Those reading Fortner’s devotional with me might respond today with a bit of dismay and question marks. He believes that Jesus died only for the sins of those who believe in Him, that is, His substitutionary death was only for some, not for the entire human race. He presented Scripture to make his point.
As I considered this and noticed how many verses appear to support this idea, I wondered about the opposite view, that Jesus died for the whole world. A bit of study brought me to the issue of antinomy, a term to do with the inability of our minds to comprehend the mind of God.
For instance, consider the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility regarding salvation. The Bible teaches God’s election and predestination, that God marked believers out beforehand and chose them for salvation in eternity past. Yet the Bible also clearly teaches that people have a responsibility to believe.
One verse makes an interesting connection in the way it is worded: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
Some people call God’s choice ‘predestination’ and others call it ‘fatalism’ saying, “Nothing I do can change anything at all. All incentives are removed. I can only pretend to be making a difference.” But others focus on the will of man and say we need to do our best and we can change the world.
Both views seem reasonable, yet this shows our inability to comprehend how two rational ideas can exist side by side and both be true, but in this case, they are.
One of the best examples of an antinomy is at Pentecost when Peter explained why Christ died:
“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)
Jesus died due to God’s sovereign hand, yet Peter charged the people for crucifying Him. Who can comprehend that both are true, but they are!
Another antinomy is at issue in today’s devotional. Fortner says Jesus died only for believers because if He died for everyone, those who do not believe would make His death for them a failure, a salvation that didn’t work. But if He died for only believers, this belies verses like John 3:16.
The first passage that popped into my head is this statement that Jesus made about the Holy Spirit:
“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me . . . .” (John 16:8–9)
Jesus died for sinners; the price has been paid. There is only one sin that keeps people out of God’s kingdom: the failure to believe in Jesus Christ. Some will not receive eternal life because they refused it. They are disqualified because they didn’t believe, not because Jesus didn’t die for them. This lack of believing is the unforgiveable sin.
In the devotional, verses from Isaiah suggest an inclusiveness: the sacrifice saved only those who were chosen; God’s people, but those verses are pointing to the nation of Israel. If Jesus didn’t die for everyone, then what about this verse:
“The next day he) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Another thought: Jesus died to forgive sins, but also for sin. That is, we need forgiveness for our sinful thoughts, words and deeds, but we also need regeneration to give us new life, to change us into new creatures. This is good news, nothing like suggesting to others, “Sorry, I’m in, but you are out.”
Instead, Jesus died and then put the ball into the sinner’s court. God has provided the solution. It isn’t His fault or failure if sinners refuse to take responsibility for their sin and seek His forgiveness.
Of course God knows from eternity past who will and who will not come to Christ, yet the Bible uses “Whosoever will . . . .” often enough that I must conclude both are true: God is sovereign and we are not robots. That is the tension of an antinomy, and also the tension of faith.
Jesus, Your Word proves that sin messes with my ability to totally understand You. However, faith can say “I believe both sides of this” without losing heart or needing to pick one side to satisfy my reasoning. Faith is trusting what You say, even when I cannot rationalize or put all the pieces together. You are my wisdom. If I need to make sense of this antinomy, You will grace me with understanding. For now, I am content with faith.