All Sufficient Christ (4)

Affirming the Reformed Distinctive

Having outlined the several aspects pertaining to the nature of Christ’s atonement (found here and here) we come now to address the heart of the Reformed distinctive, or that which separates our view from all other schools of thought.  To state it concisely, the biblical and Reformed doctrine is that God had a definite saving purpose in the mission of His Son, so that Jesus Christ was sent into the world – not merely to make the salvation of all men possible, nor simply to remove the legal obstacles which stood in the way of their full acceptance with God — that he certainly did.  

More specifically though, the satisfaction of Jesus Christ was designed to infallibly secure the total salvation of his own people (Matthew 1:21).  This affirmation is not just unique to the Reformed Faith; it is indispensable to the biblical doctrine.  In other words, the atonement of Jesus Christ was a purpose driven atonement.  It was for this reason our Savior said to his Father, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,” and again “that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him (John 17:4, 2).  The connection between the definite saving purpose of God, and the definite saving work of the Son cannot be denied.  Again and again we see these two points linked together.

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All Sufficient Christ (3)

The Applicability of the Atonement

In our previous post (found here) we saw that the design of the atonement should always be distinguished from the question of its inherent value.  Following the Hodges, moreover, we find that the same thing is true concerning its applicability.  But what exactly does the term “applicability” mean, and more importantly, what is the biblical basis for such an unfamiliar affirmation?

To begin with, the applicability of the atonement is an objective concept not to be confused with the subjective application of the atonement.  While the latter is particular, and therefore limited to the elect, the former is unlimited and therefore universal.  It may be helpful to point out that “applicability” simply means that the righteousness of Jesus Christ is able to be applied to every member of the human race.  It does not mean that it is, or ever will be so applied.  To conclude such would be to collapse the very categories we have labored so hard to distinguish.

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All Sufficient Christ (2)

Isolating the Question

For the most part it has been customary for Reformed theologians to isolate the design of the atonement from all other related considerations, including its nature.  This can be seen in the way Charles Hodge introduces the question in his Systematic Theology.  Speaking of its design he writes, “The question therefore, does not, in the first place, concern the nature of Christ’s work.”1

In similar terms Louis Berkhof affirms that there is a real sense in which the atonement can be objectively considered in itself apart from the redemptive purpose for which God provided it.  “The question with which we are concerned at this point is not whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men, since this is admitted by all.”2   In other words, there are two distinct categories of truth in the Atonement, and these categories should never be conflated.

In this second installment (you can find the first one herewe will consider the first of two important points regarding the nature of the atonement.

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All Sufficient Christ (1)

The Traditional Reformed Formula

Like every other doctrine central to the Christian Faith, the Atonement of Jesus Christ has been the subject of endless controversy and unnecessary confusion.  Questions about its nature, as well as its design, abound in every circle.  Even among the Reformed, while there is certainly a strong, common, and confessional consensus on the main points of the doctrine, there remains a diversity of opinion on matters intimately related.

One such matter is the validity of the Traditional Reformed Formula, used in reference to the question of those for whom Christ died.  Did Jesus die for the elect alone?  Or is there some sense in which it can be said that he died for all?  Historically, the Reformed have answered this question by saying that Christ died “sufficiently for all, but efficiently for the elect.”  And again, while not everybody agrees that this formula adequately represents the biblical doctrine, others of us have nonetheless come to embrace it as the only reasonable and satisfactory expression which can account for the whole of the biblical data.

Therefore, with this in mind, I plan to take several blog posts, to present the doctrine of the Atonement from a distinctly Reformed perspective.  And while the Reformed doctrine is not limited to the question of the Traditional Reformed Formula, it certainly cannot escape it.  As indicated above, when the time comes, I will seek to make the case for the total sufficiency of Jesus Christ for all men.  To lay the ground work for that discussion, I want to begin here by defining the proper categories.

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The Simplicity of God

He is Not Simplistic

When we talk about the simplicity of God, we do not mean to say that God is simplistic in the sense that there is nothing about Him which we do not understand.  This indeed would fly in the face of inherent limitations we have as creatures, because it implies that God is not ultimately incomprehensible.  But the Scriptures are clear; that which we know about God “we know in part,” only as those who “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12).  

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!  But the thunder of his power who can understand? (Job 26:14)

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The Spirituality of God

What’s the Difference?

In addition to His Unity, the Belgic Confession of Faith affirms that God is both simple and spiritual – (Art. 1).  At a first glance this may seem like theological redundancy, as if the Confession is merely saying the same thing twice.  But this is not the case.  Strictly speaking there are significant differences in what these descriptions involve, and therefore both are necessary for an overall understanding of what God is like.  In this installment we will examine one of these designations.  However, in the interest of beginning with what might be more familiar territory, we will take them in reverse order.

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The Unity of God

Beginning With God Himself

According to Jesus the first and greatest commandment is not to love God with all your heart.  For to love Him is to serve Him.  But all service to God is vanity apart from an accurate knowledge of Who He is.  Jesus was not commending the woman at the well when he said, ye worship ye know not what” (Jn. 4:22) and the apostle Paul did not endorse the service of the Unknown God” whom the Athenians ignorantly worshiped” (Acts 17:23).  Rather Paul declared plainly that all such devotion is superstition and idolatry.  Therefore when Jesus was asked by the scribe, Which is the first commandment of all?” he was careful to begin his answer in the right place. 

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. (Mk. 2:29-30) 

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