If I were to ask any Christian the question: For whom did Christ die? I believe a simple answer to this question is “for the sinner”. In a broad sense that’s absolutely true. Yet, there’s more to it if we delve a bit further. In fact, it’s a question that has set theologians to task for years. I’m not about to claim that I can even scratch the surface, but I’d like open up the dialogue because I find the theology behind the question very interesting. It can be viewed in three scenarios:
- Christ’s intent in dying on the cross was to save all men without exception. That is, everyone who has ever lived will immediately or eventually be saved.
- Christ’s intent in dying on the cross was to offer a potential salvation to anyone who would believe in Him. In other words, His death could potentially save, but it would depend upon whether the sinner choses to accept Him as Savior or not.
- Christ’s intent in dying on the cross was to offer an actual and secure salvation for those He had chosen before the foundation of the world. (Eph. 1:4).
Let’s look at each of these:
Did Christ die so that all may be saved without exception?
This view holds that Christ died to save all men; therefore, all men will be saved. Known as Universalism, it states that everyone is eventually going to heaven. The issue here is that it is in direct opposition to scripture, which is clear that faith in Christ, and Christ alone is required for salvation (John 14:6). False religions deny Christ, and evil is rampant in this world. Therefore, from a Christian perspective, it is clear that all cannot be saved. The Bible also states that there is a hell for the unrepentant (Rev. 21:8). If all are saved, then why is there a hell?
Did Christ die for those who would potentially come to Him?
Some would hold the view that although Christ died on the cross, His death does not become effectual until an individual “decides for” Christ and is thereby saved. If this is so, then His death only had the potential to save. It could potentially save everyone or it could potentially save no one, depending on who would (or would not) respond to it. First let me say that this view is held by many Christians that I love and respect, and it sounds good on the surface, but it brings up many questions, especially when we consider the broken, sinful nature of man in light of a high and holy God:
- Did God cross His fingers and hope that someone would heed Christ’s sacrifice?
- Why would Christ die for those He knew would not accept Him?
- Did God leave it up to sinners to decide whether or not Christ’s work will be effective?
- If so, how then, can the sinner make the right choice for Christ in the first place, if he is dead in trespasses and sins and is unable to appraise spiritual things, as Ephesians 2:1 tells us?
- Does it make sense to say that God was satisfied to punish His Son, (even for those who reject Him), only for them to be punished again in hell? (Romans 3:26)
- If Christ died for all without exception, and some chose to accept his sacrifice while others do not, is it possible for God to fail?
Did Christ die to secure an actual and sure salvation for those He chose “before the foundation of the world”?
This last view states that Christ died positively and effectually to save a certain number of hell-deserving sinners, that is, those “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
It views the atonement as a secure and actual transaction, not just that which merely makes salvation possible.
The point is, if God already knew and predestined those who would come to him, (Eph. 1:4), if He gave them the ability to reach up to Him in the first place (Eph. 2:1), then it follows that Christ’s intention was to render a complete and sure satisfaction of the Father’s will to those individuals.
That is: For whom, (and only whom) the Father would chose is to whom (and only whom) the Son would sacrifice His life. The purpose of God is the mission of the Son, as Christ stated in John 6:37-38:
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me”.
This last view, I believe, does justice to the purpose of Christ’s death. It was the extension of God’s love set upon those he has chosen from the beginning. It accomplished that which is according to His sovereignty, that which is successful.
Even so, we as Christians are called to heed the great commission to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations”, (Matt. 28:19).
This sounds contrary to the doctrine of election. “What’s the point?”, you might ask, “If God has already ordained His own?” The response, I believe, is that God does not ordain the end (salvation), without also ordaining the means to the end, (evangelism). He gives His children the privilege of being the means to accomplish His will.
Do you trust in Jesus for your salvation? Do you know Him as Lord and Savior? If you hear this call to salvation, do not turn a deaf ear. Come to Him today!
“Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)