Today something happened to me, which has only happened two other times in my life that I know of. I woke up with a certain theological viewpoint and will go to bed with a new one, one filled with glories to explore and applications to tunnel into.
If I have ever been asked in the past if I’m a Calvinist, I would say “yes”, but probably a 4 or 4.5 point Calvinist, as I’m not sure what to do with the “L” in TULIP (which stands for Limited Atonement), but us positively expressed as Particular Redemption.
As I understood it, this meant that Christ died only for the sins of the elect. Up until today, my understanding is that Jesus died for all sin but the payment is only APPLIED to the elect. I thought this to be an exercise in semantics because unless you reject this doctrine under the belief that everyone on earth will be saved (universalism), it didn’t really matter. I viewed Jesus’ payment as universal, but it’s application to be only to those who He set his love and grace upon before the world ever began.
A funny thing happened to me today. I was asked about where I stood on the “5 points” and as I was explaining my understanding of particular redemption, I realized that I have been using it as a major plank in my evangelism and general conversation with my unsaved friends and coworkers.
We live in an age where even as the Judeo/Christian morality of North America is eroding at lightning speed, the concern for “justice” is very strong. Even if the justice desired is misguided, this is a top priority for many of my generation and the one following it.
When speaking with my non-Christian friends, the conversation frequently comes around to what justice is. I have contended that if there is no eternal soul, there cannot be anything like justice at all. If when we die, we are just meat for the worms, then what justice did Hitler get? He begins a war that results in countless millions dead, and sets in motion some of the most heinous atrocities know to modernity and all he is made to pay is accomplished with a bullet in his head. Can that be just? Didn’t he just get away with all of it if there is no justice beyond this life?
My contention has been that if that is how the universe works, then we have no hope for real Justice. BUT if every person has to stand before the Perfect Judge to receive perfect justice, this makes some sense out of the world. One of my commonly used phrases when speaking about justice is that “nobody gets away with anything. Every sin, every crime will be punished and the sentence will be given by the perfect Judge.”
What I have tried to proclaim in the gospel is that we will all stand before God to receive what is right, and we will either have to pay for our sins ourselves, or the just punishment for our sins will have to be born by a substitute. No one gets away with anything. Perfect justice will either be laid on the back of sinners, or on the back of our substitute, Jesus – the only one who could take the just punishment for sin and survive. God doesn’t just wink at sinners and welcome them into his glory. Only those who have been legally freed from the penalty of the law will pass.
Recently I had the privilege of hearing Jerry Bridges speak, and he explained in very simple terms – as simple as a speeding ticket, that the law in honoured in one of two ways. It is either perfectly obeyed (you go the speed limit), or it’s due penalty is paid (you get a ticket).
So what does all this have to do with the inclusion of particular redemption as demonstrated (I know believe) in scripture, and is articulated well in the Reformed tradition? It has everything to do with Justice.
If Jesus died for Hitler’s sins in full on the cross, it would be unjust for God to send Hitler (our you or I) to Hell as punishment for sins. God would be doubling up. Particular Redemption accounts for how God can uphold – or honour – the law, and yet still save his people while being perfectly just. Jesus’ s sacrifice is the perfect payment for the sins of the people of God, thus allowing God to righteously make unrighteous people righteous in his sight. It also allows for God to righteously punish all those who do not approach Him with Jesus blood as the basis of their righteousness.
As I mentioned, something like this has only happened to me 3 times in my life, so my mind is a bit on fire. I have taken my first step down this road. I have much to think of, and hopefully write in a way that will be helpful to those who read.
There are such glories in this… it will take time to mine down further. Just thankful that Jesus died for me, to honour the law, satisfy justice, and give me a righteousness by which I may one day stand in his presence without blemish or defect, by his work alone.
“Let us wonder grace and Justice, join and point to mercy’s store. For when grace through Christ our trust is, Justice smiles and asks no more” – Let us love and sing and wonder (Newton Hymn I think)