Thursday, March 25

Less-Than-Orthodox Atonement Model, Part 4

(Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.)

Previously we looked at the scripture used to support this model of the atonement--two universal verses used as representatives of all the other universal verses, and John 3:18--and saw how these verses were interpreted by those who believe this theory. Today I want to look more closely at these interpretations to see whether they can be legitimate interpretations of these scriptures.

Let's go first to the interpretations of the representative universal verses. Both of these verses (1 John 2:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:19) are interpreted taking the fullest possible meaning of the words referring to what was accomplished in Christ's death, and also the fullest possible meaning of the words referring to the scope of the atonement. So the word propitiation in 1 John 2:2 is full and final propitiation of all of God's wrath toward human beings, and the reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:19 is full and final reconciliation on God's part toward human beings. Our sins...and those of the whole world in 1 John 2:2 means the sins of every human being, and world in 2 Corinthians 5:19 likewise refers to every human being. On the basis of these interpretations of these verses, it is then concluded that God's wrath is completely gone toward any human being, all of their sins are forgiven, and He is completely reconciled to them.

Of course, if you take these verses alone, these are legitimate interpretations of the words written in these verses. Propitiation and reconciliation certainly can mean fully and finally doing away with God's wrath, and world can refer to every human being. The question is not "Can these verses mean this?", but "Do these verses mean this?" Or more precisely, "Can these verses mean this when taken together with the whole of what scripture says to us?"

Are there any scriptures that argue against the idea that God no longer has wrath toward any person, or that God is completely reconciled toward all people because all people have their sins forgiven? The truth is that there are so many that it is hard to narrow it down to just a few to look at. Ephesians 2:3 is one:

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (NASV)

All of us were formerly--before we were made alive together with Christ--objects of God's wrath. The rest--all those who have not been made alive together with Christ--remain objects of His wrath. God;s wrath, according to this verse, is still directed toward those who have not yet been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, and will be directed forever toward those who are never brought from this state of death into life. It is at the point of this life-changing event that God's wrath is removed.

Another scripture to examine is Romans 3:25a:

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. (NASV)

Christ's death is a propitiation through faith. Faith is the means through which we receive that propitiation--that taking away of God's wrath toward us. Those who are outside of faith are not propitiated and remain under the wrath of God.

Consider Colossians 1:13, 14:

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In these verses, being redeemed is not only associated with forgiveness of sins, but with being transferred out of Satan's dominion and into Christ's kingdom. Those who have their sins forgiven are not left in a neutral position before God; they are not left simply standing with no wrath directed toward them. They are brought into His kingdom; they become one of His.

We see from these verses that full propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness of sins come only to those of faith. They are associated with being made alive in Christ, and being brought into His kingdom. In order for these universal verses used to support this atonement theory to harmonize with the whole of scripture, they cannot be interpreted the way proponents of this theory interpret them. Full and final propitiation, or full and final reconciliation on God's part, cannot come to every single person unless every single person is brought to faith, every single person is made alive in Christ, and every single person is transferred into the kingdom. In order to make these verses consistant with the rest of scripture, one must either interpret the words that refer to what was accomplished through Christ (like propitiation, reconciliation) as temporary or potential, or the word world as "people throughout the world."

You know....that's probably enough for today. I'll save the examination of John 3:18 for the next part of the series.