Did Jesus die for the sins of every person or only for the elect?

Stephen Nichols & 3 others
3 Min Read

NICHOLS: This question is helpful for me to think about because I, like many others, initially came to Christianity apart from a Reformed context. What sealed this debate in my thinking is the pronouncement, “It is finished.” That is the thing we have to reckon with when it comes to this question. Either Christ accomplished redemption on the cross and secured it, or He simply provided it and made it available. If the latter, we must add something to what Christ did on the cross for salvation to be effective. That was enough in my mind to answer this question.

THOMAS: For me, Augustus Toplady’s double justice argument is so convincing: “Just as God cannot twice demand, once at my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine.” Toplady was saying that if Jesus has fully endured the wrath that my sins deserve, then God has meted out justice upon His Son as my substitute and cannot demand that of me again on judgment day. In that sense, if Jesus died for everybody, then for those unbelievers who will be punished on the day of judgment, that sin is being punished twice. It was punished once in Jesus, and now it’s being punished again in the sinner’s life, which is double jeopardy.

HAMILTON: Undergirding the work of Christ is the holy concurrence of the Triune God in the work of Christ. What the Father has purposed, the Son has accomplished and the Spirit applies. If you posit anything else, you are proposing that there is a disjunction in the Holy Trinity. It’s the same as saying that the Father sent the Son to save everyone, and the Son died to save everyone, but the Holy Spirit chooses not to save everyone.

At the very heart of the work of Christ is a glorious, holy concert between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfecting the work of Christ. They perfect it in terms of the eternal counsel to save, the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, and the application by the Holy Spirit to all those given by the Father to the Son. That’s the glory, beauty, and symmetry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

SPROUL: It’s important to understand that the question has to do with the eternal design of God with respect to His plan of salvation. Did God plan, from all eternity, to save each and every human person in this world? If He did sovereignly and eternally plan to save each and every person in this world, then, unquestionably, every person in this world would be saved. But the New Testament screams to the contrary that not everybody is saved.

Did God fail in His ultimate design, in His plan for salvation? Did He merely have an idea to provide a possibility of redemption and then step back, wring His hands, pace up and down, and hope somebody might avail themselves of it? Did He leave it to our wills to make the final decision so that we have a doctrine of the atonement where it’s theoretically possible that no one would be saved?

God did more than just make it possible for salvation to occur—He made it certain. He had an eternal plan to save if for no other reason than for the glory of His Son. The only explanation I can give for being included in the kingdom of God is that we are the gifts that the Father gives to the Son so that He may see the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

The problem is that we wrestle every day with a concept of human strength and freedom that is utterly unbiblical. It is being inculcated, starting with kindergarten, in the Western world through humanism, which denies a fatal fall into sin. The idea of freedom means that I have the equal power to incline myself to the left or the right—I have no predilection. I’m not dead in sin, nor am I in bondage to it. But if it’s true that I am dead in sin and in bondage to it, the only way I’ll ever be rescued is if God takes the initiative and brings me safely home.

This is a transcript of Stephen Nichols’, Derek Thomas’, Ian Hamilton’s and R.C. Sproul’s answers given during our 2016 National Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.