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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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    Does Reformed Theology Suffer from the Problem that Christ's Sacrifice was Insufficient to Save Everyone?

    Visitor: Reformed theology suffers from the problem that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient to save everyone. Christ was unable to fulfill the Father's will that all men shall be saved, so thus God decided not to "will" certain people to be saved. Maybe that's one of "[His] reasons for choosing some and not others..."


    Response: Interesting charge. Before I answer it you may want to consider that synergistic theology suffers from the problem that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient to save ANYONE. It loves many people with a general, ineffectual love, but loves no one in particular. Furthermore synergism limits the sins which Christ dies for. Just to show that this is no straw man, let me give you two examples: The synergist believes that Christ does not die for any person for 1) the sin of unbelief or 2) their moral failure to persevere. So then, we ask, is His work on the cross not powerful enough to cover all sins? So he dies for only some of our sins and we have to make up for the rest? So again, back to the same core thesis of my argument: Christ's work (to the synergist) is not sufficient to save completely since he dies for only some sins. We must make up for the sins He does not cover. This is extremely problematic and should reveal that the synergist's picture of Christ is woefully incomplete.

    On the other hand, Calvinism believes the Scripture teaches that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient to atone for all His people's sins, including our sins of unbelief and lack of faithfulness in persevering. He is both the author and perfecter of our faith and gives His people everything they need that they could not provide for themselves. He is a complete Savior, not a partial one.

    With this in mind, let's take your objection to Calvinism above, where you assert that in Calvinism, Christ's sacrifice is insufficient to save everyone. The Bible teaches that the Father elects a particular people, the Son redeems them and the Holy Spirit convicts, regenerates and unites them to Christ. The Trinity works in harmony to make certain God's will is accomplished. We see this particular love everywhere in the Bible. For example, in Jesus' high priestly prayer just prior to his atoning sacrifice, Jesus prays, "you have given him [the Son] authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him...I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." (John 17:2,9). The reason this is called the high priestly prayer is that it is just like the high priests' in the Old Testament who prayed specifically for Israel prior to atonement in the Holy of Holies.

    So obviously, Jesus' prayer to the Father is about whom He intends to save on the cross. We can see, then, that the issue is not whether Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to save everyone. That is the wrong paradigm. The issue, rather, is God's intent, not his power, for we all know that God has the power to save the whole world, and 10,000 more beside.

    In fact, when we ask the question, “Is there anything biblically that limits Christ's power to save,” the only answer we ever find is that, in fulfilling his redemptive mission, Christ can only do what the Father has willed. He cannot do anything on his own, that is apart from or at odds with the Father's plans (see John 5:17-19, 30; 8:28-29). Of course, this is not an inability of power, but an inability of the persons of the holy Trinity to work against each other – it is the impossibility that Paul later speaks of when he says that God “cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). But this is also the exact opposite of your charge: you say the Calvinistic perception of redemption is that Christ cannot fulfill God the Father's will; but in reality, the Calvinistic perception is that Christ cannot fail to fulfill God's will, hence he can only redeem those whom the Father has given him from all eternity.

    Lastly, while God commands all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, no one, in their own power and insight, obeys this command. Yet, God still has mercy by determining that he will still forgive the debts of a particular people whom he has foreknown and loved from eternity in Christ (Eph 1:3, 4) ... a group, the Scripture says, that he has given the Son prior to the foundation of the world. People without distinction from everywhere in the world: since he purchased with his blood PEOPLE FROM every tribe, people, nation and language (Rev. 5:9).

    Hope this helps
    John

    Posted by John on November 7, 2009 06:04 PM

    Comments

    Excellent John!!! Truly excellent! Jesus is the perfect Savior!!!

    "who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?.. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities... yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Isa 53:8, 11, 12)

    "The Calvinistic perception is that Christ cannot fail to fulfill God's will." Well said!

    Those guilty were the Jews, the gospel is if anything the reality 'that he has concluded all under sin that he might have mercy upon all' every reading from the Reformed view insists on limiting the nature of this 'all' in which case let's acknowledge he's only concluded the 'all' he intends to save under sin and the rest can rest easy, having never entered into covenant how can this Just God condemn them for breaking said covenant, and if Christians then God promises to save so they can chill too, time to party.

    If salvation is not forever, then what good is it?
    Excellent!

    phillip,

    The covenant of works has been entered into with all men. "He will render to each one according to his works..." "There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek...For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus

    God has made all men without excuse for all men "know God" and suppress that truth in unrighteousness (see Rom 1:18 and what follows).

    More like those who oppose particular redemption suffer from trying to make the cross of Christ unable to save anyone. In their doctrine, Christ only purchased a possibility, not salvation itself.

    Larry

    That's right. So to those who affirm universal atonement, while the cross is necessary, yet it is not sufficient. Since, in that view, the cross does not pay for the sin of unbelief and our inability to persevere, man necessarily must make the additional contribution of faith and perseverance in order to maintain their own just standing before God. Christ simply is not enough in that view. But the Bible teaches that Jesus saves us to the uttermost. His work is sufficient to save completely.

    John

    There's a fine line between many of these doctrines where we have to accept or reject the sway of the argument. The hardest thing in the world to do is to get two believers to agree that certain fine lines of truth are dead ends that always lead to consternation.

    Frank,

    Thanks for the comment. Whether Jesus is completely sufficient and meets ALL of God's conditions for us as opposed to only some or most of them, is no subtle difference. Either salvation is all of grace or it is not.

    John

    God foreknew, called, elected in that sequential order through time before time! Can it than be that as God gave Abraham many children, he can also give us our children by his foreknowledge of our prayers for them who are lost? Would this than be also to say, God than called them by his foreknowledge of us and them? And so it continued on before and down through all life he foreknew through out all time? When jesus prayed, did he include those we have prayed for having known us? Or do we pray in vain or unworthily for that which god does not will? My prayers for my children here!

    Will some one please read my comment and help me to understand or see? Does not God work from before time and than in time as he planed? He interacts with us today and so his plan of foreknowledge was known before time even in time? Is that true? Or did god plan all things to be according to his will, regardless of anyone in time? Or maybe he gave me the heart for this prayer? What than is prayer if god already determined who shall be saved? Maybe that is my problem here? What of my children and my heart toward them to be saved? Should i just not pray for them or is it god given that i should?
    My hope is for them to see Christ and be known by Christ and i try so very much form my heart to show them this! Am i doing the wrong thing here? Should i not use my influence toward them?
    Read also the other comment i sent to help me!

    Bruce Potter:

    Thanks for your thoughts.
    God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel so we herald the gospel indiscriminately. BUT no one will hear it UNLESS the Spirit gives them ears to hear.

    Regardless of which position you take about foreknowledge, prior to creating the world, God already knew who would be saved and who would not, and it could not be otherwise. He is all-knowing regarding the meticulous details of all events so whether God determined it or whether he knew for certain how it would turn out, both are the result of his will. He could have easily not created the persons he knew would go to hell, before he created them, no?

    Eph 1:11, teaches that God ordains all things that come to pass. He is sovereign over every molecule of every event. Can you imagine if God was not sovereign and some things actually happened by chance? If he did not ordain evil or know it would enter the universe before it did in exactly the way it did, then how could we be certain that evil will not get the upper hand again in the end?

    We pray to God because God not only ordains the means but the ends. No one gets saved except through prayer and the preaching of the gospel. Yet no one believes the gospel unless the Holy Spirit opens their heart to it. All are needed. God's determination is personal so it is not fatalistic. Therefore election does not save anyone. It is merely the blueprint of what God intends to achieve through Christ and the preaching of the gospel. The father elects a people, the Son redeems them and the Holy Spirit regenerates and unites the sawe command all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. BUT no one will hear it UNLESS the Spirit gives them ears to hear.

    Thank you so much for your answer. I am very new to reformed theology, though i know i have always been a calvinist as it was as Paul said of himself, - "I did not do this but it happened to me"! I will continue to learn and search out all you have said. I have never heard these things you said but love knowing God is in utter control of all things and Christ is king over our lives! Thanks for telling me prayer is what saves, though i still cannot see all you see! Thanks so much for your kind reply! May i ask that you pray for me, for my four children, Carri, Chad, Jeremy and Angi to be saved! My tears flow so often by all in this life which has happened and for them as well! Thank you so much! The power of God i believe can do as he says! But if he does not, i still know none deserve to be saved! I know God is just and his grace is undeserved! At least it is for me ffor which i will always praise him no matter what he does - I so pray this is true!

    HI Bruce:

    you said, "Thanks for telling me prayer is what saves, though i still cannot see all you see!"

    Sometimes it helps to see the alternative. Frankly I find the Arminian reason for prayer much more of a puzzle than the Calvinist position. With regard to prayer, for the sake or argument, lets take the Arminian "God is not sovereign in salvation" position. If God is not sovereign over all things and does not actually do the saving, than, I ask, why should we pray???? What use would prayer have if God is not sovereign? If God cannot change someones heart, then our prayers would have no beneficial effect. But we pray because we believe it is God alone who opens people's eyes and grants them a new heart that believes. He determines them from eternity and the means to accomplish this, his church through their prayers and evangelism. If he does not disarm man's hostile will to the gospel, must is required to stand outside without interfering with man's will then mankind, left to themselves, would be without hope. Ask yourself what use the prayer of an Arminian is, who believes God can only hope from the outside that man makes the right choice.

    Here is a recommended article
    The Sovereignty of God and Prayer
    by John Piper
    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sov_prayer.html?http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/prayer/sovereignty_and_prayer.html

    Yes, I see what you mean! Finally!! This is such good news! I know that all Satans children will go to the lake of fire with their father for that all hate God as did their father! I thank God for my horrendous sins in a strange way for it showed me the truth in myself to see the saviors need! But, thank you for this comment on Prayer as it must be the means to any's salvation so to see the gospel come alive in them! You said, "from eternity" and that gives me such great sight to know that God is above all, throughout time! That is so great to know! Thanks for the Arminians view! It cannot be it seems to me, that man can hand out passports to heaven to the children of Satan! They surely will take it and yet be of the same nature apart from the holy spirits work! It must be of God! Of Christ, Of the Holy Spirit! Not of man! How can it be other wise? Thank you as i have struggled so much to understand and see this! Thank God so much for people who know his truth and who are founded so strongly in it! The gates of hell shall not prevail against Christs kingdom. No, it cannot be else I am doomed forever and will die in my sin! Thank God for Christ in this great struggle and war with hell! Thank you God so very, very much for all you did and do! My God, My lord! What a wonderful joy to know!

    I am left a bit confused be the comment made about the synergist argument regarding sins Jesus did not die for.

    Would not a person subscribing to that view then argue back, that Jesus did die for those sins, but a person must recognize and repent of their previous lack of belief? And also adopt the idea that perseverance proves true conversion?

    Hi Andrew

    The question is, did Christ save us to the uttermost or did he only help us save ourselves? Christ does not give us a new heart in Arminianism that we might believe but we believe in order for him to give us a new heart. Thus the grace of faith is not a gift of God to the Arminian. Rather faith is produced from our unregenerated human nature. God gives everyone prevenient grace but what makes men to differ in their response is not Jesus Christ but something else.

    The consistent Arminain view is that we must maintain our just standing before God by persevering to the end, not that God infallibly PRESERVES us to the end. Therefore, Christ's work in in Arminainism is not sufficient in itself.

    We affirm that Christ does everything needed to ensure our salvation. The Arminain, on the other hand, only believes Christ does MOST of the work but we must believe and persevere. Thus the Arminian cannot thank God for faith, only that God give the opportunity. So there are some things the Arminain cannot thank God for related to our salvation.

    Hope this helps
    John

    According to the logic of your "core thesis of my argument" whereby monergism's Christ is better because he covers more sins, one might conclude Universalism should be accepted because their Christ saves even more souls.

    Also, I think you misrepresent synergism - it is God's will that He work through a person unto salvation. To think that this is the same as the sinner saving himself from some sins reveals only an inability to step out of a false dichotomy of either God or man and to miss the "in Christ" dimension. According to Paul, it's is "in Christ" that we "can do all things" or, again, "rid YOURSELVES of all evil". It's a partnership and monergism seems to be a cop-out to making any effort under the guise of giving God all the glory. Rather "if by the Spirit YOU put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live".

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