What did the death of Jesus do for the world?
The death of Jesus for the world is a delicate question for Calvinists according to John Piper. Piper answers a question from one of his listeners in a post called “In What Sense Did Jesus Die for the Non-Elect?” In the audio transcript of an interview Piper says:
Well, the apostle Paul says Christ died for all people, even the non-elect, and of course that raises delicate questions for us Calvinists to answer. How does Christ’s atoning sacrifice apply to the non-elect? The question comes from an anonymous listener to the podcast: “Pastor John, many times I have heard people say, ‘Yes, Christ died for all people but not all people in the same way.’ I know Reformed theology teaches that Christ’s atonement is particular in that the extent of the atonement to save souls is limited to the elect only. However, I am having trouble adequately explaining how Christ died for all people but not in the same way. For what tangible reason did Christ die for the non-elect?”
It is quite revealing how the listener was having trouble explaining John Piper’s explanation of the death of Jesus for the world. This article will demonstrate where John Piper takes a wrong turn and how to answer his description of an “offered” salvation vs. a “guaranteed” salvation. One thing that I like about John Piper is that he is clear about what he believes. Let’s examine his statements about salvation.
What tangible reason DID Christ die for the non-elect?
John Piper makes it unmistakable that the words “gave Himself up for us all” means just the elect. This “giving up” of Jesus, according to Piper, is a guarantee of salvation which has been secured on behalf of the elect. In other words, what Jesus did not do is give Himself up for the entire world. The “giving up” is only for a select specific group. Piper responds:
In other words, the death of Christ for his people secures and guarantees for them every saving blessing there is.
“Will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Yes, he will because that is what the death of Christ guarantees for all the elect.
What kind of tangible things are bought, paid for, and guaranteed for the elect? Piper continues:
For the elect, the blood of Jesus is the blood of the new covenant, which purchases for them a new heart, new life, faith, and obedience.
In a previous post, we described how it is impossible for our FAITH to have been purchased and guaranteed by Jesus’ death on the cross. The proof that a “purchased faith” is not possible is according to the testimony of the apostle Paul. So, what is the tangible reason for the death of Christ for the world, according to John Piper?
1. It is Only an Offer
John Piper describes the “giving up” of Jesus for the elect as NOT an offer. Notice that “for the elect” Piper says there is “not an offer” but “an accomplishment of salvation”. Under the heading “Not an Offer” Piper writes:
The new covenant is not an offer of salvation. It’s an accomplishment of salvation in the hearts of God’s people. He gives them a new heart and a new spirit, a gift of life, gift of faith, gift of obedience.
But for the world, there is only an offer, since there is nothing purchased for them. Jesus’ laying down His life is uniquely for the elect according to John Piper. He writes under the heading “Electing love”:
In other words, Jesus says, “I go out. I preach. I call. The sheep, the ones whom the Father has, he gives to me. They recognize my voice. They come to me. There will be one flock and one shepherd” (see John 10:16). The Father has the sheep. He gives the sheep to Jesus. They are his own. They know his voice. He calls them. They come. He lays down his life for them — uniquely for them (John 10:17–18).
For the world, there is just an empty offer. Why do I say empty? Because there was not a single thing that was purchased on the cross for the world that could be tangibly offered to them. Just like the caller who questioned John Pipers doctrine, we don’t see Piper defining any tangible offer to the world. It only sounds like an offer, but in reality, there is nothing in the box.
2. There is No “Bought” Belief for the World
Piper tries really hard to make it sound like there is actually an offer of eternal life to the non-elect. He instructs his listener how to explain God’s offer to the world. Under the section “All Can Come” Piper writes:
The way to speak about the giving of the Son as an expression of love to the world is to highlight the word that: “That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That’s the connection we make between the death of Christ and every person on this planet. Christ accomplished a completely full and satisfactory and effective redemption for whosoever believes.
John Piper teaches that the faith to believe in Jesus must be “bought” by Jesus for you. For those for whom Jesus did not buy saving faith, they cannot believe. It is completely disingenuous for Piper to say that his listener can look everyone in the eye and say these things:
You may look (and should look) everyone in the eye — absolutely everyone in your neighborhood, at your church, at your work — and say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will never perish. Believe on him, and you will become a full and complete participant in the perfect salvation, the perfect payment for sins, the perfect propitiation of the wrath of God, the perfect obedience for imputation, the perfect deliverance from death and hell and Satan and into the everlasting glory of God. All of that is yours — it’s yours for the believing because of Jesus’s death.”
Is it honest to imply that anyone other than the elect, who have been pre-determined from before the world began, can believe and receive the perfect payment for sin? John Piper is a strong Calvinist and he knows that Jesus is not going to die again to pay for the faith of a lost (unelected) person. Jesus died once and once only. No one can be added to the elect, in John Piper’s Calvinist worldview. Within the parameters of his teaching, Jesus either died for you, or He didn’t. If He died for you, you would be saved and guaranteed to have the “gift” of faith given to you along with the “gift” of obedience. If Jesus didn’t die for you, you could not receive anything because salvation and the gifts of salvation were not bought and paid for on your behalf. Since the one sacrifice has already made, and the choice of the elect is already determined according to John Piper’s view, the offer to the non-elect of this world must be hollow, empty, and useless.
3. “Look them in the eye” and convince them there is an awesome (although not purchased) gift
Piper ends his response to the caller with this:
We could never talk like that to people — we don’t know who the non-elect are so let’s just assume there’s lots of them that are listening — if Jesus hadn’t died the way he did. That is a great and awesome gift that we are indebted to give to the entire world. Oh, that God would put fire in our hearts to take that message to the ends of the earth.
Like the caller to John Piper’s program, others who followed John Piper’s teachings have experienced doubts about the integrity of the message to the world. Some very honest Calvinists have had difficulty in trying to explain how the non-elect have an “awesome gift” offered to them. It just doesn’t make sense. An “awesome gift” has to be real and it has to have value to the person it is offered to. An empty box with an offer for something that was never in the box in the first place can be seen as a false and deceptive offer.
Aside from John Piper’s “awesome gift” and feel-good words, we see the stark reality from his system of theology: it is impossible for a non-elect person to believe in Jesus. While there is an “offer” that John Piper says Calvinists can give to the non-elect, (while looking them straight in the eye), they know that Jesus cannot die again. If you are a Calvinist, how do you truthfully offer salvation to anyone for whom Jesus did not die in a saving way?
What is the answer?
What tangible reason would there be for Christ to die for those who do not end up believing in Him? In other words, what did the death of Jesus do for the world? We can boldly say that Jesus provided faithfulness without a condition.
What did Jesus do for the world? The truth of the Gospel is that Jesus died for sinners. Jesus paid the price for the sinner’s sin. That is all of us. The inspired Word of God also tells us that Jesus remains faithful because He cannot deny Himself. No matter how many sinners reject Christ, His death is still worth the same precious price. A sinner who denies Jesus and who ends up in hell cannot blame Jesus for his fate. Jesus faithfully paid the price on the cross without any conditions. The price that Christ paid for an unrepentant sinner is still living in Christ even if that gift is rejected. A sinner is not in hell because the price was not paid for him, but because the sinner refused to believe the light that he had been given. The faithfulness of Jesus in the giving of His life could not be blocked by any sinful man. If a man could stop Jesus from dying for him because he was unfaithful, then think of the power that the sinful man has over the Lord Jesus Christ. No, no man could stop Jesus from being faithful in His death.
2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
But if Jesus died for a sinner who ends up in hell, isn’t that a double payment for sin? The answer will be in an upcoming article.
Also see our article on whether Jesus passes men by. No Man Left Behind: Jesus Died for All.