I believe most biblical scholars and teachers have far to narrow view of the doctrine of salvation. It is human nature, I think, to latch on to something that catches our eye and run with it. We do this without stopping to consider the big picture. I readily admit I am guilty of this my self from time to time. Yet, when we make doctrine or a belief system out ideas that we have not properly fit into the whole, we run the risk of building on a faulty foundation. It is my opinion that this is what has happened to the doctrine of salvation, especially in terms of Christ atoning work. I would like to look at Christ’s atoning work from a point of view of the big picture of salvation.
Salvation’s big picture
We must begin by establishing what the big picture of salvation is. For that purpose I would like to discuss some key biblical verse that will help us put salvation in full view.
Here is the story of the first human sin. I would like to highlight several points of interest which relate to the big picture of salvation.
- The first Biblical prophecy concerning Christ occurs with just the first two humans in existence. The timing of the giving of the prophecy would imply that the results of the prophecy were to be for all of humanity (v. 15).
- Mankind is never directly cursed for their sin. The serpent is cursed; the land is cursed; mankind is not (vs. 14-17)
- God covered the shame of Adam and Eve, himself (v.21).
- Cherubim always Guard the throne of God. The placing of the Cherubim to guard the Tree of Life may imply God’s intention to always rule his creation from their own habitation (v.24).
Looking at Genesis 3, we may make the inference that the original plan of Salvation included God ruling from his created habitation over all of mankind. Through his omnipotence God foresaw the entrance of sin and thereby never intended to curse mankind.
This is probably the most well-known passage of the Bible. Although there is disagreement as to who the quote should be attributed to, it cannot be argued that Jesus intended the whole created universe to be included in salvation. The Greek word kosmos litterally means “something ordered.” Everything that God ordered out of the chaos of that was void, God intended to save. This includes all of the plants, animals, planets, stars, and of course, mankind.
Jesus clearly states that ALL people will be drawn to him. This cannot be over emphasized. The totality of the plan of salvation is important to completely comprehend the atoning of Christ.
Here the Apostle Peter warns the church not to fall trap into thinking God is not fulfilling his promises. He says, that God is waiting so that ALL may be saved.
At the end of Revelation, John connects Genesis 3 with the finalization of Salvation. In this passage of scripture, we see God restoring all of the kosmos. We see God’s throne once again upon the habitation of his creation. We see the healing of all the nations.
So what does this picture of Salvation look like? God loved his creation that He planned to save All of it. He planned from the beginning to save everything He had created out of love.
The Atoning Work of Christ.
Concerning the atoning work of Christ, two main views have prevailed since the reformation. The Calvinist view of Limited atonement and the evangelical view of Unlimited atonement. Both views have their flaws. I will address both presently
The Calvinist view of Limited atonement essentially says that their are people destined to be saved, the rest are not.
This view has 2 main points against it:
- The Bible teaches that Christ is the substitute for all mankind (John 1:29, 1 Timothy 2:6, Titus 2:11).
- Redemption is adequate because Christ gave his blood for sin. He therefore redeemed the lost (Towns 2008, 429-30).
There is another argument used by evangelicals against limited atonement. It is this argument that demonstrates the very inadequacy of the view.
“God is one, which means He is Unity and acts in perfect harmony with his nature. Every part of God influences every other attribute of God. One attribute can never act in isolation from the others, hence God cannot be guilty of acting ignorantly or with a double mind.”
“The law could not be abrogated because it was an extension of the nature of God…Jesus nailed the demands of the law to the cross and made and end of the law. The end of the law does not mean Christ put the law out of existence not just for the elect, but that the law is no longer in effect as a moral judge to condemn mankind”(Towns 2008, 429,30).
The above quotes from Elmer Towns show the contradictory nature of the evangelical view. There can only be 2 conclusions that may be inferred concerning the atoning work of Christ from these statements:
1. The acceptance of Christ’s death and resurrection have been rendered useless. The Bible teaches sin is the breaking of the law (1 John 3:4). If the law is no longer used to condemn mankind. There is no need for sinners to come to Christ because the law is no longer in effect. So in effect, there is no law even though the law exists. The apostle wrote to the Church at Rome, “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law” (Romans 5:13). So since there is no sin because the law is no longer in effect, there is no need to accept Christ’s atonement.
2. God is double-minded and Christ’s death did nothing to effect our salvation. If the law is no longer what condemns us, then something else does. Christ’s atonement dealt with sin which is the breaking of the law. Since the law is no longer condemning mankind, God has broken his Unity and thereby denies His own existence. Also Christ’s atoning work does nothing for this new thing which condemns mankind.
While it is my opinion that evangelicals are closer to the truth than Calvinist. The seeming contradiction to Biblical truths within their arguments seem to need answering. I propose the following solution to the problem. Christ’s atoning work did indeed free mankind from condemnation. This, however, does not obligate God to offer everlasting life. It does, guarantee, that even those who reject God, in this present life, will have an opportunity to accept him at their subsequent resurrection at Christ’s second coming.