Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Universal Exclusivity, 1: For Adam's Race

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6).

Previous posts in this series:
Can people be saved any other way than through the work of Christ on the cross? Are there other provisions or means by which people may be brought into relationship and eternal life with God the Father? These questions are asked of the Church in every generation and require definitive answers.

Scripture teaches that Christ's atonement on the cross is the universally exclusive means of salvation and receiving the promise of eternal life in God Himself - He is the only Savior for the entire world.

The scope or reference for Christ's death and resurrection is the human or Adamic race, mired in sin and condemned to death. Or as Wesley put it in "And Can it Be?":
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
Two - out of many - passages that establish the universal reference and necessity of Jesus' death and resurrection are Romans 5:17-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-23.

First, in Romans 5:17-19, we observe that Jesus' saving work corresponds to the universality of Adam's "work." That is, just as Adam's sin led to death for everyone united to him (i.e., "through the one"), so Jesus' death leads to life for all united to Him (i.e., "through the One"). , but in v. 18 Paul intentionally and provocatively parallels "condemnation to all men" and "justification of life to all men" to establish Jesus' saving work as the means of redemption not merely for Jews, or any other segment of humanity, but for the entire race of Adam - all of humanity.

Note: this text does not teach "universalism," that all men will be saved by virtue of Jesus' death, whether they believe in Him or not. That would make for a rash reading. The "all" is specifically defined in v. 17 as “those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness…”, which implies that some will receive and some will not. Not to mention that Paul has already established the reality of God's just wrath (e.g., 2:5-8), as well as faith as the means of justification (e.g., 3:28; 5:1).

Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, we comparably observe that just as death came by Adam, resurrection-life comes by Jesus Christ (v. 21). As in Romans 5, Adam's progeny is specifically marked by death ("in Adam all die"), whereas Christ's progeny is specifically marked by life ("in Christ all will be made alive"). Again, we must note some similar cautions against a superficial reading, that life is given to those who are "in Christ" and implied exclusion in the phrase "those who are Christ's" (v. 22).

Again, Jesus' saving death and resurrection is universally exclusive - the only means of salvation for the entire race of sinners descended from Adam. Positively stated, Jesus Christ is God's answer - His only answer - for the human need of redemption. Because He "bled for Adam's helpless race," none are excluded by their ethnicity, nation or culture. That is one of the hard, but glorious edges of the Gospel.

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