There’s a debate among evangelicals known as the Armenian vs. Calvinist debate. For those who don’t know Christianese, it relates to Free Will vs. Election. If I’m still getting the head-tilts of confusion I’ll explain this way: Free Will holds that Christ died for everyone’s sin, paid the debt for each person. It is each person’s responsibility to accept that gift of their own Free Will to be saved. Election refers to the divine plan for the elect, those who were chosen by God’s sovereign Will before Creation itself.
Both sides point to many of the same passages. They just interpret them differently.
Rather than parse out the two sides, I’m going to keep this short and address something that is at the center, the real question, IMO: Did Christ die for someone’s sin of not believing in Him as Lord?
I’ve heard John MacArthur, among others, claim that if Jesus bore the wrath of God for the sin of every human on earth and across time, but every human didn’t receive Him through faith, then those people would have to pay the penalty of God’s wrath for their sin. This would be, according to MacArthur, double-jeopardy. Two punishments for the same sin.
I’ll note that MacArthur is attempting to apply our understanding of legal justice to a God who is outside of our Created realm, time, and concepts of justice. I suspect our ideas of justice–when compared to God’s understanding–are about as accurate as a young child’s understanding of what his or her parent does for a living.
When I was studying the book of John, however, I came across this passage:
Joh 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Joh 16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
Now, some will say that their sin remains because they didn’t pick up the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf (the Free Will argument). Or, that Jesus didn’t pay for their sin because they were not of the elect (the Election argument).
Before I move on, I’ll quote another passage:
Mar 3:28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,
Mar 3:29 but whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—
This is the famous “unpardonable sin” passage. Jesus clearly states that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man…”
I’m sure there are various interpretations of this, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t delve into them. The plain meaning, to me, is that Jesus’ sacrifice will provide the basis for forgiveness of all sin, all blasphemy, except blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
What does that mean? That’s the clincher, really. What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Remember, God is One, so we shouldn’t fall into modalism, or defining each member of the Trinity like a separate God.
The Holy Spirit is the work of God in the world. The Pharisees were trying to say that Jesus miracles–specifically casting out a demon–was the work of Satan. They denied the nature of Christ as the Son of God, and His work as the work of the Holy Spirit.
My reading of this is that the unpardonable sin is unbelief. They rejected Christ and all His work as the work of the devil and for such a sin, there is no sacrifice.
Here’s another applicable passage:
Heb 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
Heb 6:5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
Heb 6:6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Many find this to support the Free Will position, which holds that people can lose their salvation. Instead, I feel this supports the basic premise that our judgment will be based on the sin of unbelief, not the underlying sinfulness of our race.
To understand how this works with the other two passages, I look at a few key phrases: heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.
The heavenly gift is Christ, the bread of heaven that is true food to us. Those who have “tasted” of Christ would be like those who hear the gospel and respond (like in the parable of the sower).
The Holy Spirit would refer to the work of God among His people, not the indwelling of the Spirit in the life of these people. This would refer to those who say “Lord, Lord, we did all these things in your name!” and yet be told to depart from Him as workers of lawlessness. They share in the work of the Holy Spirit without being truly sealed by His indwelling.
The goodness of the word of God refers to understanding the scriptures. Many false Christians affirm that the Bible is good, but ultimately will not sacrifice their own comfort or advancement in its defense.
Similarly, the powers of the age to come means they understand God’s promise of the resurrection and the new heaven and new earth.
These are those who ultimately “fall away” as the seeds that start to sprout, but are choked out, burned and do not prove to be true converts. They fail because they do not believe God.
Our salvation ultimately depends on one thing: Believing God. This was the basis for Abraham’s righteousness, and it is the basis of ours, as well. We, of course, have far more information about God than our spiritual ancestor.
When someone holds to earthly applause instead of becoming an outcast for the testimony of Christ, it says what they believe about God. If someone is loath to surrender a popular ritual or even some religious ordinance because there is too much sentimentality or tradition attached to it, it says something about their belief in God.
Essentially, when we become the judge of what is right and wrong, rather than humbly submitting to the words of Christ, we join Satan in saying, “Did God really say?” We refuse to enter the Promised Land because we reject the idea that God will deliver the giants and warriors into our hands and allow us to occupy the land. We leave Ur, but settle in Haran.
We need to ensure we listen to the voice of the Lord when He calls us out of Haran to the wilderness. We need to travel forth into a land of godless warriors, pitching our tent and laying claim to a promise that is entirely absurd by earthly standards.
If we fail to do so, if we defame God’s character by rejecting His promise and His way, we reveal that we don’t believe Jesus is Lord. We reveal we don’t believe God’s power.
Can someone who has passed through the Red Sea, eaten of the heavenly bread, drank of the water from the rock, followed the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, then reject God’s nature of goodness, holiness, faithfulness, mercy and grace?
If they do, they have likely committed the unpardonable sin and there is no additional sacrifice to cover that.