The last kind of objection to Particular Redemption that I will answer here (unless any readers want to suggest others) is that based on certain texts of Scripture that seem to indicate that Christ died for those who could ultimately be lost in the end. For a while these passages gave me the greatest difficulty with the doctrine of Particular Redemption, but when I began to study them and think through their implications in detail, it became apparent to me that, far from disproving the doctrine of the particularity of Christ’s saving intention in his work of atonement, these verses actually strengthen a case for it.
One example is found in 2 Peter 2:1: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
The argument for General Atonement that is based on this verse is that those who are teaching heresy have nevertheless been “bought” by their Master, Christ. Heretics who deny Christ are nevertheless objects of his saving intention in the work he accomplished on the cross.
The problem with this reading is that it does not go far enough. The word “bought” in this context indicates not just that Christ died for their potential salvation. It indicates that Christ has actually saved them. It is special pleading for someone to say that this verse speaks only of atonement but not to the application of that atonement. In light of this reality, I think there are two ways we can go with this verse:
(1) We could go all the way to an Arminian interpretation and say that these heretics were at one time truly converted to Christ, but now through their apostasy they have fallen away and are no longer saved.
(2) Or we could recognize that the language being used in this verse is phenomenological, much like the language of the sunrise that I mentioned a few posts back. According to human perception, these false teachers had indeed been “bought” by Christ. Outwardly, they identified with the church and professed faith in the Savior. And yet their turn toward heresy and denial of their former confession constitutes a denial of the Master who bought them. This verse does not speak from the divine perspective, which remains hidden from us. It is not attempting to take on a “God’s-eye” viewpoint and tell us that these false teachers weren’t really saved to begin with, though that would be theologically true (see 1 John 2:19). It is simply speaking from the perspective of normal human perception, where apostasy is very real.
In fact, the gravity of the sin involved here is increased precisely because of what these false teachers formerly professed publicly. In other words, if these men had simply been pagans who went around blaspheming Christ, their sin would be bad, yes, but not as bad as the sin of first identifying with Christ, only subsequently to fall away from him and blaspheme his name (Hebrews warns of this sin repeatedly). Pagans who deny Christ are not denying the Master who bought them. They are sinning, yes, but they are not sinning to this degree. The fact that these false teachers were, from our perspective, “bought” by Christ exacerbates the sin and indicates that we should not use the language of being “bought” to refer to just any person. And yet the doctrine of General Atonement does exactly that, thereby blunting some of the force of this verse.
One more verse to mention here is Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” I will simply assume, and not defend here, that the word “destroy” in this context indicates eternal destruction. So what Paul is telling those who have stronger consciences among the Roman believers is that if they participate in activities that violate the conscience of a weaker brother (eating certain foods, drinking certain drinks, etc.), they run the risk of encouraging the weaker brother to violate his conscience and to act in a way that is not in accord with faith. Once the weaker brother starts down that path, he could very well end up abandoning the faith altogether and be destroyed. So Paul says, “Don’t destroy your weaker brother just because you know it’s okay for you to eat this or drink that. The Kingdom of God is not about food and drink.”
The interesting thing about this passage is that the brother who may be destroyed is particularly referred to as “the brother for whom Christ died.” I believe this verse fits into that category of verses that gives a warning about apostasy and thereby becomes one of the means by which God ensures that none of those who are his children will ever fall away from him. It’s not that apostasy is theoretically impossible. In theory, it is entirely possible, and it results in the consequence of the loss of salvation. That’s why we have warnings. But in practice, true apostasy (from God’s perspective) will never occur because of God’s commitment to keep his elect until the end.
So Paul’s warning here is entirely in keeping with the way he and other New Testament writers speak elsewhere about the danger of falling away from Christ. Only in this context the particular danger in view is not that I myself might fall away but that I might become a stumbling block who makes my brother fall away. And the fact that Paul specifically identifies my brother as “the one for whom Christ died” exhibits the gravity of the sin against which he is warning. In other words, the very reason I know he is one for whom Christ died is because he is indeed a “brother” in Christ. I could paraphrase Paul by saying, “Don’t become a stumbling block to a weaker brother. After all, Christ died for the purpose of saving him, and that’s not something you can say about everybody. Your sin will be much worse for treating lightly someone whom God has regarded with such favor that he gave up his Son to redeem him.” And so again, far from constituting an argument against Particular Redemption, this verse actually supports the doctrine.
In my final post on this topic I will discuss why it all matters.