Without stutter, stammer, doubt, or debate, the cross of Jesus Christ, and His blood-work on Calvary’s hill is the central message of the gospel sermon. Without such, we have nothing to preach. Among the messages that are being put out today under the name of Christian, errors are not a few. From the Universalism of Rob Bell on one side of the spectrum, to the Calvinism and limited atonement of reformed theology on the other side, the centrality of the atonement has become something that many people are calling a secondary doctrine that should not divide believers, much less divide Baptists. There are some today, that believe both extremes can co-exist in one gospel brush, and still be faithful to the Word of God.
Grace is wide. Truth is not. What Christ did on the cross constitutes the power of Salvation. The reality is that the atoning work of Christ is essential to the truth and power of the gospel, and is not something that can rightly be relegated to a “go along to get along” issue.
One of my favorite verses dealing with this issue is 1st John 2:2. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Within the context of the entire passage, John deals with an “us” and “them”; the “saved” and the “lost.” In dark black ink on bright white paper, he declares that Jesus is the atonement for both “us” and “them.” Of course the Universalist will say, that means everyone goes to heaven. The Calvinist will agree and say that is indeed what our interpretation would mean. Of course we do not come within 10 galaxies of saying such.
Propitiation must be received, to be applied. Christ’s work is finished for every man; and yet every man is given the choice of choosing Christ’s finished work. A choice to choose Christ is not a work of man, or a boast of the flesh anymore than good health is a disease. Christ’s finished work is a free work to be received or rejected.
– “they that gladly received his word were baptized . . .” – Acts 2:41
– “as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” – John 1:12
– “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” – Colossians 2:6
The primary problem with the Calvinist theology is their insistance that “a universal atonement” means a “universal salvation;” it does not. A universal atonement does not mean a universal salvation, it does mean a universal invitation. While the atonement is full and finished, it is free but not forced. Because everyone’s atonement is available not everyone’s is applied. Atonement must be received in order to be applied. “we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” “We” meaning those who are saved.
Someone is going to say, “Then Christ died for sins that He did not have to die for.” – He didn’t have to die for any sins!There is not one sin that Christ had to die for. He didn’t have to do anything. Every sin He died for was more than He had to. Just because some would be saved, does not mean He did not die for all. Some say in our day, “if Christ’s atonement is for all, then why do unbelievers still go to hell?” Simply put, because of their sins. Atonement rejected means penalty still due. He paid for their sins, and they would not allow His payment to be applied to their account; therefore their bill is still due. What then will happen to the blood that Jesus spilled for the payment of sins that they rejected? Tragically it will be added back to their guilt. Hebrews 10:29-30 – ” . . . how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.”
That’s why we have “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” The word reconciling inside the phrase, “reconciling the world” and the reconciled in the phrase “be ye reconciled”, are the same word, the word “katalasso.” It is the root word for “katalagay” which is the “atonement” of Romans 5:11 Etymylogically speaking the word, “atonement” is a word that means, “at one ment” with God, or speaks of reconciliation. In Paul’s plea he declares that in Christ, God was making the world “at one with Him”, and so therefore we as ambassadors for Christ pray and plead that you will become “at one with” God. All of that being said, the atonement must be received in order to be applied.
When we take the atoning work of Christ out of the gospel, we are left with a shell of a message. We cannot say to just anyone, “Christ died for you.” We cannot proclaim that “Whosoever will may come.” We cannot teach that He is the “Savior of the world, especially to them that believe.” The atonement of Jesus is central to the free offer of Salvation to any sinner on any soil. Christ died for the Lost, and saying anything else is not a change worth making.