Securing Our Faith, II

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but also the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

- 1 John 2:1–2

We now consider some of the biblical data pertinent to particular redemption. Today’s passage is one text to which opponents of limited atonement point in order to deny it. Thus, we will begin with some verses that seem to argue against this doctrine.

First John 2:2 has perplexed many a Calvinist because the idea that Jesus is the propitiation for “the sins of the whole world” apparently teaches the Savior has made atonement for everyone without exception. However, this verse is not troublesome once we understand John is not explaining the intent of the atonement but is only repeating some basic Christian truths. Remember that in the early church, many Jews found it hard to believe that God would save the Gentiles. This verse addresses this problem, reminding us that the one who saves the Jews is the same one who saves the Gentiles. Jesus is the propitiation for both Jew and Gentile. The passage says nothing in favor of Him dying for every individual on earth.

So 1 John 2:2 merely tells us there is only one way of salvation. If anyone will be redeemed, he will be redeemed through Jesus, the only Savior (John 14:6). First Timothy 2:4 can be approached similarly. Verses 1–3 tells us the “all” in this passage means all kinds of people, not every individual. God desires some from every socio-economic class, ethnicity, and so on to be saved. He does not intend for Jesus to pay for the sins of everyone who has ever lived.

In addition to the general idea that the Creator will redeem only His people found in yesterday’s passages for further study, there are many places where Jesus affirms that He died only for the sake of His elect. In John 10:11, for example, we read that the “good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Some are sheep, and some are goats (Matt. 25:31–46), but Jesus died only to pay for the transgressions of the former. Paul tells us Jesus “gave himself up” for the church and not for those who do not serve him (Eph. 5:25). Likewise, the church of God, not the world, was obtained with His blood (Acts 20:28). Clearly then, both Jesus and His apostles understood Christ’s death was designed to atone for the sins of His people alone.

Coram Deo

One of the lessons we can learn from those who use passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 1 John 2:1–2 to deny particular redemption is the need to study passages in their context. If these texts are not read in light of their surrounding verses, we end up with one set of passages contradicting the clear teaching of Jesus in John 10:11. But when read in context, all of Scripture fits together to teach God’s truth in harmony. Pay close attention to context when you study the Bible.

Passages for Further Study

Jer. 31:10–14
Matt. 26:26–29
John 6:35–40
John 10:14–18

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