1 John 2:2 – Is Everyone Saved?

We have been told repeatedly that this passage, 1 John 2:2 proves universal atonement.

1Jn 2:2  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (ESV)

You may or may not agree with my exegesis below, and accuse me of misreading, or making it too complicated. So be it. We cannot just make assertions about Scripture, we have to study and meditate and pray on it, and try to understand the full meaning of it in the context of the whole counsel of Scripture. If that means going past a superficial reading, then we must do so, since we are to handle the Word of God with care and reverence, and not as some newspaper comic strip.

There are a few things at work here, and Arminians want to continuously appeal to a “simple reading” of the text. We believe we are rendering a simple reading of the text, and we should also agree that it cannot say something different or contradictory to what is mentioned in the direct context, the context of NT soteriology, the work and offices of Christ and what John says elsewhere.

Now to be honest, and Arminains may very well have a small stroke here, they don’t believe either that “world” here means “world”. Because they keep adding a qualifier, and that qualifier is “faith”. So really what they are saying is that Jesus was the propitiation of the sins of the world, but by world they mean “those who have heard the gospel and believe, and have faith”. If that is not the case, and I am misrepresenting them, then we are left with the options that they are either saying that propitiation doesn’t really mean propitiation, or they are universalists.

To understand what propitiation means, we need to see where it comes from. It means, from the Greek, “to appease anger”. What anger is being appeased? The anger of God against sin, as seen from the time of the fall. To understand the role of Jesus in appeasing this anger, we need to look to where there is a very complete description of the whole history of atonement, which includes appeasing God by blood. The role of Jesus as a High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, is found in Hebrews, and directly relates to propitiation as established through the eternal decree of God, through both the OT and NT. We find that whole description in Hebrews 7-10. I can get into more detail about that if needed, but I would ask that people go and read that for themselves, since it is too long to quote here. What is abundantly clear from that section of Scripture is that God was fully appeased by the blood that Christ shed. He is no longer angry, and Christ stands between us and God as the offering that appeased God. Jesus completely satisfied and appeased God, nothing else is needed, no more blood, no more priests. Jesus is the last one, and He still holds the office of High Priest, and will do so eternally.

In there we find that the propitiation was done once, and there is no need to do it again.

Heb 9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (ESV)

Note that the plain reading here says “the sins of many”, and since this is directly relevant to the propitiation, this sets some context for how we should read “world” in 1 John 2:2. This rendering could agree with that of the Arminian, which is “those who believed”, the “many” for which Christ poured out His blood (Matt 26:28), which of course, takes us back to Hebrews 7-10 and the required blood offering for appeasement and atonement.

We may then read “world” here as is the case in some other places where “world” is used, as something other than “every person in the human race”, as we see from the context and the subject of the verse, which is propitiation, the blood offer to appease the anger of God.

There is no reading a Calvinist presupposition into it, as some may argue. Who is John talking to here? The specific audience is not known, but we can easily see that it is a group of Christians, from the early part of 1 John 1. He is arguing here against docetism, a belief that denied that Christ came in the flesh, and held by some gnostic groups in Asia Minor. With that understanding, and given his use of propitiation which John would not have misunderstood, he is saying that Jesus, having come in the flesh, and through that has fully satisfied the anger of God, is the ONLY such propitiation in the world. Those who want to be “cleansed from unrighteousness” (1:9) have nowhere else in the world to go, they must go to God through Jesus, as He is the appeasement, and that the very nature of propitiation made it necessary that Jesus come in the flesh. That God is available to do this for any ethnic group on the planet, not just the “little children” that John is addressing here, prohibits John’s own audience, not the docetists, from claiming Jesus as high priest as their exclusive property. Jesus is the High priest for all those who believe in Him.(Jo 10:14-16, 25-29).

This clearly shows that this verse cannot mean what is asserted, that is means Christ did for all the sins of all people, unless one is a universalist, or change the very meaning of propitiation, disregarding Heb 7-10 in the process.

Why Is There Evil and Condemnation?

So often do we hear this…why is there evil in the world? Why does God condemn people if He is love? Why is there hate, and darkness, and  bad people and sin? we then see manipulations and mental gymnastics to try and explain things away. All too complicated, if you ask me.

The answer is right there, staring us in the face, right at the beginning of the Bible.

How do we know love, except in the context of love versus hate? Or salvation, except if it is contrasted with damnation? Or how about goodness, if not set against the bad? If the negative does not exist, we have no possible way of grasping the positive, and vice versa.

That is why we read:
Gen 2:9  The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The very object that describes life, the “tree of life” was there, right next to the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil“. The contrast is right there, from the beginning of creation, as a part of life. So when we become mortal, and exist in a state of sin in the fallen creation, this is as a result of: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Is there any possibility that Adam and Eve did not already know that God was good? Clearly they were in a state of moral innocence, since they did not know the difference between good and evil. If they did, then maybe they would have been able to resist the temptation. Instead, we read “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…”, they went ahead and succumbed, because they desired to be wise, to know the contrasts inherent in creation and morality. And just as we inherited that original sin, we also inherited the ability to see both good and evil.

Did evil exist before then? Yes, it did, since the temptation came from a fallen angel that had already done the ultimate evil, namely rebel against God, which we are reminded later is the unforgivable sin. So this was not the start of evil, but the start of our ability to see the contrast between good and evil.

As we read on, we see “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.“. Mankind could at that point see and understand the full counsel of God and His otherworldly creatures, and had no more excuse, and no more reason to not come into judgment, as Satan and the other fallen angels had. Since we understood now, and that understanding came from being disobedient, we entered into judgment.

To this day we retain the ability to distinguish between good and evil. But as we have seen, that wisdom came at a price, and not only that, good has no meaning if we don’t also recognize evil. As a result, God judges all of us because we understand good and evil, and we know not to do evil. God is just, but He is also loving. He knows that if all of us are adjudged guilty, we are all damned as fair punishment for knowing good from evil, and doing evil. By His grace and love  He then delivered His children by sending the second Adam to negate the punishment.

That sacrifice, that negation, is meaningless if not seen against the alternative, the judgment and deserved punishment.

2Th 1:8  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
2Th 1:9  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

That is also why we read God uses both good and evil to accomplish His purpose, for how are we to understand His mercy, grace, love and glory if not graphically contrasted against judgment, our fallen nature and sin, God’s anger and the humiliation of Christ on the cross? We would simply have no concept, and be like Adam and Eve, desiring to be wise but not have that wisdom. We simply would have no understanding of the magnitude of Gods love and power, we would remain ignorant of His greatest characteristics. God’s creation would not know God. God would not be glorified.

That is why God is glorified in all that happens, as it all points to God and His character. Therefore, don’t be confused or alarmed about what happens in this temporal state of existence regarding evil, it is all to God’s glory.

Thankful for the Gospel

Around this time of the year, there is a lot of talk about thankfulness. We hear how people are thankful for many things, like family, abundance, good friends, prosperity and many other blessings. We should rightfully live a life of thanks for our earthly blessings.

But the biggest thankfulness should be reserved for the Gospel. In the letter to the Colossians, we get both a succinct description of the Gospel, and the effect of the Gospel which results in thankfulness.

First, the apostle summarizes the gospel:

Col 2:13  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
Col 2:14  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Sinners, who are dead in their sins and unchanged in their hearts as a result of it, are changed by God. The debt owed to the righteousness of the just God is canceled. The trespasses we knowingly and unknowingly commit before God, which create a debt that can only be negated by judgment and punishment is forgiven, written off and set aside. Those debts, all of them, past, present and future, were nailed to the cross with the atonement and sacrifice of Christ, so that we may stand before God, innocent upon the appeal to the cross.

The negation of our pervasive sin is not through anything we did or ever can do, but through the work on the cross. “…God made alive…” is such a great short description of the gospel. God did it. All of it. There is nothing about our faith, merit or any other attributes. There is nothing about some obscure theology or forced interpretation, something that needed to added on to this short line. God did it, gave it to us as a gift, and that is the end of it.

Later on in the letter, we read more about the effects of the gospel, and what God did. These are the fruits we expect from being made alive by God, and the Spirit to which we submit. It tells us to be thankful for these things. Thankfulness is the natural response to a gift. The extent of the gift of eternal spiritual life and blessings is unmeasurable, and require a thankfulness that transcends a single holiday. Our thankfulness for that should be a life of thanks.

This passage describes in more detail what a life thankful to God for the gift looks like. Can we live this type of life without having been made alive with Christ, by God?

Col 3:12  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
Col 3:13  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Col 3:14  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Col 3:15  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Col 3:17  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

As the ones chosen to receive the gift from God, we show the world the fruits of that transformation of having gone from death to life. We change from being worldly, impatient, arrogant and self-centered to being focused on emulating the character of Jesus. Since we have been forgiven, we should forgive others. Since God shown us His love, we show the fruits of love, being kind, compassionate and holy.

Knowing our future, knowing that our sins will not be held against us, as a result of the gospel, we are thankful. Knowing that we have been changed forever, freed from the scourges of unchanged flesh, united in the body of believers in Christ, we give thanks to God. It brings transcendent peace and wisdom, subject to the rule of Christ in our deepest being.

The richness of the word of God helps us to help one another, to teach and guide each other. It helps us to unite in praise and worship of God, who has blessed us so abundantly. The fruit of of the gospel is in our behavior, in everything we do or say, that it may be to give thanks to God for making us alive in Him. That new life, allowing us to understand, to change for the glory of God, the ability to be honestly and truthfully thankful, is the effect of the gospel.

Thanks be to God.

Join the Thanksgiving Parade – Micheal Horton

“We need not wallow in our unworthiness, but join the thanksgiving parade that is already in progress, until one day we join our voices with the rest of redeemed creation. The vision of the heavenly kingdom in Revelation is a restored liturgy, with every part of creation performing its ordained role. It is a universal city without man-made walls or a man-made temple, for the Lord surrounds it in safety and the Lamb is its temple. At last, the symphony resounds throughout the empire: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!…Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord” (Ps 148:3, 12-13).”

Read here: Join the Thanksgiving Parade

Is Ignorance an Excuse?

Any time schools of theological thought come up, there is a lot of back and forth. Iron sharpens iron, and we all learn from each other, so discussion is a good thing. However, what normally happens is that each side accuses the other of misrepresenting the others position, definitions get mixed up and then insults and going in circles commence.

As a reformed believer, a so-called “Calvinist”, I have seen that a lot. I want to be clear, it surely happens with Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, Wesleyanism, molinism etc too, and I will be the first to admit that I am sometimes guilty of misunderstanding or misrepresenting other schools of thought. However, I am often on the receiving end of some really aggressive and outright degrading attacks against reformed beliefs. And again, I have also seen that against other schools of theology, and to be frank, it all annoys the heck out of me.

There is simply no excuse for dong that. Calling Calvinism “from Satan”, “an insult to God” etc demonstrates a profound ignorance of what reformed theology is. While all schools claim to want to glorify God, none of them can rationally and honestly argue for the complete and outright sovereignty of God in salvation. They all add something to grace. Whether the reformed position is necessarily correct is not the question, but the outrageous insults leveled at a theology that starts with the sovereignty of God from theologies that don’t should point to the lack of discernment in these types of discussions.

It seems as if there is an inverse relationship between the level of empty and ad-hominem rhetoric, and the depth of knowledge about Calvinism. Gross misrepresentation is so common and widespread that it has almost taken on a life of its own, even among church officials that should at least be intellectually honest. And there is no excuse to get information about Calvinism from its opponents only, as it is one of the most scholarly, researched and published theologies.

Why do some insist on issuing opinions and insults when they clearly do not understand the depth of the underlying theology? Ignorance is not an excuse, and it makes me just shake my head in disbelief. If Calvinism is faithfully represented, and opponents still disagree, that is how it should be. However, I have rarely come across opponents who do have a full understanding.

Please try to at least understand something before arguing against it. But these days invective and strongly worded insults seem to count for more than intellectual honesty, research and civil discussion. What will you do next time in a religious discussion?