justification being acquitted of sin? How can someone be acquitted of sin that is no longer an issue?
I understand Hodges’s argument that the problem is now one of corruption and the lost person needs God’s life. Yet I still don’t see how someone can be “justified” if he has no sin issue to be dealt with.
Would you mind explaining to me how you understand justification, given that propitiation is already accomplished for all men?
Sorry for the long message, but I’m just trying to sharpen my thoughts on the subject. I teach high school students every day at a Christian Learning Center, so I want to be accurate in my lessons! ~BDS, email
Great comment and question.
First, in my opinion, the view you were taught is not unlimited atonement. The view you were taught is a form of limited atonement. I’ve heard the same view expressed by many Free Grace people, including ones with advanced theological degrees.
If Christ’s death only takes away the sins of those who believe, then He may have potentially died for all, but only actually died for those who would come to faith. So it is limited to believers. At least that is what this view is saying.
I believe that is a mistake because John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He did not say that Jesus potentially takes away the sin of the world. The Baptist said that the Lamb actually does it.
Similarly, John the Apostle said that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The Apostle was speaking of what Jesus actually accomplished on the cross, not what He potentially accomplished.
A truly unlimited atonement does something actual for the whole world.
Second, why, then, is justification still necessary if Jesus takes away the sin of the world?
For several reasons.
To be justified means “to be declared righteous.”
Just because your sin is taken away does not automatically mean you have been declared righteous. A person whose sins are no longer a barrier between him and God is not righteous positionally or experientially.
Positional righteousness requires that God impute to our faith righteousness (Rom 3:21-26). The fact that Jesus took away the sins of the world does not mean Jesus imputed righteousness to the world. That only happens for believers.
Experiential righteousness requires that we actually live righteously (see Elizabeth and Zacharias, John the Baptist’s parents, both of whom are called righteous in Luke 1:6 based on their “walking in all the commandments”).
So, just because Jesus takes away the sins of the world does not mean that people are sinless, or that they do not need positive righteousness. Believers and unbelievers remain sinners. They both experience judgment for their sins in this life and in the life to come. But, and here is the point, their sins no longer bar them from God’s life and righteousness. Now if they simply believe in Jesus, they gain everlasting life and are justified (declared righteous). (And, also, no one will be condemned because of his sins. Condemnation is based on unbelief, not works. See John 3:18; Rev 20:15).
Keep in mind that as believers you are I are still sinners. We still need forgiveness of our sins day by day and hour by hour (1 John 1:7-9). The fact that Christ died on the cross for our sins does not eliminate our need to walk in the light and to confess our sins. See my article, “Benefits of Christ’s Blood: Restricted and Unrestricted” at faithalone.org. ~Bob
John 17:3 and the Definition of Eternal Life
I would like to challenge GES with integrating John 17:3 into its explanation of eternal life. John 17:3 is the clearest explanation, definition, of what eternal life is. And this explanation is from the Lord Himself. This seems to be an understanding GES would be motivated to resolve.
In a Sunday School class I recently taught, I asked the class what eternal life is. Their answers were nowhere near the one given in this verse. This verse, I believe, is a crux that brings together how one receives eternal life and how one understands eternal life for living. “To know Him, the only True God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.” ~JP, email
I take John 17:3 differently from what most do. I do not think it explains what eternal life is. I think the Lord is explaining what eternal life makes possible.
Here is what He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Notice that He does not say, “eternal life is knowing God.” The word “that” is ignored by most pastors and commentators in this verse.
The point is not that everyone who has everlasting life knows God. The point is that everyone who has everlasting life is capable of knowing God.
The words used for knowing God in John 17:3 are ginoskō plus Theos.
Sometimes knowing God is said to be true of all believers. We know God in our position. See, for example, 1 Cor 1:21 (negative); Gal 4:8 (using a different Greek verb, oida); and 1 Thess 4:5 and 2 Thess 1:8 (negative, using a different Greek verb, oida). But notice that only one of those passages uses ginoskō, and it does so regarding those who do not know God.
Ginoskō is used with Theos only three other times in the NT, and all three of those times are in John’s first epistle.
Clearly in 1 John 4:6-8 knowing God is something that is true only of believers in fellowship with God.
John says, “he who knows God hears us” (1 John 4:6). Not all believers listened to the teachings and exhortations of John and the other apostles as Diotrephes in 3 John 9-10 shows.
John also commanded his readers, “let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). As Zane Hodges has pointed out, the very next verse does not say, he who does not love is not born of God and does not know God. Instead, John continues, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Not all believers love all other believers all the time (cf. 1 Corinthians; Jas 2:1-10, 15-16).
I think the Lord Jesus is saying that we have everlasting life so that we might know God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing God is not automatic, even for born-again people. Sadly, the fact is that many born-again people do not know God.
I might also point out that John 17:3 does not explicitly mention the condition of everlasting life, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to me that John 3:16 or 5:24 or 6:35, 47 or 11:25-26 are all much clearer on what one must do to have everlasting life.
Finally, back to your Sunday school question. What is everlasting life? It is the life which Christ gives to all who believe in Him. And we know from John’s Gospel two things about that life. First, it is life with God that lasts forever and never ends (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26). Second, it is life that has great potential for growth and abundance (John 10:10; 17:3). ~Bob
Send your questions to email@example.com.