Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 2000
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Appendix C: The Protestant Debate over the Extent of the Atonement
Lesson 143 – Extent of Atonement
09 Mar 2000
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’re going to review some of the unfinished business from last time on the atonement. I’ve been listening to a debate between an evangelical Christian, a Jewish rabbi, and a representative of Islam. I’ve emphasized in this class the importance of the framework, and of seeing these events and these doctrines. I’ve also emphasized the diagram of the enveloping frame of reference and how whenever you dialogue with somebody no matter what you talk about it will be ensconced in some sort of belief framework, belief frame of reference. I’m going to ask Tommy if he’ll play a few moments in the middle of this debate when this Islamic … you have to listen to it because he talks from the roof of his mouth, so just be aware of the accent. At this point in the discussion he is outlining the differences between Islam and Christianity, and what you’re going to hear is a typically Islamic treatment, this is how they view Christianity.
Since this is a class in which we’ve gone through the birth, the life and death of Christ, and remember each part of these events in His life we’ve shown there is a cluster of truths associated with that. With the birth of Jesus Christ we’re back to the doctrines of God, man and nature. With the life of Christ we’re dealing with revelation. You remember in the notes that each one of these events produces a response, and we either accept it or we reject it. I’ve tried to show the ideas behind this acceptance or rejection. Go back to the birth of Christ, the Bible reports that it was a virgin birth, etc. and you remember the Jewish reaction was that Jesus was illegitimate. The Gentile reaction was it couldn’t have happened. What do we say both of those rejections show? They both show a commitment to naturalism and paganism, and the idea that there isn’t a supernatural intervention into the universe.
Then when we got to Jesus’ life we said there’s a reaction. Remember what the reaction was? That all these reports of Jesus’ life was just the spin doctors of the early church, that it wasn’t Jesus; what we’re reading here isn’t the real Jesus, this is what the church thought about Jesus. So it was a method that unbelief has of taking the clear Word of God, using the nouns and verbs that are in it, and totally neutralizing it by covering it up and absorbing it inside of a foreign frame of reference.
I’ve deliberately picked our four or five minutes in the middle of this Islamic, Judaic, Christian discussion to isolate where this representative of Islam treats the difference between Islam and Christianity, and in this particular section he’s outlining quickly what they believe about Jesus Christ, because on the surface Islam appears to honor Jesus. They say we’re just a continuation, we believe Jesus was a prophet; we accept the fact that He was a prophet, etc. etc. etc., it’s just that Mohammed is the last and final prophet, and he sort of corrected all the errors that crept in. This will also give you insight into how they handle the fact, which you may wonder about, if Islam sees the Koran as the fulfillment of the Old and New Testaments, and the Koran and the Old and New Testament clash over particulars how do they handle that. They handle it by simply dismissing the contradictory passages in the Old and New Testament by saying these are the result of corruptions, so the Koran is God’s coming down to earth to make sure through Mohammed speaking to correct the corruptions of the Old and New Testament. So in effect they’ve neutralized the Old and New Testaments. Even though they say they respect them, since they can’t define what the original is apart from the Koran, in effect, the basis of authority has moved from the Old and New Testament over to the Koran.
You’ll see this technique used with the Mormons, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with Christian Science; it’s always moving you from the authority of Scripture to something else. I want Tommy to play this for a few minutes, just listen; it’ll be a little hard because of the accent but pick up just the general themes of the life of Christ. [unable to hear anything that was played]
… compromise the monotheism of the Old Testament and it takes Islam to correct that error in Christianity. This is the real world, a third of the world is Muslim now, almost, so if you’re a Christian you’d better realize that this is an objection and what are you going to do? What are you going to answer to it? We spent a lot of time on the Trinity. We had Appendix A in the notes. That’s why that Appendix is in there, and if you look at the Appendix, we said it was in terms of unity and diversity within God, we said we believe in ONE God, but there’s unity and diversity within God, the Creator/creature distinction. If you did not have diversity inside the Godhead, then who was the object of God’s love before He created the universe? That’s the dilemma. Allah doesn’t have an eternal object of his love, therefore doesn’t exercise his love. It’s interesting that the Christian position as Jesus prayed in John 17 that Father, You loved Me before the foundation of the world. Love was being exercised prior to the creation. Is that possible with solitary monotheism? No. And if it’s not possible with solitary monotheism, then doesn’t that also imply that in some way God needs the creation in order to fulfill Himself, whereas if we have a Trinity we have unity and diversity within the Godhead, God is not under any obligation to create something that loves Him back kind of, because He’s already self-contained.
So it’s false that the Trinity negates monotheism, but as Christians you want to be aware that that is what Jews and Muslims think about you, that you’re a compromiser to the biblical monotheism. Therefore you can’t back up and apologize, and you’d better have some way of explaining what you mean when you say you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but that in fact you are a monotheist. One easy approach is to simply say that all the authors of the New Testament were monotheistic Jews, were they not? Maybe Luke was a Gentile. But the idea is weren’t the authors of the New Testament monotheistic Jews? Yeah. Well then, how come as monotheistic Jews they didn’t see a problem, they were good Jews by the way, they didn’t see a problem with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They didn’t see a problem in the deity of Jesus.
Why is it that they didn’t see a problem? What did we say in Appendix A? We went back into the Old Testament and we said there’s a diversity of God present already in the Old Testament, before Jesus. We showed some passages, Psalm 110, “The LORD said to My Lord,” what’s David talking about there? In Genesis 1, “Let us make man in our image,” who’s the “our?” Who’s the “us” there, it’s not angels, God doesn’t create men in angels’ images. He creates them in His own image. The point is that the Trinity is but an enlarged development and a refinement of the unity and diversity already present in the Old Testament text. That was his first point.
His second point and I wonder how many of you caught it, was the incarnation. How did he define the incarnation? Does anybody hear it? It was totally backwards. He said (quote) “the incarnation is man becoming God, an idea that was prevalent in the Greco-Roman world.” Is he right in the sense that in the Greco-Roman world there were men-gods, gods with a little “g”? Yeah, that’s always been true in paganism. But look at the enveloping frame of reference and how it works. Here is a fact; the fact is that yes, in the Greco-Roman world there are pagan gods and goddesses that are kind of half men, half god. That’s factual, but what’s wrong with the statement that “the incarnation is man becoming God?” It’s exactly backwards. What does the New Testament say? God became man. So you’ve got to watch it, it gets back to these little subtleties, and we’ve got to learn to be good listeners and not to just blurt out something until we really have listened and understand where the people are coming from. Otherwise we’re talking like this and it’s just a total waste of time. We have to pick up on these things. We have to say to ourselves, Lord, let me understand where this person is coming from before I pontificate some stupid remark that I’m going to later regret. Let me listen to what the people are saying.
Here he is, he has this image that we say that the incarnation is a man who becomes God. When did Jesus become God? If he was born of a virgin, was He God in the womb? Was He God as a baby? Yes. There’s no point where Jesus as a man became God. We went through 400 years of church history, got to the hypostatic union; He is undiminished deity, true humanity, united in one person forever without confusion. We worked our way through Arianism, Nestorianism, we had that little chart, and in that chart the church did consider the idea that Jesus might have been a man on whom the Spirit of God came, that was one of the heresies and it was thrown out. If there was anything that did not come from the contemporary culture it’s the idea of the Trinity and the incarnation. It took 400 years to bring that whole frame of reference into existence, because it wasn’t there in the culture.
The Trinity, the incarnation, God became man, not man became God. The third thing which is what we’ve just talked about, what does he say about the atonement? Do Muslims believe in the atonement? No. They said they respect Jesus though. How do you reconcile the fact that they respect Jesus but they don’t buy the atonement? They must be talking about a different Jesus than the Jesus I know through the pages of the New Testament text. Which Jesus are we talking about? They’re talking about a reconstructed Jesus having read the New Testament, they then revise the New Testament in the light of the Koran, and then say yeah, we respect that Jesus. That’s like the liberals today in the college classroom, higher criticism. Time Magazine, U. S. News & World Report every Christmas. We’re approaching Easter, there’ll be another big article about did Jesus really rise from the dead, like we have to check that out, somebody took a video tape of the tomb, got it all on tape and if they didn’t get it on tape then He didn’t do it, that sort of silly kind of thinking. But that’s what the world believes and we need to know that’s how they approach things.
What did we say was the key idea in the atonement? This is why you want to learn to think this way, if you don’t pick up anything in these classes, it’s a method of thinking, a method of thinking through the Scripture, and in every one of these places there’s a big idea. What was the big idea behind the death of Jesus Christ? The issue of justice. Now if a person doesn’t get the atonement what do you immediately know is screwed up? Their whole idea of justice, because if Jesus’ atonement is not accepted, and we’re not going to deal in terms of sin and atonement, then how are we going to deal with sin? What does every religion, every religion, EVERY one, apart from biblical Christianity, what do they do with sin? Think about that. Every Christian heresy basically does the same thing, except not so blatantly maybe. But if you deny the atonement you’re denying the fact that justice is restitutionary. If you deny the atonement, you could be denying that you’re a sinner, [that you] don’t need an atonement. Most people aren’t quite that blatant. Yeah, I fall short. So if you fall short but you deny the atonement, then what’s your solution to the problem? Well, do meritorious works as best you can and then trust God to forgive the rest. That’s basically all the religions of the world, right there.
Later on he’s challenged by the Christian guy, and he comes right out and says, you Christians yak, yak about this atonement thing. We Muslims don’t believe … nobody has to die for somebody else’s sin, you do the best you can with your sin, you don’t pawn it off on somebody else, you take responsibility for your sin, and you do good works, and the more good works you do the more chance you have that Allah will forgive you. That sounds nice until you start thinking about it. If we don’t need an atonement, then one of two things must be true. Either we’re not sinners and don’t need an atonement, or that God forgives without a blood atonement, in which case, haven’t you made two very dogmatic statements? This can be said in a greasy kind of slimy way and it comes off to the average audience like this is really cool, this sounds great. And then you start backing off and say wait a minute, what are they saying? They’re saying that they’re not sinners … no, no, no, we’re not saying that, we’re just saying you can’t be perfect, and God will forgive you.
If you take that position, that God will forgive you just because you’re a good boy, what have you done to God’s justice? Go to Romans 3:25-26, Paul should not have had to have coped with this big theological problem here; it was totally unnecessary, we needn’t worry about it Paul. Paul says in verse 25, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” See, there’s God, He’s forgiven people. But what does that do? That sets up a dilemma, in verse 26, “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Come on fellas, if God is just and He forgives, how do you explain that? Nobody answers that question. The Bible says the only way you can preserve the justice of God and at the same time get forgiveness is by substitutionary blood atonement. People act like this is some new super New Testament right-wing fundamentalist truth here.
What happened in the garden? How did the first animal get killed and eaten? Blood atonement. Is that New Testament? No. What did Abraham do before the Abrahamic Covenant? What was he instructed to do? Slaughter animals, and he went to sleep with the Abrahamic Covenant. Was that New Testament? No. What happened in the Exodus, what did they put on the doors so the angel of death would pass over? Wasn’t it blood? Okay, then how come you’re saying that the New Testament introduces a new idea? That’s not a new idea is it?
The modern Judaism, I won’t say Jewish person, this is Hebrew Christians, in modern Judaism and Islam the only way they can deal with this is ultimately either cancel this and weaken it, or they go to a hopelessness, because how do you have assurance in your conscience that in the day of judgment, you will stand? How do you get that assurance? That’s why I spent considerable time last time in Appendix C, on page 6; I made a big point about this. Don’t worry about these details in the sense of trying to remember them all, it’s becoming aware that the Bible’s truths fit together. That’s one of the authentic signs of its truthfulness.
We talked about the debate in Geneva, the first paragraph on page 6 says: “Another example is the tendency of the later Reformers to alter Luther’s and Calvin’s teaching on faith. Catholicism counter-attacked the original teaching of Luther and Calvin (that faith was assurance) as an incentive to loose living. To defend Protestantism, the later Reformers began to argue that we cannot be assured that we have believed unto salvation unless there are evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.”
The original Reformers caught the idea that at the initial micro-second of the fact that you exercise saving faith you’ve got assurance you’re accepted. Why else would you turn to a holy God? How can you face a holy God unless you have assurance? You’ve got to have assurance at the first step, not the second, third, fourth or twenty-third. You can’t wait to get down there because you can’t get close enough to God to start with. If you believe and are convinced that you’re a sinner before a holy righteous God, how do you solve that problem unless up front you have the assurance of forgiveness? And once we have the assurance of forgiveness, what is our motive? In Christianity the motive is thankfulness for what God has done for me.
In all other religions what is the motive? It can’t be thankfulness because they don’t have assurance that He did anything. So what becomes the motive? What must become the motive? Even if you don’t read the Koran or anything else, what can you guess must be, just thinking through this whole thing, what must be the motive in every religion? Self-justification, based on the vague hope that your personal good works are going to get you assurance. You’re always chasing the carrot here, you never eat it, it’s always out in front of you on a stick because you’re never assured that you have the righteousness of God, because what happens? What was Luther’s experience as a Monk? Every time he looked at his heart what did he see? Sin. He couldn’t look inside and check if the Holy Spirit was working inside, because the Holy Spirit might have been working inside but there’s still sin inside. So you can’t look at yourself and gain assurance. Therefore what did both Calvin and Luther counsel the church to do? Look at Him, look out of yourself at Jesus Christ, that’s how you get the assurance.
We’ve gone through an assault on the Christian faith; you can see that in one fell swoop the Moslem tried to attack here, here and here; he didn’t attack the resurrection, didn’t get into that. But look what he attacked, the birth, the life, and the death of Jesus. He attacked the birth because he said the incarnation was man trying to become God, and that’s just the Christian’s compromise, they’d heard that on the streets of Greece and Rome and it was just an idea, everybody’s talking about it, you know, it was on the 6:00 o’clock news every night. That came into their thinking and that’s where we got the incarnation from. That eliminates the whole idea of the birth of Christ, which means that in order to do that they don’t have a clear concept of God and man.
He attacked the life of Jesus because he kept saying all these things were added later, they were put into the mouth of Jesus. That’s exactly what your higher critical professor would do in a college classroom. What we’re reading here, this isn’t Jesus’ words; this is the church’s words about this guy that they later deified. Then he attacked the death of Christ as being unnecessary, why have an atonement? Just a real life illustration. Millions of people believe what you just heard, MILLIONS of people believe, and they’re coming in like a flood in this country. The prison system has been largely captured already in America by Islam. We have to start asking ourselves, why is this? Why is Islam coming in like a flood? Why is this other thing true? Why is it that once a land historically goes Muslim, we have never seen an example (that I am aware of) in church history of it ever reverting back to Christianity. Once a land is lost to Islam it never recovers.
That’s why if you were here when we heard the Iranian woman Sunday night, that’s what’s so exciting about Iran. Iran may be the first country that overthrows Islam, as amazing as that may seem. There is a powerful movement in Europe among Iranians in the ex-patriot community back to the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s an amazing story. This woman was the daughter of one of the leading Mullah’s, but not only that, he was a systematic theologian that teaches them all. And how did she become a Christian? Because somebody handed her a tract on the street? No, because she was right smack dab in a Muslim library and looked under the table, saw a book, and it was a Bible in Persian. You can just see God, hey, get that Bible to that girl, I’ll bet an angel put that there, and she picked it up, read it, then wondered, hey, know what, God can speak in Persian, I’m a Persian, I’m not an Arab, why do I have to know Arabic to come to Allah. Good question lady. Do you know what led her to Christ? She said God, how come if you’re all powerful you can’t learn Persian? How come you can only speak in Arabic? Have you got a problem with your language here, what’s going on? Through that kind of reasoning she was brought to Jesus Christ.
That might be a case, but generally speaking everywhere that Christianity has become weak Islam is right there at the door to take over. Let’s ask why. Let’s take a simple illustration why. Let’s go to a jail, look at the people that are in the jail, basically there’s always going to be a small percent of people that shouldn’t be there, but largely speaking in our present prison system there are people who have a cruddy life style, by their choice, they’re losers. Think they have a great self-image? No. Have most of them known stability? Probably not. What does Islam offer them? Pride, discipline, absolute truth, whoa, never heard that one before. They come in and they win them one by one in the prison, go right down the cell block, boom, boom, boom. You watch on Friday night when the Muslims [can’t understand word] hundreds of them in their chapels; Sunday morning a few Christians. What does that tell you? It caters to a need in our society that where Christianity has been rejected, or the church has become weak and has refused to adhere to the authority of the absolute laws of Scripture, and where the church has not disciplined itself, and has been weak, Islam comes in and says we will not compromise. Do they deal with drugs? Yeah. Do you know what they do in a Muslim land with druggies? They don’t have a drug problem, they kill the people. Not only that they execute them so everybody can see it. Is that appealing to a society in chaos? You bet.
Just remember, Satan always has either licentiousness to tear down structures, and when he’s pushed that ball as far as he can push, and everybody’s discouraged and they see it doesn’t work, what is the next thing he trots out? Boom, I’ve got to have some absolute truth over here, this is operation bootstrap, have pride in yourself, you can generate your own self-will, your self-merit, you can be the man God wants you to be, that kind of thing. And the prisoners are buying that like crazy. Do you know in prison these guys that can hardly read English, do you know what the Muslims have them doing? Learning Arabic script, so they can read the Koran in Arabic. You can’t even get them to read English, but they’ll read Arabic. Imagine going into a prison and trying to teach Greek and Hebrew. Oh, that’s too tough. But the Muslims can come in and teach Arabic. We ought to be rebuked by some of this stuff that goes on. It makes a mockery of some of the stuff that we do. But look at what they do with their training and they’re winning, sad to say, they are winning the ground. And they’re doing it because they appeal to order, law, discipline and good works. It’s going to sell, particularly in a licentious generation.
But the bottom line is, it’s self-will and self-propelled righteousness, so we want to review a few points from last time. I’m going to try to pull that together. I preface this by saying all this time over these last three or four years I’ve tried to emphasize this framework and I want to in particular remind you of this. That’s why I’ve put in bold font five or six events because you’ve got to learn to think back and anchor your thoughts in the Scriptures surrounding these great events, and be convinced that these actually happened. This is not just a book; this is actual history that happened. So let’s go through these six points. We’ll try to summarize what we’re trying to say about the atonement.
Point 1, “BEGIN with creation.” Why do we begin with creation? You always begin with creation, Creator/creature distinction. We begin also with the birth and life of the King because it’s His death, the death of whom? The one who was born this way and lived this way. So we fall back onto these things; this is the ground on which we stand. What does that mean practically? It says that the “Creator/creature distinction and man made in God’s image,” those are two big ideas, and whatever we say about the atonement or anything else we know those to be true. So however we look at the atonement it’s got to fit with that basic structure—the Creator/creature distinction and man made in God’s image. “Therefore human choice is a finite analog of Divine Sovereignty—they are alike but they are not identical” and because they are not identical they’re not on the same plain and therefore cannot come into collision. These are trains operating on two tracks, it’s not a head on collision of two trains on the same track. Creator/creature distinction, you can’t have a conflict between human choice and divine sovereignty. They are two different levels of being.
“Jesus Christ, God and man in ONE person—shows perfect compatibility” of the two. Was there stress and strain, was Jesus a secret schizophrenic because He was God and sovereign, and a man which choice. The very fact that we could get God and man together in one person shows there is not an inherent conflict between the two. However we explain it, we don’t how to totally explain it, but this is how I personally go about thinking about it. I start with these ideas that I know are very obvious from the Scripture, and I push them, and I push them, and I push them to their logical conclusion. And it is that I don’t see how you can get a conflict going if the trains aren’t on the same track. But I know that not only are the trains not on the same track but the two trains on the two tracks are perfectly compatible. How do I know that? Because God and man walked around as one person - hypostatic union.
Man was created to produce good works; that means historical righteousness borne of obedience. At the point they were created, did Adam and Eve have a record of obedience? No. Were they given a choice? Yes. Were they given a test? Yes. How would they have gained a record of obedience? By obeying, by responding, and that takes time, which means it takes history, that takes historical experience. Man was created to subdue the earth, but that is an act, the subduing the earth is an act to obey the commands to subdue the earth. Right? And if it’s obedience to a command that says subdue the earth, and I subdue the earth because I’m being obedient to the command, then besides subduing the earth what am I doing? I’m obediently subduing the earth. So ultimately I’m obeying, which is a historic act of righteousness.
So man was created in order to generate historic righteousness. Has anybody generated historic righteousness since the fall? Not except apart from God’s grace. Has there ever been a perfect person created that has obeyed perfectly? Yes there has been, the Lord Jesus Christ. Is therefore any other source of righteousness around? Any other source in history of righteousness? None, because Jesus is the only One that obeyed perfectly. That’s why His historic life is so important; that’s why the pages of the New Testament must be inerrant. If that record is wrong as our Muslim friend says, these are words put into Jesus mouth by later spin doctors in the church, then we haven’t got a record of righteousness; we’re still fumbling around.
“Christ’s impeccability—shows how genuine temptation,” that’s why I went all through the impeccability issue, “genuine temptation coexists with God’s sovereign will.” It was impossible that Jesus Christ fall, but the temptation to fall was real. You can’t get those perfectly together, but you can prove they don’t conflict. That’s a weaker condition, they do not conflict, that’s weaker than saying I totally understand all of it. I can’t do that as a Christian. “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”
The point that we want to make here is that “we don’t start with the pagan philosophical categories of ‘causation’” which Christians bring into the discussion all the time, like there’s this universal thing called causation. No there isn’t, there isn’t any universal causation, that’s “borrowed from Aristotle that try to include both God and man together.” Both God and man, this causation thing, how can God cause something and man cause something. Now you’re treating cause meaning the same thing with God as the subject of the verb and man as the subject of the verb, but if you do that, you’ve already denied the Creator/creature distinction. So that’s the whole point of point 1, you begin with the creation to establish that difference, so you don’t get a head on collision. You start with the birth and life of the King to show there actually occurred in history, whether we can explain it or not, the Lord Jesus Christ went around and was genuine tested like as we are, yet without sin, and had real human choice. Yet it was His perfect mission to do the Father’s will, and He succeeded.
Point 2, [Go to the FALL & FLOOD & EXODUS] because the death of Christ involves atonement; where do we go to see God’s wrath and His judgment? Remember the two events, the flood and the Exodus; the fall to introduce sin and the flood and the Exodus to deal with sin. Remember the diagram. What did we say the flood does? It shows judgment/salvation. What does the Exodus do? It shows judgment/salvation. What is true of both of those instances? God was grace before judgment, He was calling the people, gave them warning, warning, warning, warning, warning, just like He’s doing now, and then boom, the judgment came. And it came quickly did it not? The flood came quickly. The flood that once destroyed this planet came quickly. So God’s judgment, just because it is postponed doesn’t mean that when it comes it doesn’t come quickly.
The flood and the Exodus both involved what? After the flood what did Noah do, first act after he got off the ark? Sacrificed, blood atonement, had to set up a covenant, can’t make a covenant with a holy God, can’t do business with God if you don’t have the blood atonement He’s not signing that paper. None of this bloodless gee I forgive you kind of stuff, because every covenant in the Scriptures God enters by blood, every one of them. Here’s this Islam guy, what’s he going to do? He basically has to strip out every single one of the covenants of Scripture; they’re all grounded in blood. Well we don’t believe in atonement. Well…
“Evil begins with rebellion and disobedience. Evil brings on death and chaos in spite of the creature’s urge to be ‘productive.’ Evil is ‘bracketed’ in the biblical worldview by God’s sovereign plan so that it will eventually be divided permanently from the good. This division involved inter-linked judgment and salvation, shown by the Flood and the Exodus. God’s justice requires restitution of the life which occurs by blood atonement” and no other way.
Point 3, now we get closer in, “ATONEMENT & JUDGMENT. The Fall-Flood-Exodus model shows that the atonement delivers through judgment.” Remember, you can’t have salvation if you don’t have judgment. Why is that? Because good and evil are together and what has God got to do? Rip them apart, and when He rips them apart that’s judgment. Pardon the word, but it’s discrimination. He discriminates [between] good [and] evil. “John 3:16-21 shows that because of the atonement the basis of condemnation for all people has shifted from being sinners without an extended pardon to being sinners who in addition to being sinners also reject the pardon made possible by the sacrifice of the only begotten Son.” Why are men condemned now? Because they believe not. There’s a genuine pardon extended, a genuine pardon extended, and this person rejects the pardon, why do they go to hell? Because they rejected the pardon.
But think of what this does to the atonement issue. It’s got to be a genuine pardon, a genuine pardon. If it’s not a genuine pardon it doesn’t change their status. If I come up to that person and say well, I don’t know whether you’re elect or non-elect, but if you are elect this is for you. That’s not exchanging a genuine pardon. There’s got to be a genuine pardon extended meaning that the atonement has to be sufficient to save everyone. Of course the Reform Church believes that in their creeds, good Reform people that know what they’re talking about, not the amateurs, know that within Reform theology they are saying that the atonement is sufficient for all if they would believe. That’s important - very important - otherwise you don’t have a genuine offer.
“Thus the judgmental side of the atonement,” now here’s where we start to get into some of this limited/unlimited business. Last sentence point 3, [blank spot,] …because you rejected the pardon, that’s why you go to hell, because you rejected the pardon that God was offering through His atonement, that’s why you’re condemned forever. “Thus the judgmental side of the atonement extends to all who disbelieve. It does so because it is sufficient to save all men, including those who disbelieve (1 John 2:2).” What does it say, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Remember I showed you from the writers of the Reformers, the Reformation era, they knew that verse, and they were using it, 1 John 2:2.
Point 4, “ATONEMENT & SALVATION.” Point 3, Atonement & Judgment; Point 4, Atonement & Salvation. Why do I have Judgment and Salvation? Because of the model in point 2, we’re just carrying out the model. You have to have judgment and salvation together. “ATONEMENT & SALVATION: The Fall-Flood-Exodus model shows that the atonement delivers through judgment.” So it doesn’t just judge, it also delivers through judgment. “Romans 3:25-26 shows that the atonement resolves the apparent Old Testament conflict between God’s holiness and His gracious love. God can forgive sin without compromising His holiness.” It frees God, as it were, to forgive sin without compromising His holiness. That’s what the cross does on God’s side. “Romans 3:25-26 also shows that the saving side of the atonement extends to all who believe.”
Notice the difference, there’s an asymmetry here. Point 3, in an unlimited sense the atonement condemns all men; point 4, in the limited sense it saves only those who believe. It doesn’t save those who don’t believe, it’s not unlimited that way, it’s limited to those who believe.
Point 5, “Go to the CALL OF ABRAHAM,” because now we come out, well if it’s limited to only those who believe, who controls who those believe. If the atonement is limited to only those who believe, the next question is, why is it some believe and some don’t? That’s what shapes the limitedness of the atonement, does it not? The boundary of belief or not belief. That’s why we go to the call of Abraham. Why do we go to the call of Abraham? Election, justification, and faith. We’ve got to look at that story of Abraham, and think to ourselves, God what did You do when You called Abraham out? Let me see if I get this right, what did You do? How did You work? What does Your Scripture say when You called Abraham to the mission in life.
“The extent of the atonement is wrapped up with the issue of saving faith. How does saving faith originate? God’s call to Adam and his wife after they fell while hiding in the garden shows His initiating gracious calling to faith extended to sinners (Genesis 3:8ff).” The very first picture of Scripture; think about it. Adam and Eve, here they are, they’re hiding in the bushes. Who started the conversation? God did. Did they want to start the conversation? What does the Bible say they did when they heard God walking in the garden? They fled, they hid. Why did they hide? Because they knew He was holy and they had sinned. It’s the sense of shame we all know, and with that sense of shame that we all know and with that sense of shame that we all know, the manifestation of our unrighteousness we don’t want to come to a holy God; we’re embarrassed, we’re ashamed to come to Him. That’s why He has to initiate the call. And He does so in the garden. So nobody is going to believe anything until God initiates the call.
“God’s call to Abraham to leave pagan culture and start a new counter-culture shows clearly His initiative. This call to fallen sinners is a prerequisite to saving faith (Romans 10:17).” Turn there. Here’s a clear verse that tells a prerequisite for faith. We’ve seen one; let’s list these so we can think about them. We know that one of them is God’s gracious call: picture, calling Adam and Eve out of the bushes, easy to remember, can you see Adam and Eve in the bushes? Think about that. Second thing, Romans 10:17, how does faith come? It comes by hearing the Word of God. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It doesn’t come because we have some religious ritual that’s unexplained. It doesn’t come because we have some boom-boom music and we’re not thinking about the lyrics. It doesn’t come because we join the church basketball team. It comes because of the Word of God. Faith has to have an object, and when we talk about this kind of faith, what is the object of saving faith? It’s God expressed through His Word, because where else do you meet Him except by His Word?
Think about it, the garden again, a simple illustration, Adam and Eve in the bushes, and God calls to them and says, “Adam, where are you,” or Adam why are you there? Is that the Word of God? Yeah. What does that reveal about God? That God still thinks enough of me to call me. I sinned, I don’t deserve it, I don’t merit it, but you know, He thinks enough of me to call me. That Word from God is what we’re talking about. It has content and it shows the heart of the One who is speaking. That’s the second thing we have; we have the Word of God that calls faith into existence. That, by the way, is why we study the Word of God.
I don’t know how many people I’ve met in my life who, in the middle of a crisis, usually death, I have heard say sometimes to me, sometimes to someone in the room, you know, if I hadn’t taken in the Word of God when I was well, when I had the time, I would never have made it through this, because when I got involved in this situation, this crisis, this dying episode, the pain level was so great I couldn’t even concentrate on the Word of God, I couldn’t take in any more of the Word of God. Those days were gone, but the Holy Spirit took the Word of God that I had put in here and kept me going. I was operating off the juices in my battery, and that’s the Word of God stored in your soul from just taking it in, taking it in. You may come to the hear preaching, it may be dull, it may put you to sleep, but just keep on hearing, keep on disciplining yourself, keep on listening, keep on taking it in, over and over and over and over, and because you haven’t had a crisis in the last three weeks doesn’t mean it’s not going to work. You just keep on taking it in over and over and over and over, repetition, again and again and again, so that when the thing hits, when you have a problem, you’ve got some storage juices, something’s in there, because otherwise you can’t believe. The emotions take over, pain takes over, you can’t concentrate and you’ve lost it. What keeps you going is what’s there. You can’t do a Bible study in the middle of a gun fight some place. It’s all over by that time.
So that’s what we mean, the second point we need is the Word of God. The third thing we need, “God controls the time and manner of this calling, calling ‘louder’ to some and less so to others, (Matthew 11:20-24).” Let’s look at this passage; this is a rather sobering passage. This is the Lord Jesus Christ in the midpoint of His ministry, when the nation was beginning to turn against Him. “God controls the time and the manner,” verse 20, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.  ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” What’s the implication of that passage? That had God come in the person of Jesus to Tyre and Sidon they would have repented.  Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.  ‘And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.  Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”]
See this verse starts opening up this thing about God calls louder to some people and less loud to others. Why does He do that? I don’t know why He does that, ask Him. That’s just what the Scriptures say; it’s a mystery, and we’re left with that. God calls louder to some people. Just be very thankful He called you. I am. I don’t know why He called me but I’m just thankful He did, because think of all the people in Tyre and Sidon; think what it’s going to be in eternity when those people see the people at Chorazin and Bethsaida, and they say you stupid idiots, you had the Son of God walk right down your street and you rejected Him, what a group of jerks you were. This is going to be their response; we didn’t have that much revelation, we’re accountable, we rejected the knowledge we had but you jokers, the spotlight was turned on, you had high voltage, you had your glasses on. You saw this whole thing and you still rejected it. What’s with you people? That’s what Jesus is saying. So the third thing is that there are degrees of calling, and we don’t understand that. We want it all to be equal; we’re good democrats (little “d”).
“Thus the extent of the atonement rests upon the intent of the Creator which is not open for viewing in the present time.” The extent of the atonement rests upon the intent of the Creator and that is not open for viewing. “Reform thought speculates when it hypothesizes about ‘divine decrees’ using abstract reasoning from effect to cause.” But I think it goes beyond the Scripture. It goes too far, it has to speculate on some sort of design structure that God had. We’re not told that much in Scripture about His design structure that He had in eternity past. “Likewise, Arminian thought speculates when it hypothesizes about election based upon some sort of preview knowledge of man’s ‘free will’ exercised in a virtual vacuum independent of God’s creation.”
In other words God sees these people in the abstract and He says gee, if I give them charge of three and a half volts he’ll believe, so I’ll elect him. This person I put four volts on, he doesn’t believe, I don’t want to elect him. To make God passive like that moves sovereignty from Him to whom? The people who are responding. Now you’ve got the sovereignty in the wrong place. So both sides of this controversy have a problem here, and that’s why your Bible-believing fundamentalists tend to be kind of ... we hold to eternal security but we don’t go all the way with the Reformed thought about all this divine decree business because we don’t know.
Point 6, conclusion, the “EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT: Like the blood on the doors in Egypt, the atonement covers all who receive it from God’s eternal wrath. It does not, however, cover all sin.” Here’s another aspect of where the atonement is limited. “It doesn’t cover the curse upon mankind in Eden,” think about that. That carries implications we’ll see next year when we get into the Christian life in the epistles; that’s why you have this exchanged life. The basis for the exchanged life going on is because the life of Adam remains un-atoned for. You don’t want to use that to generate righteousness because it’s still under the condemnation of Eden.
So “it doesn’t cover the curse upon mankind in Eden, (because a new human race in Christ has been crated to which we are ‘translated’ and in which we are ‘adopted’)—” those aren’t accidental terms, the New Testament is serious about those terms, “mortal flesh dies regardless of the atonement, the present earth remains cursed, and unbelievers can be judged for their works both in this life and upon entrance into the next.” Judged in this life for corporeal evil; judged in the atonement by the rewards issue. “It doesn’t cover the sin of final unbelief. These are ways in which the atonement is limited. On the other hand, the atonement, like the blood on the doors in Egypt, is for all who will come. It is the basis on which God ‘forbears’ from consummating the separation of good from evil, allowing days of grace for men to seek Him. It has become the new reason for eternal condemnation of all who disbelieve. These are the ways” in which “the atonement is unlimited.”
So it seems to me to answer the issue of the atonement and its extent you have to get down to the particulars, where and what? What aspect are you talking about to say it’s limited or unlimited. If you do that, I think it helps. It doesn’t totally solve the problem but that, I think, is God’s incomprehensibility.
I’ve tried to summarize it because a lot of people asked questions about the atonement. It’s a difficult thing. I was just talking to someone that’s like me, he’s moved into the area from other places and he said this place is a hotbed of Reformed thought. And it is. He was just saying it’s just tough because they will often say that faith is a gift, because of the doctrine of total depravity, obviously if you’re totally depraved and you have this concept of total depravity and in a sense you’re totally dead and incapable, then in order to get faith you have to be given a gift. And they’ll often take Ephesians 2:8-9, the gift of God, etc. Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily in the text, I think the gift is salvation, not faith. You do have to go back to the text of the New Testament that says… you never see it says love and be saved, it doesn’t say hope and be saved, it says believe and be saved. So there’s something unique about this verb, this command to believe.
Somehow, we’re fallen beings, we are depraved, but God calls us and He expects us to respond. In that mystery I have no idea what goes on. It’s just like he says, that’s awful tough in the middle of a conversation because you wind up saying well I don’t know. But what else can we say? We can’t peer into the heart of God and explain it, because every time we try we wind up going off on a tangent some place. Look where some people go, they can’t evangelize anymore because they’re not sure the atonement covers the person they’re talking to about Christ. There’s something wrong with that. And there’s something wrong with the person who says well, it’s all up to man, and if man decides to disbelieve he loses his salvation. Huh?
So we’re back to this point about God’s incomprehensibility. We have to say that man’s choice, man’s belief, whatever belief is, the problem I think with a strong Reform position is that it views us as incapacitated, totally incapacitated and we are in need of a new capacity to believe. I think what’s going on here is that in principle sin does incapacitate, but God [can’t understand word] that, and beyond that I don’t know how to go beyond that point.
Question asked: Clough replies: There are several elections in Scripture, and that’s the thing. This is why I think it’s so important when you talk about election, where in our framework have we learned that that idea first really appears in history? It appears when Abraham was called out of the pagan world. You don’t find that really revealed much until the call of Abraham, and at that point God had a plan for history and Abraham was going to play a role in that. So that’s one election, God calls Abraham out. And of course we know that’s the Messianic line that He’s calling out there. We have the call in Romans of Esau and Jacob, Isaac and Ishmael, and the sacred line. What He’s trying to show there is that the line of belief in Israel, it wasn’t just racial Jews, it was elect Jews with those who believed, and there was that fine line and there was that elect remnant. So you’re right in the context of that discussion in Romans it’s talking about the election of the remnant. But still election is expanded beyond that, for example in Ephesians 1, you are elect in Christ before the foundation of the world. So it applies all over, and I think it’s because election is just simply saying God chooses. It’s His choice.
What I do is I back up a bit and just say because He chose to write history the way He wrote it. I try to visualize God as an author. I think we can all identify with that. If you were to sit down and write a novel, would you have your characters in the novel freely choose? Yeah, because you were writing it, and in the story down below you… you’re here, you’re the author and your characters interact, they love, they hate, they do this, they do that, etc. you’re manipulating them in the sense that you set up the whole story, but yet it’s a story that’s real, that mimics reality in that these people do interact in your novel, so there’s real interaction going on between the characters, but you’re the one that authored the whole thing. In some strange parallel way God is the author of history, He’s put the drama together, and we all interact, we choose, we reject, we believe, we disbelieve and the story goes on. But it’s His story; we don’t do anything that He didn’t write the script to.
If you don’t hold to that, now you got God and something else going. So you’ve got to have that, God controls every aspect of it. Now, how He controls it (and we have these interactions going) on, how do we explain the Matt. 11 passage, that Jesus said had I showed up and walked down the streets of Tyre and Sidon I would have got a response? The next question you want to ask is, well, why didn’t God, if He knew that they were going to respond to more revelation, why didn’t He give it? He didn’t. His choice. Paul in Romans 3 points out when he says that… remember that passage in Romans 3 where it says at the beginning of the chapter, O you who say that our unrighteousness brings forth the righteousness of God, why does God yet hold us blameful, why does He yet blame us? That would have been the perfect opportunity for Paul to explain himself, but you notice the next verse what he did? He said that’s foolishness, how else would God judge the world. It almost sounds like he’s coped out of an opportunity to explain himself, but on second thought, it was a brilliant answer because he says if you hold to the fact that your sin, because God is gracious to your sin, so therefore why don’t you sin some more so you can get more grace, he says if that were true then how can God hold you accountable at the end of history. See, He can’t play two games at the same time. The game that we know He’s playing is that we’re held accountable to His standard at the end time. That’s what Paul’s final answer is, God holds you accountable, and He holds you judgeable.
It’s just like we saw with Jesus, that it was impossible for Jesus to sin but Jesus was tempted to sin. Now how can we resolve that one? You keep getting into this. And what you were pointing out in Romans 11, at the end of that hard stuff, Romans 9, 10, and 11, which is true, in context it’s talking about the Jewish remnant problem, the partitioning of Israel, but when you get to the end of Romans 11 it’s so edifying and instructive to realize that he goes through all this deep discussion and then what does he say? “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” and then he says, “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” That’s where I’ve learned over the years, to stop right there. I don’t think I’m coping out because I haven’t heard anybody give an explanation that winds up any closer to Scripture than this. In the end Paul has to say, at the end of this chapter, two things, “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways.” I think that that’s the modus operandi that we have to operate under and it bothers us because theologically we want to know the details.
I was talking to someone just before we started, isn’t that the same thing that in everyday Christian life, forgetting the theology for a moment, as a theology student we want to know all these things, let’s shift a minute, come on over to everyday life. Something happens to you, it may be a big thing or a little thing, a frustrating thing or something else. In all honesty do you know why that happened to you? Why did it happen to you this moment? You’ve got a cell phone, can call God and find out, well what did you do that to me for today? I mean sometimes it does become clear on reflection of it, but you know usually in every day Christian living that’s not the case. And you go sliding right on through it because what do you know? You know that He is righteousness, and that He is just, and He has His reasons. Couples can lose a baby, a mother can see her kid shot, spinal meningitis attacks them, wipes your kid out. You raised them, you put money to get them through college, he’s 18 or 19 and in 48 hours they’re dead, you’re looking at their casket from this little lower life form. How come that happened? We know the broad outlines of why it happened, because we live in a fallen universe, but if we push it back and say well why did God create a story with a fall in it? Well I don’t know why He created a story with a fall in it. But He did. And He has a good reason for it. And it goes back to that Job thing.
I had occasion with one of my sons recently, going through a crisis with him and I asked him to read the book of Job, and he did, and he actually read the book through and got down to the end chapter, and I said son, do you see, at the end of this book, after Job gets creamed, you’d think that God would come up to him and kind of pat him and stroke him and say gee, Job, you know, you really had a hard time boy. But when God shows up in chapter 37 He’s showing up in the middle of a tornado, stuff flying all over the place, and then He gives him an S.A.T. on the nature of the universe, and you wonder, for crying out loud, what kind of counseling grace is that that God’s showing. We dealt with that in suffering. The only explanation I have for that is when we’re in those situations, we need some rigidity, we need some firmness because our emotions are just going all over the place and what does God do? He starts asking questions.
What happens when someone asks you a question instead of preaching to you? There’s two ways, somebody can tell you something or somebody can ask you a question. Women are a lot better at asking questions, I think, than men. By asking a question, what happens up here? It starts working, and that’s what God wants us to do, start it working, go back to what I’ve told you before, claim the promises, remember what I said, you sang that hymn a thousand times, eight thousand times you read the Scripture, got it going yet guy? That’s what He wants and questions do it, so I think that’s why He does it. But in the end do you remember Job’s conclusion? I’ve got words without knowledge and he shuts his mouth. And he knows no more about why he got creamed in the last chapter than he did in the first chapter. But what is the difference? He has that assurance in his heart that God’s for him. Now he might have doubted that God had his best will in mind, but somehow the act of God just talking to him, talking to him through His Word gave him all he needed, gave him the gas that he needed to go on the next mile, because he had the assurance that everything’s cool, I’m in charge, I’ve got My reasons, trust Me. That’s hard to do.
But when we talk theology we forget that. We use that technique every single day in our Christian life then we come over and want to know the extent of the atonement and all of a sudden we drop all that and now we want a complete explanation. And it’s no more available here than it is over here. So that’s why I’m content, I come to the end and I say God isn’t comprehensible and I’m not ashamed to say that, sorry.