Letters to Paul, VI: It's God's glory to choose some, so why hide it?
“Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21)
(Tim: Building on his series on Jonathan Edwards and the Atonement, here's another series--numbers one, two, three, four, five, and six--by our American African correspondent, David Wegener. At the end of the post is a note from David on the purpose of this series addressed to "Paul," a Zambian Christian leader.)
Letters to Paul, VI: Let's Stop Limiting the Greatness of the Atonement
Dear Paul: You may think that American Christians talk a lot about the elect, but I have to tell you, they don’t. You could attend a Bible-believing church for a long, long time (years) and never hear the word, “elect.” You could attend a Reformed church for a long, long time before you ever heard a sermon on the doctrine of election.
And if a pastor does preach on election, he has to qualify it so many times in order to reassure his church and any visitors who might be attending and his elders and his wife, that he does not, in fact, believe in election. Whew! That was a close one...
So deeply ingrained is the egalitarianism of American culture that we will not...talk about predestination or definite atonement or God’s special love for His chosen ones. We’re afraid of making anyone feel left out, if we say that Christ died to secure the salvation of certain particular men and women. We’re worried we’ll sound proud, if we say the elect are the special objects of God’s love. So we give in to fear instead of living by faith.
Scripture is sure that Christ died for the church. He bore the sins of His bride (Eph 5:25). The Father granted men (not all men) to the Son as the reward for His obedience (Jn 17:2). He didn’t redeem every tribe, tongue, people and nation. Rather, Christ atoned for the sins of men “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).
It wasn’t a partial atonement, saving people if they add to it faith or repentance or full submission or whatever. It was a full atonement for all who will come to the Father through the Son. It’s high time we gave up our fear of the word “elect.” Shouldn’t we stop limiting the greatness of Christ’s atonement?
Edwards knew God was free not to save. This stuns us. "Of course God must save. Of course He must provide a way to escape from our sin dilemma. He has to."
Oh really? Is not salvation by grace alone? How does that fit with God’s obligation to save? Both can’t be true. Is not salvation a gift? Was the giver free to withhold the gift? "But, but, but…," we say.
Our fears and worries and unbelief cause us to miss out on the greatness of God’s love. Christ alone is sufficient. If you try and add to His work, you dishonor Him. The believer rejoices through tears and proclaims, Christ loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20), though I am helpless and vile. Edwards is clear that some sense of belief in the sole sufficiency of Christ is part of saving faith.
Paul, don’t follow our lead and miss out on the greatness of the atonement accomplished by Christ.
Yours with thankfulness for a violent atonement,
Rev. David Wegener
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Note from David Wegener concerning the purpose of this series: Paul is a Zambian Christian leader, a graduate of the school where I teach. I’ve taken him as representative of one of my students so I can have a face to look at in my mind as I write these letters. Often my students puzzle over what they hear coming from the church in the west. Much of their background has led them to accept without question what comes from western Christians. "After all, they brought us the gospel and keep coming back and helping us." My exhortation to Paul is the one given by his namesake: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21).