Wednesday, January 9, 2008


I'm preaching through the Gospel according to John and a particular passage jumped out at me like at no other time before. Here it is:

John 8:24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins.

This one verse can turn one's entire view of the atonement on its end. I, as well as many of you, have been taught, listened to many sermons, read many books and studied about the atonement and its extent. What does this verse say about the atonement.

At the cross, where Jesus laid down his life, a price was paid. A debt was paid. A punishment was endured. A transaction was made. However, the legal effects of this sacrifice, as pertaining to a sinners guilt before God, only become real or transacted at the moment that the sinner/guilty believes in Jesus, the great I Am. Unbelief, the refusal to accept Jesus as God in the flesh(and thus his teachings), results in one being judged guilty and sent to eternal punishment for their own sins. Mark 16:16 (for those of you who have not cut it from your texts) reinforces this concept that, "the wrath of God remains upon them that believe not."(Henry, vol5, pg 989)

What happens at salvation then is this. Jesus does not die again every time someone believes for the Scriptures plainly teach that Jesus died once. But, at the moment someone believes, the price that Jesus paid is applied to the debt, sin, of the believing. Not before, not some second blessing later but at the moment of belief.

Jesus did not universally pay a debt that rendered all men sinless. At the cross, Jesus paid the debt for those who had died in belief. Hebrews 11 has a list of many, though it is not exclusive to them alone as being the only ones who died in belief. But the forward application of the cross only takes place when a person "believes" in Jesus as the great I Am. At the cross then, the payment was "actual" for those before the Christ, and is "potential" for those coming after the Christ. It is kind of like the miracle of II Kings 4:1-6. As long as there are vessels to be filled, the oil will keep pouring and will not stay until there are no more vessels to fill. The blood of Jesus shed at the cross, like such, will keep paying the sin debts of those who believe until there remains no more to believe. The cross, like the pot of oil, has great potential to fill many. But its application stops once there are no more who believe.

Who then can be saved? Whosoever will, let him come. For Jesus' payment will be applied to your debt at the moment salvation is graced upon you. But know this, refusal to have faith in Jesus, the great I Am, and you will die in your sins and YOU will eternally pay your debt of sin. It is not enough to know his teachings. It is not enough to believe he is a prophet. It is not enough to believe he was a good man. He must be received, by faith, as the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God. If there is an empty vessel, there is oil to fill it.


Anonymous said...


Greetings, my brother. It took me long enought still to get over to Louisiana but I finally made the trip. I think the Biblical concept of the atonement is facinating and one that neither of us, of course, can rightly do justice with a post or two (I realize you possess no illusions of theological grandeur to the contrary).

Also, while I think the settled aspect of Christ dying for our sin--that is, the vicarious, substitutionary nature of the Cross--cannot be compromised in the least, it must be remembered that such a view does not necessitate an exact mathematical transaction happen between God and (wo)men who ultimately believe to eternal life.

That is precisely where many go wrong, at least in my view, insisting that since Christ died for our sin, and since His death literally paid the price--paid in the sense of a literal mathematical transaction--then it follows that either a) universalism or b) selectivism as for whom Christ died is the necessary result.

Bold Calvinists are not far from correct when they argue that the atonement must be limited in design and intent, else the world would be saved. For them, it is either/or. But that is because of their assumption about the mathematical transactionary nature they attribute to Christ's payment of death.

What you have done, Luke, is offered a third alternative. The 'price He paid' is not to be confused with mathematical formulas. How you have framed it may make for pause.

This may be somewhat 'nit-pick' but personally I possess reservations--at least, cautions--in attributing any work our Lord has done as 'potential'. For me, it seems out of place to suggest His death 'potentally' saves. Nor is this language not used by serious theologians. For example, Norm Geisler employs the distinctions between 'actually' and 'potentially' save. Still I bite my jaw a bit in doing it.

Now to be fair, I really have no alternative. It is just something to ponder.

Thank you Luke, my brother, for a great post, a meaningful post on our Lord's death.

With that, I am...


Luke said...

Thanks for addressing me here and after I dwell longer on your response, I will interact for any others who may come by.

I've just come in from helping my brother-in-law move. It has been a long day but I enjoy helping him. But, my body being tired, my mind is not too far behind which is why I will not respond until tomorrow.

Thanks again for coming by. If you ever are personally present or passing through Lake Charles, give me a holler, I'd like to meet up with you and yours.


Luke said...

The atonement truly is one of great and noble study. For therein was the great and powerful work of God displayed greater than at any other time. As such, it is indeed worthy of our time and thoughts.

I too believe in the vicarious, substitutionary nature of the cross and agree whole-heartedly that the aforementioned tenet cannot entertain compromise.

If anything, the mathematical concept of the transaction may do more to hinder the Gospel than help. And yet, I tread into that area lightly and especially now due to the context of the verse I have offered forth. At the least, universalism is denied by this verse. For anyone to die in their sins means/results in eternal damnation.

I do believe the atonement is/was/will be limited but not in the Calvinistic concept. The atonement will be limited to only those who have come to Christ in faith(alone). But at that stage is where my theology diverges with Calvinistic thought. For I do not believe that the "elect" were the only ones in Christ's mind when he died. At least for sure, his crucifier's were for his prayer was that the Father would forgive them for they knew not what they were doing. And yet, should they reject him as Christ, they would die in their sin/sins per his own statements recorded in John 8:21,24. The words of Paul in I Timothy 1:15 seem appropriate here:
"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...".

Now to the cautionary use of the word "potential" when discussing the atonement. For some, the idea that a gift could be refused is especially bothersome. Hence the "irresistible" of TULIP. But should the word "potential" bother us. On a normal basis, we understand potential. We have microwaves that can potentially heat a meal, but not unless we actually bring something to the microwave can it be utilized. Dynamite, unless the fuse is lit, is potential, not actual. Thus, from where I sit, "potential", in relation to salvation, is a pretty good word. "What must I do to be saved?", was asked of Jesus. "Sell all that ye have and follow me" was the reply of Jesus. The salvation is potential why, it awaits a RESPONSE from the hearer. If any offer requires a RESPONSE, the offer has only potential possibility. As with the brass serpent in the wilderness, healing was offered(potential) to all who were bit, but profitable(actual) only to those who looked in obedience to the word of God.

What precisely then was accomplished on the cross? Surely something was, for Jesus cried, "It is finished!" What was finished? Maybe the answer lies in a non-mathematical understanding to which we(I) have been so inclined to presuppose.

Final summation. To God be the glory great things HE hath done. Christ did on the cross, for man, what man could not do. As a result of that work, salvation is now offered to man.