Christ Died for the World, that is, The Church

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

With these verses, we wade into the depths of theological debate. What does it mean that Jesus is an atoning sacrifice for our sins and the also the sins of the whole world? It is in a passage like this that one can begin to see how someone might argue in favour of some sort of universal salvation. Yet, is that the only option? Considering the context of the passage and the churches historical understanding of the text helps to see that there is a better option out there.

Context of the Passage:

In 1 John 1, John begins by proclaiming to those whom he is writing to about what he has seen (the incarnate Christ, who was before the beginning [1 John 1:1-4]) and what he has heard [1 John 1:5-10]. John has heard that God is light and as such those who follow Him ought to walk in the light. This light-ward walking is described as living out the truth and confessing our sins, for which Christ died and from which He purifies us.

All that John has written to this point is for a purpose, that those who receive his word might not sin (1 John 2:1) or, if they do sin, might remember that Christ is our advocate is sitting at the Father’s right hand actively interceding for us.

Moving on to the verse at question, again, John writes, Christ did for our sins “and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Now, even if we were to leave it at this, we could come to the conclusion that there is more going on in this passage than some would like to suggest because there is still a dichotomy of those in light and those in darkness. However, John then continues to describe those who can be assured of their truly coming to know Jesus. What is the mark? Obedience to His commands—and those who lack true obedience, lack the True Light. “Whoever does the will of God lives forever,” writes John in 2:17, yet no such promise is made for the world, rather the exact opposite. The way the world is spoken of in a later passage, within the same letter, in a different manner (rather than being atoned for, it will pass away) suggests that the usage of the term world is different in these two places.

It seems up to this point, John has only been referring to the church, writing about the church, and encouraging those within the church. As such, is it possible that when John writes that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, he is referring to the church, across the world?

This is where the historical interpretations help to give some extra clarity.

Historical Interpretation:

There are many people who have commented on this passage, yet we will only take a look at a few:

Hilary of Arles, who was a semi-Pelagian, writes, “When John says that Christ died for the sins of the ‘whole world,’ what he means is that he died for the whole church.”1

The Venerable Bede writes, “[Christ] has not done this only for those who were alive at the time of his death, but also for the whole church which is scattered over the full compass of the world, and it will be valid for everyone, from the very first among the elect until the last one who will be born at the end of time.”2

Finally, John Calvin writes on this passage, “And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.” As for those who suggest this passage requires belief in universal salvation, Calvin continues, “I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation.”3

John, according to Calvin and the rest, is here not referring to anyone but those who do or will believe, the world over, according to God’s decree. For all of these folks, the purpose of this statement is not that Christ’s atonement was made for all sins of all people across all time regardless of location or belief (which is to say, universal salvation), but that Christ died for the sins of all people across all time who are part of the church, the elect. Or, as Paul puts it, Christ laid down His life for the church (Eph 5).

Conclusion:

For whom, then, did Christ die and offer atonement? With John, we proclaim that Christ made atonement for the sins of the world, that is, for all those who have been born and will be born across all times and places who believe and live in obedience to His commands.

In other words, for the church.

Footnotes:

  1. Gerald Bray, ed., James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 177.
  2.  Gerald Bray, ed., James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 178.
  3. “John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.” Accessed April 9, 2020. https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom45/calcom45.v.iii.i.html.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

Carolyn Weber did not come by things easily. If she wanted it, she worked for it. Growing up in a single parent home with a mother who did everything she could to make ends meet and a transient father who would come in and out of their lives a few times every year, she learned that if she needed anything she would have to do it herself. After working tirelessly and receiving a full-ride scholarship to Oxford – tuition, food, and living included – she was able to take some time to fully immerse herself in her studies and relationships. It just so happens that the relationships she was building were with a group of Christians who were able to help her navigate the terrain and claims of Christianity.

In this memoir, Weber keeps you captivated through a year in her life by modelling it after the Oxford school calendar and incorporating shorter stories within a larger chapter framework. It is not so much an autobiography, in that she does not focus on telling about her achievements, but more like a memoir, in that she is telling stories of her life and experiences which lead one to learn and grow in their own life and faith. As a literature major and professor, she uses many of the skills that she learned and acquired to help make this book as captivating as possible, including many different quotes throughout from the Romantics.

I was drawn to this book because of the raw material and stories that Weber uses to illustrate her life and ever growing faith, alongside a deep admiration of Oxford and some of its better known alumni (C.S. Lewis, for one). Her honesty with struggling through the claims of the faith and desire to dig deeper are inspiring and life giving; offering hope and a desire to continue to dive deeper into the Word and the claims of the Bible, learning to better understand the faith which I have grown up in. While there are points of theology I do not necessarily agree with, Weber has a way with words which help one to understand where she is coming from and helps one to grow in one’s own appreciation for differing theological viewpoints.

A telling quote of what to expect from Weber is, “The surrounding darkness threatened to swallow me up, seated at the table in its midst, in my little pool of light. Without warning everything we do seemed meaningless, regardless of our lines of work. Was any way of trading my time for money, or for that matter, any expenditure  of time, for nothing of any true value in the end? But just as suddenly the darkness receded, the pool of light seemed to take me in, as I thought how anything we do—any job, act, gesture—becomes meaningful if done with a heart for God” (124).

 

Conscience: What it is, How to Train it, and Loving Those who Differ by Andrew Naselli & J.D. Crowley – A Brief Review

When’s the last time you were doing something and as soon as you did whatever it was you were hit with that instant feeling of guilt? What if that thing was just something that you do everyday? Or something that you happen to need to do every month, but feel guilty every month? Mark Dever tweeted a few years ago, “Conscience cannot make a wrong thing right, but it can make a right thing wrong.” This idea is what the book Conscience by Naselli and Crowley is about – what is the conscience and why we should take heed to its nudgings.

Grounded in Scripture, Naselli and Crowley have a firm foundation for their writing on the conscience and what it is and give excellent advice for how to train to conscience to be better aligned with what the Scriptures teach. It is a remarkably readable book with lots of depth and practical application. Written from a mixed perspective of a New Testament professor (Naselli, at Bethlehem College & Seminary) and a cross-cultural missionary (Crowley, working in Cambodia) these two come together to give the conscience a full biblical treatment, along with how to train the conscience and what to do when your conscience tells you something is wrong (hint: listen to your conscience!). Even when it comes to something that is not against the Bible, Naselli and Crowley strongly urge us to listen to what our conscience has to say (as long as it is not condemned in the Bible) so that we do not sin against our conscience; because to do what your conscience tells you is wrong is to do wrong, until you are able to take the time to properly align your conscience with what the Scriptures say to be true.

A quote that stood out to me, in relation to Paul and  how to act around others, is, “Around Jews he was happy to be strict. Around Greeks he was happy to be free. He didn’t count his freedoms or his comfort as the highest priority but always asked himself these two questions: 1) How does this particular action affect other believers? And 2) How does this particular action further the gospel of Christ?” (96). Let us learn to ask these question in all circumstances.

 

On Demas

For five years, I lived within a few hundred feet of a number of friends. We all lived in the same neighbourhood, in the same complex, and for many of us, in the same house. We talked about life, ladies, and God. We were all studying at the local Bible college. We all spent our days and evening pondering the things of God and bouncing ideas off of one another. We would eat together, play together, serve together, worship together. We were doing life together in many ways. It was beautiful—and often hard, frustrating, and annoying.

Demas is mentioned in the New Testament only three times. He is a dear friend and labourer with Paul (Col 4:14, Phile 23-24). We don’t know how long he was with Paul, but he had been with him and was ministering with him, staying beside him even while he was in chains for the sake of the gospel. Alongside Epaphras, Luke, Mark, and many more, Demas was there in the midst of it.

After five years of friendship with these guys during my undergrad, one of the biggest surprises came when we were all eating dinner together. Jerry started talking about the energies he was feeling within himself—a feeling he was going to pursue more of. Questions were asked, people were worried, opinions were heard, and warnings were given but none of that changed anything: Jerry left us. He moved away and started pursuing a life of uninhibited hedonism and pure pleasure. Drugs, sex, and alcohol became his life’s pursuit.

Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to Colossae. When he was going to Jerusalem preparing for his death, he was imprisoned again. This time we read a different story, as Paul writes to his dear disciple and son in the faith in 2 Timothy 4:9-10, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica…” Demas, Pauls close friend and co-labourer in the gospel, left. The pleasures of the world overcame him. One who seemed so sure, one whose root seemed to be firmly working its way into the soil, was choked out by the weeds.

When a close friend walks away from the faith, there is deep sorrow and pain at the loss. Demas abandoned Paul; Jerry abandoned us. The pleasures of the world were too tantalizing for them to give up.

There are many people in life that follow this same pattern. It’s devastating, heartbreaking, and a warning to us all. We ought to take heed to Pauls warning to Timothy in his first letter to him, “Guard your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them…”

In the end, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, fix your eyes upon Jesus. He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:1-2). He ran his race before us, as an example to us, that we may persevere in our faith to the end.

Demas is an example of what can happen even to those who diligently serve to advance the gospel.

Demas is a warning to us all.

Don’t let a love for the world draw you away.

Don’t let the pleasures of this age strip you of the inheritance that is assured through the work of Christ.

Don’t be a Demas.

First Things

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