The Saving Grace of Justice

Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

When found within the context of the awesomeness of God’s sovereignty and the propitiatory justice of definite atonement, these words are a powerful reminder of the grace with which God saves.

But what happens when they are not found within the context of God’s sovereignty and definite atonement?  What happens instead when they are found within the context of free will and the struggle to self propitiate?

I was raised Pentecostal.  In addition to this, I spent the first twenty-two years of my adult life in the Charismatic movement.   I must warn you, not all Charismatics are the same.  Some are of the TBN kind, worshippers of fortune and gold, while others are of the C S Lewis/Emergent kind, worshippers of experience.  I was from the Emergent kind.  I attended a large Vineyard church.

What I learned from while attending a Vineyard church  was that God desires to save everyone.  Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God in the flesh, died for everyone.  Because He is both God and a man, His blood was therefore worth the blood of every human being, because God is at least worth all of His creation.

Had you asked me at this time whether I believed I was saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, I would have answered yes with a hearty amen.  Absolutely I believed I had been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Not by us, not by us, not by us, oh Lord, but by Your mercy and grace alone.  I sang it virtually every Sunday.

The problem with this is that I could not live with it.  I found myself doubting again and again whether I was really saved.  Christ had shed His blood for me and for every human being on earth, hadn’t He?  Why then don’t I feel secure in the knowledge of that?

At the time I could not articulate the real problem, which would much later emerge as a question.  If Christ’s blood was worth the blood of every human being, then why didn’t His death save every human being?   Rather than asking that question though, I instead kept struggling to assure myself that His blood was enough to have saved me.

I tried to sin less, and I devoted more of my time to outreach and evangelism.  I prayed more.  Studied my Bible more.   But nothing worked.   I could not quiet the doubt that plagued me.  God loves me, He loves everyone  He even loves people in Hell.  Then why are they in Hell?  What is the difference between me and them?

My pastors rebuffed me when I asked them to preach more doctrine and less practical stuff.  They told me the will of God is that I do His deeds (which meant doing even more outreach and evangelism).   It had never occurred to me that Christ had not died for everyone.  In the entire twenty-two years I spent with the Vineyard, I had never heard the idea even mentioned.  I had no clue of definite atonement.  Instead, I took it for granted as an absolute fact that Christ had died for everyone.  And the doubt continued to manifest itself in an ever increasing feeling of despair and exhaustion.  All my efforts to assure myself that I was saved finally culminated in the decision to stop attending church altogether, and to just give up on the whole of Christianity.   It was a neat story, it was a good story, but the problem with it was that it just didn’t work.

I will spare you the story of how I came to hear the gospel for the first time.  The point is that God did bring me to hear it.  And the first time I heard it, I was angry.  How on earth could God not love everyone He had created.  How could He create some people with the intent to send them to Hell?  What kind of God is this?

But the more I pondered it, and the more I studied Scripture in view of it, the more I came to realize the sheer sense and beauty of it.  It had right there the whole time in the pages of my Bible, in all those passages that I had skipped over because they hadn’t made sense.  They made sense now.

I was corresponding by email with a friend I had met at a sovereign grace church that I had recently begun attending.  My friend continued to patiently work with me, explaining the gospel to me again and again.   At the same time, I was also reading Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics.  One day, while studying the epistle to the Hebrews, things just suddenly clicked, and I found myself finally able to articulate the problem I had been struggling with this entire time.

I had been struggling with assurance, because the gospel I had believed up until that point was unable to give it.  There is no assurance to be found in a Christ who died for everyone.  If Christ died for everyone, but not everyone is saved, then His death cannot possibly be the sole cause of salvation.  There had to be something in addition to His blood that I did or am doing that made the blood of Christ effect salvation.  Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was only true if I managed to keep doing what was required to make the Christ alone count.

The gospel though, the real gospel, the one and only true gospel, cannot be understood as grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without the truth of God’s sovereignty and the propitiatory justice of definite atonement.  It is only within the context of definite atonement and God’s sovereignty that grace is truly grace.

God is a just and righteous God.  In His holiness, He demands the death of the sinner.  This is His holy demand for justice.  His justice must be satisfied.  We have all sinned, therefore, He must demand the death of all of us.  God cannot overlook this.  He cannot pretend as though this isn’t true.

In addition to this, from eternity, God chose to glorify His mercy and grace by choosing from eternity a select group of people whom in time He would save by the shed blood of His Son.  From eternity, God also chose to glorify His holiness and wrath by choosing from eternity a select group of people whom He would not save, but condemn instead to eternal destruction.  The Bible calls these two groups of people vessels prepared for honor and vessels prepared for dishonor (Romans 9).  It also calls them elect and reprobate, as well as sheep and goats.

This selection to election was not based upon anything we do or would do.  Rather, it was exclusively God’s own choice.  From before the foundation of the earth, He chose to save some, and He chose to damn others.  His choice was dependant upon His own sovereign will alone.

In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a virgin, to die the death that God demanded of His elect for their sins.  God imputed (charged) to Christ all the sins of His elect (2 Corinthians 5:21).  When Christ died for His elect, He died the death that God demanded of His elect.

And that is the point.  Christ died only for His elect.  He did not die for everyone.  He satisfied God’s demand for justice on behalf of His elect by dying the death that God demanded of them.  It is upon this basis alone that God must now justify them.  His holy demand for justice demands of Him that He justify them.  If He does not, then He is not righteous.

Saved by God who glorified His grace and mercy by giving His Son to die for His elect alone, has guaranteed the salvation of His elect alone by satisfying His demand for justice on their behalf alone.

Had you asked me all those years ago whether I believed this, you would have had me stumbling all over myself.

So what’s the problem then?  The problem today is that there are a whole lot of Calvinists today who do not believe grace in view of belief in definite atonement is necessary.  They think that as long as you understand you were saved by grace alone, then you can be assured that you are saved, even if you deny definite atonement.

Worse still, they accuse you of hyper Calvinism if you attempt to correct them.  They also accuse you of making perfect knowledge the basis of salvation.

But David, why then don’t we find the apostles preaching knowledge of definite atonement as part of the gospel in the book of Acts?  Because Paul didn’t have Andrew Fuller in his ear telling him about his warped governmental theory of atonement.  Because Peter didn’t have Jacob Arminius in his ear telling him that faith is what makes a person elect.   Mostly though, because the people in Acts already understood the truth about election, and therefore knew that Christ did not die for everyone.   Why don’t we find the apostles explaining election in the book of Acts?  BECAUSE THE PEOPLE ALREADY UNDERSTOOD IT!

People today no longer understand it.  Most have never even heard of it.  Until they believe it, there is no bridge between them and me, but only an immeasurable gulf that can never be bridged.  Unless God transports them to this side of the cross, they will remain on their side, marching steadily along on the road to their destruction.

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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14 Responses to The Saving Grace of Justice

  1. hitgirl526 says:

    This is amazing! It’s funny that we wrote similar articles one day apart.

  2. hitgirl526 says:

    This is amazing!! It’s funny we wrote similar articles published one day apart.

  3. libertyblogger101 says:

    Are you at least aware that Hoeksema did not agree with you on this issue?

    • David Bishop says:

      I do not recollect Hoeksema ever saying anything about Pentecostalism or me, so why would he agree with me on this issue? My goodness, I didn’t even exist yet when he published.

      As to faith and the question of whether the elect are justified before they believe. Faith simply means to agree with God concerning the things He says are true about His Son. In other words, faith says I agree God, what You said about Your Son is true. Does this mean I have to know everything that God has said about His Son? No. Does it mean that what I do know I have to know perfectly, with absolutely no mistakes whatsoever? No. And here is why on both accounts:


      Romans 10:14-17
      14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

      What do that he elect need to hear and know in order to rest in the assurance that they are saved? They need to hear the word of their salvation, which means they need to hear that God has predestined an elect for salvation, and that Christ accomplished His elect’s salvation by offering His body to God at the cross as an atoning sacrifice for their sins. They need to hear that. They need to know that. And they need to agree with God that it’s true.

      Sometimes this takes time to come to know. Sometimes the elect get a piece of it here and a piece of it there, and then one day they hear the Gospel and the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to believe it. Later they might think to themselves, hey, I saw a bit of that over here and I saw a bit of this over there. True, but they didn’t see it all fitting together to complete the picture of perfect propitiation. No doubt about it that God was leading them, preparing them to receive the seed much like a master gardener prepares the soil, but they hadn’t yet received the seed. There was nothing there yet to water and grow. Were they lost during this time? Yes, they were one of the lost sheep of Israel. They were not damned, they never in danger of dying before God brought them to faith, but yes, they were lost. All that stuff they were doing, thinking they were doing it for God, it all displeased God. It stank to Him, because it wasn’t done from faith. (Philippians 3:1-11).

      Now, for someone like White who consistently insists people who do not see the picture of perfect propitiation are still yet saved and therefore elect, he shows that he himself does not see the picture. What about that do you find so difficult to understand?

      • libertyblogger101 says:

        Well, I disagree with your view but that wasn’t really my point. My point is that Hoeksema didn’t agree with your viewpoint that Arminians are all without exception lost. So, you should be judging him the same way you do White.

      • David Bishop says:

        You get that nonsense from Carpenter, who uses some random piece of very early writing to bolster his position.

        “Never will a regenerated child of God present the matter of his salvation as having had its ititative in him. Never will he say that anything on his part preceded the operation of God’s grace in him, that he first willed to come and God’s grace thereupon enabled him to come, that he first accepted Christ and thereupon Christ received him, and that he first opened his heart and thereupon Christ entered it. An unmistakable proof of this may be found in the prayer of one that is saved. Here all Arminianism, all boasting of free will in the matter of free will in the matter of salvation is is silenced. The reason is that in prayer one speaks to God. Before men one may talk of coming to Jesus as if it were in the power of the sinner to come or to refuse to come. But as soon as one places himself before the face of God all this is changed. Then all is attributed to divine grace. Before the face of God there is no Arminian.” – Herman Hoeksema, Whosoever Will, page 120

        It sounds like you want to say some Arminians may be regenerate, because what a person confesses with his mouth may not be what he believes in his heart.

        Jesus said the thoughts of the heart proceed from the mouth though. What you confess with your mouth is what you believe in your heart. Paul said in Romans 10 that with the heart one believes and with the mouth one confesses.

        Do I proclaim definite atonement as an essential part of the gospel? Why would you think I shouldn’t? There are three full sermons from the apostles recorded for us in the book of Acts. Peter in Acts 2, Paul in Acts 13, and Paul again in Acts 26.

        These sermons are different in presentation, but not category and content. They all three present the gospel in the form of unconditional election and accomplished atonement.

        Look at Acts 13, for example. In Acts 13:16-41, Paul preaches a gospel of election and accomplished atonement. He summarizes this in verses 38 and 39.

        Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

        By Him everyone who believes is freed. Who is the Him? The Him is the Christ who Paul says God promised to the fathers. Who is this Christ that God promised to the fathers? Is He the Christ who was promised to everyone? How could He be when Paul plainly says He was promised to the fathers? Is He the Christ who offers salvation to everyone on the basis belief? Again, how could He be when Paul says BY HIM those who do believe are freed?

        Believes is not will believe. By Him everyone who believes (is believing) is freed. It’s the same as in John 3:16. For God so loved the world that whosoever believes (is believing) . . .

        By Him. Not by my choice, but rather by Him. And not just by Him sovereignly either, but rather by Him who shed His blood.

        Look at Acts 2.

        Acts 2:39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

  4. legoman says:

    To libertyblogger:

    But His blood isn’t sufficient ‘if all would believe’ because that means His blood isn’t enough until it’s believed on. His blood IS sufficient without believing in it. But it’s sufficient only for the elect, because it was spilled only for the elect, before they believed in it. It wasn’t sufficient for Judas NOT because he didn’t believe but because it wasn’t spilled for him.

    His blood is efficient for the elect not because they believe but because it was spilled for them. It wasn’t spilled for all because then all would be saved. If His blood becomes efficient when someone believes (blood + faith), then His blood is NOT efficient to satisfy God’s wrath. Then faith satisfies God’s wrath.

    Believing that His blood is sufficient or efficient by believing in it means the person doesn’t believe His blood is sufficient or efficient by itself.

    Shall I call someone who denies Christ so blatantly my brother?

    It’s like saying “Jesus, the only reason You are the Christ is because I believe that. If I didn’t believe then You wouldn’t be the Christ.” That would mean the person doesn’t actually believe in the Christ. Do you see how?

    • libertyblogger101 says:

      I don’t disagree with your theology here. I agree that Judas didn’t believe BECAUSE the blood was not spilled for him, not the other way around.

      Blood is applied at the moment of faith, however, it is not applied BECAUSE of the faith, but because of Christ. We agree on that.

      Is someone who doesn’t understand that lost? I don’t know. I don’t see what knowing has to do with my salvation, or James White’s, or anyone else’s.

      • legoman says:

        Can you give your reasoning as to why the “Blood is applied at the moment of faith”?

        Why don’t you believe that He purchased His people’s sins by His blood at the cross? I suggest to you that the redemption of His people’s sins was accomplished before they were born, but they weren’t brought out of a state of legal wrath until they were imputed with God’s righteousness through faith, in time. This causes them to believe their sins were punished in the Person of Christ. This knowledge is simply a revelation of the fact the elect has been redeemed already.

        Is someone who doesn’t believe this lost? Well, when the Scriptures say:

        1Pe 2:24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

        Eph 2:16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

        Rom 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

        Gal 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

        Rev 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

        Isa 53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

        I’m just curious as to why someone wouldn’t believe that. Because I believe they are all pointing to a past event, when the transaction took place, which to me, seems like the most crucial union with Christ that could ever be believed upon. It’s really the cross of The Gospel. It really boils down to the question: did the redemption really happen (as it says it did) or did it not happen in that way? Scriptures seem to suggest the former, which the elect will come to believe in when God gives them the revelation of His righteousness by faith… because it’s testified of.

  5. libertyblogger101 says:

    Yes, your explanation is more precise and I agree with you. But your verses don’t say that those who don’t completely understand this issue are lost.

  6. legoman says:

    Rom 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

    Whoever does’t understand and believe that Christ is the vicarious Propitiation Who’s death satisfied God’s wrath fully cannot possibly be at peace with God. How can they be? Through disbelief in the Propitiation their carnal minds are trying to do anything they can to distinguish themselves from those that are in hell.

    2Co 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

    They don’t understand because they’re lost. Who hardens hearts? Who gives new hearts?

    Eph 4:18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

    Or this classic excuse comes up: ‘most don’t think about these things because it’s too confusing.’ Do you know why they actually don’t think about it? Because they cannot tolerate another thought of what else they could try to do to ‘get right with God’ so after a while they give up, because none of it brings them peace. Hence, their consciences become seared. Atrophied. Of course there are various degrees between openly immoral sinners and self-righteous religionists. But the common denominator remains to be identical in both parties: unbelief in The Propitiation. One gives up entirely and pursuits a life of open immorality while the other tries to slide quietly and hope for the best on judgement day. Both are utterly ignorant of the righteousness of Christ revealed in The Gospel as both don’t believe in Christ’s redemptive work!

  7. markmcculley says:

    The objective gospel does not have assurance for everybody. The gospel only creates assurance for those who rest in the gospel and who continue to rest in the gospel. Who among us believes enough or rests enough or hopes enough? We have no hope apart from Christ;s present intercession and Christ’s second coming for our glorification. Even if our hope is weak, there is no other hope except in believing in Christ’s death and resurrection.
    Hebrews 10: 28 If anyone disregards Moses’ law, they died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God and regarded as common the BLOOD of Christ? … we know the One who has said, Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge His people. 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the LIVING God!

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