I came across 2 Cor 5:14-15 today.
"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."
It seems to indicate that Christ had all of humanity in mind when He went to the cross. Is our position that the "all" refers only to the elect in this passage, or the whole human race?
Thanks for being the resident theologian.
Great question and thanks for asking!
Yes, there are a handful of passages like this that talk about Christ's death being for "all men" or for "all."
Of course, those who are not Reformed point to these passages right away to refute our view of the doctrine we call "limited atonement," that is to say, that Christ came purposefully to die to redeem His elect. This doctrine usually separates so-called four-point Calvinists from five-point Calvinists (and of course from Arminians).
In my view, we ought to understand these passages in one of several ways.
1. First, we ask who is the "all" in view? In the text you cited, a Reformed reader would first point out presence of quite a bit of "we" and "us" language in the chapter. This refers to Christians. "All" does not necessarily need to mean "all men who have ever been born," but can mean "all those being discussed currently in the context."
For instance, if we were to say, "I hope they all come tonight to our party," it is taken for granted that we mean all those on the invitation list. We don't mean all men ever born. If that were the case we probably would run out of food and seating rather quickly. If I say "Don't eat all the potato chips!" it is obvious that I am referring to the bag of chips currently on the table, not all the chips ever produced.
In everyday language, the context of our conversation determines the parameters of the word "all."
2. Secondly, in the passage you mentioned above, 2 Corinthians 5, we might suggest that the "all" specifically refers to all those who are saved. This seems likely to me since vs. 14 seems to limit the discussion to those who have "died" with Christ in some way and vs. 15 seems to point to all who "live not for themselves but for Him."
Personally, I can't see how those expressions would apply to unbelievers.
3. In some other passages, for instance John 12:32, we understand the word "all" to mean "all kinds" or "all classifications" (that is to say, every tribe, every nation, the rich, the poor etc.) and NOT all individuals, since if we were to take "all" otherwise, we would have to become advocates for universalism, and deny the reality of hell. The rest of the New Testament will not allow us to come to that conclusion.
4. Finally, keep in mind too, that while we who are Reformed believe that Jesus' death is effective and intended only for the elect, we do NOT deny that the Gospel offer is real, and saves whosoever will believe. It is not a fake or duplicitous offer to repent and be saved, but a true offer of saving grace.
Reformed people like to put it this way, "Jesus' death is sufficient for the whole world, but efficient for those who believe."
To send a question my way, go ahead and email me anytime!
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fl.