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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Is That Just?

I'm trying to figure out how to think through the "normal" line of thinking regarding the Atonement. If you ask most Christians, they would assure you that Jesus's death atoned for all the sins of all people for all time. Ask the Internet and you'll find that the single most common answer to "Did Jesus die for all sin?" is "Yes, His death paid for all sin for all people for all time." And you can understand why. John the Baptist introduced Jesus as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The author of Hebrews said, "We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 10:10). Paul wrote that Christ "gave Himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:6). What's hard to understand?

Well, of course, there is a collision that occurs here. No one can doubt that the Bible is full of Hell and wrath. Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. The Scriptures are full of warnings about avoiding eternal damnation. Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt 7:13-14). Sounds bad for the home team, so to speak. But if all sin is paid for, how does this kind of thing make sense? It is this dichotomy that drove the likes of Rob Bell and others to discard the notion of Hell and embrace universalism. If all sin is covered, then all people go to heaven. Good news! Except it doesn't match the bad news. "Those who find it are few."

The standard answer goes something like this: "Jesus paid for all sin, but if you don't accept Him, your sin isn't covered." So Jesus actually paid for all sin, but your refusal to accept that payment nullifies it. The popular illustration I've heard is the guy rightly convicted of a capital crime sitting on death row. The warden shows up, opens wide the cell door, and says, "Good news! The governor has pardoned you. You're a free man!" The man refuses to move. He refuses to accept the pardon. He doesn't believe it. So, he remains in jail. Okay, that all seems well and good. Except there's a problem. We have an innocent man in jail. The fact that he doesn't accept the pardon doesn't eliminate the pardon and the fact that the warden keeps this man in prison simply because the man wants it is not a matter of justice. If the warden carried out the original sentence and executed the man because he refused the pardon, it would not be justice; it would be murder.

In the end we run into this problem. We can agree that, for those who believe, Christ has paid for all of our sins, past, present, and future. But if Christ died for all the sins of all people for all time -- "paid in full" is what He said on the cross -- and anyone ends up paying for their own sins in the end, is that just? Is that right? If there is one thing we know, it's that the Judge of all the Earth will do what is right, so we have a dilemma. Either God will hold people accountable for sins already paid in full, or Christ did not pay for all sins for all people for all time. In one case, we have injustice. In the other we'll have to figure out how to read passages that seem to say that all sin of all people is paid for but actually is not. One way or another, we have some work to do, don't we? (I'm just trying to make you think.)


Bob said...

when we make doctrine from general statements, we always lose sight of the actual intent.
exp: God so loved the World. see God means to save every one, because he loves everyone.
but this verse is not about the world, it's about God, and the manner in which he loves.
the world is subordinate to the main point. God so Loved..
In what manner did God love? ans: He sent his only begotten son to die for sin.
For whom did Jesus die? : for those that believe.
Who are those that believe: those whom the father has called.
but all these outcomes are subordinate to one thing: God the Father.
God the father is preeminent in all things

Stan said...

I have a list of texts to try to reconcile with "Jesus didn't actually die for ALL sin," but, funny thing, John 3:16 wasn't on it. :)

In case anyone is interested:
Rom 5:18
1 Cor 15:22
1 Tim 4:10
John 3:17
Col 1:19-20
Col 3:11
Php 2:10-11
Rom 11:32
Heb 10:10
2 Peter 3:9