The Gospel in a
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul provided a cursory summary of the gospel. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2). What is the essence of the “gospel” which the apostle “declared” to the Corinthian church? He continues: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Here is the heart of the gospel: “Christ died for our sins.” The concept is simple. Yet when properly understood, it is profound. Often, it is not correctly understood. Christians have struggled for years with the meaning of this simple truth: “Christ died for our sins…” One question often goes unanswered: If Christ already died for our sins, why will the unbeliever also die? A failure to address this question has led to much confusion.
The Wages of Sin
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Here is the essence of what God told our first parents way back in the Garden of Eden, when He said, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17, emphasis supplied). James repeats the same message. “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). Here, we find a simple, straight forward formula. Sin brings death. The final result of sin is death. Indeed, the legal penalty for sin is death. Why? Because the law of God, which represents the justice of God, demands the death of the sinner.
Notice the following: “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). The demand of justice is: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). This requirement of the law is just. The problem is that the Bible declares, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In other words, all have sinned in the past, and all are coming short of God’s standard in the present continuous tense. This begs the question: Why then are not “all” dead?
Before we can resolve the dilemma posed by the unbeliever who dies in the lake of fire, in spite of the substitutionary death of Christ, we must find the answer to a preliminary question: Considering the condition of humans, as stated in Romans 3:23, why is anyone still alive? Adam and Eve were told that they would die on the day that they sinned. Why, then, did they not die that day?
Some have reasoned that they did die, because they died spiritually. However, the wages of sin involves much more than spiritual death. As one considers the triune nature of mankind—which, incidentally, reflects the triune nature of the Godhead—this is more fully understood. We were indeed made in the image of God. This fact evidently includes the concept that we were made in the image of the triune Godhead.
Three primary aspects of human existence may be noted: the body, the soul, and the spirit. The Bible presents all three aspects: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The term body refers to the physical aspect of man. The term soul refers to the emotional and/or intellectual nature. The term spirit refers to the spiritual nature of man. The “soul” and the “spirit” are not synonymous. The book of Hebrews makes this distinction.
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Through the Word of God, we are able to distinguish between that which comes from our own souls and that which comes from the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirits. The fact that the Word is to separate (i.e., divide) between these lets us know that the “soul” and the “spirit” are not synonymous. Therefore, there are three distinct aspects of the human entity.
The Scriptures teach that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Not merely a “spiritual death” is noted here, but complete and eternal death of body, soul, and spirit. Scripture defines death as a complete absence of consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). God did not say to Adam, “The day you sin, a part of you will die.” He said that “the day you eat of it, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17, NKJV). The question is: Why did Adam continue to live? More to the point, we need to know why we are still alive, in spite of the fact that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23).
Did God mean what He said, or was He only bluffing? How is it that God could declare that the result of sin would be death, that day, yet Adam continued to live on for hundreds of years? We need an understanding of the gospel which will reconcile the apparent discrepancy between the infallible word of God to Adam and the reality which we see today. God said, “Thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Why then does life continue in this sin-cursed world? A discontinuity seems evident in the spiritual space-time continuum. One law applied before sin, but it appears to have been immediately set aside when Adam sinned.
The Gift of God
Only one solution to the sin problem is available. God Himself could not devise another plan. “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We must be saved in this way, for there is no other way. The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That fact cannot be changed—it is true for all time, because the law of God cannot be changed (see Psalm 111:7, 8; Matthew 5:17, 18).
Another fact, too, cannot be changed. God has given an “unspeakable gift” (see 2 Corinthians 9:15). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16, emphasis supplied). The good news does not end there. Not only did God give His Son, but the Son gave as well. He “gave Himself for our sins” (Galatians 1:4). By giving Himself for our sins, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). By His death for the sins of the whole world, He has redeemed us (i.e., the entire human race) from the curse of the law that Adam brought upon us, thus placing the entire human race under probationary grace.
The amazing good news of the gospel is this: The moment Adam sinned, there was a Saviour. Christ stepped in the very instant that Adam sinned. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Jesus has died the eternal death that Adam should have suffered on the very day he sinned. The apostle Paul explains this wonderful truth in 2 Timothy 1:10: “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Pause to consider the fact that every sin has eternal death as its penalty. Each time any human being sins, the law of God condemns him or her to eternal death, that very day. Why does this death not happen to each sinner when he/she sins? By His death, Christ has “abolished death” (2 Timothy 1:10). This does not refer to the temporary death which Jesus referred to as “sleep” (Matthew 9:24). The eternal death which Adam merited the moment he sinned is the death which Christ has abolished. The “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) is the only reason Adam lived to see another day. And this is also the reason we live today. In the gift of Christ, God has given us “life” and through that same gift we may have “immortality” (2 Timothy 1:10).
To the apostle Paul, Christ’s death was something very personal. He recognized it as the payment required to reverse his own condemnation. He speaks of Jesus as “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Here once again, we find the essence of the gospel. This gospel should be a very personal matter to each of us, as well. In fact, it should be the primary motivating factor of our lives.
For Whose Sins?
For whose sins did Jesus die?
We saw in Chapter 3 that some Christians (i.e., the Calvinists) would limit this good news, making it applicable to a favored group called “the elect.”
Another group of Christians, referred to as Arminians, unconsciously agree with the Calvinists. They argue that Christ’s death was only “provisional.” They believe that salvation was merely set in place or established, sort of like a trust fund. This trust would not be functional or effective unless certain conditions were first met. According to the Arminian, unless and until we respond appropriately, Christ’s death does us absolutely no good, as it relates to justification, forgiveness, and salvation. The Arminian may not be conscious of the fact, but he really believes Christ died only for the believers. Whether we call the favored group “the believers” or “the elect,” we still have a limited atonement.
The Bible says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Therefore, we must go to the Scriptures to find the answer to our question: For whose sins did Christ really die? We must look to the Scriptures to find the “limits” of the atonement, if such limits exist.
When we go to the Scriptures, we find that Romans 5:6 contradicts the Arminian position. It states the exact opposite. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Verse 8 of the same chapter repeats the same thought: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Apparently, Jesus did not die for believers. In the book of Romans the apostle takes pains to emphasize the point: Jesus died for sinners! We shall soon discover that His death is the atonement for all our sins. This atonement is equivalent to the forgiveness of all sins, in a limited sense. Since there are different aspects of atonement, there must also be different aspects of forgiveness. The Arminian perspective recognizes only one aspect of forgiveness—that which occurs when the sinner confesses and repents. This limited understanding leads the Arminian to conclude that Christ’s death is merely “provisional.” Although Christ’s death is in some respects provisional, that is by no mean the full extent of the reality. The actual good news is much better than that allowed by the Arminian philosophy.