It is very popular in some circles today to say “Christ’s death was sufficient for all, but effective only for the elect.”
There are two very important things to understand about this popular saying. First, the people who say it do NOT mean it in a hypothetical sense. That is, they do not mean Christ’s death could have atoned for everyone’s guilt if this had been God’s intent. No, the people who say it mean Christ did die for everyone in some kind of sense, but since the Holy Spirit will not cause everyone to believe they are a sinner in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, then not everyone will be redeemed by the death which Christ did die for them.
This understanding leads to a second very important thing that we need to know about the saying, and that is that the people who say Christ’s death was sufficient for all, but effective only for the elect believe that nobody was saved by the death of Christ itself. Instead, they believe the Holy Spirit saves by working in cooperation with them to produce faith in the cross of Christ. Now, that is very subtle, so let me say it a different way so that we can all know exactly what is going on here.
The people who believe Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but effective only for the elect do not believe that all the elect, even the elect who have not been born yet, were fully and completely forever redeemed 2000 years ago at the cross. Instead, they believe that Christ’s death needs the mighty power of the Holy Spirit working in cooperation with the elect to produce faith inside of the elect so that the atoning death of Christ can effect their redemption and salvation.
It cannot be understated just how ugly and unbiblical this is. It is nothing less than a false gospel that glories in the flesh.
First, Scripture tells us that it is Christ who baptizes with the Spirit, and not instead the other way around.
Luke 3:16 John answered them saying, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the trap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Romans 8:10 The Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Second, Scripture also tells us that it is Christ’s death itself that actually redeems, and that it did once and for all redeem.
Hebrews 10:14 For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
How can we who have been sanctified by the body of Jesus once for all yet on the other hand still be in the process of being sanctified after having been made perfect? Or to put it another way, how can we who have been perfected for all time by the offering of the body of Jesus still yet be in the process of being saved?
What the author of Hebrews is doing here is showing us the effectual nature of Christ’s death by using the word sanctified in another sense. By sanctified, he means called and converted. Sanctified, which means to be separated, does have this sense built into it. In other words, for by a single offering He has perfected for all time those whom God is calling.
You see, not all the elect have been called yet. Although all the elect have everyone already been perfected by Christ’s offering to God, they still have not yet all been called and justified and brought out of a state of legal wrath. Although their guilt, having already been imputed to Christ at the cross and having already been atoned for by the offering of Christ’s body to God, the elect are still in need of the righteousness of His obedience imputed to them. In the meantime, Christ does not need to keep dying over and over again in order to atone for each elect person’s guilt. Rather, by one offering He has once and forever atoned for their guilt. The Holy Spirit does indeed cause a person to believe, but He causes a person to believe, because that person has been finally and forever redeemed by the atoning sacrificial death of Christ at the cross.
For this reason, because their guilt has been imputed to Christ, and because God has accepted Christ’s obedient offering as an atoning sacrifice for His people’s guilt, for this reason, God must justify and impute His people righteous. He must! He must do this in order to remain a holy and just God.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
So to reiterate then, there are two very different and very opposing views of redemption. One view claims that the elect have not been saved by Christ’s death, but will instead be saved by the Holy Spirit working within them to cause them to believe. The second view says that the elect indeed has already been saved by Christ’s death, and that God will impute them righteous and the Holy Spirit causes them to believe, because Christ has saved them by His sacrifice at the cross.
Now, there is one more very important thing to understand about this. The first view gives a man ample room to boast in himself. After all, faith may be something the Holy Spirit causes, but I am the one who does it. Hallelujah, me!
Under the second view, however, there is no room for boasting in my flesh, because Christ accomplished my salvation before I was even born! The only thing I can do is boast in His precious blood and obedience at the cross. I cannot even boast in any works I may do after conversion, because He perfected me before I was even born, before I was able to even do anything. Hallelujah, Lord Jesus!
One last thing. The people who claim the first view tend to really, really hate the second view. They hate it so much that they will falsely accuse anyone who holds to the second view. They will falsely accuse them of hyper-calvinism. Worse still, they do not accuse like a witness in a courtroom. Instead, they will not provide any evidence to prove their accusation is true. They will not even try! Instead, they will just keep repeating the accusation over and over again. They may toss in a few quotes from people who have agreed with them, but they will not even bother to prove their accusation from the Scriptures. They will just keep repeating the accusation with the hope that they will convince enough people within earshot.
I am not going to guess at their motivation for doing so. However, I will say that their accusation is patently false. Christ’s death has absolutely no value or benefit whatsoever for the reprobate in any sense of the word. This was never understood to be what hyper-calvinism is, or at least, not until certain people today began to blankly and falsely assert it.
Does saying His death has no benefit for the reprobate mean that I do not tell everyone the gospel? Absolutely not! I do not know who all the elect are. And so I explain the gospel to everyone, and I tell everyone that God commands them to believe His gospel. I do know, however, that only the elect will believe, because only they have been redeemed.
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who believes the gospel should not be preached to anyone but the elect alone. Of course, the hyper-calvinist presumes to know who all the elect are. Fred Phelps and the folks at Westboro Baptist are hyper-calvinist. They are certain there are no elect among the homosexuals whom they despise.
John Gill never once took this position. Nor did Owen, Booth, Crisp, Pink or Hoeksema. Yet these men are time and time and time again today slandered as hyper-calvinists. And they are slandered so by people who insist that their rejection of an atonement that was made for everyone is enough to mark them as hypers.
When we are told in Ezekiel that God does not delight in the death of the wicked, why is that certain men are so quick to presume that the wicked is a reference to every wicked person without distinction? Prior to justification, are the elect not wicked? Surely God does not delight in their death, does He?
But no, instead, we are instructed by people in certain circles that we have to assume that the wicked is a reference to every wicked person without distinction, or else be labeled a hyper-calvinist. And we are expected to follow along with these certain men in an asinine scheme to pervert the truth of God in exchange for a bigger crowd at Sunday service. We are expected to believe that God has two wills; a heart desire to save everyone, and a head desire to save only some. And God help anyone who refuses to go along with the schizophrenic scheme, because non-toleration is the only thing that will not be tolerated.
Well, I for one refuse to tolerate the intolerable. I refuse to be a part of a gospel that is nothing less than man worship. And though I’ve no doubt I will suffer more of the name-calling and the accusations, I will nevertheless continue to sound the warning.