30 Jan 2004

Did Jesus die for the sins of all people or only the elect?

Submitted by theshovel
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Did Jesus die for the sins of all people or only the elect? Harper

No, there is nothing trivial about any question, and certainly not this one. As a matter of fact, I'm going to simply share my thoughts with you on this, including much more than you might think I need to say to answer a seemingly simple question. You see, there are embedded assumptions within the very structure of this ages old question, in other words, the question, in and of itself, is loaded. Simply stated, though I might come across as being incredibly verbose (wordy) I assure you that it is all, at least, connected. Okay ... are you ready? hahaha!

I suspect the reason this question has posed so much difficulty is that there are numerous Bible verses and passages different viewpoints will appeal to in order to support their conclusions. Personally, I've been on both sides of this argument, having begun with the "all people" answer, making a radical change to the "elect" position ... only to have both fade into a growing awareness that perhaps we're barking up the wrong tree. After all, why does it seems so difficult to pin this thing down? Why doesn't the Bible say it as clearly as we would like it to be stated?

On the one hand, we've got the vastly popular statements that declare Jesus died for every single man, woman, boy and girl, old and young alike (of course, we'd be hard-pressed to find such an overwhelmingly clear statement in the Bible, even though we might think it clearly says so), while on the other, Biblically-presented logic suggests that the atonement was limited, otherwise it could not be effective. Both aspire to be true to the concept of "all", both desire to make sense in the face of much confusion.

While I'm at it, let me say that even though some (or perhaps many) have "joined a side" in order to show themselves right or better than another, or even to push their own fears or propaganda, I also believe that many have simply been drawn to whatever viewpoint would seem more gracious at the given point in time based upon what they were going through at that time.

Back to my suggestion about barking up the wrong tree. Consider how we commonly refer to the "sins" Jesus died for, as if they were all spread out on an immense buffet table or numbered on an impossibly long list. On either side of the argument there are concessions made to justify the number of sins paid for to keep it in accordance to the wording of various Biblical passages.

Of those who say he died for all the sins of all the people, most hold that he did not die for the "sin of unbelief", in order to explain how one could be condemned if his/her sins were all paid for; while some say he died for all the sins of all the people so that all will eventually be saved, but then have to apply different approaches to the many verses in close proximity in order to avoid some obvious conflicts regarding condemnation for those who do not believe, or are not born of God. Those who say he died for a limited number of people are able to declare that Jesus' payment is effective since every sin and every person died for was not done in vain.

My point? I think we've short-circuited the reality of something very simple by forcing naturally understood elements into the mix. We assume these things into our considerations, not because of theology, but because of gut-level demands. In other words, our theology is more determined by real issues in our lives that need to be taken into account. Many of them are bottom-line fears. Regarding the enumeration (counting of) "sins", we have found ourselves in quite a tizzy hoping and praying that God has truly taken care of all our sins, for we often struggle with the notion that perhaps there is one not covered that will send us into condemnation.

Think how often you've heard a gospel presentation include how God has taken care of ALL sins - past, present and future - using the approach that all our sins were future when Jesus died. Why does this make sense to us? Because we have had it pounded into us for years that God thinks of sins in the same way we have thought of sins.

What is it we perceive when we say that Jesus died for our "sins"? Don't we imagine him having to somehow take all those sins to himself in a mental way? I've heard it preached that way, haven't you? Naturally, we can, and do, easily imagine how some sins might not get covered in such a scenario. And so it's only a matter of time that we are asking God to forgive us again, especially in this ala carte mentality of sins. Funny thing, even though we might hold to doctrinally correct teachings regarding the "allness" of the sin coverage we can still end up in the same place where we often question our REAL forgiveness via the sin-payment.

So, in what way did Jesus pay for ALL our sins? I suggest that it was not by dealing with the sins themselves - as if our sins were somehow being weighed out against an appropriate action so that Jesus needed to be somehow thinking about each sin that he was paying for - but that he simply put them to death in his own body on the cross. Wham! Done! He condemned sin in his own body through death ... with no special consideration for any one of them in particular. They were all wrapped up in the existence we thought of as being life, they were all included by virtue of their transmission through the one man, Adam.

Okay then, consider that in his death Jesus simply took sin out of the way. He didn't have to individually remove any particular one to make this happen. "Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!" In one fell sweep it was done. It was the old creation that is done away in Christ, it is the new that is even now being revealed. He didn't have to die for a specific group of people, but died for humanity itself - not to remove Adam's sin from Adam's seed, but to do away with the first Adam altogether.

Did Jesus die for the sins of all people or only the elect?

I think this question, as it has come to us, has more to do with attempting to find an answer to our own confusion. What confusion? The natural mind's attempt to understand God. We've been so thoroughly instructed in law and laws, and have had it so heavily attached to our concepts of "Christianity" that we simply get stuck in legalities regarding sin and goodness.

To those who are in Christ I can confidently say that he has died for all of us. This is not because we are a special group of humans. No way!! This is simply because all who are born of God have been made NEW in Christ ... part of the new creation, having been delivered from the old. To those who believe, it has been overwhelming stated in the words of the Bible that forgiveness and righteousness and freedom and life has been brought. This has nothing to do with some magic found in believing, but merely that those who believe have passed from death and have been delivered into the kingdom of God's son.

There is no longer male nor female, slave nor free, insider nor outsider ... for in Christ there is only the new creation!

You know, I hope this didn't just confuse the heck out of you!

Jim Minker

I received this response from a reader and wanted to share it with you.

Hi Jim, I like your last response because you always bring it back to the SURE thing. I think because people recognize your ability to teach then we must think Jim has the answers! If Jim has the answers then maybe i can pick his brain and see if he can validate my belief system and/or help me pick a side.
Lets face it, the natural mind say's, "If all are saved then those missionarys are wasting there time and maybe I'm wasting mine". But there is no such thinking when the mind is brought to the place of renewal. I remember hearing my pastor, maybe 15 years ago, say,"Even if there wasn't a hell, I think i'd serve the Lord anyways". Inside myself I said,"what a load!" If I found out there was no hell I'd go back to that world. I guess hell was my motivation.
Those statements tell you exactly the struggle that was going on. An old friend of mine said the other day that hell was his motivation for rescuing people. Thats why i don't hang around him anymore. It's oppressing and he suffers because he,s striving so hard but ha cannot grasp what I say. He thinks I think it's a free for all.
To my point. If i found out there was no hell, or that all would be saved it (for the first time in my life) wouldn't change a thing! How can you replace His life? Knowing you can never fall is the reason for our success IN HIM! I know you know what I'm saying. Thanks for continually bringing us back to the only thing that matters.
Love Bob

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Hi, there.
Could you please give us some bible verses that support your claims that Jesus died for the sins of all people and not only the elect.
Thank you.

theshovel's picture

Hello my dear Mrs Vicky,
I’m not sure why you think I would have supporting verses for something I did not say. Consider a statement I made in my article:

On the one hand, we’ve got the vastly popular statements that declare Jesus died for every single man, woman, boy and girl, old and young alike (of course, we’d be hard-pressed to find such an overwhelmingly clear statement in the Bible, even though we might think it clearly says so)

What did you really want to ask me … or tell me?


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