Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Christ's Atoning Work: Intent, Extent, Union, Substitution, Ordo Salutis (Part III)
01/21/2005 - James White
With this installment I conclude my response to Dr. Svendsen on the issue of the extent and intention of the atoning work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Dr. Svendsen expressed what he sees as the most fundamental disagreement between us in these words:
Here I think is our most fundamental disagreement. I think this statement assumes something like "the death of Christ is effectual"-which is the very question in debate, and so the cross (the death of Christ) itself does not make application "beyond question." Indeed, that is the question. I reject the notion that the death of Christ is the "power" that draws the elect. It is rather the calling of God based on his gracious choice that draws them. The death of Christ provides the necessary grounds for forgiveness, but it is not the forgiveness itself. If it were, and if particular redemption were true, then I do not see how the proponent of that view could escape the theological ramifications that lead to positing eternal justification. On that view, Christ died; he died only for the elect; his death is effectual and he accomplished perfect redemption on the cross. Therefore, all the elect have already been forgiven, and there is no need for belief as the means of justification. On what basis could it be otherwise?
I am uncertain as to how the death of Christ as the "power" that draws the elect enters into the question, for I surely have not raised the idea, nor used the language. But I do believe that since election took place in Christ before eternity itself, and it was the Father's will that all those united to Christ would participate, through substitution, in His sacrificial death on their behalf (and then, by necessity due to the singular nature of the ministry of the High Priest, they would likewise be the object of Christ's intercessory work), that both the intention and extension of that sacrificial act would be focused upon the very object that defines the entirety of the saving work of the Trinity from beginning to end. Just as the Golden Chain of Redemption has the same audience from beginning to end (those who are foreknown are predestined, called, justified, glorified: no one is "incidentally" predestined, called, justified, or glorified), I believe the sacrifice of Christ shares the same focus as well.
When we say that the death of Christ provides the "grounds" of forgiveness, but "is not the forgiveness itself," to what do we refer? I'm sure this is not the same as saying that death of Christ makes forgiveness a "possibility." Does it not, in fact, make the experience of forgiveness in time a certainty for all who are united to Christ? I believe it does.
Now, does it truly follow that if one believes Christ's death makes the forgiveness of the elect a certainty through union and substitution, that one should logically believe in eternal justification due to the phrase "children of wrath" (kai. h;meqa te,kna fu,sei ovrgh/j w`j kai. oi` loipoi,)? I do not believe so. Once again, the eternal reality determines the events in time, and in God's sovereign decree He chooses to bring us out of darkness into His marvelous light at a particular point in time. Until that time, we are slaves so sin and walk just as Paul describes. However, is there any chance at all that the wrath of God itself could fall upon such a person? Not if they were given to the Son in eternity past (John 6:39), for that would involve His losing one of those thusly given. So, recognizing that regeneration, faith, repentance, and justification are all things experienced by the elect in time itself is not the same as saying that these things are doubtful or uncertain from the divine perspective, nor that the ground upon which the Spirit acts in regenerating us and giving us the gifts of faith and repentance and hence bringing about our justification is not specifically oriented toward the elect alone, for in all of this, it is the love of God that directs and completes the work of salvation. And Dr. Svendsen and I agree, that kind of redeeming love is not expressed for the non-elect. So, when we speak of the unregenerate elect one as a "child of wrath," we are speaking descriptively, and confessing that we lived and acted and thought like every other person who is likewise spiritually dead. We should not, however, extend that to mean that the elect were not already clearly differentiated in the love of God, which was set upon them before creation itself.
One other statement I will note before closing:
If the fact that the trespasses of the non-elect are still held against them constitutes "proof" that Christ did not pay for their sins, then passages like Eph 2:3 would likewise "prove" Christ didn't pay for the sins of the elect-for they are still "children of wrath" even after Christ died.
This is in reference to 2 Corinthians 5:19, which reads, "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation." The key issue in the text, as I see it, is the fact I know of only one other passage wherein we see the non-imputation of sin, and that is on Romans 4:6-8:
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
Clearly, "world" here cannot include those who will, in fact, have their sins held against them. The "world" here would have to be co-extensive with the blessed man of Romans 4:8, to whom righteousness is imputed apart from works, and we know who those folks are, I'm sure. I do not believe, however, that the observation of the fallen nature of the elect and their living according to their lusts prior to regeneration (Eph. 2:3) is at all a parallel argument to the recognition that the death of Christ, however one construes it, for Paul includes the non-imputation of sin. It seems that Dr. Svendsen may well be taking Paul's observation that the elect and the non-elect together live under the sway of sin as fallen sons and daughters of Adam (the point of Eph. 2:3) as an indication that the elect cannot be differentiated in the divine eye even prior to regeneration, or that the result of their union with Christ in His death must be applied to them from their birth. But I see no reason why this must be.
So to conclude my response at this point, I would say that I see the key issues summed up in my belief that there is a singular focus in the Trinitarian work of redemption from eternity past; that since God sets His love upon His elect (I would even argue that proginw,skw can be properly understood in its verbal form as containing within it this very idea) that every action of God that brings about their salvation is marked by salvific love, and this is most clearly seen in the work of the High Priest. He gives Himself in redemptive love, and those united with Him cannot possibly fail to be the objects of His intercession as well. This guarantees their salvation, which they experience in time, but their experience does not determine the divine reality, just the opposite. I believe that Christ showed His love for His elect people in His death (Gal. 2:20), and that these considerations, taken together, provide a more than sufficient basis for believing in particular redemption, affirming the elect as the object of the divine work of redemption in both intention and in the extent of the work of the Savior.