Arminian Thoughts on 1 John 2:2

, posted by drwayman

Arminian Thoughts on 1 John 2:2

written by SEA member Roy Ingle

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2

1 John 2:2 is one of the most powerful passages for teaching the glorious atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. This verse alone implies several key points that Arminians affirm. First, the verse implies that the atonement was for us, those who are the elect of God through faith in Christ. We who believe in Jesus, trust in His grace to save us, believe that His blood was shed for our forgiveness and for our salvation (Isaiah 53:4-6). We have come to see that Jesus is a wonderful Savior and that His blood is sufficient for our eternal salvation (Ephesians 1:7). His blood cleanses us from all sins (Hebrews 9:14). When Jesus uttered that it was finished in John 19:30, it was finished! The work of salvation was complete in Jesus. We can only be saved through faith in Him and by His grace (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and salvation comes not by works on our part but through faith in Him and His shed blood (Acts 13:38-39; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).

Secondly, the Arminian sees the vastness of this great atonement. We don’t just see our salvation and we bless God for saving us in Christ (Romans 6:23) but we also see the importance of taking the gospel to all nations because Jesus died for all so that all can come and be saved in Him (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). We believe in the doctrine of unlimited atonement meaning that Jesus shed His blood not just for the sins of the elect as taught in Calvinism but we believe He shed His blood for all people (John 3:16). The will of God is not for any to perish (2 Peter 3:9) but that all would be saved in Christ (1 Timothy 2:4). In this sense, Jesus came to bear the sins of all (Romans 5:18) so that all can come and be saved (1 Timothy 4:10) and become the elect of God through His foreknowledge (Romans 8:29).

When it comes to 1 John 2:2, this verse is tough on many Calvinist theologians. Even R.C. Sproul states, “On the surface this text seems to demolish limited atonement.”

Albert Barnes explain 1 John 2:2:

This is one of the expressions occurring in the New Testament which demonstrate that the atonement was made for all people, and which cannot be reconciled with any other opinion. If he had died only for a part of the race, this language could not have been used. The phrase, “the whole world,” is one which naturally embraces all people; is such as would be used if it supposed that the apostle meant to teach Christ died for all people; and is such as cannot be explained on any other supposition.

Yet we find Calvinist commentator John Gill saying,

Now let it be observed. that the phrases, all the world, and the whole world, are often used in scripture to be taken in a limited sense…in this epistle of John, the phrase is used in a restrained sense…in the text under consideration, it cannot be understood of all men…what may be observed and will lead more clearly into the sense of the passage before us, is, that the apostle John was a Jew, and he wrote to Jews: and in the text speaks of them, and of the Gentiles, as to be distinguished; and therefore says of Christ, he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, for the sins of us Jews only; but for the sins of the whole world; of the Gentiles also, of all the elect of God throughout the Gentile world.

In this sense, Gill reads into 1 John 2:2 what he wants to see and that is limited atonement. Instead of allowing the text to speak for itself, Gill has to make the text not say what it clearly seems to say, that the atonement was for all.

Imagine taking 1 John 2:2 to someone who has never heard of Calvinism or Arminianism. If we were to ask them to read the passage and then tell us what it means, even a child could see that John the Apostle is saying that Christ died to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. If I asked them, “What does whole world mean?” Again, a child would say it means all. It would take someone telling you that Christ died only for the sins of the elect and thus a limited atonement in order for you to believe that 1 John 2:2 doesn’t mean all.

The Calvinist work of Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown states this about 1 John 2:2:

Christ’s “advocacy” is limited to believers (1Jo 2:1; 1Jo 1:7): His propitiation extends as widely as sin extends: see on 2Pe 2:1, “denying the Lord that bought them.” “The whole world” cannot be restricted to the believing portion of the world (compare 1Jo 4:14; and “the whole world,” 1Jo 5:19). “Thou, too, art part of the world, so that thine heart cannot deceive itself and think, The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me” [Luther].

I agree. Christ is the Savior only of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10).

In closing, let me answer a brief reply I know that some Calvinists will then offer. Some Calvinist theologians will state that in Arminianism, Jesus died to save no one for His blood only makes people savable. In Calvinism, Jesus actually died for the salvation of the elect. The problem with this is that both Arminianism and Calvinism believe the same here about Jesus’ death on the cross mainly that only those who believe are saved. Salvation is by grace through faith (Romans 5:1). Both Arminians and Calvinists teach that a person is only justified through faith in Jesus Christ thus no one is saved simply because Jesus died. There has to be personal faith in Jesus’ shed blood to be saved.

Notice the wording of Romans 3:21-26:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice that all of this work of Christ is given to those who believe! Certainly one can build a case that Jesus died for the elect (Galatians 1:4) but we can also build a case that He died only for Paul (Galatians 2:20) or the whole world (1 John 2:2). Let us proclaim Christ to the lost and allow the Lord to draw in those whom He foreknew. Let us not seek to limit the work of Christ when Scripture clearly does not.

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