Who did Christ redeem? Why did He redeem? How did He redeem? When did He redeem?
Simple enough questions, except that the tolerant Calvinist dismisses them with a chuckle. He claims it is not important from the start that we know the answers to these questions. In fact, in most cases, he claims it is not important that we ever know them. He claims it is far more important instead that we start by assuming redemption is true for each of us.
But this begs the question. After all, if the tolerant Calvinist is going to claim that definite atonement is not important, then what really is he saying about redemption? Does he really believe it is accomplished?
What must I do to be saved? asked the Philippian jailor. Believe in the Lord Jesus, answered Paul, and you will be saved. And here the tolerant Calvinist jabs a finger high in accusation. “See?!” he says. “It was not important the jailor know all that other stuff, just like I said. It is only important to believe.” The problem with this accusation is that it treats the account in Acts 16 as having ended with verse 31. That is, believe in the Lord Jesus and then that’s it. Done. But it is not done. It is not done at all. There is still a verse 32.
Acts 16:32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all those who were in his house.
The word of the Lord is not simply, believe Jesus rather than Buddha is Lord. Rather, the word of the Lord explains who Jesus is, what salvation is, who He came to save, why He came to save, how He saved, and when.
Abandoning a man to the wilderness of a faith without a biblical object condemns the man to arrive at the natural conclusions of his own sinful inclinations. In other words, tell a sinner half a story and he will fill in all the gaps with a sinner’s lies.
A man without the knowledge and understanding of the Bible’s answers to who, when, what, where and why will always resort to himself and his own believing as the object of his faith. Even if he is not asking the questions who, when, what, where and why, he will always come to the conclusion he is the reason for the season.
A man sits in a pew somewhere, listening to a preacher tell him that all he needs to do in order to be saved is believe Jesus died to redeem him. Okay, he thinks, I’m fair game, I’ll believe it. How does he not then go home assuming that he saved himself by believing? Furthermore, how does he not believe Jesus died to redeem everyone? After all, the preacher assumed Christ died to redeem him. Why not, therefore, assume the same for everyone else? And would he not also assume, like the preacher had assumed about him, that even though Christ died to redeem everyone, everyone will not be redeemed, because everyone will not add their own choice to the mix?
“I’ve seen it many times. The Cage Stage. A believer’s eyes are opened to the majesty of God as the sovereign King of the universe, and their entire life is turned upside down. And for a while, they have more zeal than they have knowledge. We call it the “cage stage.” That period in the experience of the new Calvinist where they would be better off kept in a cage until they can gain enough maturity to handle these vitally important topics aright. That time when they are more likely to hurt themselves, and others! You know, when they are all running around smacking someone upside the head with Pink’s The Sovereignty of God?”– James White, “How to Avoid Cage-Stage-itis”
The fact is, tolerant Calvinism is Arminianism in disguise. Tolerant Calvinism plays at pretending to believe an accomplished redemption, but in fact it holds to sincerity as its righteousness and its sincere choice as the condition which makes redemption possible.
The gospel is revealed by faith in a redemption that is both particular and accomplished. To ignore this fact is to deny the gospel. To preach contrary to this fact is to preach a false gospel. Salvation by grace rather than works is a moot point in this respect. God does not reveal His righteousness by faith in a message composed simply of salvation by grace rather than works (are you listening, Lutherans?). Nor does God reveal His righteousness by some means other than faith in the particular, effectual cross work of Christ. Rather, He reveals His righteousness by faith in the Christ of a redemption that is both particular and accomplished. He is the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in the Jesus who came to redeem His elect alone, and who has, in fact, accomplished exactly that. He is not the just and the justifier of the one who is simply sincere about the notion of “saved not by me, but by Him who is not Buddha.” I do not deny grace, but I do deny the idea that grace has no context. Grace most certainly does have a context, and that context is neither the messenger’s nor the object’s sincerity.
1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 3:4-15 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
John asks a question in his first epistle. Why did Cain murder his brother Abel? John answers, because Cain’s own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. But Cain had not murdered anyone before he murdered Abel. What deeds then, is John talking about? And what made them evil?
The story of Cain and Abel is found at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Genesis, following the revelation in chapter 3 of two seeds, or two offspring, or two classes of people – those who are elect to salvation in Christ, and those who are predestined to destruction in the serpent.
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
It is within this context of these two offspring that Cain and Abel are introduced.
Genesis 4:1-8 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
John tells us that Cain “was of the evil one.” Whatever else this might mean, it means first and foremost that Cain was a member of the second class of people, the offspring of the serpent, those who have been predestined to destruction in the serpent. Like the people in John 8, Cain was of his father, the devil, and his will was to do his father’s desires.
John 8:42-44 Jesus said to them, “If God were your father, you would love Me, for I came from God and am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
This was a decision God had made about Cain from before the foundation of the world, independent of Cain’s choice, independent of his deeds. John does not say Cain was of the evil one because his deeds were evil. Rather, he asserts that Cain’s deeds were evil, because he was of the evil one.
Cain was of the evil one. For this reason his deeds were evil. In other words, everything that Cain did was evil, because Cain was of the evil one. Everything. Not just those deeds he did in reference to sacrifice, but everything. Rising from his bed in the morning was evil. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a bite to eat in the morning, before heading out into the field was evil. Even the act of drawing breath was evil. Everything Cain did was evil, because Cain had been predestined to destruction in the evil one. God would never justify him. Rather, God would always charge the guilt of Cain’s sins to Cain.
God instructed Cain to master the sin that was at Cain’s door – an impossibility! God did not tell Abel this. Abel was commended not by his mastery over sin, but rather by his more acceptable sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4). I am told in Hebrews 12:15-17 that Esau wept with bitterness when he learned the truth about God’s sovereign election. Cain did not weep though. Cain exploded with rage instead. He seethed with hatred until his hatred boiled over into a full blown act of murderous rage.
What do you suppose Cain told his brother when they were out in the field? Might he have tried to illicit some measure of sympathy from Abel? Perhaps he even tried to convince Abel to join him in his hatred for God. It’s not fair that He should accept your sacrifice, but not mine. It’s not fair, Abel. When Abel rejected his complaints, however, when Abel told him that God is righteous to sovereignly choose one over another, Cain rose up with murderous hatred and killed him.
There are many Calvinists today who share Cain’s thoughts about the brothers. They hate the gospel of God’s sovereign righteousness, especially where it concerns the message of propitiation, sovereign election and effectual atonement. Jesus warned as much in John’s gospel. “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19.
These modern day Cains pretend to be one of us. They sit alongside us in church pews, meet with us in our homes for Bible study and prayer, and quite often even pastor the local congregation and teach at the local seminary. But while they give lip service to God, their hearts are far from Him. They seethe with hatred at the message of His sovereign righteousness. Unlike Cain however, they are as yet too cowardly to physically strike us down, so they clench their fists and gnash their teeth quietly instead, before they lean in close to the person seated next to them to whisper accusations about us into their neighbor’s ear.
“Hypers”, “Gnostics”, “over zealous, cage-state Calvinists”. These are their names for us, these are their weapons. They club us over the head with them time and again, landing each blow with murderous rage. “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
John concludes his first epistle with the following words:
1 John 5:13-21 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
What is this sin that leads to death? And what does John mean by the One who was born of God keeps them safe?
Cain knew the sin that leads to death. The One who was born of God did not keep him safe, for Cain was not His. The One did keep Abel safe though, for Abel was His. You might ask, how did He keep him safe? After all, he died. Yes, and so did Cain, much later, of course, but he did die. But it is Abel who shall be raised to glory and honor imperishable, whereas Cain shall see only destruction. The One was charged with Abel’s sins and then died the death due to Abel. Although Abel’s sins were wrongdoing, nevertheless, Abel’s sins did not lead to Abel’s death, nor shall Abel ever die the second death. Cain however, shall die the second death. Who is this One that kept Abel safe? It is the same One who keeps all His elect safe.
John 17:12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
What is the sin that leads to death? It is the sin that God did not charge to Christ. In other words, it is the sinning of all those God did not choose in Christ from before the foundation of the world.
Arminians define grace as God loving sinners so much that He sent His Son to die for them so that sinners now no longer need concern themselves with giving up a life of sinful pleasure in order to be saved. The Bible, however, defines grace as God unconditionally choosing to place certain people in Christ from before eternity, based not upon anything they would do at some point in the future, but instead based purely upon His own sovereign choice. And this He did in order to demonstrate the glory of His own mercy and kindness to those He had placed in Christ by sending Christ to atone for their guilt by dying for them on a cross. He loves only them. He justifies and forgives and delivers from condemnation only them. He grants eternal life only to them. Not because of anything they would do, but solely and exclusively because He had freely and unconditionally chosen to place them in Christ, the One Whom He has always loved, from before eternity. That is true grace.
That is true grace. That is grace that definitely, assuredly, absolutely saves. That is not grace that fails. That is not grace that needs me to make myself willing in order for it to work. Rather, that is grace that speaks light and life into being. That is grace that makes me willing. That is grace that commands the dead to live, the sick to be healed, the unbelieving to believe. That is grace that cannot be resisted, and it is the only grace the Scriptures affirm.
And yet the tolerant Calvinist insists that those who deny this grace have nevertheless been saved by this grace. Is that why God saves His people? To bury His glory beneath layers of ignorance and self-righteous assumption?
The tolerant Calvinist insists that, although the Arminian may be confused about the particulars of man’s will and the imputation of guilt, he is at least sincere. I say, so what? His sincerity is just as guilty as everything else about him! He is under the legal condemnation of Adam’s guilt. Sincerity does not make him righteous. Sincerity does not justify him. So what if he is sincere about his belief that Jesus died for him? So are Catholics. So are Mormons. This doesn’t make it true, and it certainly doesn’t make it righteous.
The core of the problem comes down to one very simple issue: what is the righteousness? What is the righteousness that makes a man innocent before God? The Bible explains in very careful and precise terms what this righteousness is.
Hebrews 9:11-14 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption . For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience form dead works to serve the living God.
Hebrews 10:10 And by that will we have been sanctified though the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10:14-18 For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to this, for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then He adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Romans 6:1-5 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.
Hebrews 5:7-10 In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
The righteousness that makes a man innocent before God is the death of Christ, obediently submitted to by Christ as an offering to God for the guilt of His people. Christ obediently submitted Himself to death in order to offer His death to God as payment for His people’s guilt. That is what the righteousness is. That is why His people are redeemed. He redeemed His people from God’s demand for their death by paying their debt. That is what makes His people innocent before God – His death.
Feeling sorry for my sins does not make me innocent before God. Believing that Jesus died for me does not make me innocent before God. Altering my behavior so that I try to sin less does not make me innocent before God. Ignoring my sinful lifestyle and pleading instead God’s grace does not make me innocent before God. Only one thing makes a man innocent before God, and that one thing is the death of Christ.
The Arminian insists that Christ offered His body and blood to God at the cross as a sacrifice to God for the guilt of everyone. But this begs the question. Why then, isn’t everyone saved if everyone’s sins have been atoned for? After all, if Christ’s body and blood has fully satisfied God’s wrath for everyone’s sins, and yet not everyone is saved, then God is unrighteous, for He is guilty of treating His Son’s sacrifice as inadequate even though He claims it has satisfied His wrath for everyone’s guilt.
The Arminian tries to get around his question-begging by separating the righteousness from Christ’s death, and it is exactly this that makes his gospel false.
In other words, the Arminian believes Christ’s death doesn’t actually save. He argues that although everyone’s guilt has been atoned for, there is still something left to be accomplished in between the atoning death of Christ and salvation. That something is his free will choice to believe that Jesus rather than Buddha is Lord. The Arminian attempt to separate Christ’s death from salvation removes Christ’s death as the righteousness. No longer is a man made innocent solely by Christ’s death. Rather, a man is now made innocent by the power of his own free will. Even though he claims that Christ’s death redeems those who freely choose, the chooser is still not made innocent before God until he has first chosen.
The serpent himself could not have told any bigger a lie. The Arminian sees the death of Christ the same way Adam saw the tree of the knowledge of good an evil – as an opportunity to establish his own righteousness by choosing to do the good he would come to know about rather than evil he would come to know about. A knowledge of good and evil would became his ticket to establishing his own righteousness . . .or so he believed.
The Arminian sees in the cross a redemption that he can use to establish his own righteousness by choosing to do the good of believing Jesus is Lord, rather than the evil of believing Vishnu is Lord. The justified elect, on the other hand, see in the cross of Christ a righteousness that has accomplished the salvation and redemption of His people. They believe this is true. They see the cross the same way God saw the tree of life – as an object of righteousness (death was a punishment for sin, while the tree of life granted immortality). Their belief is a result of the redemption He has accomplished for them. They shall every one of them be saved, because He has redeemed them, and not instead because they believe.
On whose side does the tolerant Calvinist stand? He claims to side with the true believer, but in actual fact he stands with the Arminian. He sees sincerity the same way Adam saw the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And like the Arminian, he sees the sincere decision to accept a possible redemption found in a Christ who is not Vishnu as the choice between the knowledge of good and evil that will help him to establish his own righteousness.
Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
This is why men like Paul Washer and R C Sproul say not one word about definite atonement when preaching to Arminian masses. They do not believe certain truths like definite atonement are part of the gospel message, because they do not believe Christ’s atoning death is the righteousness that makes a man innocent before God. They instead believe that certain truths like definite atonement are icing on the cake doctrines that some sincere people come to learn about and understand much later, after they have chosen to make themselves righteous.
I do not doubt the tolerant Calvinist’s sincerity. I do not even doubt the Arminian’s sincerity. Both sincerely believe their sincerity covers a multitude of sins. But their sincerity does not make their claim any less a lie. God is not into disguising His glory beneath layers of ignorant, gospel-denying sincerity. He is not into glorifying man’s attempts to establish his own righteousness.