Theological Commitments of the Biblical Gospel: The Atonement

Atonement: The Heart of the Gospel

Our theological term “atonement” comes from the Anglo-Saxon root that means “to be at one with another” and was over time shortened to  ‘atonement” (at-one-ment). It is the reconciliation of God to man and man to God that comes through the vicarious (meaning, in our place) penal (meaning it was the wrath of God poured out as the justified penalty for our sins) substitutionary (meaning that it was not for Christ’s sin, but for the sin of others) death of Christ.

But for whom did Christ die? Did he die for the whole world or did he die only for his elect? The answer is for both. When we are talking about the death of Christ, we need to be aware of precision. We are not saying that Christ’s death was unable to save all people that have every existed—that would be to say that the blood of Christ was insufficient in power and ability. But if we were to say that Christ’s death was effective in saving all people that have ever existed, we would fall into that heresy called “universalism.”

Minimally, we cannot deny that Christ’s death was both sufficient and effective for the elect. This is not debated by any who hold to the biblical doctrines of grace. But did Christ’s death on the cross have any effect upon the non-elect—those who would never come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ? Yes.

On 1Tim 4:10, the MacArthur Study Bible notes say in part,

The simple explanation is that God is the Savior of all men, only in a temporal sense, while of believers in an eternal sense. Paul’s point is that while God graciously delivers believers from sin’s condemnation and penalty because He was their substitute (2 Cor. 5:21), all men experience some earthly benefits from the goodness of God. Those benefits are: 1) common grace—a term that describes God’s goodness shown to all mankind universally (Ps. 145:9) in restraining sin (Rom. 2:15) and judgment (Rom. 2:3–6), maintaining order in society through government (Rom. 13:1–5), enabling man to appreciate beauty and goodness (Ps. 50:2), and showering him with temporal blessings (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:15–17; 17:25); 2) compassion—the broken-hearted love of pity God shows to undeserving, unregenerate sinners (Ex. 34:6, 7; Ps. 86:5; Dan. 9:9; Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41–44; cf. Is. 16:11–13; Jer. 48:35–37); 3) admonition to repent—God constantly warns sinners of their fate, demonstrating the heart of a compassionate Creator who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11); 4) the gospel invitation—salvation in Christ is indiscriminately offered to all (Matt. 11:28, 29; 22:2–14; John 6:35–40; Rev. 22:17; cf. John 5:39, 40). God is, by nature, a saving God. That is, He finds no pleasure in the death of sinners. His saving character is revealed even in how He deals with those who will never believe, but only in those 4 temporal ways.[5]

The Canons of Dort, Articles 3 & 4 (Second Head of Doctrine) say this:

“The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.[6]” And “This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.[7]

These statements are in complete agreement with the biblical record. Christ’s death on the cross is only salvific for the elect, but his death also gives benefits to the whole world. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church agrees with this, stating,

“In Reformed parlance we speak of “common grace” as God’s goodness even to those who are destined to be lost (Romans 2:4-5; Matthew 5:45). God’s goodness to reprobate sinners may be considered the product of the cross. In that sense it might be said that Jesus died for all mankind. But saving grace is called “special grace.” And whatever we may say of benefits flowing from the cross, Christ did NOT die to save those whom He willed to pass over unto deserved condemnation!”[8] 

So, why is this so important for us to know? Well first, because it is the nature of the gospel. Christ died to save others. But whom? Some go so far as to reject even saying that Jesus died for the world, in spite of the fact that the Bible clearly says so. But saying this does not mean that all will be eternally saved, nor does it embrace universalism or the heresy called Pelagianism.

You can say that Jesus died for the world! At the same time, we know that not all the world will be eternally saved. Secondly, we need to be honest about several verses in our Bibles that say that Christ’s death did something beyond saving the elect.

We can’t say that it means that the world was justified and redeemed, but we can see that there are temporal types of salvation that were won by Christ. This isn’t something we need to deny. If we do, we deny the fulness of the glory of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. And finally, we need to know this because we need to study the hard things of the Word and strive to be as accurate as possible, wrestling with the truth, and not denying those bothersome bits that don’t fit well into our thinking.

[5] John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 1997), 1867.

[6] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[7] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[8] From

Three Reasons to Preach Christ Crucified


“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Corinthians 1:18)

1. Because It is Not Popular (v. 18)

Not only is it not popular, it is moronic (moria in Greek). Consider the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we say to sinners that a poor and humble Jewish man was God, and that he was nailed to a cross to die a criminals death despite his perfect innocence. We proclaim that this Man was not only a man, but that he is God in the flesh. That he is perfect and sinless and that he was born of a virgin. Furthermore, we proclaim that all of humanity is lost and that each individual man, woman and child is a wretched sinner. We proclaim that Christ is the only hope for humanity and that all other claims are lies from the pit of hell and all who seek salvation in any other name are doomed to eternal damnation. We proclaim that Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary for our salvation, and that he rejects all attempts to earn salvation on our own. He, being the King demands our allegiance and one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord.

Brothers, when we proclaim this, the world will overwhelmingly reject us as fools of the worst kind. We will be called bigots, intolerant, and uneducated religious zealots. And that is why so many bow to the pressures and soften their message. Paul was keenly aware of the propensity of men to soften the blow of the gospel by using soothing words that made the hearer feel at ease. He said in 1Cor 2:1-5 that he purposely made it his aim to proclaim the unvarnished gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. Today, preachers everywhere are trying to make Jesus look cool. They are trying to make Christianity attractive. They are doing just what Paul avoided.

The cross was not cool. It was brutal and bloody.

The call of Christ is not popular. True Christianity will never court the world. But pastors will continue to attempt to make our precious faith more palatable in order to gain the popularity of the world. This is nothing but pride. Nobody should enter the ministry or the pulpit in order to make his own name great. Isaac Watts wrote, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died; My riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” PREACH CHRIST BECAUSE IT IS NOT POPULAR!

2. Because They Are Perishing (v. 18)

When we preach the message of the cross, the world sees it as folly because they do not see the danger to their souls. Sometimes they fail to see the danger because they do not see it in our eyes and do not hear it in our voices as we proclaim cold truth from our pulpits. Brothers, do you feel the truth of Hell? Do you remember the days when you were among the brood of vipers?  Do you recall that you were once a vessel prepared for destruction? Have you forgotten that you were on the precipice of the bottomless pit and you were ready in due time to slip into eternal fire separate from God to be tormented for all eternity? HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN?

When we remember our own dying state we will be quick to point people to the only remedy for their souls—the cross of Christ. When we remember that they are perishing, we will not care about their mocking and their cries for ear-tickling sermons—we will give them what we know they need. Wrote Thomas Brooks, “The damned shall live as long in hell as God himself shall live in heaven.” That fact alone should drive us to preach Christ crucified.

Check your hearts, brothers. Do you feel the terror of hell and do you cry out with Paul on Sunday mornings: (2Cor. 2:15-16) “For we (!) are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” PREACH CHRIST BECAUSE THEY ARE PERISHING!

3. Because It is the Power of God (v. 18)

Power in the pulpit. Power evangelism. Power encounters. Pastors want power. But the power of God is not found in the usual places. It is not found in business models or worldly philosophy (v. 22). It is not found in charismatic dramatics or signs and wonders (v. 22).  It isn’t found in confrontation with demons and the occult. The power of God was displayed on the cross, where God sent His Son to be crushed for our iniquities. Jesus became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God! That is power!!!

Concerning the justification of God, John Calvin said, “Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.” This is the power of the cross. Why is the Church so weak and utterly incapable of making an impact in our nation? It has left this message behind and taken up the banners of politics, pop psychology, health and wealth, and so many other empty promises.

The Roman Catholic system, the Emerging movement, the Seeker Sensitive movement and the Liberal mainline denominations have all shown us what becomes of those who lay aside the cross of Christ. But it hasn’t stopped many men from flirting with those compromising  philosophies. Richard Baxter, “If a hardened heart is to be broken, it is not stroking but striking that must do it.” The only thing that can cut another stone is a diamond, the hardest gem on earth. In order to cut the hardest heart, we must use the sharpest tool. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ!

In Heb. 4:12 we are reminded, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Brothers, in our churches the temptation can be overwhelming to give up expository preaching in favor of sugar coated sermons that aim to please the itching ears of people. We reason in our hearts that once we have them in our churches we can preach the gospel to them, we just need to ease them into it. Don’t fall for this pragmatic lie! You are merely a tool in God’s hand. He uses you as His minister to wield His weapon of choice. You cannot change the soul of a man in any way. It is the Word of God preached—the Gospel alone that brings a sinner to his knees.


Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:13-17 ESV

Jesus asked his disciples to tell him the various opinions of the people about who they thought he was. I want you to notice that all of the opinions were positive in nature, all are men of God and all are prophets. So, overall, the identification of Jesus was not a negative, but a positive one in the eyes of the people.

Today, the views of people about Jesus are still very positive. Most people have good things to say about Christ. If Jesus were to ask us the same question, how might some people answer? Here are a few answers we might hear:

Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, also known as the “Moonies”, whose membership is estimated to be 1-2 million worldwide said this:

“Jesus, on earth, was a man no different from us except for the fact that he was without original sin. Even in the spirit world after his resurrection, he lives as a spirit man with his disciples….Jesus is not God himself.” (Divine Principle, 212)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons whose worldwide membership is estimated at 9 million members with 4.5 million members in the United States alone, believe and teach among other things that:

  1. Jesus was born as a spirit-child of heavenly parents
  2. Jesus was the first born of all other spirit children, including Lucifer, Adam and all humanity.

“The appointment of Jesus to be savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning….This spirit brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the savior of mankind.” (Milton Hunter, Gospel Through the Ages, 15.)

Freemasons who number at about 2.5 million master masons in the U.S. stated in their publication “New Age Magazine,”

“If every man were a perfect imitator of the great, wise, good teacher, divine or human, inspired or only a reforming Essene, it must be agreed that his teachings are far nobler than those of Socrates, Plato, Mohammed, or any of the other great moralists and reformers of the world.” (Feb. 1943; 719)

Hinduism with over 700 million followers in India alone is 13% of the world’s population. This polytheistic religion is so varied that it is difficult to find any one person who can speak for it as a whole. In general, Hindus believe that Jesus was  a great religious leader.

“The great masters of India mold their lives by the same godly ideals that animated Jesus. Freemen all, lords of themselves, the yogi-christs of India are of the immortal fraternity.” (Yogananda)

Islam,  has an estimated worldwide following of about 23% of the world’s population or 1.57 billion people. Listen to what the Quran says about Jesus,

“O people of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter naught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and his word which he conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from him. So believe in Allah and his messengers, and say not “Three”—Cease! (It is) better for you!—Allah is only one God. Far is it removed from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son.” (4:171).

So, to sum up these opinions, Jesus is

  • A spirit man
  • A son of God among many
  • A noble moralist and philosopher
  • A yogi-christ
  • A messenger of Allah

And I have not even mentioned the opinions of Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers, or Scientologists, to say nothing of humanists, agnostics and atheists. But you get the picture!

I want you to see that none of these groups deny Jesus’ goodness or existence. They are all affirming and positive, just like the opinions of those in Jesus’ day. But to those who have walked with Jesus, His disciples, he addressed the question about who THEY thought that he was.


1. He is the Messiah (Christ).

Although Jesus was careful when he used this title, he did not deny it. Messiah (Hebrew) and Christ (Greek) both mean, “chosen one.” Because of the misunderstanding that so many had about what the Messiah would come and do, Jesus did not readily identify himself as “the Christ.” But to his little band of followers he would allow it.

The Old Testament gave evidence that the ideas about who the Messiah would be and what he would do was much fuller than the popular idea of a conquering king.  The Old Testament points to a much clearer picture of the Messiah than most were able to see, but Peter saw a clearer picture of Jesus than most. Jesus was clearly the Messiah of the Old Testament.

2. He is the Son of God

Not “a son of god” as a polytheist might believe.

Not a created being as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims believe. 

He is THE Son of God. The Only Son. The Jews understood this. When Jesus claimed to be God’s Son in John 10:24-39, they attempted to stone him to death because, they said, he being a man made himself out to be God.

3. He is the Son of the Living God

Not Vishnu, Ganesh or Buddha. Not Allah, Krishna, or “the god of your own understanding.”No! He is the Son of the one, true and living God. This is over and against all false and imaginary gods who ALL find their origin in the pit of hell!

Peter had seen and heard what many other Jews had seen and heard, but he and the other disciples had come to a different conclusion.

How did he see what so many others had missed? First, it was not a human revelation. Peter had not discovered this on his own, nor was he taught these truths from a human teacher. Secondly, Peter’s spiritual sight was a product of divine intervention. Jesus said that God, his Father in heaven had revealed or uncovered this great truth for him.

Without God, man is doubly blind to the truth. His own sin blinds his and so does Satan, the god of this world.

Therefore, we should not be surprised when people call for so-called tolerance of all religious viewpoints, even when they are contradictory and mutually exclusive.

We should not think that we can simply say out the truth with forceful argumentation and people with be saved by the sheer force of our arguments. Spiritual blinders must be removed by God—through prayer and gospel witnessing.

Religious pluralism is incompatible with biblical Christianity. The truth claims of the Bible are rigid, exclusive and unbending. This is very unpopular in our day and if you stand for the truth you may be labeled as a bigot and intolerant. 2Tim 2:3 reminds us, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! Therefore, he suffered, bled and died for us, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God Almighty. And he is coming again! Let us preach his gospel until he comes (Acts 1:8). Let us stand firm, steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1Cor 15:58).