Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 2
by Jonathan Hamilton
See Part 1 here for an explanation of this series. This explanation includes attribution of credit and clarification of what material below represents my own interjections. Let’s jump into Part 2.
Overview of the Work of Christ (Big Picture)
We’ll come back and fill in lots and lots of this, but this is how I see the theological puzzle fitting together. It’s a roadmap.
THE HUMAN SIDE
- Humans are sinners. We haven’t measured up to God’s glorious standard. (Rom. 3:23)
- We deserve God’s wrath. (Rom. 1:18; Jn. 3:18)
THE PROVISION OF SALVATION
- God loved people in spite of their sin. (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9)
But here we must ask: Does God limit His love and the provision of salvation only to the elect?
Remember the two sides of the coin (from Part 1): provision and application. The question here is not about application. The only people who don’t limit the application of salvation are universalists. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is only applied to some. So the question here is does God limit the provision of salvation? In other words, is salvation actually provided as a possibility for all people, or only for the elect?
On the one hand, we have to admit at minimum that when God prepared to send His Son to the cross, He knew who would accept and who would reject. Therefore, God had to plan to apply to some what He would offer to all. It is not God providing for all and then sitting back and waiting to see who’s going to take advantage of it.
In fact, I think you can make it more specific. I think you can argue that in the atonement there is the intention to secure the application of the atonement to the elect. He does something for the elect that He doesn’t do for the non-elect. He provides salvation for all, He secures the application for the elect. If you are elect, the work on the cross was actually intended to bring you to salvation. (Rather than being a fearful doctrine, this should actually provide great comfort to the believer.)
So if the question is, does God limit His love and provision of salvation only to the elect, you can’t answer that question by appealing to application passages (passages that aim to answer the application question, but do not aim to answer the provision question). He died and rose again to save His people. But logically that doesn’t mean that He didn’t die and rise again to make salvation possible for those who don’t believe.
Limited atonement has a positive side and a negative side. The positive side is not the problem (He died not just to make salvation possible for his elect, He died to get them saved). A passage that limits the application of the salvation to the elect is not sufficient to prove that a provision for all was not made. There are plenty of passages that prove the positive side. I have yet to find a single passage, even from the most committed proponent of limited atonement, which proves the negative side. (Translation: Orthodox Christianity teaches that the application of salvation is limited to the elect. The opposing view is universalism, the belief that all will be saved eventually. Additionally, Calvinists believe that God actually intended to apply salvation to the elect when he sent Christ into the world. But limiting the provision (or possibility) of salvation only to the elect is neither a logical nor theological necessity. I personally do not believe in limited provision, but I am not offended by Christians who do.)
A standard proof text that is used for unlimited provision is John 3:16-21 (the cross always does something: it justifies believers, it condemns unbelievers).
The Sinner’s Condition
- Sin separates us from God
- God’s back is turned on the sinner in wrath.
- The sinner’s back is turned on God in revolution, or rebellion.
All three need to be dealt with:
- Redemption deals with the sin. 2 Peter 2:1 (takes care of original sin for all men; see also Rom. 5:12-21)
- Propitiation (satisfaction) is the Godward aspect that turns God toward the sinner. 1 John 2:2
- Reconciliation is the manward aspect of the work of Christ, turning humanity as a whole back toward God, 2 Cor. 5:19-20. Just as with sanctification, there are past, present, and future aspects of reconciliation. (NOTE: Theologically, God is never the One who is reconciled. It’s always the party in the wrong who needs to be reconciled. Keep this in mind in counseling. If you are speaking to an injured and an injuring party and you say “I want you two to be reconciled to each other,” what you are saying is “You’re both wrong.” That may not actually be the case so be careful how you say it. Properly speaking, only the offending party needs to be reconciled.)
If you approach these passages prima facie you come away with the idea that these three are all dealt with for all humanity, not just the elect. To come away with the elect-only view, you have to come at it with an a priori theological assumption.
So you don’t have a logical case for limited atonement (can’t make the jump between provision and application). And you don’t have a Scriptural case that Christ has excluded anyone from the benefits of the atonement in terms of their provision. You do have a prima facie case that the benefits of the atonement were provided for the benefit of all human beings. It’s not a bulletproof case, but that’s true in every area of theology.
THE APPLICATION OF SALVATION
The only condition of salvation and eternal life is trust in the finished work of Christ (Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9-10). This means, first of all, that no one is actually saved until he believes. The offer of salvation is open to everybody. This is where all of those “whosoever” passages come into play (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:11, 13; Rev. 22:17). Two questions arise:
- Does God give any indication as to who will?
- Why is it that some people trust Christ while other people reject Him?
Arminianism and Calvinism as Systems of Thought
The main difference between these two systems of thought is not eternal security or limited atonement. It involves unconditional election and irresistible grace, but properly speaking the dividing line is… (Saved for later! This will be fleshed out more in the next few blog posts than it will be here.)
Points of Agreement:
- All humans are depraved (not merely lost, but rebels against God).
- Unsaved humans in their natural state, left to themselves, will never trust Christ.
- If anyone is ever going to be saved, God somehow has to free that person from the depraved intellect and from the depraved sensibilities.
- God is not obligated to restore moral ability to anybody.
So how does God restore it, and when does He do it, and who does He do it to?
God partially restores moral ability, and God does it for all people. He does it as part of His common (prevenient) grace. God restores the possibility of a human making an initial positive response toward God, which effort God will meet with even more grace.
God restores moral ability efficaciously, and only to the elect, as part of saving grace. All people are responsible to trust Christ, therefore all people are equally culpable before God. Nevertheless, God has chosen some, and to those who He has chosen God totally restores the moral ability to choose Him. They will believe. He doesn’t force them, but they will because they can. God does not refuse salvation to anybody who wants to believe it. The problem is, nobody wants to believe it in their natural state. He has to restore the moral ability to do so.
Can you determine which picture represents Arminian thought and which represents Calvinistic thought?
Let’s flesh out each picture to show where it leads. It will lead us to the one main dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism, which might surprise you.
Views on the order of the decrees (note the position of election within each view; click on image for larger view):
What is a hyper-Calvinist, and how does he differ from a 5-point Calvinist?
You can see there is a spectrum of beliefs even within Calvinism. Don’t make the mistake of lumping all Calvinists necessarily into the same set of beliefs when it comes to the place election has (logically) within the other decrees God made in the past. One of the worst things you can do is give the label “Hyper-Calvinist” to everyone who has any Calvinistic thinking whatsoever. This is slanderous and unfair. As you can see above, Hyper-Calvinists have a distinct set of beliefs that, when held together, other Calvinists do not share. These include supralapsarianism (explained in the first chart above), reprobation (the doctrine that God predestines the non-elect to damnation), the refusal to give the Gospel to the lost (a direct contradiction of the commands of Scripture), a refusal to acknowledge God’s common grace upon the lost (in my view this also contradicts Scripture), and the belief that the elect were never legitimately under the wrath of God prior to salvation because they were always going to get saved anyways.