As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve, and the lot of us would rather dwell in peace reflecting on the birth of our Savior, who God sent into the world to become the atonement of our sins, while sitting comfortably at home. Most of us ought to know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, and while I do get frequent requests to address Christmas and how Christians should feel about it, I want to skip past the topic which is so heavily debated amongst the body of Christ, and instead address a relative debate which goes even deeper than a mere tradition of celebration.
Instead, in light of our celebration regarding our Savior being born, I want to write to you all about “atonement.” Atonement of Sins is a heavily debated topic amongst Christians, not just as a theological issue, but as a philosophical issue, which comes as we fervently seek the scriptures to determine what the exact degree of atonement is, and to whom it is applicable. Already, I can see the ears perk up of those relentlessly clinging to hyper-grace, all the way to the hyper-calvinists who would shout at you about “Limited Atonement,” while making sure you feel excluded from the club.
You’ll have to bear with me, because my intention is to lay everything out, and then try to assemble the pieces. The harsh reality of scripture, is that there seems to be (at first glance) a lot of scriptures that contradict each other. The reason we have such polar opposite standpoints in the church (and everything in between), is because most of us tend to steer toward a handful of verses which validate one view or the other. However, when we realize both parties are teaching scripture, we use terms like, “you’re misunderstanding that verse,” to try and avoid the fact that at face value, it would seem the Bible has contradictions.
Brothers and Sisters, God welcomes our questions, when we humbly lay them at his feet. He doesn’t want you to look at John MacArthur and Steven Furtick and think, “well I better pick a side!” We need to find all scripture to be worthy of application towards our doctrines, lest we become unstudied, and unapproved. So let’s just jump into it.
One side will bring up John 1:29, where John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Well, that seems to be pretty straight forward.. “Takes away the sin of the World.” We can’t dismiss these words as John the Baptist speaking on his own accord, since Luke 1:15 tells us that, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” For the most part, regarding people who came before Jesus, we only see the Holy Spirit “come over” people, but not that they are in constant alignment with the Spirit. John was a vessel, continuously, which means the Holy Spirit prompted him to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
I get it, I sound like an advocate for “hyper-grace,” at this point. However, I’m simply trying to demonstrate the reasonable interpretation people may have when looking at this verse alone.. but the next verse is going to ruffle some feathers.. which is found in Matthew chapter 1.Be sure to pay close attention to the wording here: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Pause. The Holy Spirit said through John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of THE WORLD!” Yet here we have an Angel, a messenger from God who wouldn’t dare alter or corrupt the message, saying “for he will save HIS PEOPLE from their sins.”
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16)
Jesus prays “the High Priestly Prayer,” in John chapter 17. He says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world,” in verse 6. So does the Lamb of God take away the sins of the world, or will he save his people (who were given to him), from their sins? These two theologies are at complete odds with each other, and if you don’t hate me at this point for “stirring confusion,” then the next bit is sure to unsettle your spirit.
“Say it! Say the atonement is only for his people!” Shouts the hyper-calvinist.. Well you’re not going to like this answer. A lot like Romans 9, “His people,” doesn’t refer to you, it refers to the Jews. Just as Romans 7 and 8 make evident that Romans 9 is about the Jews, and not Calvinists, Jeremiah 23:6 lays out a similar conclusion, which says, “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is His name by which He will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.”
“The Elect,” aren’t a bunch of Gentiles in America who swear by Calvinism and irresistible grace, “His people,” are not the entire world who subscribe to loose doctrines of grace, thinking they can live in disobedience because “God knows their heart.” To believe such requires us to throw out any regard for the chronology of Salvation. The answer is found in John 4:22-23, when Jesus says to a woman, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
One of Pauls biggest complaints against the Jews throughout the book of Acts, is the fact that they continuously reject the Messiah. In Acts 13:36, Paul and Barnabas say to the Jews, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.” This isn’t to argue that there were no Messianic Jews in those days, but rather the Nation as a whole, in agreement with its leadership, rejected the Gospel because they hardened their hearts against it. Which all the more legitimized what Jesus said about Salvation coming through the Jews. It was first preached to the Jews, by the Jews, “His People,” and later went out to the ends of the earth. The Gospel wasn’t sent out into the world and amongst the nations simultaneously, it stayed amongst Israel until the Nation decided to maintain its ways under the Law of Moses, and rejected the completion of the Law through Christ.
Jesus says in John 12:47, “for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Jesus is explicitly stating here that those who hear him and reject him, have a Judge, which is the word which he had spoken, but did not speak by his own authority, but by the Fathers authority. Jesus is directly claiming to be our defender on the Day of Judgement, if we are to believe in him, which he explains in John 12:44-50.
So we sit here now, examining both John 1:29 and John 12:47, which both use the term, “the World.” From a gentiles perspective, it’s really easy for us to believe that Atonement for Sins now covers everyone, regardless of their walk of life. However, when the Jews heard the term “the World,” what they hear is, “the Gentiles also.” Both passages aren’t claiming that everyone is going to Heaven, they’re clarifying that Salvation is not exclusive to only the Jews. We can properly derive this conclusion, by casting our view down the chronological timeline, toward the Church in Corinth.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, in chapter 15, verse 3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” The Corinthian Church was largely made up of Gentile converts, who worshiped Roman gods, while it is a city in Greece. They are quite literally what the Jews would have thought when they heard about, “the World,” which Jesus came to save, all the while making the caveat that they must believe in him in order to be saved. We have to remember that the Jews basked in their election, to the point of treating Gentiles among them as second-class citizens. This is exactly why the Gentiles rejoiced in Acts 13 when Paul said to the Jews, “But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.”
Atonement for Sin is just as John 3:16 states, “whoever believes,” and while this conclusion naturally wants to transition into Limited Atonement, I won’t entertain it. For this writing, the objective isn’t to answer the question, “did I have a choice of believing?” The point is to ask, “Do you believe?” I want to see a church who believes in Christ, and not through their lips, but through their actions.
“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’” Jesus wants us to come out of darkness, He wants us to do the will of the Father, who sent him. Part of “believing,” is “doing.” Christ came to the world to remove us from it, so that we wouldn’t have to continue doing the things we were doing. He came to be our atonement, our great defender. So while we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas Eve, I implore each of us to celebrate our exodus from the abyss we once crawled through, and let this Holiday Season be a reminder of the one who paid for us at a price we could never afford.
May you come into a deeper understanding of who He is and all the glorious things He wants to do with your life, as you walk with him in truth and light. Continue to seek him, in humility and gratitude. May God bless every single one of you, regardless of the exact date Jesus was born, give thanks to the Lord, for unto us a Savior is born.