This is something that I have actually been tossing around in my mind for some time. I am no scholar and would love input on my thoughts as well. Perhaps I am in fact incorrect in my thinking.
These thoughts were originally brought about after multiple discussions I have had with some strong Calvinists. The “L” in the T.U.L.I.P. acronym most would know as “Limited atonement.” This would teach that Christ only died for the sins of the “elect.” Obviously if Christ only suffered for their sins then it would in fact be impossible for anyone else to be saved. I think this stems from a misunderstanding of sin, Christ, and the work of salvation.
Sin- at its core sin is the disobedience of the commandment of God. Some of the definitions:
- Transgression: an overstepping of the law
- Iniquity: an act inherently wrong
- Error: a departure from right
- Missing the Mark: a failure to meet the divine standard
- Trespass: the intrusion of self-will into the sphere of divine authority
- Lawlessness: spiritual anarchy
- Unbelief: an insult to the divine veracity
Sin originated with Satan (Isaiah 14:12-14), entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12), and is universal (except for only Christ).
Scofield gives a summary of sin as threefold: An act, the violation of obedience to the revealed will of God; a state, absence of righteousness; a nature, enmity toward God.
In the garden the commandment was to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam, who up to his point had no sin, was given that choice and a free-will to obey or disregard the commandment of the Lord. When Adam chose to disobey, the entire human race fell as a result because he was the “head” of the created world. Now, Adam knew good and evil (which goes against the T of Total depravity). The sinful nature was born and plagues every human because of the fall of man. The result being seen in Romans 5:12. Sin is a problem which the human mind cannot fully comprehend. Sin has separated God from His creation and must have righteous judgment by the very nature of the God of eternity. A misunderstanding of the severity and depths of sin is the start of the misconstrued ideology behind the death of Christ. Sin has affected the entire creation, which will all be redeemed as seen in Revelations.
Christ- the divine, transcendent, eternal Son of God, who was manifested into a human body. A misconstrued idea of Christ would cause a huge error in the understanding of the death of Christ. I do not, and cannot, completely comprehend how God can become a man (hypostatic union), but it doesn’t change the fact that Christ was and is God. The transcendent nature of Christ is vital to begin to understand His death/suffering. How can there be an infinite payment of sin in a finite amount of time? Because of the transcendent nature of God. Outside of our realm and our understanding the God of the Bible dwells. That is the Christ of whom we read “took upon him the form of a man” and “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh”. A transcendent, eternal, supernatural God in the body of a man. I have found myself wondering about Hebrews 4:15 often; how Christ was “was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.” I think the English language doesn’t do justice in times like this. Temptation has the negative connotation about it. I believe the word in Hebrews 4:15 would be better translated as “tried.” Why are we tempted? Because our sinful nature is appealed by the sin surrounding us. Ever notice that the moment you stop enjoying God like you should, you stop reading as much as you were, get lazy about your prayer life, and stop having good community with fellow Christians that sin is much more enticing? I have! This is because the sinful nature inside of me is enticed by sin and when I am not battling that nature/desire it becomes stronger. Was Christ then ever “tempted?” I would say no, because He did not have a sinful nature that was enticed by sin. He understood sin at the deepest level and was utterly disgusted by it. However, He was tried by the same things we are. For instance, women still walked in front of His eyes, those certain magazines were still on the shelf at the Wawa in Israel, and the internet was still full of those pages in 20 A.D. This things all still were in front of Christ and “trying” Him but to no avail because He had no sinful nature to entice. We are “tempted” to do wrong because our sinful nature desires to do wrong. Now we can see that Christ not only had no sin; He was incapable of sinning.
Salvation- the payment of sin. May we first marvel at the plan which upholds the requirement of the punishment of sin while setting the offender free! “Who is a pardoning God like thee, or who has grace so rich and free?” As I understand it, one sin will never be unjustly punished twice. This would go against the character of God and the requirement of punishment. If Christ suffered for each sin as if God had a list and laid each one on Him, then we would be correct to assume that only certain people can be saved. However, I do not believe that is how the work of salvation was completed. When Christ suffered in those three dark hours there was an infinite payment to God that was sufficient to cover the entire judgment for sin. The moment of salvation is when I accept that the judgment Christ bore was for my personal sin against God. Therefore I could never tell an unsaved person “Christ died for your sins”. That would lead them to the conclusion that their sins are already paid for and there is no way they would have to pay for them again so they need not even have to believe. The work of salvation was an infinite and not “one-for-one substitution” redemption work. If the work was only sufficient for the elect then the non-elect would have an excuse for their unbelief in that “whosoever believeth” was not applicable because of the insufficiency of the atonement to cover their sin. This is what I see to be a huge misunderstanding of the work of salvation. Christ is an infinite being who paid the sufficient price to cover the full judgment of sin. However, the forgiveness offered is a gift and if the gift is not accepted than the work of salvation does not cover the sins of the rejecter and that individual will pay for their own sins as they did not come into the good of Christ’s sacrifice.
I pray that I was able to convey what I have been thinking about in some logical manner and am certainly open to any correction in my thinking.
Perhaps in the future I’ll more solidly lay out the views of Calvinism and Arminianism and explain why I think both are faulty 🙂 Not to say there aren’t true Christians who hold either of those doctrines (there certainly are as I fully believe there could be true Christians in ANY religion).