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Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Most Liberating Understanding of the Completed Work

In my spiritual journey from structured, organized, denominational, system-oriented Christendom to the freedom and joy found in a personal Christianity anchored in a study of scripture as a singularly personal responsibility, there have been a number of discoveries which have liberated my mind and have opened greater understanding of the eternal plan of God.

There are a number of verses in the Bible which I assigned convenient interpretations based on conventional, traditional thinking. This dangerous and convenient way of looking at The Word of Truth has led many to either discard the faith or settle for a simplistic, pagan version of it.

I have covered a number of these doctrines in these pages. Here are just a few examples:

  • The pagan idea of a monstrous god torturing with eternal fire those who reject his love
  • The doctrine of the current age starting at Pentecost
  • The claim that the Lord Jesus' earthly ministry is for all men of all ages
  • The simplistic, pagan idea that the plan of God is a matter of heaven or hell

I often catch myself dismissing or ignoring the words of scripture, or continuing to ignore context, as old traditions exert themselves into my thinking. Such was the case of the full efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. Recently I have allowed scripture to disavow me of another assumed truth related to his sacrifice.

As a Christian who abandoned his Catholic upbringing to embrace the completed work on Calvary, it would seem obvious that I would fully embrace the work of the Savior on Calvary. But even in my zeal to defend that completed work, I sold it short.

That is, the completed and efficacious payment for the sin of man is exactly that. Complete. If we hold that the work only applies to the believer, we have embraced a form of "limited atonement" (a monstrous doctrine).

Let me clear, the thought of "universalism" may be entering our thinking. To be sure, I reject universalism. The false charge of universalist thinking has been levied against those of us branded "hyper" or "ultra" conservatives (most famously by Harry A Ironside) for a century.

I repeat: I fully reject universalism. But that does not mean that the Lord's work was not complete. It is the very truth of its absolute perfection that demands assent for those who seek life.

Let's just take a quick look at scripture:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. -2 Cor 5:17-20
The problem of all men is sin (singular) and its wages, death (Rom 6:23). In Adam all die (1 Cor 15). The Lord came to give life (John 10). The Book of John is God's message to the world: "that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

In the 2 Cor passage we see this new life (the new nature) bestowed upon those who "come to believe." How is "belief" sufficient? It is sufficient because the work is complete! That is, God has been reconciled to the world; the whole world. No man's sins are counted against him!

God has reconciled himself to the world. We need only be reconciled to God by faith.
Truly truly, I say to you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has [already] passed from death to life. -John 5:24
The one who rejects Christ is "condemned already" under the condemnation of Adam (death). In Adam all die (including Christians). The unbeliever chooses this death over the free gift of life in Christ. God does not condemn their sins as all sin was paid for at Calvary. The payment for all unbelievers is the same: eternal death (by virtue of their rejection of eternal life).

What did John the Baptist say of the Savior in the Book of John? 
The next day [John] saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
There is much more to say on this topic, but let me close with a few basic thoughts.

For the believer, we carry "the ministry of reconciliation" which we must proclaim.

For the unbeliever, the absolute work of Christ on Calvary makes John 3:16 possible: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that anyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

You will die. The gift of life awaits. God has already been reconciled to us, it is we who must choose life. If you reject this free gift, all that awaits you is death and perishing.

Next time we will look at one aspect of resurrection life often neglected: the judgment of the service.