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A View from the Altar / If one died for all, then all were dead.
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If one died for all, then all were dead.

Paul reasoned on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for all mankind that all mankind is under the judgment of God. (2 Cor 5:14)  This says something important about evangelism and the Christian life.

The success of some of the industrial-scale megachurches has made it popular to preach Christ as the one who can “meet people’s needs.”  Sometimes this is phrased as his meeting their felt needs, which tends to focus the attention on feelings and emotions.  So Christ is offered not as the Savior from damnation but as the friend for the lonely or a source of calm for a stormy marriage.  In a psychologized example I’ve actually seen in my town, Jesus is the one who can round out your particular set of personality traits, making you really special.

The Bible nowhere indicates Jesus came to support your self-actualization, and the needs-management of Dr. Maslow forms no part of God’s eternal plan of salvation.  The basic truth about the advent of Christ is expressed in the text above, if one died for all, then all were dead.  By “dead,” Paul means the judgment of God which John describes as “second death” (Rev 20:15), everlasting punishment in the lake of fire enduring shame and contempt forever. (Dan 12:2)  He wanted believers never to forget that we were all “children of wrath” (Eph 2:1) which is a first century Jewish way of saying that we were condemned to the utmost.  The Bible uses arrestingly harsh language to describe the fate of those who fall short: damnation (Mark 16:16), unquenchable fire (Lk 3:17), tormented in flame and sulfur (Rev 14:10 ESV), the mist of darkness forever (2 Pe 2:17).

So when Jesus was nailed to a cross and hanged till he was dead, it was for the purpose of delivering us from a judgement so great that language itself is overtaxed to express it.  The modern tendency to minimize or ignore judgment misunderstands Calvary by placing the death of Christ on the same scale with the emotional discontent of ordinary Americans who are employed, clothed, housed, well fed, but feeling unhappy about something.  Whatever’s making you pout, talk to Jesus about it, and maybe he’ll clear it up.  In the more crass and wretched versions of this, Jesus came to restore physical health and make you rich.

A small view of the reason for Calvary begets a small response to it.  If people gain the impression that Jesus came to touch up the edges of a life in fair condition, then they tend to think he’s no longer necessary once they’re feeling better.  So, once the marriage is improved or the emotions of gloom are dispelled, they’re basically done with their Christian commitment.  Everything after that is optional.

But again, the Bible says Christ died for all so that those who then live would live not for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again.  (2 Cor 5:15)  Elsewhere he expresses it in stronger language, “You are not your own, for you are bought with a price.”  (1 Cor 6:19-20)  In the Gospel as originally framed by the Master, receiving his salvation minus his Lordship was simply not one of the options.  People who lived in a society which featured both slavery and public execution had no difficulty understanding all the ramifications of redemption.  In our society which practices neither, we don’t quite get it when the preacher says we’re condemned by our sins and redeemed to become servants of Christ.  So deep is the misunderstanding that whole movements of Christian preachers have staked out theological positions based on a failure to weigh the biblical words of God’s judgment on sin and the basic nature of what it means to be redeemed out of that judgment.

Believers should reject evangelism that bypasses law and judgment for the simple reason that souls “converted” by an incomplete Gospel may not be converted at all.  Nobody should marvel when misbegotten converts are indistinguishable from the heathen.  When unbelievers live mostly for their own pleasure and fulfillment, they at least have the virtue of being honest about it.  Too much of the Christian life has been allowed to degenerate into the same basic philosophy through weak preaching and the misguided appeal of a softened Gospel.

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