In What Sense Did Christ Die for the Non-Elect?
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?”
Let’s start with 1 Timothy 4:10, which captures the both-and. It goes like this, “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Notice the phrase “the Savior of all, especially of those who believe.”
“For the elect, the blood of Jesus is the blood of the new covenant, which purchases for them a new heart.”
Paul says in Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” And Paul would add, “especially those who believe”: “He brought salvation for all, especially for those who believe.”
We can see the both-and in the gospel of John. Start with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ came as an expression of God’s love for the world. Then John says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The offering of his Son is the offering of salvation to the world.
Now, we’ll come back to this in just a moment to answer the question “For what tangible reason did Christ die for the non-elect?”
First, we need to see the other side of the coin in the Gospel of John, besides saving the whole world.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:14–17)
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” — the ones who know me, the ones that the Father’s given me. “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold” — those are the elect scattered throughout the world. “I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice” — that’s what marks them out as sheep (John 10:14–16).
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).
Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The husband loves his wife uniquely and in a special way. That’s the way Christ loves the church and dies for the church — in a unique way.
Now, what’s the effect of this focused, particular redemption for the bride, the sheep, the elect? What does the death do that’s unique for the bride? I think Romans 8:32 gives the answer: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” — now pause.
“Christ accomplished a completely full and satisfactory and effective redemption for whoever believes.”
The “us all” in the context of Romans 8:32 is clearly the elect. It’s not the whole world. It’s the elect. “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” You can see this in the next verse: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:33–34). That’s how verse 32 is being fulfilled, and you can see it in the rest of this verse. Let start again from the beginning and read the rest of the verse.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” 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. If God gave his Son in this same way for every person on the planet, then that promise would attach to every person because it’s attached to the blood of Jesus, to the sacrifice of Jesus. That means every person would be saved, would be guaranteed every possible blessing, which Paul says clearly is not the case (in places like 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Not an Offer
What can we say about how the death of Christ expresses itself for the elect and the non-elect who reject him? How is it different? 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.
Jesus says that in Luke 22:20: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The blood of Jesus is purchasing the new covenant.
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.
All Can Come
Now, back to John 3:16 for the other side of how the death of Christ relates to the world, or to the non-elect. I think the wording of John 3:16 provides the answer of how to speak of the gift of Christ, the death of Christ, for the non-elect, the whole world.
“You may look everyone in the eye and say, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will never perish.’”
Here’s how he puts it: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He loved the world so that everyone who believes would have life.
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.
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.”
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.