Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Atonement – an eye for an eye

Bible Readings

  • Leviticus 24:10-23
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-21
  • Matthew 5:38

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

It took me many years to work out what “brotherly love” meant.  Our household, like many others I suppose, represented your typical family where brothers got stuck into one another – love between brothers was not always portrayed.  Later in life, I worked it out that sin was part of our daily life—but we still loved one another.  And it is almost if I can still hear Mom’s rebuke, that is when things got a bit hot, “Do not repay evil with evil!”

Even a word from the Bible sometimes did not help you to knew that you had a case against your brother.  You just felt you wanted justice.

Then one day I read this passage in the Bible:  eye for an eye, hand for hand, foot for foot.  I had my verse.  I had grounds for retaliation and revenge!

In preparation for this sermon, I read quite a few commentaries.  When it comes to this particular verse some of them just skip it.  There was one who argued that this verse, and other places in the Bible where it is mentioned, is the most embarrassing in the Bible and should be removed, or not referred to at all.

I beg to differ.  It is my clear conviction that this verse underlies the reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While reading through the Scriptures and finding this verse in Exodus 21:23-24, I wrote:

This principle, I believe, lies behind the cross of Christ. He bore the punishment of God on all harm and injustice in his Person to satisfy the righteousness of God. 

Justice, not retaliation! 

Study the paragraph of Deuteronomy, and you will know that the setting is that of disputes in a court of law.  There is no hint of personal retaliation or vindictiveness.  

I am the Lord your God

Above and over all the regulations and case laws that Moses gave to the people of the Lord, stood the Ten Commandments.  The top line reads, “I am the Lord your God.” No less than 76 times do we read this in the first five books of the Bible.  God has a claim on his people, and his people were different, living under a different law, and were saved from slavery to be the possession of the Lord, their God.  

The very fact that Deuteronomy 19:15-21 indeed starts with how do deal with blasphemy indicates that God demanded that he who blasphemes must pay restitution to the Lord who is jealous about how his Name is used.  God requires and righteousness from the person who blasphemes his Name.

When it comes to the second table of the love which speaks about the love for the neighbour, God’s people were driven by the first table, which is the love for God and God’s love for them.  All relationships between the people of God stood under the overarching principle of love.  One would honour your father and mother because God loves you and them, He gave them to you, they love Him, and you love Him.  The same applies to adultery, stealing, and lying in court:  God loves me, I must love Him; He loves my neighbour, and I must love my neighbour.

Sin distorts justice

So when we go back to Deuteronomy 19 these principles are assumed – but sinful nature gets in the way:  people lie, justice is perverted, and retaliation becomes a reality.  They needed priests, judges, a thorough investigation and a verdict.

Sin makes life impossible.  We hate, lie, steal, and covet.  We know the law, and yet we trespass; we need a judge, we need a verdict, we need justice, we need punishment.  We need an eye for an eye – not driven by retaliation or vindication, but because we need justice.

In the presence of the Lord

Have you ever wondered where the custom to take an oath and be sworn in as a witness in a court of Law comes from?  Where does “So help me God” come from?  

“our law (like that of most civilized nations) requires a witness to believe, not only that there are a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, but also that, by taking the oath, he imprecates upon himself, if his evidence is false” (Simon Greenleaf)

Witnesses, even in the day of Moses, must understand that truth is universal because God is omnipresent.  That’s why the witnesses of Deuteronomy stood “in the presence of the Lord.”  The priests and judges also sat in the presence of the Lord and had to measure out justice as God determined: they could only take the side of truth, not of the circumstance or the person.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

To stem the possibility of retaliation, and only seek justice, any person who felt that he was dealt with unjustly, could approach the judges and priests.  Then, even the quality and quantity of the witnesses were tested:  two or three who were there when the alleged injustice took place;  their statements had to be checked.  And if it is proved that the witness is corrupt, what he wanted to be done to the person charged, would be done to him.

Punishment fits the Crime

Until very recently this was a principle accepted by the courts.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.  Justice demands that the penalty for a crime should not inflict harsher punishment than the offence called for.  We know of no case in the Scripture where this law required an actual eye, foot, or teeth, but the compensation sought by a person for injustice against him could be measured out only in as far as he received injustice.

Justice good for the people of God

“You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid. and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20)

Much can be said about punishment dished out by courts in our days, but the fact is many law-breakers do not fear the law, and citizens, in general, have not much respect for the law, purely because the penalty does not fit the crime.  It is wrong to try to get rid of a cat by putting it in a rubbish bin, but if you did, and you get caught it, your punishment could be harsher than someone who raped an elderly person, or even killed a partner or killed an unborn baby.  Our law system does not necessarily ask what is morally right; it is only concerned about what is legally acceptable.

God instituted the law of “eye for an eye, foot for foot, tooth for tooth and life for life” to be an example of justice; it was meant to be a deterrent.  It was not “correctional” as we have it these days; it was exemplary punishment.

God’s righteousness demands justice

Whoever thinks this verse in the Bible is an embarrassment or thinks it gives every individual to exercise personal retaliation, has it wrong.  The only principle laid down here is that of justice.  Fact is, God’s righteousness demands justice.  This principle helps us to understand the cross and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are all sinners

The Bible is clear about our position before God:  “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Listen to Isaiah 59:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity…They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched…Their deeds are evil deeds…Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways… there is no justice in their paths… So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us… Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes… among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2–10, NIV)

All the sins mentioned here go back to the Law of God, and as such to the paragraph in Deuteronomy:  hands are stained with blood (guilty!); false lips (guilty!); no justice (guilty!); utter lies (guilty!); evil deeds (guilty!); violence (guilty!); evil schemes (guilty!).  The result?  Justice is far from us.  We are like dead corpses!

This is the picture Paul paints in his letter to the Ephesians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

God cannot turn a blind eye on sin

There is a principle in the Bible which may crush every sinner if it is not read in the full context of the cross of Christ.  It reads:

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished;… (Numbers 14:18, NIV)

God is merciful and abounding in love and forgiving sin, yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  It seems contradictory:  He forgives in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished!

This is true of the Bible message from the beginning to the end.  Anyone who wanted to approach the Lord on his own terms would be crushed.  Yes, God is merciful and forgiving, but He demanded a sacrifice:  the blood of lambs and bulls satisfied God’s judgment on sin in the Old Testament; without that, there was no forgiveness.

Point is, God does not turn a blind eye to sin.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.  We demand justice, but we need justice.  How can we expect justice if we are born in sin, and utterly corrupted by sin?  How can we ask for forgiveness if we are unforgiving?  Can God just say, “I forgive you”, without penalty on sin?  Would He still be holy if He did so?  Would He still be righteous if He let the unrighteousness off the hook without repentance and punishment?  Such a God I don’t want to worship.

Eye for eye, life for life

God solved our problem, not because we deserved it, and not because He just forgets sin.  He solved our problem by being just.  He punished in righteousness, not compromising his holiness.  He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord to be our mediator.

When Jesus walked this earth, He regularly told his disciples that He would be handed over in the hands of sinners. He also said to them that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).  The Pharisees thought they did well by demanding retaliation and finding avenge for wrongs done to them.  Christ, being the fulfilment of the law, now required more of his followers:

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, NKJV)

Where would they find this righteousness?  Only in Jesus Christ who made the Law full – He met every demand of the Law in full!  Our only hope to ever fulfil the righteousness of God is that we are clothed in Christ righteousness.  He is the One who gave an eye for an eye and a foot for a foot because we are not able to meet God’s demand for perfect atonement with Him.

When He was brought before them, all rules went out the window:  no proper witnesses, no truth in the allegations; lies conjured up by people in the street; an illegal court meeting in the middle of the night; bribes paid to witnesses.  They let robbers free to have Him crucified.  They had Him flogged even though they found no reason to do so. Even those who followed Him lied about Him and others deserted Him.  

When they nailed Him to the cross, He prayed to the Father that He would forgive them.  Then, He faced the righteousness of the Father:  justice called for an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth and life for life.  He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?”

Paul understood the cross and the Saviour and writes:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 21) NIV)

In Christ the righteousness of God is met:  He paid for our big sins, the small ones and everyone in between – an eye for an eye.  We might think it is not a big sin, but all our sins are an offence to the holiness of God and demand his righteous justice.  When Christ died in our place, the punishment fitted the crime;  if He did not do it, we had to do it – and the consequence would have been disastrous. 

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, Christ’s death on the cross is your vindication;  those who do not trust in Him for forgiveness will find the justice of God’s righteousness calling for retaliation: an eye for an eye, life for life.

Make sure that your life is saved in Christ who took God’s judgement and became your righteousness.  When He returns He will vindicate those who suffered under unbelieving and oppressing regimes, and his enemy will be punished.  All because of justice. 

Eye for eye, and life for life. 

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 April 2019

 

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Limited Atonement

Limited atonement—is it biblical?

[This and other articles can be found at http://www.gotquestions.org/limited-atonement.html]

Disclaimer:  By using this article from gotquestions.org does not imply that we necessarily agree with all expressions put forward on that site

(The contents of the original article is not altered, but we added some paragraph breaks and headings to help make a good article read easier.  Thanks to the original [unknown] author)

The “L” in TULIP

“Limited atonement” is a term that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the purpose for Christ’s death on the cross and what His life, death and resurrection accomplished. It is the third letter of the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to explain what are known as the five points of Calvinism, also known as the doctrines of grace.

The doctrine of limited atonement is clearly the most controversial and maybe even the most misunderstood of all the doctrines of grace. Because the name can confuse people and cause them to have wrong ideas about what is meant, some people prefer to use terms like “particular redemption,” “definite redemption,” “actual atonement,” or “intentional atonement.” These terms correctly focus on the fact that the Bible reveals Jesus’ death on the cross was intentional and had a definite purpose that it succeeded in accomplishing.

Yet, like all of the doctrines of grace, what is important is not the name that is assigned to the doctrine but how accurately the doctrine summarizes what the Bible teaches about the nature and purpose of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Atonement with a purpose

The doctrine of limited atonement affirms that the Bible teaches Christ’s atoning work on the cross was done with a definite purpose in mind—to redeem for God people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 5:9). Jesus died, according to Matthew 1:21, to “save His people from their sins.”

This truth is seen in many passages throughout Scripture.

  • In John 10:15, we see that He lays “down His life for the sheep.” Who are the sheep? They are the people chosen by God from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
  • These are the same ones Jesus said were given to Him by the Father in order that He would fulfil the Father’s will by losing none of them and by raising all of them up in the last day (John 6:37-40).
  • The truth that Jesus came for this specific reason is seen in both the Old and New Testaments. One of the greatest passages on the atonement in the Old Testament isIsaiah 53. In this passage alone, we see that He was “stricken for the transgression of God’s people” (Isaiah 53:8); that He would “justify many” because “He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11); and that He indeed “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12).

These verses and many others talk about an atonement that was specific in whom it covered (God’s people), was substitutionary in nature (He actually bore their sins on the cross), and actually accomplished what God intended it to do (justify many). Clearly, here is a picture of an intentional, definite atonement.

Christ died not simply to make justification a possibility but to actually justify those He died for. He died to save them, not to make them save-able.

Substitutionary atonement

The doctrine of limited atonement also recognizes that the Bible teaches Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary atonement for sins.

Many theologians use the word “vicarious” to describe Christ’s atonement. This word means “acting on behalf of” or “representing another” and is used to describe “something performed or suffered by one person with the results accruing to the benefit or advantage of another.”

The vicarious atonement of Christ means He was acting as a representative for a specific group of people (the elect) who would receive a direct benefit (salvation) as the result of His death. This concept is clearly seen in 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“He (God the Father) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

If Jesus actually stood in my place and bore my sin on the cross as the Bible teaches, then I can never be punished for that sin. In order for Christ’s atonement to truly be a substitutionary or vicarious atonement, then it must actually secure a real salvation for all for whom Christ died.

If the atonement only makes salvation a possibility, then it cannot be a vicarious atonement.

If Christ acted as a real and true substitute for those for whom He died, then all for whom He died will be saved. To say that Christ died a vicarious death in the place of all sinners but that not all sinners will be saved is a contradiction

Other words for atonement

Four different words or aspects of the atonement are clearly seen in Scripture, and each one helps us understand the nature and extent of the atonement. These four words are ransom, reconciliation, propitiation and substitute. These four aspects of Christ’s atonement all speak of Christ as having actually accomplished something in His death. A study of these four terms in their biblical contexts leads to the obvious conclusion that one cannot hold to a true universal atonement without also requiring universal salvation.

If one holds to an unlimited atonement while denying universal salvation, one ends up with

  • a redemption that leaves men not totally free or actually redeemed,
  • a reconciliation that leaves men still estranged from God,
  • a propitiation that leaves men still under the wrath of God, and
  • a substitutionary death that still makes the sinner himself help pay the debt of his sin.

All of these aspects of the atoning work of Christ then become nothing more than a possibility that relies upon man to make them a reality.

What the bible teaches

But that is not what the Bible teaches.

  • It teaches that those who are redeemed by Christ are truly free and their debt has been fully paid.
  • It teaches that those who are reconciled to God are actually reconciled and the wall of separation that existed between them and God has been torn down (Colossians 2:14).
  • It teaches that Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice that fully satisfied the wrath of God.
  • It also teaches that Christ was indeed a substitute, a kinsmen redeemer, who acted in place of and on behalf of His people. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and the Greek word translated “finished” isteleō, which was used to indicate that a debt had been paid in full. And that is exactly what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

Misunderstandings

Limited atonement lessens the value of the atonement of Christ

One common misunderstanding about the doctrine of limited atonement is that this view somehow lessens or limits the value of the atonement of Christ. Yet exactly the opposite is true.

Limited atonement correctly recognizes that Christ’s death was of infinite value and lacking in nothing. In fact, it is of such value that, had God so willed, Christ’s death could have saved every member of the human race. Christ would not have had to suffer any more or do anything different to save every human who ever lived than He did in securing the salvation of the elect. But that was not God’s purpose in sending Christ to the cross.

God’s purpose in the atonement was that Jesus would secure forever the salvation of those the Father had given to Him (Hebrews 7:25).

Therefore, while Christ’s atonement was limited in its intent or purpose, it was unlimited in its power.

Limited atonement lessens the love of God for humanity

Another common misunderstanding about the doctrine of limited atonement is that it somehow lessens or diminishes the love of God for humanity.

Yet, again, exactly the opposite is true. Of all of the doctrines of grace, the doctrine of limited atonement, when correctly understood, magnifies the love of God; it does not diminish it.

Limited atonement reinforces the intensive love of God that is revealed in the Bible. God loves His people with a love that saves them from their sin, as opposed to the love of the unlimited atonement view that sees God’s love as being more general in nature.

In the unlimited atonement view, He loves everyone in general but saves no one in particular and, in fact, leaves the matter of their salvation up to them.

Which is more loving, a love that actually saves people or a love that makes salvation “possible” to those who are dead in trespasses and sins and unable to choose God?

Limited atonement and the free offer of the Gospel

One of the main arguments used against limited atonement is that, if Christ did not atone for the sins of everybody in the world and if God only intended to save the elect, how do you explain the numerous biblical passages that indicate the free offer of the gospel to “whosoever will come?” How can God offer salvation to all, including those whom He has not elected or foreordained to be saved? How can we understand the paradox that occurs because the Bible teaches God intends that only the elect will be saved, yet, on the other hand, the Bible also unequivocally declares that God freely and sincerely offers salvation to everyone who will believe? (Ezekiel 33:11Isaiah 45:2255:1Matthew 11:2823:372 Peter 3:9Revelation 22:17)

The solution to this paradox is simply an acknowledgment of all that the Bible teaches.

  • The call of the gospel is universal in the sense that anybody that hears it and believes in it will be saved.
  • Because everyone is dead in trespasses and sin, no one will believe the gospel and respond in faith unless God first makes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins alive (Ephesians 2:1-5).

The Bible teaches that “whosoever believes” will have eternal life and then explains why some believe and some don’t.

Limited atonement and “the world”

Another argument against limited atonement points to the passages in the Bible that speak of Christ’s atonement in a more general or unlimited sense. For example,

  • In1 John 2:2 John says that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world.”
  • Likewise, inJohn 4:42 Jesus is called the “Saviour of the world”, and
  • InJohn 1:29 is said to “take way the sin of the world.”
  • Other verses that seem to indicate an unlimited view of the atonement include2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “He died for all” and 1 Timothy 2:6: “He gave Himself a ransom for all” (although Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 say Christ came to “give His life a ransom for many”).

Those who believe in unlimited atonement use such verses to make the point that, if Christ died for all and takes away the sins of the world, then His atonement cannot be limited to only the elect.

However, these verses are easily reconciled with the many other verses that support the doctrine of limited atonement simply by recognizing that often the Bible uses the words “world” or “all” in a limited sense. They do not automatically mean “every individual in the entire world.” This is evident when just a few verses are considered:

  • InLuke 2:1 it is recorded that a “decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered,” and
  • Luke 2:3 says, “So all went to be registered everyone to his own city.” But, clearly, it is not talking about every individual in the whole world. Caesar’s decree did not apply to the Japanese, Chinese or countless other people throughout the world.
  • Similarly, the Pharisees, being dismayed at Jesus’ growing popularity said, “Look how the whole world has gone after Him!” Did every single person in the world follow Jesus? Or was the “world” limited to a small area of Palestine in which Jesus preached?

So, it should be readily apparent that the phrase “all” or “all the world” does not necessarily mean every individual. Understanding that basic fact allows one to consider each of these seemingly universal passages in their contexts, and, when that is done, it becomes apparent that they do not present any conflict with the doctrine of limited atonement.

Limited atonement hinders evangelism

Yet another argument against limited atonement is that it is a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel and to evangelism. Those that use this argument will say that if an evangelist cannot say, “Christ died for you,” then his effectiveness in presenting the gospel will be limited. Or they will say that, if only the elect will be saved, why should the gospel be preached at all?

Once again, these objections are easily dealt with. The gospel is to be preached to everyone because

  • it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16), and
  • it is the means that God has ordained by which the elect will be saved (Romans 10:14-17).

Also, the evangelist does not need to tell the unbeliever that “Christ died for your sins,” specifically. All he needs to proclaim is that Christ died to pay the penalty for sin and provide a way for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God. Believe in Him, and you will be saved.

The doctrines of grace, and specifically the doctrine of limited atonement, empower evangelism rather than hinder it. Embracing these wonderful biblical truths allows one to boldly and clearly declare the good news of the gospel, knowing that the power is not in our presentation of it or in the audience’s ability to understand it or desire to believe it, but, instead, rests solely upon an all-powerful God who has determined to save people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Problems with unlimited atonement

Who decides to limit or un-limit?

Belief in an unlimited atonement, on the other hand, presents many logical and biblical problems. First of all, if the atonement was truly unlimited, then every person would be saved as all of their sins, including the sin of unbelief, would have been paid for by Christ on the cross. However, such universalism is clearly unbiblical, as the Bible is very clear that not all people are saved or will be saved. Therefore, both the Arminian and Calvinist believe in some sort of limited atonement.

  • The Arminian limits the effectiveness of the atonement in saying Christ died for all people but not all people will be saved. His view of the atonement limits its power as it only makes salvation a possibility and does not actually save anyone.
  • On the other hand, the Calvinist limits the intent of the atonement by stating that Christ’s atonement was for specific people (the elect) and that it completely secured the salvation of those whom He died for.

So, all Christians believe in some sort of limited atonement. The question, then, is not whether the Bible teaches a limited atonement but how or in what sense the atonement is limited.

  • Is the power of the atonement limited in that it only makes salvation a possibility, or is its power to save unlimited and it actually results in the salvation of those whom God intended to save (the elect, His sheep)?
  • Does God do the limiting, or does man? Does God’s sovereign grace and purpose dictate the ultimate success or failure of the redemptive work of Christ, or does the will of man decide whether God’s intentions and purposes will be realized?
Is salvation only potentially possible?

A major problem with unlimited atonement is that is makes redemption merely a potential or hypothetical act.  An unlimited atonement means that Christ’s sacrifice is not effectual until the sinner does his part in believing. In this view, the sinner’s faith is the determining factor as to whether Christ’s atonement actually accomplishes anything.

If the doctrine of unlimited atonement is true, then it has Christ dying for people the Father knew would not be saved and has Christ paying the penalty for the sins of people who would also have to pay the penalty for the same sin. In effect, it makes God unjust.

Either God punishes people for the sins that Christ atoned for, or Christ’s atonement was somehow lacking in that it does not sufficiently cover all the sins of those for whom He died.

What about God’s justice?

The problem with this view becomes even clearer when one considers that at the time Christ died on the cross there were already sinners that had died who will face the wrath of God in hell for their sin. Logically, it makes no sense for God the Father to have Christ atone for the sins of people who were already suffering the wrath of God for their sin. Where is the justice in punishing Christ for the sins of those that were already being punished for their sins? Again, this also shows that an unlimited atonement cannot be a vicarious, substitutionary atonement.

What about God’s righteousness?

Still another problem with an unlimited view of the atonement is that it demeans the righteousness of God and destroys the grounds of a believer’s assurance. An important aspect of a believer’s assurance is that God is righteous and that He will not nor cannot punish sin twice. Therefore, the sin that is covered by Christ’s blood can never be charged to the sinner’s account. Yet that is what a universal atonement leads to. Christ is punished for the sins of those that are not saved, and then they are also punished in hell for the same sins.

Can one ever be sure of salvation?

Unlimited atonement says that, while Christ does a great deal to bring salvation to His people, His death on the cross did not actually secure that salvation for anyone. Christ’s death is not sufficient in and of itself to save lost people, and, in order for His atoning work to be effective, there is a requirement that sinners themselves must meet. That requirement is faith. For man to be saved, he must add his faith to Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

Therefore, the effectiveness of the atonement is limited by man’s faith or lack thereof.

On the other hand, limited atonement believes that Christ’s death and resurrection actually secures the salvation of His people. While God does require faith of His people, Christ’s death even paid for the sin of our unbelief, and, therefore, His death meets all requirements for our salvation and provides everything necessary to secure the salvation of God’s people including the faith to believe. That is true unconditional love, a salvation that is by grace alone in Christ alone.

Christ plus nothing equals salvation—an atonement so sufficient that it secures everything necessary for salvation, including the faith that God gives us to believe (Ephesians 2:8).

Conclusion

Limited atonement, like all of the doctrines of grace, upholds and glorifies the unity of the triune Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit all work in unison for the purpose of salvation. These doctrines build upon one another.

The doctrine of total depravity establishes what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of unregenerate man and leaves one with the question “Who can be saved?” The doctrine of unconditional election then answers the question by declaring God’s sovereign choice in choosing to save people despite their depravity and based solely on God’s sovereign choice to redeem for Himself people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Next, the doctrine of limited atonement explains how God can be perfectly just and yet redeem those sinful people and reconcile them to Himself. The only solution to the depravity of man was for God to provide a Redeemer who would act as their substitute and suffer the wrath of God for their sins. He did this in the death of Christ, who, having been crucified, completely and totally “canceled out the certificate of debt…having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

That leads to another question: how can a spiritually dead sinner who is hostile to God have faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross? That question is answered by the doctrine of grace that is known as irresistible grace, the “I” in the acronym TULIP.

Towards the cross

Eye for eye – God’s demand for justice

 

Scripture Readings

  • 2Corinthians 5:11-6:2
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-21

Introduction

Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

It took me many years to work out what “brotherly love” meant.  Our household, like many others I suppose, represented your typical family where brothers got stuck into one another – and it did not always portray love between brothers.  Later in life I worked it out that sin was part of our daily life – but we still loved one another.  And it is almost if I can still hear Mom’s rebuke, that was when things got a bit hot, “Do not repay evil with evil!

Even a word from the Bible sometimes did not help when you knew that you had a case against your brother.  You just felt you wanted justice.

Then one day I read this passage in the Bible: “eye for and eye, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  I had my verse.  I had grounds for retaliation and revenge!

But is this the meaning of the verse?

In preparation for this sermon I read quite a few commentaries.  When it comes to this particular verse some of them just skip it.  There was one who argued that this verse, and the other places in the Bible where it is mentioned, is the most embarrassing in the Bible and should be removed, or not referred to at all.

I beg to differ.  It is my clear conviction that this verse underlies the reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Whilst reading this verse in Exodus 21:23-24, I wrote a comment:

This principle, I believe, lies behind the cross of Christ. He bore the punishment of God on all harm and injustice in his Person to satisfy the righteousness of God. 

Justice, not retaliation

Study the paragraph of Deuteronomy, and you will know that the setting is that of disputes in a court of law.  There is no hint of personal retaliation or vindictiveness.

I am the Lord your God

Above and over all the regulations and case laws that Moses gave to the people of the Lord, stood the Ten Commandments.  The top line reads, “I am the Lord your God.” No less than 76 times do we read this in the first five books of the Bible.  God has a claim on his people, and his people were different, living under a different law, and were saved from slavery to be the possession of the Lord, their God.

When it comes to the second table it speaks about the love for the neighbour: God’s people was driven by the first table, which is the love for God and God’s love for them.  All relationships between the people of God stood under the overarching principle of love.  One would honour your father and mother because God loves them, gave them to you, they love Him and you love Him.  One would not murder another person, because God loves him, he loves God and you love him.  The same applies to adultery, stealing, and lying in court:  God loves me, I love Him; He loves my neighbour and I should love my neighbour.

Sin distorts justice

So when we go back to Deuteronomy 19 these principles are assumed – but sinful nature gets in the way:  people do lie, justice is perverted and retaliation becomes a reality.  They needed priests, judges, a thorough investigation and a verdict.

Sin makes life difficult.  We hate, lie, steal, and covet.  We know the law, and yet we trespass; we need a judge, we need a verdict, we need justice,we need punishment.  We need and eye for an eye – not driven by retaliation or vindication, but because we need justice.

In the presence of the Lord

Ever wondered where the custom to take an oath and be sworn in as witness in a court of Law comes from?  Where does “So help me God” come from?

“our law (like that of most civilized nations) requires a witness to believe, not only that there is a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, but also that, by taking the oath, he imprecates upon himself, if his evidence is false” (Simon Greenleaf)

Witnesses, even in the day of Moses, had to understand that truth is universal, because God is omnipresent.  That’s why the witnesses of Deuteronomy stood “in the presence of the Lord.”  The priests and judges also sat in the presence of the Lord and had to measure out justice as God determined: they could only take the side of truth, not of the circumstance or the person.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

To stem the possibility of retaliation, and only seek justice, any person who felt that he was dealt with unjustly, could approach the judges and priests.  Then, even the quality and quantity of the witnesses were tested:  two or three who were there when the alleged injustice took place;  their statements had to be tested as the truth.  And if it is proved that the witness is corrupt, what he wanted to be done to the person charged, would be done to him.

Punishment fits the Crime

Until very recently this was a principle accepted by the courts.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot and life for life.  Justice demands that the penalty for a crime should not inflict harsher punishment than the crime called for.  We know of no case in the Scripture where this law demanded an actual eye, foot, or teeth, but the compensation sought by a person for injustice against him could be measured out only in as far as he received injustice.

Justice good for the people of God

“You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid. and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20)

Much can be said about punishment dished out be courts in our days, but fact is many law-breakers do not fear the law, and citizens in general have not much respect for the law, purely because the penalty does not fit the crime.  It is wrong to try to get rid of a cat by putting it in a rubbish bin, but if you did and you get caught it, your punishment could be harsher that someone who raped and elderly person, or even killed a partner.  We do not even mention injustices which might be legal, but still horribly wrong:  think of abortions!

God instituted the law of eye for eye, foot for foot, tooth for tooth and life for life to be an example of justice; it was meant to be a deterrent.  It was not “correctional” as we have it these days; it was exemplary punishment.

God’s righteousness demands justice

Whoever thought this verse in the Bible is an embarrassment, or thought it gives every individual to exercise personal retaliation, has it wrong.  The only principle laid down here is that of justice.  Fact is, God’s righteousness demands justice.  This principle helps us to understand the cross and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

God’s righteousness and the cross

We are all sinners

The Bible is clear about our position before God:  “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Listen to Isaiah 59:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2–10, NIV)

All the sins mentioned here goes back to the Law of God, and as such, to the paragraph in Deuteronomy:  hands are stained with blood (guilty!); false lips (guilty!); no justice (guilty!); utter lies (guilty!); evil deeds (guilty!); violence (guilty!); evil schemes (guilty!).  The result?  Justice is far from us.  We are like dead!

This is the picture Paul paints in his letter to the Ephesians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

God cannot turn a blind eye on sin

There is a principle in the Bible which may crush every sinner if it is not read in the full context of the cross of Christ.  It reads:

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:18–19, NIV)

God is merciful and abounding in love and forgiving sin, yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  It seems contradictory:  He forgives in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished!

This is true of the Bible message from the beginning to end.  Anyone who wanted to approach the Lord on his own terms would be crushed.  Yes, God is merciful and forgiving, but He demanded that a sacrifice be brought:  the blood of lambs and bulls satisfied God’s judgment on sin in the Old Testament; without that there was no forgiveness.

God does not turn a blind eye to sin

Point is, God does not turn a blind eye to sin.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.  We demand justice, but we need justice.  How can we demand justice if we are born in sin, and utterly corrupted by sin?  How can we ask for forgiveness if we are unforgiving?  Can God just say, “I forgive you”, without penalty on sin?  Would He still be holy if He did so?  Would He still be righteous if He let the unrighteousness off the hook without repentance and punishment?  Such a God I don’t want to worship.

Eye for eye, life for life

God solved our problem, not because we deserved it, and not because He just forgives or overlooks sin.  He solved our problem by being just.  He punished in righteousness, not compromising his holiness.  He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord to be our mediator.

When Jesus walked this earth He constantly referred to the fact that He would be handed over in the hands of sinners.  When He was brought before them, all rules of justice went out the window:  no proper witnesses, no truth in the allegations; lies conjured up by people off the street; an illegal court meeting in the middle of the night; bribes paid to witnesses.  They let robbers free to have Him crucified.  They had Him flogged even though they found no reason to do so. Even those who followed Him, lied about Him (Peter) and others deserted Him (the disciples).

When they nailed Him to the cross, He prayed to the Father that He would forgive them.  Then, He faced the righteousness of the Father:  justice called for eye for eye, tooth for tooth and life for life.  He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?

Paul understood the cross and the Saviour and writes:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 21) NIV)

In Christ the righteousness of God is met:  He paid for our big sins, the small ones and every one in between – eye for eye.  We might think it is not a big sin, but all our sins are an offence to the holiness of God and demands his righteous justice.  When Christ died in our place, the punishment fitted the crime, though He did not deserve it;  if He did not do it, we needed to do it – and the consequence would have been disastrous, because we are God’s enemies.

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, Christ’s death on the cross is your vindication;  those who do not trust in Him for forgiveness will find the justice of God’s righteousness calling for retaliation: eye for eye, life for life.

Make sure that your life is save in Christ who took God’s judgement and became your righteousness.  When He returns He will vindicated those who suffered under unbelieving and oppressing regimes; and his enemy will be punished.  All because of justice.  Eye for eye, and life for life.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 13 April 2014

 

Doing Good (2)

Doing good can destroy the purpose of grace

Scripture Readings

  • Micah 6:6-8
  • Galatians 3:1-23

 Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters,

A dear friend of ours told me about a neighbour, and old man, sick and preparing himself for his last days.  He asked my friend to visit him because he wanted to discuss things thing with.  The two of them sat on the back verandah enjoying a coffee.  Pointing with his walking stick to a clump of hard African torn bushes, right in the midst of an outcrop of rocks, the old man said to my friend, “That’s where I want to be buried.”

Trying to be diplomatic and gentle, my friend replied, “It’s going to be hard to dig a grave there seeing that it is rocky.”

The old fella turned towards him and calmly said, “I know.  I worked it all out.  If you look carefully, you will notice they will not get the hearse even close to it, too.  They will have to carry me for a good hundred yards.”

“Yes, that was something else I thought I’d point out,” my friend observed.

“That’s the whole point.  I have only two sons.  They are going to inherit the farm and everything else I have.  I hardly see them since they went to university, so I figured they are not going to get everything for nothing; they are going to work for it!”

Surely, they were going to work hard for their gift.

When Paul, the good man who did everything right, discovered that his self-righteousness was an offense to the cross of Christ, God showed him mercy.  God did so not because he led a good life; God did so because his justice is just.

God’s justice is just, because it is met by the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  He paid the complete price to save sinner.  He came into this world to save sinners.  That was his mission; and that mission He accomplished.  Not one sinner, predestined from all eternity in Him, will be lost on the day of the return of Christ when He will bring to the Father all who was ordained to be saved.

We learn from the Scriptures that we are saved by grace, not by good works. Our righteousness before God is not what we achieved by good works in order to be saved, but what Christ purchased for us.

Galatians – fall from grace

Not long after Paul planted the church in Galatia, false preachers, mainly those with a Jewish background, introduced a different Gospel to the congregation.  Yes, they probably preached a Gospel of salvation by grace, but they added the ceremonial law to it, and more specifically, the circumcision.  In other words, they preached in order to be a good Christian you must be a good Jew first.

The Galatian church was swept away from grace.  Paul begins his letter with these words:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7)

The Gospel message of the Bile is grace and grace alone. GracePlus, Paul says, is a different Gospel – and a different Gospel is no Gospel at all: it is a perversion of the Gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–7, NIV)  

The true Gospel of grace

For the truth of this gospel of grace and grace alone, which is not a righteousness through works of the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, Paul also opposed Peter when Peter for a moment was timid in living out this gospel of grace alone. 

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Galatians 2:14, NIV)

The argument which follows in chapter three is exactly to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was an end to the ceremonial law.  Further, Christ’s obedience to death was also the righteousness which we can never achieve, but which is ours by faith in Christ.  When He became the accursed who hanged on the tree, He not only took our transgressions upon Him to deal with our sins once and for all, but He also fulfilled the law to the finest of detail to became our righteousness before God.

By faith in Him we become children of the promise, children of grace, children of the covenant.  Because in Christ the promises to Abraham the he would be a blessing to all nations was fulfilled.  Paul writes:

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:8-9)

Paul then goes out of his way to demonstrate the fact that salvation is by faith and not by works.  The promise made to Abraham was made long before the law was given.  Abraham received the promises and believed it, and it was accredited to him as righteousness because he trusted and believed God.

For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Galatians 3:18)

The point in the Gospel of grace is this:  God gives it freely; one does not deserve it.  One cannot work it out by being good, and one cannot miss out on it because one is sinful.  The purpose of the Law was to not help us along in being good and working out our righteousness.  The purpose of the Law was:

… to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)

And if we don’t understand this clearly and try do still work out our own righteousness we are like that those boys digging between the rocks and carrying the coffin of their father all the way there to get their inheritance.  The Good News is this:

God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons… Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

The good works of the slave

The Galatians fell for what seemed so good sounding.  It looked so good on the surface.  Do these things, and be good and you will be saved.

O, this is the Gospel so many people hear and want to hear.  But Paul is clear about such a Gospel.  He says:

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. (Galatians 4:9-10)

Yes, there are those who live in fear of God’s judgement because they just want to comply with the law – and what will happen if the return of Christ catches the on the wrong moment!  Such people are slaves.  They are children of the first principles of this world as we see it in Israel before the cross of Christ.  It remains a DIY religion to gain a self-righteousness before God.  For such there is no peace, for even the best of these may need to spend some time in purgatory to gain the perfect righteousness.  What pitiful Gospel!

Good works of the son

But there is the Gospel speaking of sons.  Paul uses an allegory in speaking of the two women, Hagar and Sarah.  Hagar produces an offspring of slaves who by own effort want to attain their own righteousness.  But, he says:

Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:30-31)

Children born of the free woman live lives driven and controlled by the Spirit.  He says:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit?  Of course, Jesus Himself said that the Spirit will come to teach us all things concerning Christ.  Christ set us free from sin, but this freedom is not a freedom to do as we wish, because there is a war raging in our minds.  What is this war about?

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)

The fruit of the Spirit is:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Now the good works of the son, as opposed to the good works of the slave (or the good works of the person who is not saved by grace), and who is still trying to achieve an own righteousness, as opposed by the person who found salvation in Christ is defined.  And my dear brother and sister, listen carefully here, because this is extremely important:  the good works of the sons is what follows faith in Christ Jesus.  Listen to this verse:

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24-25)

When did they crucify the flesh?  Important!  When by faith they believed that Christ died for them.  By faith they are united with Him.  His death became their death;  His resurrection became their resurrection; His new life by faith became their new life.  That’s why they were given the Spirit of God.  Paul writes about this reality when he says:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Good works

Now, this crucifying of the flesh is an ongoing process too – sanctification:

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

It has expression in the way we live to fulfil the law of love. Paul writes:

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

The good deeds of the law, as we who are free in Christ, should live it out is to love God and our neighbour.  Galatians 6 spells it out.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

It talks about humility:

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)

We cannot see good works as an option; it is the essence of our Christian life.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9)

It should be seen in our actions towards one another as Christians, but also towards those who still not believe:

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:10)

Conclusion

Did the old fellow really love his sons to make them work for their inheritance? No!  Did the sons really love their father to dig his grave and carry him to his last resting place?  No!  If the father loved the sons, he would have given them the inheritance as a gift; if the sons loved their father, they would buried him regardless if there was an inheritance or not.  Fact is, true fathers and true sons love one another long before any one needs to be buried!

But our heavenly Father loved us by giving us his only Son.  The good news is we don’t need to dig his grave – He doesn’t need one:  He conquered death in our place, to give us salvation as a gift.

What really counts?

For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

And this new creation, my brother and sister, is what we receive by the grace of God by faith in Christ alone.  And it calls us to good works in His Name.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 March 2014