In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
Arminian1 preachers preach that the Lord Jesus Christ has “paid the price” for the sins of all mankind when he died on the cross at Calvary—i.e. that he has redeemed all mankind.
This statement seems to be very wonderful when you first hear it, because they present Jesus as having accomplished a great thing for every fallen human being: all mankind (Jesus Christ himself excepted, of course) deserves to be sent to Hell by God on the Day of Judgment, for their sins—but Christ’s substitutionary atonement has paid the redemption-price for all mankind.
That’s what they proclaim in their preaching, evangelism, tracts, and so many of their songs and hymns. Christ died for the sins of all mankind. He suffered all the punishment that all mankind deserves, there on the cross. The Redeemer redeemed mankind, paid in full to set us all free from sin and Hell.
That is arguably their main message. And this is what I too was taught to believe, as an Arminian.
But then they go on to say that this “redemption” does not, in fact, set all mankind free—or it does not, in fact, save all mankind.2 They do understand that not every human being is going to Heaven.
All Those Whom Christ Has Redeemed Shall Be Saved
Does the Bible anywhere speak of a person who is redeemed by Christ but not saved? Or, is it always an actual redemption, not merely hypothetical or potential?
Christ paid the price that actually bought people back from their being condemned to Hell for their sins.
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ can confidently affirm:
“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
“By his [Christ’s] own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us…And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that that by means of [his] death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:12,15).
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles3 through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13,14; see also verse 8).
The bolded words above all emphasise that something happens (redemption, forgiveness of sins, receiving Gospel promises) in inevitable consequence of something else having happened (the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross).
We must understand that there is an inseparable link between what Christ accomplished in his redemption and that accomplishment being bestowed upon those whom he has redeemed.
The plain Gospel truth is:
All those whom Christ has redeemed shall have forgiveness of sins from God.
All those whom Christ has redeemed shall have the promise of eternal inheritance.
All those whom Christ has redeemed shall have the blessing of Abraham (i.e. justification by faith) come upon them.
All those whom Christ has redeemed shall be saved.
All Those Whom Christ Has Reconciled to God Shall Be Saved
The word “atonement” in Romans 5:11, as found in our Authorised Version translation of the Bible (also known as the King James Version), means reconciliation.4
The root of that same Greek word is simply translated “reconciled” in the preceding verse: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [i.e. the reconciliation]” (Romans 5:10,11).
These verses teach us that “we” (Christian converts) have actually received this reconciliation to God.
The verses that follow the “atonement” statement contain the apostle Paul’s famous long parenthesis (verses 12-21)—an extended argument in which he compares Adam, the Covenant Head of the whole human race, with Christ, the Covenant Head of the elect.
There is one verse within Paul’s long parenthesis which, if its context is not considered carefully, appears to support the Arminians’ “Christ died for every human being in the world” idea: “Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (v.18).
Arminians usually affirm that one and the same group of “all men” is being spoken of throughout this argument, and that this “all men” means all mankind (every human being who ever lived).
But the problem with that interpretation is that it makes this phrase: “the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life”—mean that Christ saves the entire fallen human race! That’s a problem for the Arminian, because then their own interpretation of this verse would disprove the very doctrine they are attempting to prove: hypothetical universalism.
Paul’s whole argument here proves that what Christ achieved on the cross is actually applied to all those for whom he died.
Paul says that:
Those who are substituted by Christ in his death “have now received” the atonement (v.11);
The gift of justification by grace “hath abounded” unto many (v.15);
The free gift of justification of life “came upon” the “all men” for whom Christ died (v.18).
And therefore, all these many people “shall be” made righteous (v.19).
Consequently, the Calvinist argument is correct: in verse 18 the “all men” upon whom Adam’s sin actually brought condemnation is not (in extent) the same “all men” upon whom Christ’s righteousness brought justification of life.5
Let us be perfectly clear at this point: that the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was of infinite worth and value. Calvinists do not “limit” the value of Christ’s atonement, but only the extent of its application, when they affirm that the Saviour’s blood was not shed in order to save every human being who ever lived.
It is therefore wrong to think that the Calvinist (and Biblical) doctrine of Limited Atonement,7 also sometimes known as Particular Redemption, in any way undervalues the infinitely precious blood of Christ.
The Saviour of the World
The Bible says that the Lord Jesus Christ is “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14), and that he is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Similarly, consider Paul’s statement that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).8
Do these verses teach that Christ would save all mankind?
Arminians interpret these verses as teaching that Christ’s atonement has hypothetically or potentially saved the world (in his sacrifice for all the world’s sins).
Calvinists interpret these verses as teaching that Christ’s salvation extends all around the world, including Gentiles as well as Jews. And, applying this doctrine in Gospel preaching and witnessing, we too can proclaim with the apostle Peter: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The main problem for Arminians who look to the “Saviour of the world” verses to prove their system, is that in each case the context of the word “world” does not speak of a hypothetical salvation but of an actual salvation and an actual taking away of sin.
Moreover the Bible does not always use the word “world” to mean the whole world all-inclusively, or to mean each and every human being in the world. Sometimes “world” means many people in general.
E.g. John 12:19, “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.” Clearly, the Pharisees did not count themselves as in this “world” that had become followers of Christ!
And, e.g. Revelation 13:3: “And I saw one of his [the beast’s] heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.” Not every human being “wondered,” or admired and worshipped this great politico-religious beast, but very many did—indeed, Christians are those who do not admire and worship the Beast of Revelation. Here the word “world” is used in contradistinction to Christians.
Dozens of examples could be cited of different uses of the word “world” in the New Testament.9 We have to look at the context in order to see whether the word means planet earth, or the present world system, or each and every person, or a large number of people, or a category of people such as “the Gentiles” (non-Jews) or “unbelievers”.
John’s Gospel in particular uses the word “world” in a variety of ways. In John 1:29 and John 4:42 (quoted above), the word “world” is used to emphasise the fact that Christ came to save not only Jews but Gentiles too. Here the word “world” means believers in Christ from all around the world.
To be continued.
- See sidenote 1 on Arminianism in chapter 8, He Shall Save His People from Their Sins.↩
- Arminians are not universalists, but they are hypothetical or potential universalists.↩
- I.e. peoples of all nations of the world, in addition to the Jews.↩
- This is according to the old usage of “at-one-ment,” i.e. to be brought to a state of peace with another person.↩
- The word “all” in Holy Scripture is often used in a restricted sense—the context must decide whether the “all” is limited or universal. For example: in Acts 11:28 the “all” is a limited number of people; in Genesis 7:19 the “all” is universal, as the context makes clear. Similarly the word “many” can be limited or universal, as in Romans 5:19 (discussed above): the “many” in Adam includes every human being except Jesus Christ; the “many” in Christ includes only those saved by Christ—for the verse explicitly states that thus “shall many be made righteous.”↩
- Limited Atonement is the name given to the third of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism:
1. Total Depravity
2. Unconditional Election
3. Limited Atonement
4. Irresistible Grace
5. Perseverance of the Saints↩
- To these examples can be added other places where Paul asserts that God is the Saviour of the “world” or of “all men” (1 Timothy 2:3,4; 4:10). Arminians would argue that here too, this includes each member of the human race.↩
- See a New Testament Dictionary, such as Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, for uses of the word “world”.↩