Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Gospel = "Jesus died for you"?

I pretty surely remember when I was first exposed to 5-point Calvinism. It was in the mid-seventies or so, in the book The Forgotten Spurgeon, by Iain Murray.

I was appalled.

Spurgeon had already caught my attention as a wonderful preacher, but I didn't know that about him. Heck, I didn't know that about anybody! To my certain knowledge, the Gospel was defined as telling people "God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. Jesus died for your sins. Accept His sacrifice, and you will be saved. If you don't accept it, you will be like the criminal who does not accept his pardon, and must serve out your term, because God has done all He can."

So here's this guy saying that God doesn't wait for our permission to save us anymore than a lifeguard waits for permission to save a drowning man. It doesn't depend on "free will."

What? I had thought everybody believed in free will. But this guy didn't.

Next I remember reading from that perspective was John Murray's Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. At this point, I'd gone a bit further in my own studies, and I was less appalled.

But somewhere around there, I'd started re-thinking. I was a fuzzy Amyraldian, though there were all these weird verses about sovereign predestination, election (Ephesians 1:3ff), sovereign and irresistible drawing (John 6), and all. They were hard to fit in, and just sort of "sat there" in my thinking.

One thing that opened my mind was revisiting the actual evangelism of the apostles. If anyone knew how to evangelize, it was these guys. So how essential did they find saying "God loves you, Jesus died for your sins" in Gospel preaching?

So essential that they never said it, at least not on-record.

Nothing changed in the epistles. They regularly talked about God's love and Christ's death for "us" and "you" (Christians), and for the church — but more general expressions of God's distinguishing love and Christ's effectual redemption were few and at best ambiguous.

I thought of this again a couple of days when Dr. S. Lewis Johnson mentioned it to me.

Dr. Johnson has gone to be with the Lord, but he being dead yet speaketh, thanks to modern technology. Believers Chapel provides a real gold mine of Johnson's sermons and lessons, which I am grateful to have on i-pod, or IPod, or iPod, or however you spell that. So I take Dr. Johnson on a lunchtime power-walk with me everyday, or ask him to keep me company as I cook burgers for my family if none of them want to have anything to do with me.

I was listening to The Design of the Atonement: For Whom Did Christ Die? - V, in which Dr. Johnson responds to objections raised against the particular redemption view. Among others, he raises the objection, "But that would mean that you can't tell people you evangelize that Christ died for them."

What would he say? Many Calvinists I respect argue for saying this (as well as "God loves you") in evangelism. Johnson was hard to pin down into any one category completely. Where would he come down on this?

"That's right," was his answer.

He went on to say (I paraphrase) that apostolic preaching and Christ's own words authorize us to say that we are all sinners under the wrath of God; that God loves sinners, and sent Christ Jesus into the world to save sinners; and that any and every sinner who repents and believes in Jesus Christ will certainly be saved. Further, any who wished to, may and is commanded to come.

This, to my mind is apostolic preaching. It really tells the sinner everything he needs to know, without either (A) making unsubstantiable statements about the eternal counsels of the Trinity, or (B) giving false grounds of confidence to the sinner.

On that last note: perhaps I was an exception. But before Christ, as a hard, Christ-rejecting sinner, if you'd told me "God loves you," I'd have said "Great. I believe that, too." If you'd told me, "Jesus loves you," I'd have said, "Whatever." And if you'd said, "Jesus died for your sins," I'd probably have said something like, "I don't believe I have any sins; but if I do, sounds like I'm covered."

Which isn't what we want to communicate, and isn't what the apostles did communicate.

Final note of unnecessary emphasis. Am I revoking the Calvin-card of anyone who differs from me on this issue? Merciful heavens, no. I don't control club membership; it's others who think they do. And I know that none of those who see this differently would communicate any of those false ideas (i.e. everything's okay for the lost, they don't really need to repent).

It's just how one muzzy-headed young man's mind was opened to Biblical Calvinism.


Patrick said...

Dan -

So would you say that Christ's death on the cross accomplished salvation and that belief is how that salvation is applied to the sinner?

I'm working through that right now..

Pastor Steve said...

Thanks for your continued ministry in this area of Calvinism. I am just now beginning to grasp and embrace this doctrine of Calvinism, but still have a ton of questions I am sorting through. You and Phil J. have helped me grow in this area.

It is amazing what unbiblical habits we can get into, even when presenting the gospel. I am dealing with some people in my church who came here from another local ministry who were taught that you should never mention the word "repent" when witnessing because it complicates the gospel message.

Another thing I am thinking through is the concept of having people pray to "solidify" their salvation. It's not necessarily a bad idea, but you don't see people in the N.T. praying as a part of their salvation. They just simply believed (and repented).

DJP said...

Basically, Patrick, yes.

What impressed me is that the overwhelming majority of passages that treat of Christ's death speak of it in effective terms. That is, while we might say that Christ "offers salvation" or "made salvation possible," the overwhelmingly characteristic mode of expression in the Bible is to say that Christ "redeemed" us (Galatians 3:13), He "loosed us from our sins" (Rev. 1:5), He came "to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15).

So, whom did He save? Everyone in general but nobody in particular — as the Bible doesn't say? Or someone in particular — as the Bible does characteristically say?

Romans 8:32 says that God freely gives all things to those for whom He gave His Son. If "all things" don't include those elements that enable to share the benefits of that gift (i.e. faith and repentance), then the salvation isn't very saving.

FX Turk said...

Dan --

As someone who might be perceived as disagreeing with this post or you on this subject (I don't), let me ask you something:

In what way does God love sinners?

DJP said...

In differing ways.

Which sinners?

Patrick said...

Dan -

Good point! Yes the redeemer/purchaser picture of Christ gives the act of saving direction, intent, an object which namely would be His elect.

Also the FOR in the Scriptures as in 2cor 5:21 "He became sin for us." The substitute picture of our Savior is one of the most humbling and wonderful expressions of our great salvation!

Now what about communicating this to an unbeliever in our Gospel proclamation? I find myself just saying, "God loves you and died for you." I believe I can say that simply because I'm not sure if He is one of the elect so therefore I err on the hope that he is. Is that how you would reconcile the particular redemption of Christ and our evangelism?

Kay said...

It was a sad day when I took off my cheerful little 'Jesus loves you' pendant. But I had to do it. I'm just grateful my tattoo is just an Icthus fish.

FX Turk said...

To sinners to whom the Gospel is presented.

Patrick said...

Dan -

While waiting for your response to my question - I want to retract what I said about "find myself just saying, 'God loves you and died for you.'" I didn't mean to over simplify the Gospel message in that sentence. What I meant to say was that there is an emphasis of God's love for the sinner and that Christ died for the sinner in their place.

That's how I've always shared the Gospel.

ann said...

I was going to write about it on my blog, but now I see it more fitting here, if you let me.
I found an article today, in our insignificant local newspaper, written on account of Easter Message, by a priest/pastor? whatever. His 'beautiful' message was so sweet and loving, that I would feel happy lest I had not known better. You see, Christ died for everybody, the message says, and therefore we have nothing to worry about anymore. He did it, so let us live our lives, because heaven is waiting for us, thanks to the Cross. We do not need to think about it anymore, all sins are forgiven, and let us be merry, eat eggs and hunt bunnies.

This is the message written by someone who should know better, but he does not want to offend anybody. It is easier to write this sort of texts and maybe even get some money for it, than to tell the hard truth, like "repentance", "sinful nature", "necessity of death for sin", and the like.

I remember my first time when "this awful calvinism" struck me. I was listening to all those great songs sung by Steve Camp and decided to find out more about the singer. Then it hit me - he was a Calvinist. Imagine my terror! ;)
But I was forced to understand, and it did not take long to surrender after that...

Thursday today. The day of the Last Supper and Lord's humbleness towards His disciples.

donsands said...

This post is a holy coincidence!

I am have an e-mail debate with some good non-reformed friends, and a reformed brother in Nepal, over Calvinism.
Specifically zeroed in on doesn't the Bible proclami Jesus died for all people, the whole world?

Appreciate all the links.

Have a great and joyful Easter!

Groseys messages said...

mmm had the same experience as you with Iain Murray's book. I was a student at the time, cleaning bricks for college, reading his book at lunch times.. the book flew out the car window 5 times, and had to be retrieved 5 times as I went through my bible examining the propositions.
Mind you, the last two times I didn't throw it far from the car, so I wouldn't have to walk as far to retrieve it!
Steve in Australia

DJP said...

..the book flew out the car window 5 times

I love that; that's great.

I think CHS would have liked it too. After you explained what a "car window" was to him.


philness said...

I had a born again experience when I came to understand the 5 points!


You probably already know this but when folks do the John 3:16 "world" bit I like to point them to John 17:9 where Jesus says that he does not pray for the world, but for those the Father gives Him.

Stefan Ewing said...

Sorry for this late comment, but thank you for this post, because I've been wrestling with the question of what reformed theology is, as so many deep-thinking evangelists of the past and present seem to have espoused reformed theology. The concept of universal election has a certain appeal and it's been hard for me to come to terms with the concept of particular election, but I think I'm on the cusp of getting it, after reading what you've written.

When you write, "...and that any and every sinner who repents and believes in Jesus Christ will certainly be saved," do you mean that if a sinner repents and believes in Jesus Christ, he or she will be saved because it was predestined by God that he or she would repent and is saved for that reason?

Thus, the Gospel message is for all...the question of who will respond to it is answered by God himself.

Am I on the right track?

DJP said...

I think so, Sewing, fundamentally.

But I'd say it more like this: in His death for His elect, Jesus secured all the benefits necessary for their salvation, redemption, and happiness. This must necessarily include the means of their gaining these benefits — repentance and saving faith.

After all, if Jesus did absolutely everything necessary for our salvation except provide the one element without which none will be saved, then all is lost. I have made a cure for you, but no means to deliver it.

So Romans 8:32 asks, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" If "all things" does not include conviction of sin, repentance, and saving faith, then the gift is impotent, and we are all lost.

So I'd phrase it like this: the Gospel message is sincerely sent to all, and those who respond do so by the sovereign grace of God effectively drawing them to Christ in repentant faith.

Does that help any?

Meanwhile, the Gospel is not, "Jesus died for you; believe that fact and you are saved." It is "Jesus died for sinners; you are a sinner; believe in Him, and you will be saved."

Stefan Ewing said...

Thanks, Dan, your reply makes sense. And I definitely agree with the last two sentences. It shouldn't be "Me, me, me," but "Thee, thee, thee"!

Keith said...

"He went on to say...that we are all sinners under the wrath of God; that God loves sinners, and sent Christ Jesus into the world to save sinners...."

Sounds like a roundabout way of saying the same thing Arminians claim when sharing the gospel: "Jesus died for you." It insinuates the same thing and leaves elect and non-elect thinking alike: "Christ died for sinners--I'm a sinner. Christ died for me!"