Question: In your June ’95 issue you mentioned a dying girl named Michelle to whom the Catholic sisters failed to give the gospel (not surprising since they don’t know the gospel!). You said that God loved her and that His only begotten Son on the cross paid the full penalty for her sins. If this is so, then the finished work of Christ has ultimately failed to save her. In fact, Christ did not pay the penalty for her sin, but only for the sins of His people. Matthew:1:21 is clear: “For He [Jesus] shall save His people from their sins,” not He shall save the world....
Answer: So John the Baptist blundered when he said of Christ, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn:1:29)? And perhaps the Apostle John got it wrong when he wrote, “[T]he Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 Jn:4:14)? This is a controversial issue with sound evangelicals on both sides. I don’t want to stir up more letters than we can handle, but this subject arises so often that it needs to be addressed at least briefly.
We must neither add to nor take from Scripture and you have added “not He shall save the world.” In fact, what you attempt to deny is exactly what the Bible affirms: “[H]e is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn:2:2); “who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Tm 4:10). It isn’t clear to me whether you are simply saying that Christ died only for those whom He foreknew would believe in Him; or whether, as a five-point Calvinist, you are saying that He died only for those few whom God elected to save. Neither idea is biblical, as numerous verses prove.
The issue is not God’s sovereignty but His love. God has the sovereign right to save or to damn whomever He will. He would be perfectly just in damning all mankind. However, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God “is love” (1 Jn:4:16); and that He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...that the world through him might be saved” (Jn:3:16-17). Indeed, God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Pt 3:9) but desires “all men to be saved” (1 Tm 2:4). The language could not be clearer. It is not, as you suggest, that “the finished work of Christ failed to save” anyone but that many of those for whom Christ died do not avail themselves of the salvation He has procured for all. We must choose; and that we can do so is clear. Obedience would be meaningless without the power to disobey; nor could love be genuine unless it came from a heart free to reject and even to hate. All through the Bible man is called upon to choose between good and evil, between Satan and self and God, between heaven and hell, time and eternity. To teach that man cannot make that choice without God’s “irresistible grace” causing him to do so makes a mockery of God’s call to man to choose and reduces both obedience and love to programmed responses of robots. Those who spend eternity in hell will be there not because Christ didn’t provide for their forgiveness or because God did not woo them by His Spirit but because they rejected the salvation He offered. That is their worst and only unpardonable sin which “shall not be forgiven...neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Mt 12:31-32).