Reading the Classics – Redemption Accomplished and Applied

I’ve been reading John Murray’s classic work along with Tim Challies and several others. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read this entire book. The section for this week, however, I’ve referred back to several different times, because the extent of the atonement always seems to generate lots of questions (well, that’s putting it mildly). I poured over this chapter a few years back when preaching through the book of Hebrews stirred up this “controversy.” My message was simply entitled, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” During the message, I never once used the phrase “limited atonement” or even “particular redemption.” I simply walked through the passage, used the basic principles of exegesis, applied that in the exposition and preached that Jesus could not have died for all or all would be saved.

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Amazingly, there was only one person who asked to talk to me later that week about this message. He asked me point blank, “Do you really believe that?” My reply was, “Yes, I do; it’s right there in the text of Scripture.” That led us on a six-month long journey of discovery: discovery for me, that this man could not truly exegete a passage of Scripture, especially if it had to do with the atonement. For him, it was just “Jesus died for your sins and for the sins of the whole world.” When asked, what does that mean, it basically came down to the usual “We’re all savable.” In other words, Christ’s work on the cross only gives us potential, not reality. It’s all in our hands to make it real.

Murray, in chapter 4, gives, what I consider to be, an “iron-clad” argument for the particular effects of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Murray shows that the “all” or “whole world” passages cannot mean a literal “all” or “whole” otherwise you’re left with universalism. Following this, he uses two passage to show the necessity of the particular extent of redemption. The first passage is Romans 8.31-39. What a masterful display of basic exegesis without any word games or mind tricks.

The second is actual a group of passages that deal with the phrase “for those who have died in Christ.” This section “seals the deal” for me. If Christ died for all people, as mere potential, they cannot be said to be alive in Christ, for their resurrection in Christ is merely potential, not reality. And there is no one alive who is spiritually dead who can make themselves alive due to mere potential. It is only those for whom Christ died that are also alive in Christ because they have really died with Christ.

Then Murray goes to 1 John 2.2, a classic passage that most who disagree with this particular doctrinal teaching use. I was once at a Pastor’s Retreat years ago where this came up during a volleyball game. One pastor, a true “Five-Pointer” had made his case earlier in the day during the course of conversation. Another pastor, who was clearly “Arminian” in his theology took great exception to this discussion and kept referring to 1 John 2.2 as his only argument. He wouldn’t exposit it; he just kept citing it. During the volleyball game later that evening, these two men found themselves on opposite sides of the net in the middle of the front row. During the intense volleys that followed, the one would hammer the ball at his opponent and shout “1 John 2.2! 1 John 2.2!” If he couldn’t exegete his way out of the deal, he would pound his opponent into submission on the field of competition! Well, that has little to do with Murray’s discussion, but it shows the centrality of such a passage. Again, Murray, with his inimitable style, shows how this passage puts forth the clear scope, exclusiveness and perpetuity of Jesus’ propitiation.

Reading through Murray is a chore. It’s not light reading you can skim over as you lay down to sleep each night. But it brings great comfort and assurance as I read through it. There is consolation offered through Christ’s work on the cross precisely because it accomplished something real. If my salvation was merely potential awaiting my power to make it real, then I’d have no true confidence or assurance. Instead, I have a guarantee that I will be saved from the wrath which my sin deserves – in Christ alone. This is the glory of the cross.

The final short conclusion in Chapter 5 helps sum up where we’ve been so far. Far too many Christians want to talk about the crucifixion and their subsequent salvation in terms of their own experience – how it’s made them feel. Rather, we are to make Scripture our basis of assurance. The Bible is the norm for judging our salvation, our forgiveness and our assurance. Now, onward to the application of this wonderful news.

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One Response

  1. I always think it interesting how people get hooked on a particular doctrine and then “properly exegete” scripture (at least in their own mind) to confirm it.
    That is why we now have may thousands of denominations (divisions) in the church all believing they are right.
    Well good for you, now you can adequatley argue your precious doctrine against your brother and waste all your time and his proving how you are right and he is wrong. Well hallelujah. What an accomplishment. You still think you are right and he still thinks he is.
    It is the Spirit who will lead you into all truth……not the Bible and not Murray or any of your other idols.

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