As we’ve been going through this topical series on the cross of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the atonement, I wanted to make mention of two books that are both quite good and may be of help for those of you who want to do further study. They’re at our book table out in the foyer. One is a little book by Leon Morris, a great Bible teacher from Australia, just called The Atonement. It’s a great little book. And then the other one, that obviously is a little bit thicker – the big book – is John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, and he is a great, great, great British Bible teacher and a great guy. So those are both available for those of you that have enjoyed the series and maybe want to do a little more homework. That would be of great help to you.
For those of you who don’t want to read that much, you’ve got the Loop notes on the way in, which is the one-page little Cliffnotes summary of where we’re going tonight that will help you follow along with our study, so I’ll just go ahead and pray and we’ll get into it. Tonight we’re gonna deal with unlimited and/or limited atonement. We’re gonna argue Calvinism and Arminianism and winner take all – gets a big, fat belt put around their midsection and we carry them out of here on their shoulders. So that’s where we’re going.
For those of you that are theology geeks, all you white guys with high-speed Internet connections, no jobs, no wives, you just sit around arguing these things: Welcome to Mars Hill. This is our special holiday Sunday for you. (Laughter) We have some of the craziest young Calvinists. They’re like a rock in my shoe. (Laughter) So we’re gonna try and clear that up tonight – we’re gonna try and clear that up. So I’ll pray and we’ll get to work – and these are big words. If you’re new, we’re a big word church. And you learn a big word every week, and that’s what we do. So this week is gonna be Calvinism and Arminianism, or unlimited and limited atonement. You can impress your friends with your new big words. So I’ll pray – good to see you – and we’ll get to work.
Father God, thanks for an opportunity to study your word together today as your church. God, as we look at this issue that has divided some denominations, some churches, some friendships, even on some occasions has divided whole countries, we ask, God, for wisdom as we study, that we would be faithful to all of Scripture, that we wouldn’t neglect a part in an attempt to just gravitate toward that which we prefer, but that we would listen to the whole Bible tonight and we’d consider all the angles. To accomplish that I ask, Holy Spirit, that you would lead and guide our time, that it could be pleasing to you and profitable to us. And, God, it is my prayer that tonight we would grow in our understanding, that we would learn to think more deeply, that our minds would get stretched. And we know that we’re supposed to love you with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength – I pray our mind would really engage tonight and that our heart would follow. And so, God, as we study we ask that you would enable us to learn well and to study well, so that we might love well and we might live well. In Jesus’ good name we pray, amen.
Well, we’ve been doing our topical series on the atonement. Paul says that the death of Jesus Christ – that’s the theological word – atonement. For the death of Jesus Christ is for some foolishness, for others a great offense – I can assure you, checking my e-mail box, that that is still, in fact, the case – and that for some, though, who believe in it, it is the best news we’ve ever heard, that God has loved us in Jesus and taken away our sin and dealt with our sin problem.
And we have looked so far in this great study of Jesus, the most important person who has ever lived, and the most important event in human history, his death on the cross. We have looked at varying aspects of what Jesus did on the cross. We’ve called it the great jewel of our faith, we’ve looked after different sides of this jewel. We looked at penal substitution – how Jesus took our place and died for our sin. We look at Christus Victor, where he conquered Satan and demons for us. We looked at redemption, where he takes us out of slavery to sin and death and gives us a new life. We’ve looked at new covenant sacrifice, where Jesus fulfills all the Old Testament sacrificial system by himself, living and dying in our place. We have looked at imputed righteousness, where Jesus takes our sin, gives us his righteousness. We have looked at justification by faith, which is the issue that divides the Catholic and Protestant ends of Christianity. We have looked at propitiation last week, which is how Jesus Christ diverts the wrath of God from us through his death on the cross. And this week we will get into Calvinism and Arminianism. Thus far, I’ve alienated almost everyone and today should round that all out and make it official. (Laughter)
And Calvinism and Arminianism – how many of you have actually gotten into one of these debates on Calvinism and Arminianism, right? This is what all new Christians do. They sit in their dorm and they just argue – or their frat and they argue – or you go to Mars Hill, and how many of you, actually, in your community group here have just driven around the theological cul-de-sac a few times talking about Calvinism and Arminianism? “No, we pick God.” “No, God picks us. You can’t pick God, you’re wicked.” “Well, then, God’s mean!” Just around and around we go! There’s no off-ramp, we’re not going anywhere, we’re just driving around the cul-de-sac again. (Laughter)
And so we’re gonna deal tonight with these issues of Calvinism and Arminianism. If you’ve never heard of them, that’s okay. We’ll catch you all up to speed. It is basically an attempt to answer this question – with so much at stake: forgiveness of sins, new life, relationship with God, you know, destiny of heaven by God’s good grace. With so much at stake through what Jesus did on the cross, then we have to ask this question: Who did Jesus die for? With so much at stake, we’ve gotta figure out who does this benefit? That leads to the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism.
So tonight what we’re gonna do – we’re actually gonna look at five positions on this issue. Two are wrong. Two are okey-dokey. And I’m gonna try and sell you on my position, which is the fifth – so we’ll save the best for last. (Laughter)
But the first two positions are non-Christian positions, but we’ll look at them because they’re still fairly popular. To do that we’ll look at five positions and three points for each. We’ll look at their view of sin, their view of the accomplishments of Jesus on the cross, and their view of hell. So this is a 15-point sermon. That’s where we’re going tonight.
So the first thing we’ll look at, is we’ll look at what is known as universalism or Unitarianism. Universalism meaning everybody goes to heaven; Unitarianism being the not-Christian religion that teaches that basically everybody goes to heaven. And when it comes to human sin, Unitarians and universalists – they actually merged a while back – they declare that we’re not sinners. We’re basically all good, moral people, right?
Now this flies in the face of both Scripture and plan reason. Scripture says – Psalm 51:5, “We’re sinners from our mother’s womb.” Psalm 58:3: “We go astray from the womb.” It says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We’re all sinners. Isaiah says that we all, like sheep, have just walked away from God to do our own thing. And in 1 John 1:8, we are told that God says we’re sinners, and if we disagree with that, then we’re saying God’s a liar. And God doesn’t lie. We’re all sinners.
And plain reason, right? I mean, we’ve all sinned, so we have this statement, “Nobody’s perfect.” And we believe that other people have sinned. That’s why we hate them and honk at them, right? (Laughter) So we all believe in sin, and so that position seems weird.
Then about Jesus’ death on the cross, they say, “Well, we don’t necessarily think that Jesus died to save anybody – maybe as a good, moral example, as a nice guy. But saving people? If he died for anybody, he died for everybody, and whatever your religion or belief, you’re okay with God. He doesn’t mind. But perhaps he didn’t even die for anybody because, maybe just as good people, God’s pleased with us, loves us, and there’s no reason for Jesus to die.”
And the last thing they’ll say regarding hell? “Oh, we don’t believe in hell. That’s very negative. Everybody goes to heaven,” right? Which is basically justification by death, meaning all you gotta do to go to heaven is just stop breathing. Then you get a ticket and you go to heaven, okay? And the Bible says repeatedly that we’re all sinners, that Jesus died for our sins, and that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re really going to hell. It says this in Daniel 12:2, that there will be a day when everyone gets out of their grave. Some go to eternal life, some go to eternal damnation.
And Jesus himself, more than anyone in the Bible, speaks about hell – does it all the time. I’ll give you two examples of where he teaches on this. In Matthew 10:28, he says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one” – that’s God – “who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Jesus says, “You’re all scared of people who can hurt you and maybe kill you. But God could kill you and send you to hell, so if you’re gonna be scared of anybody you should really be scared of him.”
Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 25:46, quoting – echoing Daniel 12:2: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Eternal life or eternal damnation. Christians will be in heaven as long as non-Christians will be in hell – that’s what Jesus says. Got into an argument with a pastor. He says, “Well, you know, Christians go to heaven and non-Christians go to hell, but they’re not there forever.” Eternal – eternal. One is in the presence of God and one is separated from the goodness of God as long as the other.
So Unitarianism and universalism we reject because it doesn’t account for human sin. It doesn’t have any real, functional use for Jesus’ death on a cross. And it doesn’t believe that we actually need to be saved because nobody’s really going to hell anyways.
Now, a moderated form of this is something that passes as vaguely Christian. It’s called Pelagianism – again, lots of big words tonight, lots of big words. I believe you’re all smart and those of you who aren’t, you can fake it, so we’ll be all right. (Laughter) So – I’m just kidding. So you need to think critically and theologically. So this is gonna be a huge seminary class tonight. And for some denominations and churches, they have a modified position called Pelagianism, named after a fifth century ascetic monk named Pelagius who taught that we’re all good people, we’re not sinners, and that we don’t need Jesus to die for our sin because we can live a good, moral life. And when we die, we can stand before God and say, “God, do I get to go to heaven now?” And God would say, “Sure, you’re a great guy. Why not? You’re a wonderful person. Welcome – you’ve earned it.” That’s basically what he taught.
And when it came to hell – very fuzzy on hell, generally thinking that since we’re not sinners, possibly none of us are going to hell. Maybe we’re all going to heaven and God’s just fine with all of us. And again, it fails at the same three points. It doesn’t account for human sin. It doesn’t explain the function of the death of Jesus on the cross. And it doesn’t really believe in any literal sort of consequence of hell.
This guy was ultimately cast out as a heretic by the Council of Carthage in 418 AD. That movement was led by a gentleman named Augustine who is somebody we’re a pretty big fan of around here. And he taught that we are sinners and we’re saved by Jesus, not our own good works, and that some people are going to hell and some people are going to heaven. And under his influence, the Christians got together – the leaders – they decided that Pelagius was a heretic.
Now you may say, “What does this got to do with anything? That was 1,600 years ago! Times have changed!” Actually, the curious thing is they really haven’t. There are churches all over the city – I could drive you to them within actually a few miles and show you that they are full, thorough-going Pelagians. They don’t believe in sin. Jesus’ death was nothing more than a good example on how good people should suffer justly and rightly, and that nobody’s really going to hell.
It’s actually a big issue that’s rising up again now with young pastors across the country in what’s known as the emerging church. Now, I don’t know – they say we’re in that – I don’t know what we are. I’m talking about Jesus and I don’t know what team that puts me on. But there’s a book coming out with Zondervan in March that lays out five different views of the Trinity, Scripture, and the atonement – the very thing I’ve been preaching this series on. And there’s five of us contributors, each laying out our position on this issue to show the five different perspectives of young pastors and young churches today. It’s coming out with the biggest Christian publisher in the world.
So I finished my chapter – and they’re each brief – and then we have to critique the other four people’s chapters. Well, I just wrote one of my critiques this week, and the pastor in this chapter is well-known and leads a lot of people nationally – said that he agrees with Pelagius, that nobody’s a sinner, that Pelagius was right, that Augustine was wrong. And there’s lots and lots – actually, probably tens of thousands of young Christians and pastors that are thinking that same thing today across American, something that for 1,600 years hasn’t been really much of a question. But it’s a question again because there is not a high respect for Scripture.
So I tell you that, that the old theological arguments just aren’t old, because bad teachers pick up bad doctrines and keep recycling the bad, old ideas. So we want to be aware of them so that we don’t fall into them.
So we’re rejected Unitarianism and universalism. We have rejected Pelagianism. That leaves us two options to answer the question, “For whom did Jesus Christ die? Who gets the benefits of his death?”
The two teams: Calvinism and Arminianism. There’s always two teams. Republican, Democrat. AFC West, AFC East, right? The American League, the National League in baseball – I mean, there’s two teams. And so what we’re gonna do – I’m gonna try to fairly look at both teams, okay? And I’ll lay out their arguments and I’ll give you the historical debate. And then at the end, I’m gonna sell you on my position.
So I’ll say this, too. This is, for us in Mars Hill, a point of distinction but not a point of division. What that means is this: We believe in primary issues that go in the closed hand, the authority and perfection of Scripture, the Trinity, the death-barrel resurrection of Jesus Christ as God and man, okay? That kind of stuff over here in the closed hand, that’s not open for debate. We’re not voting on it. That’s a done deal. We’re totally inflexible.
Now over in this hand we have an open hand, and we put other things in the open hand. And what we’re saying is, “Eh, there’s a couple different positions we think that Jesus-loving, Bible-believing people can disagree on. And we’re not gonna flog anybody over it, you know? (Laughter) We’re not gonna beat you up or put you on the stockades out there, you know? We can disagree on this and still love each other, and discuss it and debate it, but still love each other and be friends. And we don’t have to split over that.
In that hand would go things like tongues – “Do you believe in tongues?” Whatever, you know? I mean, some do, some don’t. I’m – you know, I’ll die for the deity of Jesus, and I won’t suffer a paper cut for tongues. (Laughter) That’s how – you know – I mean, that’s where I’m at, you know?
“Well, what about the rapture?” What about the rapture? “Well, what’s your position?” Does it matter? Like, if it comes, I’m going. And if it doesn’t, I’m not. (Laughter) Like, I don’t – I don’t know where my position really matters. It’s like, what’s my position on water? It’s wet. (Laughter) You know, I don’t – it’s kind of out my hands, you know? And these secondary issues, we’ll say, “We’ll disagree on that, but we’re not gonna fight over that.” And we can disagree in an agreeable way, okay? So that is what we do with this issue, if you’re a Calvinist or an Arminian, we put it in the open hand. You’ll find people in this church that are both. Most of your leaders – I’ll tell you their position at the end – but we welcome you and we don’t want to fight over this – because you know what? Whole churches, whole denominations, whole countries have split over this issue. We don’t think that’s necessary.
So we’ll deal with the Arminian position first, and I’ll try to explain it to you. Now, Arminianism is named after a guy named James Arminius. He was a Bible-teaching pastor. He is sort of reacting against another guy who lived just before him named John Calvin. Now, Calvin ran a Bible-teaching institution for pastors. His son-in-law taught at that school, and taught James Arminius, who disagreed with everything Calvin taught. Made for interesting, probably, family tension.
Now, James Arminius, though he disagreed with Calvin, he really respected and liked Calvin, okay? So Calvinists and Arminians should make note of this. James Arminius was quoted as saying, “Next to the reading of Scripture, I teach all of my students that the best thing they can do is read Calvin’s commentaries on the Bible.” So though he disagreed with Calvin on something, he said, “John Calvin is the best Bible commentator we’ve got.” And Calvin was a Bible-teaching pastor, wrote many commentaries on the Bible, and was a very good Bible teacher. So James Arminius disagrees with Calvin, but really appreciates many of his insights on the teaching of Scripture. Okay, that shows us that these two groups should respect one another even if they disagree.
Other names for this position are Wesleyanism – any of you ever heard of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, right? Seattle Pacific University’s a Methodist school in the lineage of the Wesley brothers. And I’ll tell you what, I will disagree with Wesley on a few things, but Wesley loved Jesus, was mightily used of God, was a godly man. And he’s a guy that I learn a lot from and we believe is one of the great heroes of our faith. So we’re not trying to denigrate this team whatsoever.
Another thing it’s called is unlimited atonement, meaning who did Jesus die for? It’s unlimited. He died for every man, woman, and child who would ever live on planet earth.
The denominations or groups of churches that hold this position are like the Methodists, the Christian churches, the Nazarene churches, the Foursquare churches, the Calvary Chapel churches all hold this position, as well as certain para-church ministries like Young Life or Campus Crusade for Christ, okay? So do we believe that they’re the enemy? I don’t. Most of us probably became Christians under these sorts of churches and groups, because in Christianity they’re actually the majority. This is the majority position today.
Okay, so when you go to ask them the three questions – sin, the cross, and hell. Where are you at on sin? A good Arminian will say, “We believe in sin.” Okay, good. What do you believe? “We believe that we’re all sinners, not so much getting Adam’s guilt, but our own guilt.” See, Adam was the father and head of the human race, and the question is when he sinned, does his sin come to all of us as a condition of nature whereby we’re all conceived evil sinners? And they will say, “Well, you know what really matters is we’re all sinners by what we do, so let’s just accept the fact that we believe that everybody’s a sinner by what they do. And maybe we don’t receive all of Adam’s guilt, but we sin ourselves, so we agree that we’re all sinners.”
Okay, what do you believe about the cross? And they will say, “We believe that Jesus died for every man, woman, and child who has or will ever live on the earth.”
You ask them, what do you think about hell? They say, “We believe in hell. We believe that if you reject Jesus, you go to hell. We believe in heaven and hell.”
Say, okay, do you have any verses? And the Arminian will say, “Yes. We love our Bible. We have lots of verses for you to defend our position.” And they will pull out their Bible and they will start reading and piling up the big pile of Arminian verses, okay? And I’ll give some of them to you. Where it says that Jesus died for everybody, every man, woman, and child, who has or will ever lived – we’ll start with Isaiah 53:6. I can’t do them all because we only got a couple hours, but I’ll give you as many as I can. Isaiah 53:6 – if you’re new to Mars Hill, this will take a while. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray.” Isaiah 53:6 says, “Each of us has turned his own, and the Lord has laid on him” – that’s Jesus – “the iniquity of us all.” That’s how the Arminian will say it – stressing that point, right? All! Okay? You say, “Well, which people did Jesus die for?” All the people.
The Arminian will say, “Oh, let me reload my gun. I have another verse. 1 Timothy 2:3-6: “God our savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, for there is one God, one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” The Arminian says, “Well, there you go. I gave you two verses. It says all. What do you think that means? That sounds like all, doesn’t it – even to the public school kids. (Laughter) That sounds like a lot of people. That’s a lot right there.”
We got more verses. These verses say that not only Jesus died for all people, he died for the whole world. They will go to John 1:29. John had this freaky, hillbilly, redneck cousin named – Jesus had this cousin named John the Baptist, right? He lived out in the woods. The kid literally grew up, the Bible says, eating bugs and sugar, right? That’s like ADD, major weird kid, right? Like, big afro, buck teeth, bugs hanging out – he’s that kid, you know? (Laughter) Got a little twitch, and he was the prophet of God. And so he starts preaching, preparing the way for Jesus, and he shows up in John 1:29 and he says this: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The Arminian will say, “The world – that sounds like all. We’re talking about a lot of people here,” all right? And they’ll say, “See, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Then they will go to John 3:16, the great end-zone versus, right? (Laughter) Every football game there’s some fundamentalist with white pants and a sweater vest in the end-zone with this verse on a piece of cardboard, thinking that if he could just get it on ABC, revival will break out and we will be a Christian nation. (Laughter) Okay? The great end-zone verse, and here it is: “For God so loved the world” – you’ve all seen the verse, right? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.” They’ll say, “That’s the world, baby! What do you think we’re talking about? That’s the world! You ever seen a globe? That’s what he’s died for – all those people on that huge hunk of dirt. That’s what he was working on.”
So they’ll say Jesus died for all people, the whole world, and then they’ll pull out two more that they’re talking about Jesus died for everyone. The first one they will go to is Hebrews 2:9. “By the grace of God, he” – that is Jesus – “tasted death for everyone.” And then lastly they will go to 2 Peter 3:9, saying that God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but he wants everyone to come to eternal life.
And the Arminian will say, “Well, there you go. Who did Jesus die for you? Well, all people, the whole world, and everyone – that looks like every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or will ever live. That’s everybody.”
And then the Arminian will wrap it up and say, “And here’s how we preach the Gospel. Jesus Christ is God. He came to live a life without sin. And he died on the cross for all sinners and all their sins. So everyone who had ever lived, and everything they would ever do – Jesus died for that. And so to be a Christian, you need to accept or choose Jesus. Choose Jesus and you can go to heaven. If you reject Jesus, you go to hell.” That’s classic Arminian preaching: “Choose Jesus. He died for you. He chose you. You choose him. You live for him.” That’s classic Arminian Gospel.
Many of us, if not most of us, probably became Christians under that kind of Gospel presentation. “Jesus died for you. Choose Jesus.” And that seems pretty good right there. The Arminians – they’re the majority, seems pretty good.
But there’s the other team, so now we’ll look at the other team – the Calvinist team, the name taken from another guy named John Calvin. Great reformer, lived hundreds of years ago. Good Bible teacher, trained pastors, loved his church, taught them books of the Bible and wrote commentaries on books of the Bible. Interestingly enough, one of the only sections he didn’t get to was the wisdom literature, but other than that he covered the majority of the Bible. He wrote perhaps the bestselling theology in the history of the church, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. He and Aquinas have the two most important theologies in the history of the church as far as systematic writings go.
And this position known as Calvinism is taken, obviously, from John Calvin. And when you hear the word Calvinism, you usually think of – if you have any theological training – the five points of Calvinism, the TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Meaning? You stink. God picked you. Jesus only died for those people he picked – limited atonement. If God picked you, you can’t outrun him. He’s gonna get you. He’s gonna love you and save you. You can resist for a while, but he’s gonna get you. Perseverance of the saints – if you really are a Christian you’re gonna walk with Jesus your whole life, and then you’re gonna go see him, okay? That’s Calvinism – the five points of Calvinism.
People ask this all the time – I get a lot of grief on this – where are you at on the five points of Calvinism? Well, here’s my problem with the five points of Calvinism. They start in Genesis 3, not in Genesis 1. They start with human sinfulness, not the nature of God and the fact that we’re made in God’s image and likeness as the apex of creation. So they skip God, creation, and the Imago Dei – that men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. And they go right to Genesis 3, which is, “You stink” – which I agree with, but that’s not where the Bible starts. The Bible starts with God and creation, and then sin. So one of my problems with the five points of Calvinism is it starts a little further into the Bible than the Bible does, and I think we should start where the Bible does.
Additionally, the weakest point, admittedly, of the five points of Calvinism is the L, okay? Essentially I hold to – we hold to – the five points of Calvinism. But we don’t articulate them a lot because I don’t think that the L is so strongly articulated. It is the weakest of the five points of Calvinism and it’s the point that gets all the shots, and that is limited atonement. Okay, what that means is this: For whom did Jesus Christ die? The Calvinist will say, “Just for the elect.” That God in eternity past knew we would all sin, and God predestined, chose, foreordained, selected certain people to be saved. Those that he predestined, he sent Jesus to the cross, and Jesus died only for their sin’s, not everybody’s. Not everybody’s, okay?
Now this position also is known as limited atonement, particular redemption, definite atonement, some called it reformed theology. It is very popular with Presbyterians. It is very popular with some independent Bible churches, like Mars Hill. It is very popular with some reformed Baptist churches. There was a day where most Baptist churches were more reformed, and today they’re more Arminian.
And this all hinges on the understanding that God knows the future, that God works through human history, and that God controls everything through predestinating. Now, let me sell predestination to you, okay? Okay, here’s what predestination means: God picked you before time began – that’s what Ephesians 1 says. God picked you before time began. Now, some people will respond and say, “We don’t like that because that makes – that’s not fair.” That’s basically the emotional argument that most people come against. They’ll say, “Calvinists are mean. They think God plays favorites with people and that’s mean. That God picked you, didn’t pick you. And we are a democracy. We believe everybody gets to vote. We believe Christianity should be a democracy and everybody should get a vote.” (Laughter)
Well, there’s only three issues. Somebody has to choose who goes to heaven, who goes to hell. There’s three options. Satan and demons are your first option. How many of you want to vote that Satan and demons decide who goes to heaven? Not a huge movement for that team so we’ll dismiss it. (Laughter) All right, if Satan and demons choose who goes to heaven, nobody goes to heaven.
So then it’s down to who chooses: we choose, or God chooses. Some people say, “Well, I think it makes sense that we choose. I like the Arminians on that.” Okay, question: what about all the babies that are aborted in the womb – about a third in America? What about all the little kids throughout the course of history that died when they were one, two, three years old? Maybe they didn’t understand fully what we were talking about. You know, in the ancient world and in some second- and third-world contexts, kids don’t even get a name ‘til they’re two years old because so many don’t live to be two that they don’t name them.
What about people that are born mentally incapacitated, people that are in a vegetative state? What about people that have learning disabilities and can’t fully understand what we’re talking about? What about the old person with Alzheimer’s that you explain something to them and they automatically forget it? What about the person who’s in another country and they’re in some hut in the middle of nowhere, and they’ve never heard about Jesus?
See, if you’re saying that to go to heaven you need to hear about Jesus and choose him, well, then, all those people are jacked. Because they didn’t hear about him, and they didn’t choose him, and they can’t choose him. So the Calvinists would say, “Do you really want to believe that we choose, or do you feel better believing that God chooses?” Because God could choose a baby in a belly. God could choose a newborn infant. God could choose somebody who’s never heard about him – he could reveal himself to him through a dream, an angel, a miracle, whatever. What about the person that is mentally incapable of fully understanding? Well, God could save them, too.
And so the Calvinists would push back and say, “Actually, this is the most generous, benevolent, optimistic, loving, sleep-good-at-night position that you can have – that God chooses.” The Calvinists would say, “Practically, who owns heaven?” God? “Well, who do you think gets to decide who comes into his house?” Right? Your house, you decide who comes and goes. People don’t knock on the door and say, “I have chosen to come in.” You would say, “Ducky! It’s my house! I choose!” Right? Heaven is God’s house. He chooses who comes in, who doesn’t. A Calvinist would say, “No, we need to respect God and trust God.”
Practically here’s how this comes down. My wife had a miscarriage some years ago. She’s pregnant with our fifth child. We would be at six but she miscarried. When the baby died, the kids – the other kids, because they’re pretty theological – they asked their dad, “What happened to the baby?” I didn’t given them the Arminian line, “Well, unless you hear of the Lord Jesus Christ and choose him, you go to hell.” I told them, “That’s up to Jesus. He decides that.” My kids said, “Cool, so he’s in heaven?” I said, “I told you Jesus decides that.” They said, “Yeah, then that’s what happened.” (Laughter) Because they – you know, they have faith like a child, right? I mean – and they see Jesus saying, “Hey, I want little kids to come to me. The Kingdom of heaven is made for such as these.” And do I know exactly who goes to heaven and hell? I don’t. But I know that if Jesus chooses, boy, there’s more hope than any other position. That’s for sure. That’s for sure, because everything he does is just and right and loving and good, and he’s perfect in all his decisions.
So the Calvinist would come back and say, “Oh, don’t freak out emotionally over the predestination election thing. Actually those words are littered throughout your Bible, so don’t freak out about them.” See the Calvinists, first thing they will do, then, they’ll try to get you to agree to predestination or election. And then what they’ll try and do, they will try and dismantle the basic points of Arminianism. First thing first, they’ll try and dismantle them.
And they’ll say, “Well, we believe in sin, but we believe in sin a little deeper than the Arminians. We believe that we’re sinners from the womb by nature from Adam, and that we sin throughout the course of our lives. So we’re sinners by nature and choice.”
You say, “Well, what about the cross?” They say, “Well, we’ll get to that in a minute. First let’s attack, let’s – no, discuss the Arminian position of the cross,” right? And the first thing the Calvinist will say is this. “Would you agree, dear Mr. and Mrs. Arminian, that 1 Corinthians 2:13 and that Ephesians 2:1 are true?” The Arminian will say yes. “So we are spiritually dead?” The Arminian will say yes. And they’ll say, “Then how does a dead person choose?” Good point – dead people don’t make a ton of choices, right? Dead people don’t choose things. Spiritually dead people – the Bible says we’re spiritually dead – spiritually dead people just can’t choose Jesus. They’re dead.
The Arminian will say, “Okay, any more points?” The Calvinist will say, “Oh, yes. We have many more. Romans 8:7 says that the non-Christian mind is hostile to God, so even if we teach people about God they will be hostile toward God. They won’t choose him. They’ll choose to reject him. That’s exactly what Romans 1 says, that even if we get the truth, we don’t receive it. We suppress it in our unrighteousness because we want to keep sinning. So we have broken minds and hard hearts. It doesn’t matter how much good news comes. It just bounces off of that person like bullets off a rock.”
And they’ll keep pushing the case. Romans 3:11 says that no one seeks God, no one looks for God, no one finds God, right? That no one’s looking – so the Arminian will say, “You need to go looking for God and choose God,” and they’ll say, “Well, right here in Romans it says no one ever looks for God. And no one sees God. And no one finds God. And no one ever chooses God. That’s not the way that it works. We’re not looking for God; God’s looking for us.”
They’ll say, “That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says that he came to seek and save those who were lost.” They’ll say, “You ever heard a news report where a little kid walked out of the house and walked into the woods? You ever seen that kid choose to go home? No, the kid can’t. There’s a problem. They’re totally lost. They don’t know where they are. They’re doomed. They can’t figure it out. So a search party comes and somebody rescues them – that’s what Jesus did for us.” We’re like little kids that are just lost. And you can’t tell them, “Choose to go home,” ‘cause we don’t know where we’re at. And we don’t know where God’s at. And we’re totally lost, so Jesus comes on a rescue mission to find us. It’s not that we’re looking for him; he’s looking for us. It’s not that he’s lost; it’s that we are.
And the Calvinist will press the argument further and they’ll say, “And not only that, the Bible teaches repeatedly that we don’t choose God, that God chooses us,” and they’ll hammer again on the position of predestination. They’ll go to John 15:16 where Jesus looks at his disciples and he says, “You didn’t choose me, I chose you!” That’s pretty clear. They’ll say, you know, “Arminian, you are telling people to choose Jesus. Jesus looks at his people and says, ‘You didn’t choose me, I chose you!’” They will say, “See? It is not about us looking for God. It’s about God looking for us. It’s not about us finding God. It’s about God finding us. You’re giving all the credit to us and you’re taking all the credit away from Jesus.”
And then they will press their argument even further, and they will ask, “So do you believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone?” Yes. “Does Jesus’ death forgive sin?” Yes. “So you’re ultimately a universalist, because if Jesus died for everybody then everybody goes to heaven. Nobody goes to hell. You’re just a universalist.” And the Arminian will say, “No, no, no, no, no. We really believe in hell. We don’t believe that everybody goes to heaven.” The Calvinist will say, “Well, that’s logically inconsistent. If Jesus died for everybody, then everybody should get to go to heaven because Jesus died to forgive sin and everybody’s sin should be forgiven.”
And they’ll press the point even further, and the Calvinist will press on this point. They will then say, “We don’t believe that Jesus died for everyone. We believe that he only died for the Christians – only for the elect.” Well, then, the Arminian will fight back. They’ll push their point. They’ll say, “Well, what do you think that it means when Jesus is declared to have died for all people? When it says he died for all people, Mr. and Mrs. Calvinist, who do you think he died for?” And the Calvinist will say, “When it says he died for all, that means some.” (Laughter) Right?
Now, this is not a great argument, in my opinion. That’s a hard one to hold, right? “All means some – sometimes, but sometimes it means all.” That’s what they will say. When it says, “All have fallen short of the glory of God and sinned,” they’ll say, “All means all.” “Jesus died for all.” “That means some.” And the Arminian’s going, “What the” – you know? “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
And then the Calvinists will try and defend their position by going to places like Romans 8:32, saying, “There it says that Jesus died for all, but obviously the ‘all’ there is the elect, those predestined, chosen by God. It’s the Christians. So when it’s talking about ‘all,’ he’s not talking about all people, he’s talking about all of the elect people.” The Calvinist will do this and say, “See, I went to college,” and they feel pretty good at this point because they feel like they defeated the position.
But then the Arminian will point back and say, “Ah, but what about all those verses I read where it says that he died for the whole world?” The Calvinist will say, “Oh, that doesn’t mean every man, woman, and child who would ever live. That means all the nations, tribes, tongues, languages, cultures on the earth.” They will then get out a big, fat concordance and they will take you to all the places in the New Testament the word “world” appears. And they will show you that it actually appears in seven different senses.
Say, “How do you know this?” I am a geek. I read a lot of books and I argue with tons of people for a living. This is what they do.
They will say, “The word ‘world’ is used seven times, and sometimes it means to every man, woman, and child that has ever lived. Sometimes it refers to every race and nation and culture and tribe and tongue and skin color of people who has ever lived. Because the problem in early church was the Jews thought that only Jews could be saved. And the point is that God loves all the world and all the nations in the world. God’s not a racist. God’s filled with grace.” And they’ll point to verses like Revelation 5:9 where around the throne of Jesus in the end will be people from every language and tribe and tongue and color and group of people and ethnic representation, that God is a multicultural mosaic God who loves all the nations of the earth. But that doesn’t mean that he died for every person in the world. That’s how they will defend their position, rightly or wrongly.
And then the Arminian will pull out their big gun and say, “But when it says that he does not want anyone to perish, but he wants everyone to come to repentance, what in the world does ‘everyone’ mean? And when it says that Jesus tasted death in Hebrews ‘for everyone,’ what does ‘everyone’ mean?” The Calvinist will say, “There are two wills in God. There is God’s active will and God’s passive will. There is the will of God where he acts upon his desires. There is the passive will of God where he doesn’t act on his desires. That is about God’s desires and will, not about his actions like the cross.” They will then declare, “We see this in our life today. God doesn’t want people to starve, but some people starve because, though he doesn’t want them to starve, he doesn’t act on it. He permits starvation. He permits war. He permits tragedy on the earth and he doesn’t stop it. Sometimes he does – that’s his active will. Sometimes he doesn’t – that’s his passive will. He has two wills, one active, one passive.”
This is massively in the thinking and theology of John Calvin. It affects Calvinists. And the problem is, at this point we are way off in philosophy. We haven’t looked at a verse in a really long time. And we’re arguing philosophically.
And so then the Arminian will look at the Calvinist and say, “Do you have any verses? I have a nice – did you see? – I have a nice pile of verses. And so far you’ve got a lot of rhetorical reasoning and argumentation. You’ve got a lot of philosophy. But do you have any verses that say that Jesus died for some people, not all people?” And the Calvinist will say, “Lo and behold, I have a pile of verses.” I will read those to you quickly.
Here is the Calvinistic pile of verses. Matthew 1:21: “At his birth, it was promised that Jesus will save his people from their sins.” “Not all people,” the Calvinist will say, “His people. There you go. That’s one – one for me! I got another one!” (Laughter)
Matthew 20:28: “The Son of Man,” Jesus said, “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” – not all. Many. (Laughter) “That’s two! All right, let me go back!”
Matthew 26:28: “This,” Jesus says at the Last Supper, “is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Not all, many.
Oh, and they got more. Romans 5:19: “Through the obedience of the one man” – that’s Jesus – “the many” – not all – “will be made righteous.” They’ll say, “Oh, yeah, you got verses say all? I got verses that say many. You got verses that say world? I got verses that say sheep – give you a sheep verse.” (Laughter)
John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” – not the wolves, false teachers. Not the goats, non-Christians. Just the sheep – that’s it. Not the whole world, just the sheep. He’s about the sheep. (Laughter)
Then they’ll give you a couple more. On the church, Acts 20:28, Paul, in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders says, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” What did Jesus purchase on the cross through the shedding of his blood? The church! Not a girlfriend, the church. He didn’t marry the whole world. He got a bride, he got a wife called the church. Jesus died for the church. Not everybody, just the church.
And they’ll say it again in Ephesians 5:25. “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And they’ll say, “Well, there you go. I got a nice pile of verses, too, says that Jesus died for his people, many people, the church, and the sheep.”
And then they’ll ask, “Okay, well, what are you, a Calvinist or Arminian? Pick your team,” right? And some of you – how many of you right now would say, “I am an Arminian.” You can raise your hand. Be proud, c’mon. Testify! (Laughter) How many of you would vote Arminian? How many of you would vote Calvinist? Right?
And some of you are totally confused. You’re like, “I’m a Calminian!” (Laughter) We’re just like, “I don’t know. I drank decaf and you lost me about 45 minutes ago. I don’t know what you’re talking about, college boy. Them is big words,” you know? “I couldn’t even find a place to park my El Camino, let alone know what you’re talking about.” (Laughter)
Well, the problem is that these two teams really go at it, man. I mean, whole churches, families, denominations split over this. People argue over this. And the hard part is you’re kind of forced to say, “Well, I’m gonna take this pile of verses,” or, “I’m gonna take this pile of verses.”
Okay, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna give you the third option, okay? As of yet, there’s no one on this team, so if you join we’ll double, okay? But I’ve been thinking about this issue for 15 years. Started debating it in college as a new Christian will all the guys that were in my Bible study, and I’ve been on both teams. I was a Calvinist, then I was an Arminian. Then I was a Calvinist, I was Arminian. And eventually I got a reversible jersey because I couldn’t figure out which team I’m rooting for. (Laughter) And I don’t expect all of you to settle this in 15 – you know, in 15 minutes that I’ve got left, but think it through with me.
And I’m gonna give you a third team. This is the Mars Hill team. This is the team that the elders have come to after many years of discussion and debate. We actually came to this consensus conclusion together. We will call it “modified Calvinism” or “unlimited-limited atonement.” (Laughter) All right? And what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna put all the verses together. We’re not gonna have two piles of verses. We’re gonna have one pile of verses, and we’re gonna keep the big pile of verses. And I will argue for this: that the advocates of this position are men like John Calvin.
Some of say, “But I thought Calvinism” – no, no, no, no, no. Calvinism came after Calvin, right? It’s like, you ever seen that movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton, where he photocopies himself? And that guy’s a little weird. Then they photocopy the photocopy. It’s a cloning show. And by, like, the seventh dude he’s not right. (Laughter) That’s Calvinism. That’s what happens. Calvin’s cool. First generation Calvinist: little funky. Third generation: pretty funky. Seventh generation: not right, something real funky, right? And that’s what happened to Calvinism.
So when those people think of Calvinists, they think of the mean, nasty, angry, violent, you know, philosophically-driven, don’t pray, don’t do evangelism, you know, wear briefs, not boxers, way-too-uptight dudes (Laughter) over here in the real extreme Calvinism camp.
John Calvin’s a good guy, a Bible teacher. When you read his Bible commentaries, he’s trying to deal with the Bible. On the verses that look like Jesus died for everybody, he says, “Jesus died for everybody.” And when you look at the verses where it says, “Jesus died for some people,” he says, “Jesus died for some people.” And right or wrong, he’s trying to keep both teams. So I will argue that the Calvinists are not very Calvin. I will argue against Calvinism with Calvin. (Laughter)
In addition I will argue that other people have held varying forms of this position, like Richard Baxter, the great Puritan – I’m a huge fan of the Puritans. John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress – some of you probably have read that. And also my favorite Bible teacher outside of Scripture, the great Reformed Baptist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon – he is my dude. I just love that guy. I’ve got a stack of biographies this tall. I love reading about Spurgeon. He’s an amazing Bible teacher and preacher, thorough-going Reformed, Calvinistic, evangelistic – just a guy that when I get to heaven, I’m gonna ask him to preach Colossians 2:13-15. Because he died, we don’t have the recordings. All we have is the transcript, and I read it and it made me cry, right? I mean, the guy makes me cry with the transcript. He’s that good.
So I’m gonna argue from these guys. And what I will say, as for this position of unlimited-limited atonement or modified Calvinism, is that when it comes to sin, we believe that we are guilty in Adam, given a sin nature, and that we also are sinners by choice in our lives. So we’re sinners by nature and choice. We embrace the belief that we are totally depraved, mind, will, emotions all affected indeed by sin. We believe in unconditional election. We believe in irresistible grace. We believe in the perseverance of the saints.
As to the L, we believe both: that Jesus died for all, and in a saving way, for some.
I’ll start by quoting John Calvin, okay? In his commentary – and what I’m trying to prove here is that Jesus died for all people in some sense. I’ll clean that up at the end. Commentary says in his commentary on Galatians 5:12, “It is the will of God that we should seek the salvation of all men, without exception” – do evangelism, talk about Jesus to everybody – “as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world.” Well, there’s Calvin and he sounds a lot like an Arminian, doesn’t he? “We should tell everybody about Jesus, because he died for everybody.” What kind of Calvinist are you? “I’m a Calvin, not a Calvinist.” That came later.
He says as well, Colossians 1:14: “By the sacrifice of his death, all the sins of the world have been expiated.” Jesus expiates – deals with – the sins of the whole world. That sounds like Jesus died for everybody.
In Romans 5:18 – this one is particularly interesting – “Though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world,” Calvin says, “and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.” He sounds like a classic Arminian preacher. Jesus died for everybody, but not everybody receives him because some reject him.
Now, this may shock those of you guys with high-speed Internet access that scour through hyper-Calvinistic website and send me e-mails that I delete. (Laughter) This may totally shock you, what Calvin has to say. He teaches that in some sense, Jesus died for everybody.
To help get an understanding of in what sense he died for everybody, I’ll read for you a quote from my dear, dead brother Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in a sermon that he titled “General and Particular” where he dealt with this very issue. He’s my dude. He said, “There is a general influence for good flowing from the mediatorial sacrifice of Christ. And yet it’s special design and definite object is the giving of eternal life to as many as the Father gave him.” He teaches both positions: that in one sense Jesus died for everybody and we’re all benefited by that. But in a saving way for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus only died in that sense for the elect that the Father has given him.
Okay, so let me say this. First point, let’s keep the Arminian pile of verses, that Jesus died for everyone, the whole world, and all people. Let’s just keep it. And let’s say that Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection – he is the most important man in the history of the world. History swings on him – BC, before Christ; AD, Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. Time magazine calls him man of the millennium. He is the most important person who has ever lived. And the cross is the most important event in all of human history.
And let’s agree that in one sense everybody on the earth is blessed, and benefits by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Does that mean they’re all saved? No. Does that mean they all go to heaven? No. Does that mean all their sins are forgiven? No. But it does mean that we’re all benefited and blessed.
Now, some of you have been told that Christianity is the worst thing that ever happened on the earth. The Christians have ruined everything. I’m gonna take odds with that. And I will say Christians have done some terrible things in the history of the world. We don’t want to neglect those. We don’t want to dismiss those. We don’t want to excuse those wars and killings and things of that nature. You know, if it’s contrary to Jesus in the Bible, those people may not even be Christians, or at best, they’re hypocrites.
But Christianity has been the greatest force of good in the history of the world – give you some examples. First is in the view of human dignity and value. See, Christians believe, based upon the teachings of the Bible, that we were made in the image of likeness of God, male and female. That’s why we’re equal. Nobody’s trying to argue for equality. If they read the Bible, they’d know that men and women are equal.
And also we believe as Christians that we are superior to other animals, and we’re not just highly-evolved, educable animals. That people have dignity, value, and worth, and that human life is sacred. That’s why when people are killed by murderers, and there is unjust war that takes innocent life, and people are starving to death, and people don’t get medical coverage because they’re poor and they die, we say, “That’s wrong. Human beings have dignity, value, and worth.” Well, we only believe that because of the spread of Christian thought. Go to a place where Christian thought hasn’t spread, and the dignity for human life isn’t the same. The respect is not the same.
See, after church tonight you will go home and you will eat chicken, not human, because of the spread of Christianity. You think I’m kidding, go to a country that hasn’t had the spread of Christianity. They’re having human for dinner. The Bible says, “Love your neighbor,” not, “Barbeque your neighbor,” right? But if you believe that all we are is evolutionary time and chance, and that all we are is just highly-evolved animals, then eating a chicken and eating a neighbor is essentially the same thing. It’s just two hunks of meat that have evolved into different forms. And we say, “That’s crazy!” Well, it’s only crazy here because we have been greatly influenced by Christian thinking. The respect for human life is different. Doesn’t mean we’re a Christian nation. It doesn’t mean that, you know, everybody is a Christian. But it does mean that Christian thought has seeped into our minds.
Second point: charity. If you are exclusively a naturalist and an evolutionist, that believes in the survival of the fittest and natural selection, what you believe is that if a strong guy murders a young kid, you go, “Well, that’s the survival of the fittest. Only the fit survive. Big deal.” If somebody gets a gun, and he’s a dictator, and he murders those who oppose him in his small country, you shouldn’t protest. You should say, “Well, the fittest survive. I’m a consistent Darwinian. Human life is no different than animal life, and might makes right, and it’s not rule of law, it’s rule of force. Big deal.” But see, we say, “No, no, no, no. Human life and charity and kindness and law matter.” That’s because we’re influenced by Christian thinking.
Brings me to our third point; that is, the rule of law. The reason that you and I believe in rule of law instead of rule of force – and the truth is you only get one or the other. Either the law rules so that there’s equality under the law, or might rules and might makes right, and the weak overpower the strong, and Darwinianism wins, which means if you’re old, or you’re young, or you’re small, or you’re poor, or you’re weak, you lose. See, we don’t believe that. We believe in rule of law because of the influence of Christianity. Christianity is a law-based religion. The Bible is filled with laws. Law brings justice to those who would otherwise be overcome by those who were more powerful, or more affluent, or more educated. Because of that, you and I believe in law. And we hate it when we watch the news and we realize that there are nations that are run by dictators who rule through gun, not law. And they bring power. And they bring the natural outworkings of Darwinian’s survival of the fittest, not love, grace, mercy, compassion. They’re starving citizens to death instead of feeding them because they don’t have dignity of human life. They don’t believe in charity. They don’t believe in the rule of law. We hate that – not because we’re Christians, but because we’re influenced by Christianity.
I’ll give you two more ways. One is through private property rights. The reason we own our homes is in large part because of the influence of the Bible. In the Ten Commandments, God says, “Don’t steal your neighbor’s land.” Well, that assumes that’s your neighbor’s land. That’s private property rights. Go to some atheistic countries and you will find that the government owns all the land. There is no private property.
And lastly, education is the result of widespread Christian influence. It has continually been beneficial for those who are in power to take those that are subjugated under their authority and to maintain for them a position of illiteracy. Because if they can’t read, can’t write, can’t think, can’t organize, can’t go to school, and can’t testify in court, and can’t even vote, then they really don’t have any power. So it’s advantageous to keep people illiterate and uneducated. But Christians, because we’re people of the Bible, we believe that everybody should be able to read the Bible. We are people of literacy. And so wherever Christianity has spread, literacy has spread. Education has spread. For over half of the first years of our nation’s history, the schools were Christian because Christians were the only ones doing education. And the majority of the first universities that were founded, now known as the Ivy League, they were all Christian schools.
So I find it interesting when people say, “Christians are the worst thing that ever happened.” Well, why is that? “Well, I was in my house reading the newspaper, and I realized that they were doing bad things and not treating people with dignity, value, and respect, or being charitable.” Well, you hypocrite. Those are our ideas. You stole them. (Laughter) You stole them. If it wasn’t for the influence of Christianity, you couldn’t read. You wouldn’t own a house. You wouldn’t believe in the rule of law. You wouldn’t have a concept of charity.
I mean, think with me about other countries that believe in the rule of karma and not charity. You do something bad, you reincarnate, and then you suffer to pay back your negative karmic debt. What that doesn’t lead to is benevolence and charity because I don’t want to ruin your karma by ending your suffering, because that’ll mean you’ve gotta reincarnate again and then pay double. I have been to India. I’ve been in the Hindu context where people are literally going to the bathroom in the sewer, and eating out of the dumpster, and homeless kids are everywhere.
And you say, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” Oh, we don’t want to ruin their karma. As Christians we go, “No way. We feed people. We house people. We clean up the water. We build them houses. That’s what – that’s the right thing to do.” Not if you believe logically consistent in the doctrine of karma. They’re suffering because of some past evil, and if we interfere with their suffering we will prolong their suffering. The most humane thing to do is to let them suffer. So when the tsunami hits, we don’t send food and water and shelter for those that remain. We let them suffer because obviously they’re paying God back.
All of that to say I believe Spurgeon is absolutely right, that the person and work of Jesus has benefited us all. We all have great benefits from Jesus. Does it mean we’re all Christians? No. But in some sense, Jesus died and it benefits every single one of us every single day.
And Jesus died in a specific way for those of us who were the elect to forgive our sins, to reconcile us to God, to bring us to eternal life, to take us to heaven. So we’ll take now the Calvinistic pile of verses. We’ll merge them with the Arminian pile of verses. We’ll have one nice, big, reconciled pile of verses.
But the first position is the big circle of unlimited atonement, where Jesus died in some sense for every man, woman, and child who would ever live. And there is blessing and there is benefit to Jesus for everyone on the earth. That is the big Arminian pile of verses that say “everyone,” “all people,” “the whole world.” And we say, “Good, let’s keep all those verses.”
Now, within that are the Calvinistic pile of verses – limited atonement. Jesus died in a saving way to forgive the sins of the elect, of those who were predestined, of the sheep, of his friends, of the church, of the Christians. These are not mutually exclusive, because if Jesus died in one sense for everybody, that would include the elect and the Christians.
Now the question is – you’ll say if you’ve been paying attention, “Okay, Pastor Mark, nice logic. Nice philosophy. Any verses?” Yes.
I will take two verses to try and thread Calvinism and Arminianism together, and I’ll make them friends, okay? And the reason I’m doing this? I don’t think Calvinists and Arminians should argue. They came to Charles Haddon Spurgeon one time and they said, “How do you reconcile Calvinism and Arminianism?” He says, “Why do we need to reconcile friends?” I agree with him.
I’ll give you my two verses that show that in one sense Jesus died for everybody, but in a saving sense, Jesus only died for the elect. Two verses. 1 Timothy 4:10 – I could show you more, but we’re running out of time. 1 Timothy 4:10: “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the savior of” – what? “All men.” Now the Arminian’s like, “Yes! That’s a good verse!” But you keep reading. The Calvinist will say, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” “And especially of those who believe.” There’s a differentiation. The Arminian says, “The first half is really good.” The Calvinist says, “The second half is really good.” The Christian says, “That’s a good verse, right there. That’s a good verse.” (Laughter) “We like that whole verse.” Right?
So he says that Jesus is the Savior, in some sense, of all people – especially those who believe. I think this is what he’s talking about. There are great benefits to everyone during this life because of Jesus. But when you die, if you don’t know Jesus, you’re not a Christian, you die and go to hell. The benefits expire. But if you do believe in Jesus and you have a relationship with Jesus, you’re a Christian. You are especially blessed ‘cause you’re doubly blessed. You get the general blessings in life and you get the specific blessings of eternal life. And so it’s good for this life, and it only gets better.
I believe that’s exactly what he’s saying. We’re all benefited by Jesus, but one day we’ll all die. Hebrews says that we all die and it’s appointed then for judgment. We all die and will be judged. And if we don’t know Jesus then, we’re doomed. And the blessings and the benefits run out – but not for the Christian. They’re doubly blessed. They’re especially blessed.
Second verse – that’s Paul, and then the next one is Peter, the leader of Jesus’ disciples. He says, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” Okay, first question: Are these good guys or bad guys? Bad guys, right? False teachers, false prophets: bad guys. “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” What’s a heresy? It’s a false teaching about God, that if you follow, you go to hell for it. Some people say, “What’s theology matter?” Well, it’s the compass on your soul, right? If it’s not north, you’re in serious trouble. Theology is the study of God. You better know who God is, otherwise you got real problems. Gotta know who God is. Heresy is false teaching about God. “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord” – that’s Jesus. They’ll deny that Jesus is God. They’ll deny that Jesus is unique, that Jesus is special. “Who” – what? “Bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
What he’s saying is this: Jesus died and purchased everyone. And everyone belongs to Jesus, every man, woman, and child who would ever live. And some are heretics, false teachers. They don’t love Jesus. They deny Jesus. And he is going to send them to hell. Peter is saying, “Jesus died for everybody and saved some people, not all people.” You see the duality in 1 Timothy 4:10? Do you see the duality in Peter here, in 2 Peter 2:1? Do you see the duality? Everybody, and salvation for some. Unlimited in one sense, limited in another.
I’ll close it with a few things. One, I’ll give you an illustration from the Old Testament. Maybe this will help. In the Old Testament, if we were all Jews and we wanted to deal with our sin, what would happen? Sacrificial system. Temple, priest, animal. What was the big day of the year that we would deal with our sin? The Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur. So what would happen is, then, the priest would go in and offer a sacrifice on behalf of the sins of which people? The whole nation. Now, would we say that’s limited or unlimited? That’s unlimited. We’re talking a whole nation of people. One sacrifice, in a sense, for all the people in the whole nation – that’s unlimited atonement. Were all people blessed and benefited by being part of that nation instead of another nation? Yes. There were blessings to all.
Did everyone who was a Jew have a love for God and a saving relationship with God? To use our modern-day nomenclature, were they all Christians? Were they all born again? Were they all saved? No. Not every Jew who has ever lived loved Jesus in their heart. So what would they do for their sin if they did love God in their heart? They would bring their own sacrifice. And they would name their own sin. And then that animal would be slayed as a substitute in their place, all foreshadowing the shed blood of Jesus in our place for our sins. Would we say that that sacrifice was unlimited or a limited atonement? That’s very clearly a limited atonement. “This is my sacrifice for my sin, not the sacrifice for all of our sins.”
So in one sense, there was a degree of unlimited or universal atonement in the Old Testament. And there were individual, particular, limited atonements throughout the history of the Jewish people. Well, it doesn’t surprise me, then, that in the New Testament we say the same thing, that there is an unlimited and a limited aspect to the atonement and they’re not contradictory. Some people say, “These contradict!” No, they don’t contradict. They work together. They work together.
I’ll land the plane for you and I’ll make this intensely practical. So what does this matter? Well, practically what that means is a few things. One, if you’re here and you’re an Arminian who believes that Jesus is God and he died on the cross for your sins, welcome. If you’re here and you’re a Calvinist who believes Jesus is God and he died on the cross for your sins, welcome. And if you’re somewhere in the middle, welcome. Okay? And I’ll give you time to think this through. It took me 15 years. Okay, you got time. You don’t need to nail this down tonight. But we want this to be a point upon which we discuss but not divide. People have left this church. People have fought like cats and dogs over this issue in this church. We don’t want it to be that way. Like Spurgeon says, why reconcile friends? They should already be reconciled.
What that means for me personally and the elders is that we believe the same thing as the Arminians – and more. And we believe the same thing as the Calvinists – and more. So we don’t believe anything different. We believe what they believe and more. We try to keep all our verses in one big pile.
Now, practically what that means for us here is this. Everyone in this room is a sinner. Everyone in this room belongs to Jesus. Everyone in this room, when they die, will stand before Jesus – John 5:22, he said, “I’m the one who judges people in the end.” Everyone in this room during this life has benefits and blessings, whether they know it or not, because of the person and work of Jesus. There are good things that have happened or come into your life just because of Jesus. Had he never lived, never died, never rose, you would not have those blessings and benefits in your life. That is true for us all. So we’re all sinners. We are all blessed and benefited in some sense by Jesus. We all belong to Jesus. We will all die and stand before Jesus.
And on that day if you are not a Christian who has confessed your sin and come into relationship with Jesus so that his atonement is particularly applied to you, you will be judged and you will be send to eternal hell, separated from God, to suffer forever. And those who know God will be with him forever. Eternal life, eternal life – that’s what Daniel and Jesus teach.
See, that’s why this matters. That’s why this matters so much. Some of you are going to hell. Some of you don’t know God. I’m not God. I can’t judge your hearts. I won’t be there in the end to make that judgment, but Jesus will. And it’s really between you and Jesus.
Now for you Christians I have good news, and that is that this life is as close to hell as you will ever be, that this life is as bad as it possibly gets. And when you die, you will go to be with Jesus. There will be no sickness, no death, no war, no destruction, no famine, no injustice – perfection, like we all long for in our heart. So in this life, this is as bad as it gets. And for you Christians, this is as close to hell as you will ever be.
For those of you who are non-Christians I have bad news. This is as good as it gets. This is your heaven. This is as close to heaven as you get. This is the best your eternity will be. And when you die, you will be separated from God and his love and his grace and his forgiveness and his compassion and his perfection. And you will be in hell, separated forever from God.
So as we debate this issue theologically, let me just speak plainly and say let’s not miss the most important thing in this great debate: his name is Jesus. And our problem is sin. And hell and heaven are what is at stake. And the important thing is, have we confessed our sin to Jesus? We could argue over all the objective issues, but subjectively, have we personally confessed our sin to Jesus and had his death on the cross personally applied to us for the forgiveness of our sins?
This is not inconsistent with Scripture. In Acts 17 Paul says that God commands all men everywhere to repent. God wants everybody to repent of their sin. I would tell everybody in this room, and everybody who came to Mars Hill, and anybody who’s gonna podcast it afterward: Repent of your sin and trust in Jesus. His death on the cross has general benefits, but they run out at the end of this life. We want you to have eternal life with him, through his death on the cross for the forgiveness of your and my specific sins. You could do that here today. Jesus knows your heart and your mind. You can just pray to Jesus and talk to him – out loud or quietly.
“Jesus, I accept that I am a sinner. Jesus, I accept that you are God and not a sinner, and that you died for my sin. Please forgive me of my sin and make me a Christian.”
Jesus answers that prayer every time. And he embraces you. He loves you. He will continue to walk with you in this life, and then he will usher you into the eternal life. And you could be with him forever. And your eternal relationship with Jesus begins today. That’s what counts.
So all of you who are Christians or become Christians today, then you will come forward and take of communion, which is remembering Jesus’ body and blood – body broken, blood shed on the cross for our sins, to atone for our sin. Then we’ll sing and celebrate because in Jesus Christ we have great joy and hope that what God did for everybody is wonderful, but what he’s done for us is so altogether wonderful that we can’t help but sing about it. I’ll pray for you.
Father God, thanks for a chance to study Scripture tonight. I’ve been long-winded. I’ve covered a lot of ground. I pray that this would go from theology to biography, that it would change lives. And that it would move from biography to doxology, that it would result in worship. And so, God, that’s our prayer tonight, that our theology would become biography would become doxology, that what we learn about you would change who we are and it would cause us to sing of your praises. And so we come in that spirit tonight, Lord Jesus. I pray that none here would fail to receive the individual benefits of your death, burial, and resurrection, that they would all be saved, that they all would be loved, that they all would have a relationship with you, and that they would give themselves to you tonight, and that you would give yourself to them. And we pray this would be made possible by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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