INTRODUCTION – The actual or sovereign purpose of the cross pertains to God’s design in the atonement. No matter how men respond to the universal offer of salvation, God’s sovereign purpose in the cross cannot be thwarted or defeated in any way whatsoever. Despite the fact that the vast majority of the human race rejects the universal offer of the gospel, the intent of Christ’s death cannot be frustrated.
SCRIPTURE ALWAYS DESCRIBES CHRIST’S WORK AS EFFECTUAL
Hebrews 9:28 – By His death as a sin-bearer, there was an effectual removal of the sins that were laid upon Him.
John 10:27-30 - By His death, Christ secured the eternal safety of those given to Him by the Father. “They shall never perish.”
Isaiah 53:10,11 – By giving Himself as a guilt offering, Christ would justify the many by bearing their iniquities. The text says that Christ would be satisfied as a result of seeing “His Seed.” Seed refers to the spiritual “offspring” purchased by Christ’s death. (See also Heb. 10:10, 14; Rev. 5:9,10.)
BECAUSE CHRIST’S DEATH WAS EFFECTUAL, ONE MUST NOT CONFUSE THE OFFEROF THE CROSS WITH GOD’S PURPOSE IN THE CROSS
The offer is to be taken to “every creature” (Mark 16:15). The good news is to be preached, “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). But when men reject the Substitute who suffered for sinners, and prefer to stay in unbelief, it does not mean that one bit of Christ’s work was in vain.
God has not made the purpose of the cross depend upon the fickle will of man which is enslaved and corrupted. Mankind, by sinful self-determination, does not mold God’s purpose in the cross.
Application: In our humanistic age, the powers of man, his interests and his happiness are vaunted as preeminent. When this humanism is applied to Christianity, there is a tendency to view man’s will as that which makes the atonement effectual. To do so is to confuse the offer of the cross with the purpose of God in the cross. As soon as that confusion takes place, men resort to the language of potentiality.
THE SCRIPTURES KNOW NOTHING OF A HYPOTHETICAL ATONEMENT
Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He purchased the church of God with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
God’s word knows no distinction between what Christ did on Calvary and what purpose was accomplished on Calvary. Christ’s one act of redemption is not made complete by the sinner’s act. It is a completed work with all its effects accomplished by His death.
Application: From the man-centered perspective, the atoning work of Christ could be compared to a life-giving remedy that sits waiting in a medicine chest. Spiritually dead men by opening the medicine cabinet and taking the remedy are made well.
A hypothetical atonement cannot be supported by Scripture. The death of Christ was not a general atonement without a sovereign plan. Christ died in order to sanctify the church (Eph. 5:26). Christ’s work is NOT the purchase of non-specific dead capital.
The only scheme that fully glorifies God and magnifies His grace and majesty is a complete salvation that actually does the saving and redeeming. The cross is mighty to save. It reaches the sinner in his ruin and helplessness.
CHRIST’S DEATH SECURED THE “DEATH” OF THE BELIEVER (The “death” of the believer in 2 Cor. 5:14 is defined in verse 15.)
2 Cor. 5:14,15 – Christ’s love constrains, controls and governs the child of God. It presses, coerces and impels the believer as a governing influence which controls the life (see also, Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:19). This is the trait of Paul’s experience and is therefore common to all Christians. As the believer is constrained by a sense of the love of his divine Lord, he responds by consecrating his life to Him. Faith in Christ’s deity, love and substitutionary work is the principle or source of the Christian life.
By stating, “having concluded” or “we thus judge,” the Apostle assigns the reason why the love of Christ exerted such a constraining power. It was because the Apostle judged that the death of Christ didn’t just place believers under obligation to be Christ’s servants, it secured this devotion! Why? It is because believers died in Him (Rom. 6:4,5).
CHRIST’S DEATH WAS A TRUE OR DIRECT SUBSTITUTION
“One died for all, therefore all died” (verse 14). Christ died in the place of His people. The idea of substitution is clearly expressed. His death in our place saves us from death. The “all” in verse 14 is a class of individuals characterized by the effects produced in their lives. The “all” is of necessity limited by what the Scriptures teach concerning the design of Christ’s death.
One of the effects of Christ’s death is stated in this clause, “therefore all died” or “then all were dead.” Christ died for all who died when He died.
Substitution is taught in the great doctrine of Christ as Last Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 45-49). As Last Adam, Christ stands in the room of His people and as their Substitute, He does the work for all united to Him. The death of Christ was legally and effectively the death of His people.
In the mind of God, those whom the Father chose are so united to the Son that His death is their death and His life is their life. The Apostle’s argument is the same one he used in Romans 6. “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).
THE DESIGN OF CHRIST’S DEATH WAS THAT HIS PEOPLE MIGHT LIVE FOR HIM (2 Cor. 5:15).
The death of Christ secures our reconciliation to God and the reconciliation secures a life of devotion to His service. Christ died that He might be the Lord of His people. His people serve Him as Lord. They belong to Him and are devoted to Him (See also, 1 Cor. 6:19,20; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).
There is no distinction between those for whom Christ died and those whom He sanctifies (Hebrews 10:10; 2:11; 1 Cor. 1:30). Those for whom Christ died really die to sin and itsdominion over them.
Application: Those for whom Christ died and upon whom His death takes effect, HENCEFORTH(from the time they apprehend their relation to Him and the power of His vicarious death) they do not live unto themselves.
This describes the Christian’s life in negative terms. In the next clause (2 Cor. 5:15), it is stated in the positive. “[They live] for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
He is not a Christian who is simply unselfish or who lives for some noble cause. He only is a Christian who lives FOR Christ.
Many think they can be Christians on easier terms than these. Multitudes who profess to know Christ rest upon a “decision” for Christ or upon a mental assent to gospel truth, but they do not live for Christ. By contrast, the Bible teaches that if we are partakers of Christ’s death, we are partakers of His life (Heb. 3:14; 1 John 3:14; 5:11,12).
In the true believer, saving faith and consecration to Christ’s service are inseparably joined. Those who have put their trust and hope in the merits of Christ’s death will evidence thesovereign purpose of Christ’s death; they will be constrained to consecrate themselves to His service.
BY UNION WITH CHRIST, THE BELIEVER IS TRANSFORMED (2 Cor. 5:16,17)
Christ is covenant Head of His people as Adam was of our race. Those who are in Christ by faith are in Christ by covenant (1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 9:15; 12:24).
By union with Christ, the believer is transformed. New life is imparted. A new creation is effected. A new perspective is given (verse 16).
For those in Christ, “old things have passed away.” These include old opinions, old views, old plans, old desires, old principles and old affections. New views of truth, new principles, new apprehension of purpose and destiny and new affections govern the soul.
Application: Those united to Christ gain eternal interest in the merits of His death. To be a partaker in Christ’s life and death is the whole foundation of the doctrine of sanctification (Rom. 6).
The term “creation” in 2 Cor. 5:17 indicates the greatness of the change wrought in us. It is a change produced by the mighty power of God that is so radical in nature that it is justly called a new creation.
RECONCILIATION BELONGS TO ALL IN CHRIST (2 Cor. 5:18,19)
“All these things” (verse 18) refers to the entire change of which the Apostle has been speaking. God is the reconciler. Man never makes reconciliation. The enmity or barrier between God and man is removed by an act of God. The propitiatory death of Christ is always represented as reconciling us to God. The reconciliation consists in the satisfaction of the divine justice by the sacrifice of Christ.
By the use of the word “world” without the article is meant mankind (verse 19). It means the class of beings towards whom God was manifesting Himself as propitious. (This is the same sense in which Christ is called the” Savior of the world” or of “all men.” John 4:42; 1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 4:14)
“God…reconciling…to Himself,” does NOT mean that He was rendering friendly to Himself. The work of reconciliation is unfolded in the next phrase, “not counting their trespasses against them.” Not to impute sin is to forgive it (Rom. 4:7,8). Here is the basis of the ministry of reconciliation. God is propitious. He freely forgives sinners.
Application: When God is said to forgive men (or not count their sins against them), it of course does not mean all men, penitent, impenitent, believing, unbelieving. No, here as earlier in the text, there is a specific class indicated towards whom forgiveness is exercised (note the three uses of “us” in verses 18 and 19; all believers).
In the believer’s case, the reconciliation to God is made the source and cause of our new creation(our regeneration and holiness). Until God’s wrath and curse are removed, there is no possibility of holiness and love.
Application: It is the duty of believers to proclaim to men that God, justly offended by their sins, can be just and yet justify those who come to Him by Jesus Christ. The ministry of reconciliation is the preaching of the good news that God’s wrath has been put away by God’s Son bearing it upon the cross. The priceless peace won is thereby offered freely to men.
CHRIST’S SUBSTITUTION FOR HIS OWN IS THE JUDICIAL GROUND OF THEIR PERFECT ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD (2 Cor. 5:20,21)
“Be reconciled to God,” is a call to embrace the reconciliation effected by Christ’s death. God is propitious! He has provided the sacrifice to satisfy His offended justice and appease His righteous indignation and wrath. The sinner is guilty and deserving of eternal death and separation.
The very idea of substitution is that what is done in my place by another avails as if I had done it myself. If both parties die condemned, there was no substitution! Those for whom Christ was a true Substitute, have no condemnation. The design of the substitution is to make Him “sin” (bearer) that we might be made righteous.
Our sins were the judicial ground of the suffering of Christ so that there was a satisfaction of justice. His perfect righteousness is the judicial ground of our acceptance with God.
Application: Our pardon is an act of divine justice. Our justification is a declaration that justice is satisfied. We are set free NOT by a mere act of divine sovereignty, but by the judicial decision of the infinitely just. It is important that believers understand that the Apostle sets before our consciences a reconciliation that is in total keeping with the perfect character of God. God’s Law is immutable. When the believer is burdened with a sense of sin, his conscience cannot rest until it knows God to be just in justifying the sinner.