Just Gimme One Verse!

Published on September 19, 2011 by CT in Blog, Twexplanation

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Sometimes, 140 characters need more explanation…

Tweet: I tire of debates about Calvinism and Arminianism; then I tire of growing tired of them. Truth, in love, does matter.

One chapter of the new book I’m writing deals with the sovereignty of God, so I’ve been searching the Scriptures and reading others’ thoughts on how God’s sovereignty works, specifically in the salvation of His people.  I tend to read Reformed authors with a high view of God’s sovereignty, but I know that if I am to answer my own question, I need to read the Bible for myself and read other people’s thoughts on a different side of the issue.

So one of the things I read through was a long line of testimonials of people who have “left” Calvinism to see why they feel the way they feel.  And while I noticed some trends across these testimonies, many of which would be well known to folks who have engaged on these matters for some time, the comments ended with a man who posed this question:

“I have repeatedly asked [Calvinists]…to give me just one scripture, get this, only ONE scripture that implicitly states that God died ONLY for a particular group and said to hell with all the rest.  Just one.  Needless to say, I haven’t received that verse yet.  Wonder of wonders, don’t you think!!!”

With a desire to be helpful, I wrote him this response, which I’ve reprinted, with some edits for clarity, for your consideration and encouragement.

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I haven’t taken the time [here] to share my experience with growing up Arminian, later tending towards Calvinism, and continuing to wrestle with Scripture and questions along the way.  But as a brief response, here are a few verses you might consider as an answer to your question—whether Christ died only for a particular group and said to hell with the rest.

I know few followers of Jesus, Calvinistic or otherwise, who would say it in this way, and you of course reject it as well on good grounds!  If it’s acceptable [to you], I’d ask your question this way:  Did Jesus’ death accomplish something specific or general; if specific, did it accomplish something for some or for everyone; and if for some, is the attitude of God towards the rest “to hell with them,” or a grieving over the sin of man?

Here are a few verses for you to consider, with an eye towards Jesus’ death accomplishing something particular for some.

  1. Christ’s blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).  This shows that only some here are ransomed, though this verse in isolation does not yet say that individuals are in view.
  2. The promise to Mary was that her son would save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).  The life, and death of Christ, promised here to Mary, had a particular outcome, and that was the salvation of some (his people).
  3. Jesus laid down his life for His sheep, sheep not only of the fold of Israel, but sheep from the rest of the world as well (John 10:15-16).  Jesus laid down his life for His sheep, not all, and they are particular, for they hear his voice and He knows them (v. 27).
  4. Jesus made many to be accounted righteous in his death (it was the will of the Lord to crush him), and he bore their iniquities…and the sin of many (Isaiah 53:11-12).
  5. For our sake (Paul to the church), God made Christ to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (1 Corinthians 5:21).
  6. Christ died (decisively) for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
  7. We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son while enemies (Rom 5:10), such that being justified by faith (v. 1) is the result of our being reconciled by His death (the for in v. 6 explains the reason why we have been justified and now have peace with God and why God’s love has been poured out to us through the Holy Spirit (vs. 1, 5).

There are others, but perhaps these will suffice for the one verse you were looking for.

Bind these together with the glorious truths, that “God desires all men to be saved,” that Jesus is the Lamb who “takes away the sin of the world,” that “whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life,” and I come up short in being able to explain in full how God works in the hearts of men, choosing to express with Paul:  “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.”

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If there be any encouragement to you, let it be this:  This stuff does matter.  Theology matters.  Right thinking about God leads to right relating to God which leads to right living for God.  But unity matters as well, and Jesus as the head of the body matters too, and living at peace with one another, in the bonds of love, matters.  And perhaps most of all, abiding in Jesus matters.

So if you are intimidated by what you consider to be harder theology, there is grace for you to grow in understanding.

If you are contentious over matters of truth, there is grace for you to learn how to speak the truth in love.

If you are self-righteous in your wisdom and understanding, there is grace for you in which to grow humble.

If you are frustrated by seemingly endless divisions in God’s church, there is grace for you to grow in unity.

Let’s embrace the hardness of Scripture with a life-long view towards God’s unveiling of His truth to our eyes, in the time He chooses, as we seek Him above all other things, but let’s also embrace the beautiful person of Jesus, who is head of one body, and who loves us and tells us to love others with His kind of love.

Question:  Have you gotten deep into theology before, only to become frustrated?  What have you found to be helpful in response?

  • Jason V

    Very much enjoyed this post! This stuff does matter. There is a beautiful tension in Scripture over these themes, and God is wise to have it so.

    • http://cravesomethingmore.org Chris_Tomlinson

      If I write a book one day on the tension we see in God's word, and it happens to be titled Beautiful Tension, I'll know who to give a shout out to =)

  • Debbie

    The Soveriegnty of God has been a "theme" in my life over the last few years…one that God is very interested in me understanding. The reality is, as He has been working this out in my life and understanding, that He is Sovereign in all things — He is the LORD of Lords, King of kings and ALL things are under His authority. How this all works out with man's choice (I don't say free will, because truth be told I don't ever see in scripture that God has granted man complete unfettered free will — as I understand it, He has given us the ability and freedom to make choices but those choices DO NOT limit His sovereignty. Our choices and decisions are limited and subject to Him. We may not like it, and we may not understand how this all works but that isn't because it isn't just, right or "fair", it is because our minds and thoughts are not God's and they are very limited compared to our God's. I do know that Scripture says that whatever God does is right and good and just and that He does no wrong and is always faithful. There's a lot I don't know so, I look for and rest on what God has for sure revealed.) And I know that God cares about the individual and longs that all should come to Him but at the same time Sovereignly intervenes in lives and gives revelation so that individuals will be His. Again, don't know how the will of man and the Sovereignty of God work here — just that they do. God says so and that would be enough if there were nothing else. I cannot explain, I can only accept by faith, that God has in a very real way invited and made a way for all of us to know Him, but that at the same time He acts sovereignly in His drawing of indiviuals. Makes my mind swirl. Need to go rest in Him right now before I fall down dizzy. :0) May God pour out wisdom and understanding on you as you seek to bless others by pursuing the writing of this. Above all, may you grown closer to Him and in faith as you do so. Debbie

    • http://cravesomethingmore.org Chris_Tomlinson

      Beautiful, Debbie. This is one of those occasions where a comment is perhaps more helpful than a post. Thank you for sharing your recent "theme" and how God has been working in your heart and mind!

  • Amy

    Great post Chris- enjoyed reading it. The tension of man's responsibility with God's sovereignty is one that I can't wrap my mind around- but am so very thankful for it. God's sovereignty is an amazing thing that makes me even more in love with our Savior… if only this topic wasn't so greatly debated and others would give God the glory that he so rightly deserves. Amy