A reason exists for the difficulty many have in accepting the true meaning of the gospel. Those who believe must realize that for many, this truth appears to represent a perplexing inconsistency, possibly even a flaw, in the justice of God. As the reasoning goes, if Jesus actually died for my sins, then I should not have to die for them. If Jesus died for the sins of all, as the Bible plainly teaches, then none have to die for their sins. If nobody dies, then everyone will ultimately be eternally saved—the Universalist position.
Immediately, they know that this is not the case. Therefore, some conclude, Jesus could not have exhausted the penalty for everyone’s sins, and salvation cannot truly be a free gift. Perhaps they would never articulate their concern so candidly. But we should realize that it is this honest and logical thought process that leads many to affirm the Arminian conclusion that the atonement was merely provisional and that its efficacy must be invoked by man’s response in order to be effective. Other honest souls are more comfortable with the Calvinist conclusion that Christ only died for the elect.
In Romans 3:25 this acute problem comes into clear focus. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:25). This verse of Scripture requires some careful study to properly understand its meaning. As it is translated in the King James Version, the meaning is somewhat obscure. To review other translations is helpful.
Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate
His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were
previously committed (Romans 3:25, NKJV).
God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did
this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed
beforehand unpunished (Romans 3:25, NIV).
Here we discover that all of the sins committed up until the cross had been “passed over.” In other words, God had forgiven them out of sheer mercy to the sinner, but His mercy appeared to be at the expense of justice. He had left the sins “unpunished.” Up until the cross, God had not addressed the legal imperatives of justice: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). However, at the cross, all the sins of the world were punished in Christ. The full legal penalty for every sin ever committed was fully discharged. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Thus, God’s justice was “demonstrated” (Romans 3:25). For the first time since the dawn of the sin problem, God was clearly seen to be not only merciful but just.
For some human observers, however, this demonstration of “justice” (Romans 3:25), as we have explained it, appears to lead to injustice. The problem is: If God “punished” all of our sins, believer and unbeliever alike, in Christ, at the cross, how can He punish anyone in the final judgment? When those who are finally and eternally lost shall suffer the penalty for their sin, will God be exacting a second penalty for the same sins already paid for by the death of Christ? If Christ actually, not merely, provisionally or selectively, “died for our sins,” why will the unbeliever die? Does the plan of salvation really amount to a form of double jeopardy? Is God’s system of justice ultimately unjust? Dr. Jon Paulien, Dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University, has framed the question well in his book, Meet God Again for the First Time.
Would it be fair for any penal system to execute a person twice for the same murder
(assuming that were somehow an option)? (Jon Paulien, PhD, Meet God Again for the First
Time (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1993), 128, 129).
That question frames the issue that some have when considering the Arminian understanding of the gospel. They see a system in which God is said to punish the same sins twice. Jesus has already died for the sins of the world. Yet, they perceive that those who do not believe in Jesus die for the same sins again. Could Jesus have actually paid the full penalty for sin, if people later suffer the penalty again for the same sin in the final judgment? Dr. Paulien suggests that would not be fair. He answers the question succinctly.
No. Remember what happened when Jesus died on the cross. Heaven placed all the
sins of the human race on Him there. When Jesus perished at Calvary His death fully
atoned for your sins and for mine. The cross broke the chains of sin and dysfunction. If
your sins are atoned for in Jesus Christ, if He exhausted the curses of the covenant, if He
died as the Second Adam, the new Israel, the new Moses—then that means that your sin
has already been taken care of (Ibid.).
Now the dilemma, which has divided Christianity primarily into two major groups (Calvinist and Arminians) for centuries, has come clearly into focus. We must admit that the Arminians and the Calvinists both have a valid point. The justice of God is at stake, depending on the position one takes in this matter. The integrity of the plan of salvation is on the line. How can people believe that Christ actually died for their sins, if we tell them, in nearly the same breath, that they will also die for those same sins, apart from repentance and faith in Christ? Does the final judgment nullify the gospel? That would clearly be an unacceptable conclusion. Dr. Paulien agrees:
Phase three of the judgment again involves the entire human race. But the final
judgment is not different in character, nor is it some kind of double jeopardy (Ibid. 110).
We must demonstrate that the gospel really is good news. If this cannot be demonstrated, we shall have to concede that the Calvinists must be right after all—that Jesus died for a select group. While the Arminians use a different term to refer to that select group, the logic of their position is in essence the same.
Clearly, we need a better understanding of the gospel, in order to resolve this dilemma. We believe that just such an understanding is provided by the message of the latter rain.
No Respecter of Persons
Peter articulated a far-reaching and profound principle, when he said, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). This principle forms the foundation of the entire plan of salvation. Intuitively obvious, at least to the Arminian, is that if God did play favorites, He would be unjust. The greatest injustice of all would have been to have arbitrarily saved some folk, while leaving others to perish.
Jesus came to earth “that He [God the Father] might be just” (Romans 3:26). In a sense, Jesus died to justify God! Therefore, in view of Acts 10:34, His sacrifice must be equally applicable to every human soul. Otherwise, Jesus failed in His mission, and God still needs to be justified.
This tenet is one of the most fundamental of all the gospel: “One died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). How then do we maintain the integrity of this fundamental principle and at the same time avoid the unbiblical conclusion that everyone will ultimately be eternally saved? The solution must lie in the definition of the unpardonable sin.
If you have enjoyed reading thus far, you need to order the book and finish
reading it. The issues raised in this first section of the book are clearly resolved
in the next section of the book, using Bible evidence.
Order your copy today! Order Page Home Page