The end of October approaches, and as we mark and celebrate the great Reformation, our heart’s desire and prayer should be for future historians to be able to describe it as the first reformation, as the small one. “Small” does not mean insignificant, but in this case it does mean early on. Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those of us who love Him. As we emphasize the five solas (as we should), let us exult in the one which is the true intersection of all of them — solus Christus.
Christ died for the world, and if we are to follow the apostle Paul’s argument, this means that we have an obligation to see that world differently. We are not to see the world as saved after it is saved in fact. We are called to see the world as saved in principle, beforehand, in the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. We should not see the world as saved when our eyes tell us it is all right for us to believe. Who hopes for what he already has? The world will be saved because we see Christ crucified and risen, and so we declare to the world what that means. What is it that overcomes the world? Is it not our faith?
The apostle tells us that how we see non-Christians is directly related to how we see Jesus (2 Cor. 5:16). We like to think that a high Christology and a low cosmology go together, but they do not. We like to think that a high Christology and a low anthropology go together, but they do not. New Age mystics and distorters notwithstanding, we worship a cosmic Christ. Externalists notwithstanding, we worship a personal, heart-felt Jesus.
“For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart” (2 Cor. 5:12).
We are constrained by the love of Christ, knowing that His was the kind of death that encompasses. If one died for all, then all for whom He died have also died. He died for them in their sins so that they might live for Him outside of their sins. He died and rose. How can anything be the same anymore?
Believing this to be the case, we are not permitted to understand any man “after the flesh.” There is a way of understanding humanity that does not take into account what Jesus did on the cross, and what He accomplished when He rose from the grave. That way of understanding humanity may call itself “realistic,” but how is it realistic to ignore the new creation? That way of understanding may point to the orthodox doctrine of total depravity (which is the orthodox and biblical doctrine), but how is it that we have come to believe that total depravity has more power to hold down Jesus than the stone tomb did? The fact that Jesus was buried in a stone tomb is a biblical doctrine also, but that was not the end of the story.
Yes, unregenerate mankind is totally depraved. Yes, it is true that we cannot autonomously contribute in any way to our own salvation. Yes, it is true that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But let us never preach the doctrine of total depravity without also declaring there has been a great earthquake, and that an angel of the Lord has rolled away the stone in front of that imposing doctrine.
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor. 5:16).
This is crazy talk, I know. But it is also biblical talk. This whole world, since the sin of Adam, has been nothing but one, vast, pole-to-pole boneyard. Whatever would Jesus do in a world like that? What could He possibly do that could transform a world like that? The gospel reply is that He could come back from the dead in it.
Billions of sinners, dead in their sins. Son of man, shall these bones live? Ah, sovereign Lord, you know. Son of man, prophesy to the bones. But Lord, bones can’t hear. Son of man, prophesy to the bones. But Lord, they are not paying any attention. Son of man, prophesy to the bones. But Lord, that’s not how I learned to do it in seminary. Son of man, prophesy to the bones. But Lord . . . but Lord . . .
To see men after the flesh is to see nothing but the bones.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The newness does not follow the gospel result, but precedes it. The newness calls new life into being. The gospel is not vindicated by conversions; conversions are vindicated and made possible their participation in the great cosmic conversion. We do not invite Jesus into our lives — down here in the boneyard. Jesus invites us into His life, and the whole world is invited.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
The ministry of reconciliation is based on the fact of the cosmic reconciliation. People reconciling with God does not create the ministry of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation brings the fact to those who have been reconciled and still need to be reconciled. What is so hard about building on the foundation that God has established? You have been reconciled; therefore, be reconciled.
Some may object that this dilutes the truth of definite atonement. Not in the slightest. All who were purchased for eternal salvation by Christ will in fact be eternally saved. Those who were not so purchased will not be. The point here is not that Christ died indiscriminately for every last man, whether elect or damned. The point is that Christ died for the world, and those who are excluded from Christ are excluded from that world — they are cast into the outer darkness. To be saved is to be saved into the new humanity. It is to be saved into the world.
But it further means that definite atonement is not synonymous with “tiny atonement.” The reality of definite atonement is seen in the specific numbers alloted to each tribe — 12,000 from each tribe, no more, no less. The majestic extent of definite atonement is seen when John turned and looked. What did he see? He saw a multitude that no man can number. How many will be saved? We can’t count that high. Look at the stars, Abraham. Use the Hubble telescope, Abraham. So shall your descendents be.
How will these things happen? What will bring it to pass? The glorious message of a glorious substitution will be declared and presented to every living creature. What shall we tell them? We should give them the message we we were told to give to them. We should prophesy to the bones.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).