Article V of our Doctrinal Statement reads:
“We believe Jesus died upon the cross as a sin-less substitute for sinners of all ages and times, and that the Father was thus, by means of the Spirit, reconciling the world to Himself. All who receive the risen Jesus as Lord, by faith, are spiritually born into permanent membership in the family of God.”
Like all the statements, this is a condensation. It is normally treated under the subject Soteriology, the doctrine of Salvation. There are a number of important divisions of it. We want to take up the cross as central to the Christian faith; the substitutionary work of Jesus on that cross; the universal application of it for all ages and times; the reconciliation which was one of the effects of the cross; and ultimately the regeneration which is the gift of life to those who believe and receive the Lord Jesus.
I’m sure most, if not all of you, are in full agreement with the fact that the Cross is the central theme of redemption. The Scriptures clearly indicate that though the teaching of Jesus was profound and world-shaking in its implications, no one is saved by the teaching of Jesus. We are saved by his death upon the cross and his subsequent resurrection. The gospel, the good news, is not that Jesus taught wonderful truths, but that he died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried and rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures. That’s the gospel.
That is the reason why as you read through the four Gospels you will find that every one of them devotes by far the largest percentage of treatment to the last week of Jesus, rather than his three preceding years of ministry. There is an account of his teaching, of his travels up and down the length of Palestine, his ministry in training the twelve disciples, sending out seventy others, etc. There are many stories that gather about that ministry, of his miracles and the effect he had on the people, but when it moves to the account of the crucifixion, of Jesus’ death, the majority of the gospels is devoted to that. That last week becomes the central focus of each of the gospels.
I think in order to understand the Atonement we might take a look at what I believe is one of the clearest passages in the Scriptures that teaches it, Paul’s treatise in Romans chapter three. In this epistle to the Romans, the apostle spends the first three chapters showing how the human race is absolutely hopeless and helpless apart from the redemption provided in Christ. There is no way for anyone to be saved apart from the work of Jesus. He is showing us the lost condition of the race.
By the way, I’ve put on the board here the symbols usually employed by all Calvinists to summarize the heart of Calvinist teaching, which forms the word TULIP. We’re going to look at that in some detail, but the first of these would be what we are talking about right now: the total depravity of human beings. That is what Paul establishes in the first three chapters of Romans, up to verse twenty-one. His conclusion (NIV) is:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (That doesn’t mean they don’t pursue small gods, but no one seeks the real God, because the effect of seeking him is to find themselves condemned. That’s why men turn away, as Paul goes on to say): “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (And don’t mentally add: ‘except me’.) Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This is an excellent summary of what is meant by “total depravity”. It doesn’t mean man cannot do what looks good in his own eyes, or in the eyes of others. There are many apparently wonderful, charitable deeds and merciful acts performed by total unbelievers, which appear to us very good things, but remember God is looking at the heart. He sees the motive behind these things, and what may look like a very good deed to us is oftentimes a very evil deed in God’s eyes, because the motive is wrong.
I remember a statement I heard years ago about rich men who gave money for various worthy causes: “It takes a lot of philanthropy to deodorize a great fortune.” I think that is probably true. Many give money because it make them feel good, or it makes them look good to others. The recipients of their charity may be greatly helped, and that looks like a good deed, but it is not in God’s eyes if the motive is wrong. God is reading the heart, and Paul’s conclusion is, there is none righteous, not even one.
That means all of mankind is lost. It doesn’t mean they are all equally bad. It means that nothing they do can be seen as good in God’s eyes because the taint of evil, the original sin we inherited from Adam, the self-centeredness of our nature, poisons every thought, every deed. We can make it look good to ourselves and to others, but not in the sight of God.
What then can we do? Here Paul for the first time in Romans gives us a clear-cut statement of the wonderful work of Christ in solving that dilemma:
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
I think it very important we understand the word “righteousness” here. Righteousness is used in two ways in Scripture. It’s used, of course, to describe good behavior. If someone lives right we say they are living righteously, and it is used that way in the Bible in places, but not in Romans. In Romans, righteousness is not what you do but what you are, and he has just pointed out that no one is righteous. He says it very plainly in verse ten: “there is no one righteous, not even one.” So if it is necessary to be righteous to be accepted before God, we’re sunk! But now, he says, a righteousness from God is made known! He’s of course speaking of the gift of righteousness in Christ.
Now you need to know that the word “righteousness” and the term “justification” are derived from the same root. They are really the same word: “to justify”, a word you frequently see in Scripture, which really means “to make righteous.” It comes from the same Greek root, dikaiosune, “to justify”. “to make righteous”. So what he is saying is now a way to be made righteous before God apart from the law has been known, to which the Law and the Prophets bear witness. That is the gift of righteousness given to those who believe in Jesus: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” So it is a gift!.
I think the English word that gets closest to the heart of this Greek term, is the word “worth”. Everyone is looking for worth. Psychologists tell us that a sense of self worth is essential to functioning as a human being, without which you will function badly in society, and will be totally lost. If you have no sense of self worth you’ll curl up in a corner in a fetus position and be actually unable to move. That happens to some persons. They lose their sense of value about themselves and they are rendered totally inoperative. Therefore, worth is a very necessary quality, and everybody’s looking for it. You only have to turn on your television, listen to the commercials, listen to people talk on the street, and you will hear them saying in one way or another that what they are looking for is a way to be important, to feel worthwhile.
What most look for is a sense of worth in the eyes of other people. If we can find that, it does give us a temporary shot in the arm about ourselves. If our parents love us as children, we get a sense of worth from that. If our friends love us even when we are sometimes obnoxious, we get a sense of worth from their friendship. So everyone is looking for friends, love, acceptance, and this is a basic human quest which cannot be denied.
But even those fortunate enough to have received a continuing sense of worth from others, such as favored children, the good-looking, those with special gifts, etc., – even those people find that worth received from other people doesn’t satisfy. Even the most loyal, close, dearest friend, your mate, for instance, cannot satisfy the longing for worth in the human heart. There comes eventually the awareness that something is missing. There is an emptiness, a feeling of vacuity. This is what creates the universal restlessness apparent everywhere in the world today.
What are they looking for? They are looking for worth in the eyes of God. Ultimately, because we are human beings made in the image of God, and as the Scripture says, God has put eternity in our hearts, we never can be satisfied with anything less than God’sapproval. And that is what the gospel offers. There is a worth given us by God. It can’t be earned, you can’t buy it, you can’t create it. It doesn’t come through the Law, Paul says. It’s apart from the Law. The Law can give you worth if you will perfectly obey it, but if you mess up in one little thing you’ve lost it all. You can’t earn this worth, but you can have it as a gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the good news! I don’t think there is anything to even remotely compare to that good news in all the world.
That’s better than a Jaguar, a trip to the Caribbean, winning the lottery, whatever. Nothing compares with the good news that we are acceptable in the eyes of God, even though we have been law-breakers, and messed up, and there is none righteous, no not one. That’s the great statement of Romans.
The Law and the Prophets bear witness to this. You can find this in the Old Testament as well as in the New. You will find Moses in the Law describes a series of sacrifices, offerings, animals to be slain, rituals to be performed, all of which are a picture of how to meet the demands of a righteous God even when you had messed up your life. You did it by bringing a substitute, putting an animal to death. No animal was ever offered alive to God. It had to be dead, because God was teaching the world by that means that sin is a deep, serious problem that only death can solve. The animal had to die, but it is your substitute. This of course gives meaning to the words of John the Baptist when Jesus was emerging from the waters of baptism. John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
So the Law bears witness to it and so do the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David and others writing in the Old Testament. In Psalm 32, David writes: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” There are many other witnesses in the Old Testament to consider if we had time. So Paul concludes this is not something the Law can give you, but it is something to which the Law and the Prophets bear witness.
Now this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. What does that add? You see that is not universally applied. It is sufficient for the salvation of the entire world, (we’ll come to that again when we discuss the term “Limited Atonement”) but it is not universally applied because it is not universally accepted, It is to those who believe. So you see this is an answer to the teaching you encounter sometimes of universal salvation. Some take verses of Scripture to mean that Christ died for all men, therefore all are saved, and it is irrelevant whether or not you believe it. Here Paul specifically limits it to those who believe, as Jesus himself did. He said to the Pharisees, for instance, “You will not come to me that you might have life.”
Life was available for them, but they refused to come, believe and receive it.
And it comes through faith. Faith simply means you take this word seriously. You believe what God has said and apply it to yourself. You say, “this means me.” I find a lot of people struggle at this point. They think others have the right to be saved, but God didn’t mean them. They’re too bad, or too far gone, too heard-hearted, or whatever. You run into a lot of excuses, but it is simply, as Jesus put it, “whosoever will may come unto me.” If you will to come, then you have the faith to come, and by faith in Jesus Christ, believing this applies to you, you receive the gift of righteousness. And Paul continues:
“There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (He is summarizing what he has already stated in the previous verses) and are justified (made righteous) freely by his grace (that is, by God’s gracious initiative) through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Redemption is the price, not through the teachings of Jesus, but through the redemptive work of the cross.
Now in verse twenty-five the apostle will explain more fully how this works : “God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.” The words “sacrifice of atonement” are translated variously in other versions. (Readings from class: NAS “as a propitiation.” NIV footnote “As the one who would turn aside his wrath”, RSV…an expiation by his blood”. There is no English word that fully captures what the Greek text is saying here. This attempt here to call it a “sacrifice of atonement” is one way of trying to get at the meaning. The two words usually employed are “expiation” and “propitiation”, and it is referring to the value of the death of Jesus. Expiation means to satisfy justice. Propitiation means to awaken or release love. They are not the same thing. Propitiation is the larger term; it goes further than expiation.
Let me illustrate. These days we read a lot about industrial accidents. Someone is working for a company and the safety equipment is lacking or inadequate, and a worker is injured severely, perhaps even paralyzed for life by some accident. The company is responsible because they failed to provide adequate safety measures to prevent this from happening, so that in the settlement that follows the suit or court trial, the company is charged a huge sum of money to settle the claim. When that money is paid by the company to the injured individual, the company has expiated its guilt. The law cannot come back and require more. Justice has been satisfied. Expiation satisfies justice.
There are many who point out that when Jesus died upon the cross he satisfied the justice of God. That is true. He did. But he did more than that, and it is an incomplete view of the atonement to just use expiation as explanation of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He did satisfy God’s justice, so that God no longer has a just claim against those who believe in Christ. But it goes further than that. What Jesus did was propitiate God.
Propitiation, if I may return to my illustration, could only be accomplished with great difficulty by the company in that situation. You see when they satisfied justice, that said nothing about how the injured man felt about the company. He might be very bitter and angry the rest of his life. He might regard that company as disgraced from then on, and though their guilt has been expiated, the man himself has not been propitiated. If somehow the company owners could come and apologize to him and tell him how sorry they felt, and that they had taken steps to assure it would never happen again, and apologized to such a degree that the man felt they were clear in their intent, and he then forgave them—then he had been propitiated. He had been made to feel right toward the company. He now regards it with favor. He sees it was accidental and they had no intent to allow the accident to happen, so he feels right about it. That is propitiation.
That is really the word used here: a propitiatory sacrifice. Our Lord when he died not only satisfied God’s justice, but he rendered him free to show his love. That is why in chapter five of Romans Paul will add: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God is free to show his love to us; that is propitiation. So we are justified freely. God presented him as a propitiatory sacrifice through faith in his blood.
Now Paul goes on to further explain, “He did this to further demonstrate his justice. Because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” What is he talking about? He is talking about the ages in which people had run rampant on the earth, and God seemingly did nothing about it. You see, the last time in history to this point where the anger and justice of God had been demonstrated against sin, was the Flood, which was God wiping out the race because it was so evil. Their evil had become so blatant and rampant that God decided to eliminate humanity from the planet, except for eight people. Thus his justice was demonstrated.
Now many centuries after the flood, evil was running wild throughout the earth, tyrants were ruling, people were murdering and raping one another, stealing properties and damaging people, and God seemingly did nothing about it. Still today people raise questions about the Holocaust. They ask how a just God could permit Hitler to exterminate six million innocent Jews and not do anything about it. His justice is being impugned by these circumstances.
Now how did the cross satisfy that justice? We are told that on the innocent head of Jesus, the sinless person, God poured out the total amount of his wrath. This is why Jesus feared the cross. He was no coward; it wasn’t the physical agony of it that he feared, terrible as that was. There was no more shameful or painful death that man has ever devised than crucifixion. It’s a prolonged agony that cannot be relieved. You can’t think of any agony more unbearable than crucifixion. But that isn’t what Jesus feared. Other men have been crucified. Peter was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the death that Jesus did.
But what made Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane was not the agony of the cross, but the sense of forsakenness from God that he knew was involved in bearing the sins of the race. God turned his back upon his own beloved Son, and that is what drew the cry of dereliction from our Lord’s lips: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That sense of abandonment and alienation by God is the most awful thing any human being can contemplate. That’s what hell is, that sense of abandonment by God, cast into outer darkness forever alone. That’s the terror of it, and that is what Jesus faced on the cross. Thus the justice of God was visibly demonstrated in that God did not spare his own Son one iota of his wrath. Paul says this in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
So that is what Paul is referring to. “He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” How can God still be just, yet declare guiltless someone who is very guilty indeed? A just God could never do that, unless his justice had somehow been satisfied. This is the wonder of the gospel, that God has found a way in which he can expiate the sin of man, propitiate the being of the Father, thus establishing that God remains just when he justifies the ungodly. I think there is no clearer explanation of the gospel than that.
There are many passages that deal with the Atonement, statements that run throughout the Old and New Testaments. Peter says “he bore our sins in his own body upon the tree”, and Hebrews speaks of how “he has by himself purged our sins” and shed his blood for the remission of sins. Another passage often referred to in this connection is the great theological statement in Philippians 2: 5-8 (NIV):
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, (or literally, the form of God, which means the very nature of God) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (held onto, grasped and not let go of) , but made himself nothing, he emptied himself…”
There is theological debate over what he emptied himself of. Some claim he gave up his deity, but that would be impossible, because Jesus was God. How could he cease to be what he was? You cannot give up what you really are. What it means is he gave up the manifestation, the visible demonstration of his deity. He laid aside the right to act as God when he came to earth and took upon himself the right to act as a man filled, in touch with God, which is our position.
“…taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
This is a clear statement of his substitutionary sacrifice. He died as a man on the cross. God cannot die. The deity of Jesus did not die, but his humanity did. The blending of those two natures is such that the effect of his death was as though God himself had in some way encompassed death. This is the consistent argument of Scripture.
What was the effect of this? Scripture indicates the first effect was to reconcile everyone in the world to God. This needs to be carefully understood, because there is a lot of confusion and heretical ideas at this point, some pursuing one aspect of this too far. Let’s look at another great statement by the Apostle Paul on the meaning of the death of in II Corinthians 5:16
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. (That is, he no longer sees human beings on the shallow estimation of men’s values—if you’re rich, or have a high position you’re more important than others. That’s the way we humans look at it.) “Though we once regarded Christ in this way…” (There was a time when, as a young rabbi from Tarsus, Paul regarded Christ as a man, a usurper trying to act like God. He blasphemed God, being completely off base.) But he says, “we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf (actually, in Christ’s stead, in his place): Be reconciled to God.”
Now reconciliation has two aspects. It refers to how people feel toward one another. If you are quarrelling with someone, and upset with them and they with you, you need to be reconciled. You need to view one another differently. But where two are involved, one can be reconciled and not the other. Reconciliation is the statement that when Christ died on the cross he expiated sin and propitiated God, so that God is reconciled toward man. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer used to illustrate it this way: Man and God are alienated from one another, unable to communicate. God in his justice was feeling anger against man because of his terrible evil that was rampant in the world. And man was angry with God, blaming him for everything and unable to communicate with him. But because of the death of Christ, God was reconciled to man. He turned a smiling face toward mankind.
Actually, this is over-simplification, and in some sense is wrong, because we must not have the impression that God the Father was placated by Jesus. God, as it states in the passage, was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. The Father was just as eager for reconciling mankind as the Son was. He loved the world, and wanted to bring it back to himself. So in no sense was the love of God unavailable to man before the cross.
The appeal of the gospel we preach is to the individual. Younow be reconciled to God! Turn around and accept this gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ. Give up your independent spirit, your justifying of yourself, and acknowledge your need of redemption. Receive it; be reconciled to God. If that be true, as I believe it is, then what reconciliation does is to render men savable.; that is, the death of Jesus was for the whole world.
I want to now call your attention back to Calvinistic teaching. According to his followers, John Calvin taught these five points: Total Depravity of mankind; Unconditional Election; (God chose some to be saved, and this the Bible does clearly teach as we’ll see later), but here is the one in question—Limited Atonement. According to the Calvinists (not Calvin, but Calvinists), the Scriptures teach that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus was only intended for the elect. God only chose to save the elect, and that is all that was meant in the sacrifice of Christ. The non-elect, those who did not receive salvation, were not included in the atonement. In other words, Christ did not die for everybody. He died only for those who would be saved.
This was conceived of in an attempt to make the work of Jesus appear to be as efficacious as possible. That is, it was in no sense a failure—that God intended only to save a certain number, and Christ actually died only for those, and he saved all of those; therefore, his intention from the beginning was completed. Here there is a great deal of debate. Personally, I cannot accept the doctrine of Limited Atonement. I’ll explain this later.
The fourth point of the Calvinistic five is Irresistible Grace.; that is, when God calls man cannot resist. If you have read C. S. Lewis, you know how he describes his conversion as being dragged kicking and screaming, with his eyes darting in every direction, hoping for some way to escape, but God draws him to himself and he finds he is unable to escape, and receives the Lord. He is describing irresistible grace. God can save whom he will. Paul will argue that with great perspicacity in Romans nine.
The last point is the Perseverance of the Saints, that once saved you cannot be lost. The proof of regeneration is continuance, and this appears again and again throughout Scripture. You may fall away for awhile, but you can’t stay there. You come back again. This is popularly called Eternal Security.
Those are the five points of Calvinism. For the most part, because I would agree with four of them, I would usually be classified, and would classify myself as a Calvinist. I spent some interesting time at a conference with Dr. James Torrance, who is Professor of Theology at St. Andrews in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is a great student of Calvin. I was pleased that he indicated Calvin really never did teach what is known as Limited Atonement, that it was more his followers’ teaching.
One of the reasons for that is the way it deals with the love of God. The well-known verse, John 3:16, says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” That means God loves everybody, and that is the reason for his working out this amazing plan of redemption. This is borne out by John’s statement in his first letter: Godis Love. If you pursue Limited Atonement far enough, you will have to say that since God loves the elect, he does not therefore love the non-elect. And if he does not love the non-elect, he does not love everybody.
Jonathan Edwards, a great New England scholar, and John Owens, one of the great Puritan fathers, taught that God actually did not love everybody, and made statements to the effect that God cannot be love because he does not love everyone. That runs counter to the Apostle John, doesn’t it. This is the problem with Limited Atonement. But when you see that God made provisions for everybody’s salvation through Christ, but requires a personal response to receive it, then you can no longer view the atonement as limited, since it is unlimited in its possibilities. It is limited only by the unwillingness of people to receive it, or willingness to reject it.
There is a great passage in Colossians 1, which we will deal with briefly. The Apostle has been speaking of Christ’s deity and says in verses 18-20:
“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, (that’s a reference to the resurrection) so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
That seems to state that everything has been reconciled, everything on earth, and everything in heaven which is the invisible realm and which would include the devil and his angels, and on earth all evil men such as the Hitlers and Stalins, the tyrants of history, murderers, thieves, etc. All sinners of earth will be reconciled. Universalists lean heavily on this verse, maintaining everybody is going to be saved. But you see it’s a great mistake to identify reconciliation with salvation. Reconciliation is the first step in salvation, not the whole thing.
In Romans 5:9-10, Paul clarifies the distinction:
“Since we have now been justified (made righteous) by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Do you see the distinction he has drawn between reconciliation and salvation? Reconciliation, he says, is the foundation God has already accomplished in Christ, upon which the right to give his life rests, and as he has made clear, those who believe receive life on the grounds that they have been reconciled by his death. So the death of Jesus reconciled everything, that is, it rendered it subject to God, and those who receive
the Lordship of Jesus are given life. Thus everybody’s been reconciled, as II Corinthians stated as well, that God has reconciled the world unto himself through the death of his Son.
Why then does Paul plead, “be reconciled unto God”? Because personal regeneration depends upon accepting the death of Jesus for oneself. So reconciliation is not equivalent to salvation. Everything has been reconciled already, and thus the statement in Philippians that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Whether things in earth or in heaven, every knee shall bow – angels, devils, demons, humans – everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord. In other words, their opposition to him will cease. That’s what reconciliation accomplishes; it removes all opposition. It doesn’t mean they are saved. It means they recognize that their condemnation is just. They no longer rationalize, they agree with God in what he has said about them, and the fate they have been given is right. That’s what reconciliation accomplishes, but that is not regeneration. On the basis of reconciliation, we shall be saved through his life. That is what Paul refers to in II Corinthians 5:17 when he says if any man be in Christ (has received Christ), he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.
(Class question) The serpent in the wilderness was erected on the pole for everyone to see, but only those who looked at it were healed of a snakebite. That’s another picture of this same thing. Everywhere in Scripture there is the implication that reconciliation must be received.
There is another theological issue that arises at this point, and that is hotly debated today, and that is, in what way do you have to see Jesus in order to be saved? There is a quarrel going on currently over what is called “Lordship salvation”. Do you see Jesus as your Savior and are saved, or do you see him as Lord to be saved? I was taught at Dallas Seminary that you can receive Jesus as your Savior and that later on you learn about his Lordship, but your regeneration is effected by receiving him as Savior.John MacArthur is now contesting that hotly, saying no, we must see and receive him as Lord in order to be regenerated.
I have to say I consider this sort of a tempest in a teapot. I think both sides are right. I don’t believe you have to know everything in the Bible that is implied in the Lordship of Jesus in order to be saved. But we have to see that God has made Jesus Lord. He is the Master of the universe, the Judge of all things, God’s man for redemption, the way to God. You must see that, otherwise there will not be content to your belief in him. You can’t come to him as though receiving an insurance policy against going to hell, then go on living exactly as you were. Regeneration changes you inside. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. It changes your outlook and your attitude. It is opposed inside you by the habits of your past life, and you struggle against it, often failing, but there is something in the regenerated person that cannot quit.
I remember once receiving a phone call from a young man who had come to Christ a few weeks previously, and he had been struggling greatly. He called me about eleven o’clock at night and said, “Hey, I just want to tell you, I’m going to quit being a Christian. I just can’t make it, can’t handle it.” I said, “Well, I understand that. I think that’s a good idea. Why don’t you just quit? There was a full minute of silence, and finally he said, “No, I can’t do that.” I said “Yes, I know that.” He couldn’t, and he didn’t. There’s a feeling that you want to, which is understandable. We all get to that point, but there is something in the believer that will keep bringing him back. He may struggle at great length, go off for a while and fight it for a long time, but there is something that keeps telling him “you belong to God.” He knows it but won’t admit it. Others can see it and think he’s backslidden or lost his salvation, or whatever, but sooner or later he will get back, because that which is born of God cannot sin, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and he will eventually turn to God.
That’s the story of the prodigal son, isn’t it. He couldn’t forget he was his father’s son, and his last resort was, “I will arise and go to my father.” I never refer to that without thinking of the black preacher I met in Dallas who told me how he preached that. He said he told about the prodigal son who went into the far country and was feeding the pigs in the pigpen. He took off his coat and sold that, then took off his shirt and sold that, then took off his undershirt and sold that. And then “he came to himself” (as the Bible says) and said “I will arise and go to my father.” That’s what the believer will do.
I believe there is a sense in which you receive Christ as your Savior, you desperately want to be saved, you ask him for relief, and in some sense you also are receiving him as Lord because he is offered on those terms in Scripture. Every offer of salvation includes the statement that Jesus is Lord. Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. What did the Apostle Paul say to the Philippian jailor? “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31) Salvation is always offered on these terms. Jesus is never offered as a Savior. He becomes our Savior when we receive him as our Lord. Salvation is his work, but Lordship is his person.
I think if you began to explore with both of these parties what they meant by what they are saying you would come out pretty much at the same place. Obviously John MacArthur is trying to protect the fact that you cannot just have “cheap grace”, as Bonhoeffer calls it; that is, just accept Christ so you won’t go to hell, but not let him change your life to any degree. That is cheap grace, and it is not real salvation. On the other hand, the Dallas Seminary teaching is defending the fact that you don’t have to understand everything about Jesus in order to be saved. You come to him. Jesus put it that way: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He didn’t say after you have studied theology for six months then come to me and I will give you rest.
(Class question about “depart from me I never knew you” from the Sermon on the Mount.) Well, that’s an example of cheap grace, a sign they did not mean it and there was no real change in their lives. It is what the Pharisees were doing. They thought they were God’s people, having come to him through the sacrificial system, and yet Jesus said they were “whitened sepulchers”. They had been whitewashed, but inside there was nothing but death.
(Class question) They thought there was a relationship. They said, have we not in your name preached and done many mighty works? There are a lot of mighty works done in the name of Jesus today by people who don’t know him as Lord. Think of all the hospitals and rescue operations, charity organizations, all done in the name of Christ, but not necessarily done by true Christians.
(Class question about the grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies.) Clearly, this is implying there must be a giving up of the right to self. That is what death does; it gives up the right to your self. That is what happens when you truly receive Christ. You come to him asking he deliver and change, or indwell you—whatever terminology you choose. You are giving up your right to yourself. It’s like a drowning swimmer who can’t save himself. Someone comes to rescue him and he clings to that person, impeding his own salvation. They tell us the best strategy may be to knock the person out in order to save him. He has to give up on that self salvation in order to be saved. This is what our Lord is saying, you can’t save yourself, and you have to give up trying in order to be saved. He will do all of the saving. Our hymn says it beautifully:
“Nothing in my hand I bring.
Simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked look to thee for dress.
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
We don’t offer God anything. We don’t bargain with God. We come as hopeless, helpless victims asking for redemption, and it immediately is ours as a gift of grace.
(Class question) This is a natural question. Why doesn’t God give faith to everyone, if by irresistible grace he calls everyone he wants to himself? This ties in with unconditional election. Why doesn’t God choose everybody? Here we come against what is often called the paradox of redemption. There are statements about this in Scripture that we cannot reconcile. All we can do is accept them, because they are both plainly stated. Jesus himself stated both sides. He says he will not cast out any who come to him (as in John 6:37), but he also clearly says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” That is unconditional election, isn’t it?
This a watershed of theology. You fall off one side into Calvinism and on the other side toward Arminianism (which is the opposite view of Calvinism) by how you answer that question. Hyper-Calvinists take the side of God’s election and irresistible grace to the exclusion of the will of man entirely. I think this is going too far.
However, in the Arminian or Pelagian (the teacher who taught this in the fourth century) view, it is said man chooses whether he is to be saved, and it is totally up to him. He can choose to accept or reject, and when he chooses then God acts. They explain election in terms of the foreknowledge of God, who looked down the corridors of time and saw everybody who would accept him when they heard about it, and he elected them to be saved. Scripture does not support that. Paul argues in Romans nine to the effect that God is sovereign and he knows who is going to be saved because he has chosen them. He first elects, then foreknows.
We’ll never settle the debate. I think I’ve shared with you before that the great theological question to ask is, am I foreordained to be an Arminian, or am I free to choose to be a Calvinist?
(Class question) If you carefully read chapter nine of Romans you will see how Paul handles this very question. He says someone will ask, “why does God condemn us since we can’t resist his will?” His answer is remarkable: “Who are you to ask God questions like that?” You’re not equipped to get into the same ring with him. You’re dealing with a damaged instrument, you’re finite and limited in your observations, you don’t see the whole picture—and you are going to tell God whether he can or cannot do what he does?
If it were not for election, no one would be saved. Because none of us desires God. We don’t want God messing up our lives. Every one of us fights against him, without exception. Therefore, it were not for election no one would be saved. This is a great doctrine, and we ought to highly value it.
(Class Question) God is dealing with Israel as a nation (the wild olive tree in chapter 11 of Romans) and saying that because Israel as a people were the children of Abraham they had an opportunity to be saved, because of the giving of the Law and the knowledge of God, etc., given to the patriarchs. But he says that was taken away from them because of their unbelief. They were broken off, and the Gentles who had no such opportunity were put in their place in order to have the knowledge of salvation. He says the reason for that is the natural branches, the Jewish nation, will see God’s blessing upon the Gentile world that they ought to be having and will be made zealous because of that. It will finally wake them up until they too begin to believe, and when the Deliverer comes out of Zion (that is the Messiah) returns, they will receive and believe in him. He is dealing here with those wheels within wheels with which God handles history.
(Class Question) Why does the article of faith state here “by means of the Spirit God was reconciling the world unto himself?” It is by means of the Spirit that Jesus is made available to any of us. It’s the Spirit revealing to us the person of Jesus; therefore, our whole understanding of the work of Christ rests upon the work of the Spirit, who teaches us as we read, how it applies to us. Hebrews tells us it was “through the eternal Spirit” that Jesus offered himself without spot unto God. So we have the work of the Spirit involved in the actual dying of Jesus, his resurrection, and the application of this truth to mankind. Everywhere it rests upon the work of the Spirit. We saw in the study of the Trinity that the three persons always work together. This is simply recognition of that fact.
(Class Question) What does it mean, “that which is born of God cannot sin?” That statement is found in I John 3:9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God.” What he is referring to here, as I tried to make clear when I showed the circles representing humanity, is that we have a human spirit, a soul and a body. The human spirit is what is being referred to here. The Holy Spirit entering the human spirit results in regeneration, the giving of life, the new birth. That which is born of God, that human spirit regenerated by the presence of the Holy Spirit within, cannot sin. It doesn’t sin, doesn’t desire to sin, and cannot sin.
But the soul, which is our conscious life outside of that, has been dominated by the flesh, the sinful attitudes by which we have been living all our lives, and it still needs to be conquered by that Spirit. Therefore, it sins at times, and at times it does not as there are areas that are conquered by the Spirit within us, as we yield to his Lordship and that part of our conscious life is cleansed. In that area, we become Christ-like. That continues throughout our lives until gradually, more and more, our soul is being repossessed for Christ. Sin is still possible in this area as long as we are in the body, which is not redeemed until the resurrection.
(Class Question) Can a true believer quench the Spirit? Yes, we certainly can; otherwise the warning would not be there to prevent us from doing that. To quench the Spirit means to resist the leading of the Spirit. To hesitate when the Spirit tells you not to do something that is wrong or to do something that is right, and be unwilling to go along with him, to fight and resist. We can do that, and we do.
I just want to mention two excellent books on the cross of Christ. I think the best book available on the meaning of the Atonement is John R. W. Stott’s new book called The Cross of Christ. An excellent book, very deep study of the Atonement. A more easy-to-read book in some ways, is the collection of sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the cross. He was a vigorous preacher, and that vigor and excitement and power comes through very clearly in these sermons. In some ways this is a more stimulating book. Stott’s book is an intellectual study, while Lloyd-Jones’ book is emotional experience of the effect of the cross in a believer’s life. Both are very good books.