Uncommon Grace
April 17, 2012, 12:46 pm
Filed under: Common Grace

written by Mark Mcculley

Those who teach that Christ died for everyone are profaning the blood of Christ. But these false teachers cannot change either the justice or the sovereign effectiveness of the cross, for even their false teaching has been ordained by the same God who designed the glorious death of Christ. It does not follow that we who believe the true gospel have no purpose or need to refute the false teaching. Our prayer is that we ourselves have been predestined to expose any and all attempts to make Christ’s death common.

Christ’s death is not common for every sinner, because Christ’s death does not have only an ordinary effect of making a salvation conditioned on what sinners do with grace. Because Christ’s death is not only about sovereignty but also about justice, because Christ’s death is about not only punishment but also about imputed guilt, Christ’s death has the uncommon result of entitling every elect person to all the benefits of salvation. Elect sinners might be somewhat wary of any talk of being entitled to anything, since we know that we are still always sinning, but it is simply boasting in Christ. if we think that our sinning somehow makes us any less entitled to all salvation blessings, then we will also falsely come to think that our not sinning will bring us extra rewards. If our sinning or not sinning comes into the equation, then what Christ did is not enough.

If common, not enough

Any false gospel which says that Christ died in common for every sinner but that not all these sinners receive a common salvation is logically saying that Christ’s death is not enough for any sinner. Not only logically, but in their existential experience, all those believing the false gospel are practical legalists. Whatever they may say or think, they sincerely believe that what Christ did is not enough and they think they need to get busy. This is the paradox: every self-righteous person who makes the death of Christ common also feels guilt for not doing more and better. Those who profane Christ’s death are objectively guilty before God, not simply because of what they feel or think about Christ, but because they are not in Christ. Only in Christ, and not in our lack of self-righteousness, do we find entitlement to all the blessings of salvation. God’s justice to Christ demands the salvation of all for whom Christ died. God’s justice to Christ is finally no different from God’s justice to all those God has chosen in Christ.

Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the One who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.” I want to look at this text rather carefully, not only because it has the idea of making the blood unclean, or profaning the sacred. This text is also one which is often used to teach a grace which is common to both elect and non-elect. It is used to teach that the new covenant can be broken, and that the covenant is bigger than election, and that grace is for more than the elect. The idea of common grace is that God has some grace for everybody, more grace for those in the covenant, and even more grace for the elect. This idea of common grace is not biblical.

I used to think that a person could somehow be right on the gospel but wrong on God offering to save sinners that God wanted to save in one way but didn’t want to in another way. But I am now seeing that this doubletalk is very much the same as saying that Christ died in common for everybody but that Christ also died with the extra intent to purchase the faith for the elect to meet a condition. Whether a person is looking to include in their gospel a return to the Jewish temple (the Hebrews context) or to include in their gospel a death of Christ common enough to offer to every sinner, that person is not glorying in the blood of Christ alone. Christ Himself was sanctified by His blood, which is the blood of the covenant. The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate experienced grace or resisted grace. Non-elect sinners always resist God, but they do not resist God’s grace.

The blood by which Christ was sanctified

The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate was in the new covenant. I do not think it is even saying that the apostate appeared to be in the new covenant, although this is a possible interpretation if you want to work out a visible and invisible church contrast. The “Son of God” is the closest antecedent of the pronoun “he” in the phrase “the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Of course we need to remember that “sanctify” does not mean to get better and better, as most systematic theology would have it. “Sanctify” is to set apart before God, both in the Old Testament context of Hebrews 10, (blood of the covenant, Zechariah 9:11, Ex 24:8) and in John 17. “And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they shall also be sanctified.”

Those who profane the death of Christ teach that Christ sanctified Himself in common for every sinner so that maybe (and maybe not) these sinners will be sanctified. Not only do they wrongly define sanctification as getting better, but they turn that getting better into the condition which can make the common death something special. But the book of Hebrews instead gives all the glory to Christ’s death. “We see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He would taste death for every… (2:10). The verses which follow tell us every “son to glory”, every ”those who are sanctified”, every “the children God has given me”. Those who profane the death of Christ tell us that the glory and honor of Christ is dying for many sinners who will never be glorified. They tell us that the One crowned was sanctified for more than are sanctified. They dishonor Christ by telling the children God gave Him that Christ died also for those who are not and who will never be children of God.

Christ is crowned with honor and glory, not ultimately because of three hours suffering before death, but because “of the suffering of death.” Many have died, but none but Christ has died as the sinless Son of God. Many have suffered, but none but Christ has died because of the imputed sins of the elect, the children God gave Christ. Christ sanctified Himself does not mean that Christ got better and better but that Christ set Himself apart to die for a people set apart before the creation of the world. These elect people are one day sanctified by faith given by Christ’s Spirit, but before that, in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s elect are set apart by the death, by the blood of Christ. Hebrews 5:9, “And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to those who obey Him.” All the elect will obey the gospel but it is not their doing so which is the source of their salvation. But if Christ died in common for every sinner, and not every sinner is set apart, then it is not the blood of Christ which sanctifies. It is not special, and it does not do anything special. God forbid!

Securing an eternal redemption

Hebrews 9:12, “Christ entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” As an eternal punishment does not mean punishing forever but punishment which is final, even so eternal redemption does not mean that Christ is and will be redeeming forever, but rather that by one death, Christ has obtained a redemption which is final. Like a punishment which lasts and cannot be reversed, this redemption for the elect lasts and cannot be reversed. This redemption is not the payment of a price without a guarantee that those paid for will be freed from guilt and its consequence death. Biblical redemption secures freedom for each particular elect person so that when that very person will be (or has been, OT) joined to Christ’s death and thus justified from sin and no longer under law or death.

But the false gospel never talks about election, and so it cannot talk about either redemption or security for the elect. It can only talk about security on the condition of faith. Some with the false gospel say you can have security because of your faith, and then lose your faith and your security. Others with the false gospel say that faith is like getting a tattoo that cannot be removed, and that even if you lose your faith, you can be secure. But all in the false gospel are agreed in profaning the death of Christ. All in the false gospel say that Christ died for every sinner, even those who add that Christ died with extra intent for the elect. All in the false gospel say that Christ is the mercy seat for every sinner. According to this common mercy, many die unjustified but none die without mercy. They say that God would have and could have and did have mercy on all sinners, at least until they died. They say that Christ in His death showed mercy to every sinner, but that such mercy was not enough alone to save any sinner.

No mercy except for the elect alone

The warning of Hebrews 10 is not assuming that God has been merciful to all who are being warned. Many died under the Mosaic law without mercy. Even though the ceremonies of the Mosaic economy proclaimed gospel by the death of Christ and not by our doing, God was never merciful to anybody in the Mosaic covenant except those who were elect in Christ. Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh, “Israelites, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, “ (Romans 9:4) did not receive mercy unless they were elect. We cannot talk about mercy without talking about election, because there is no mercy except for the elect. Not all the kinsmen are children of the promise, because “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God.” (Romans 9:6) Even though there is discontinuity between the Mosaic covenant and Christ’s covenant of blood which secures redemption, there is continuity in God’s mercy. Mercy is only for the elect.

Not all in the Mosaic covenant were elect. There is no common covenant mercy, and then extra special mercy for the elect. “Though they were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election would CONTINUE, not because of work but because of His call.” (Romans 9:11) God’s call is God’s grace, and God’s grace is not resisted. There is no grace for those who are not called. The false gospel claims not to teach salvation by works, but it cannot avoid it because it will not teach calling and election. Some with the false gospel claim to teach both election and universal love, but where there is no election, there is never any love. What kind of mercy is it that does not save? What kind of calling is it that fails to bring faith to the called? The gospel is promise for the elect. The gospel is not a conditional promise which warns that love will run out for those who don’t believe. The gospel is that, before they did good or bad, before they believed, the elect were already loved in Christ so that Christ died for them and not for others.

No foreknowledge, no mercy

Hebrews 10 warns that, even though the new covenant is different from the Mosaic covenant, election is still election, and no mercy is still no mercy. Hebrews 10 does not teach that some in the new covenant die without mercy. Christ never sacrificed His blood for those who profane the covenant. The Spirit outraged is the Spirit of grace, but the Spirit was never gracious to those who outraged. The “foreknowledge of God” is not God’s knowing who will not profane the covenant. God does know about when and where and how people will say that Christ died for everybody, but this is not what I Peter 1:2 calls “foreknowledge.” God knowing a person is God electing a person which is God loving a person. In the context of the first paragraph of I Peter, the result (and not the cause) of foreknowledge is the Spirit setting apart a person to believe.

The Bible does not talk about this love or foreknowledge without also talking at the same time about Jesus Christ and “sprinkling with His blood”. To see the significance of this expression, we look back to the animal sacrifices and also we remember Romans 5:9. “Now being justified by His blood…” If His blood had been for every sinner, then every sinner would one day be justified by it. His blood justifies. Nothing but the blood justifies. But His blood was not shed for every sinner. Only the sinners joined to the death (Romans 6) and sprinkled with the blood (I Peter 1) have His blood in common. The Spirit does not cause them to obey the truth in order to get the blood. The blood was shed for them alone, and then imputed to them alone. The elect alone are sprinkled with the blood, and this is the legal cause why the Spirit causes them to obey the promise and “do what is true.” (John 3:21)

Not God previewing the movie

“Foreknowledge” in I Peter 1 is not God previewing the movie to know what the sinner will do so that God can then decide what God will do later in the movie. We know this from I Peter 1:20 which describes Jesus Christ as foreknown. “You were ransomed not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God….” In another chapter, we will consider the glorious truth that Christ is for the elect alone. But notice here that Christ is the elect one, and that all elect sinners are elect in Him, and not because of their believing in Him. Christ was not made manifest for everybody, but for a particular you, which is not only those who first read Peter’s letter. This particular you is those who “through him are believers in Christ.” The idea is not that people get to be in Christ through believing. In antithesis to the false gospel, the elect get to be believing the true gospel through Christ.

Loved always, yet under wrath for a time  

Christ has always been the elect of God. Every elect sinner has always been loved by God. We are puzzled by the time gap before or after Christ’s death for the elect and them being joined to Christ. In the Old Testament, the elect are justified, not under the wrath of God, even though the Son of God has not yet come under the wrath of God for them. In the New Testament, the elect are condemned, under the wrath of God, until they are joined to Christ, even though the Son of God has already come under the wrath of God for them. Though this is difficult to try to understand, it is no more difficult than the idea of Jesus Christ always being loved by God and yet under the wrath of God until He died for all the sins of the elect. Even when we factor in the fact that it is not God the Father punishing God the Son, but the triune God punishing and Christ punishing and the one being propitiated who propitiates, we still cannot escape the need for the blood. The sovereign decision to love is not enough. Yes, Christ was always elect, always the Surety for the elect alone. But Christ was not always imputed with the sins of the elect, and Christ is not now imputed with their guilt.

I try to talk about these things, not because I think everything I try to explain is clear, but because nothing is more important. If the gospel is that Christ died but that we don’t know for whom or why, then I think we have just agreed with the scoffers that the death was unfortunate, foolish, and not at all decisive. We cannot understand the nature of redemption without understanding the extent of redemption, and we cannot understand election without understanding redemption. Even if we say that Christ only died for believers, then we have not described either the nature or the extent of the redemption. God did not sneak a look ahead into the movie to see who would believe, and then retroactively (or timelessly, as many sophists would have it) determine that Christ would only die for the believers. God did not have two intentions, first to dishonor Christ by having Christ to die for every sinner, and then second to honor Christ by having Christ also have an elect to give faith to make a common death special. Christ died for the elect. God has an elect. God gave children to Christ, and Christ is the Everlasting Father to these children (Isaiah 9:6) and not to other children.

Enabling the profaners

Christ died for the elect alone, and only the elect are taught by God not to profane His death. The elect may not be able to explain everything as clearly as they would like. But they know enough to use the antithesis. They can say, not for the non-elect. They can say, for the elect. All those who claim to believe in election but do not talk about election are enabling everybody around them to keep profaning the cross. Everybody thinks they know that God loves everybody, and when a preacher talks about propitiation and holiness and sanctification without talking about God having set apart a people, that preaching becomes only another occasion in which the sinner presumes that he or she has another opportunity to put the special into the blood, yes, even the blood of Christ!


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