When I say that only the elect alone are raised to life, I am not denying that the non-elect are raised after the first death in order to be destroyed in the second death. Since God is holy and just, that future judgment of the non-elect is necessary and important. But the resurrection to life is only for the elect, and that is why I Corinthians 15 pays no attention to the non-elect. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v17-19)
The New Testament does not describe the non-elect as sleeping. Even though non-elect do not suffer until the second coming, Christ has never known them and they have no safety from His coming wrath. (I leave aside for now the question of non-elect angels.) Therefore, in contrast to the elect, the non-elect should not be described as sleeping. Hebrews 9: 27-28, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Bore sins one time
Many non-elect sinners are eagerly awaiting a false Christ who did not take away the sins of anybody. These non-elect professing Christians worship some other person than the Christ described in the Bible. They worship somebody whose work depends on the sinner to accept it. But the true Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, and bore these sins one time in the past. The true Christ is not bearing sins now.
The true Christ did not bear the sins of those who will one day bear their own sins. The cross was not a general or infinite bearing of sins with the meaning and success to be determined later by what sinners thought about it. Christ did not come to save more than Christ will save. When Christ comes a second time, He will save the elect.
So there is a future salvation, but there is not a future determination of who will be saved by the cross. The non-elect will bear their own sins, and at that time Christ will no longer be bearing the sins of the elect. All the sins of the elect will have been taken away by the cross. Romans 5:9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by the blood, much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God.” The New Testament has a difference between justification and salvation, and we know that all the elect have not yet been justified and that none of the elect has been resurrected on the last Day. But these facts do not change the truth that Christ has either already died for a sinner or has not, and that this is not the sinner’s decision.
Even though non-elect sinners were involved in putting Christ to death, Christ never died for them. The purpose of Christ’s death was the salvation of only the elect alone. When we think of reasons for the cross, we need to make a distinction between causes and purposes. Certainly we should think about Roman politics and Jewish religion when we think of the human means God used to accomplish His purpose, but there has never ever been any purpose to give Christ without also a purpose for elect sinners. Christ was not given first, before the election of sinners second. The elect were always chosen in Christ, and Christ’s incarnate glory was always about Him being given for the elect.
Second time not to deal with sin
When Hebrews 9:28 tells us that Christ “appears a second time not to deal with sin,” this is not a denial of a future judgment after death for the non-elect. The triune God will deal with the sin of the non-elect. But the point of Hebrews 9:28 is that the sins of the elect have already been dealt with once at the cross. This was not a provisional dealing with, the efficacy of which is yet to be determined by the sinner’s attitude. Instead, the elect sinner’s attitude to the gospel is a result and not a condition of the past dealing with sin.
The elect do eagerly wait for the true Christ, and not for the loves-everybody false Christ, but it is not this discernment and eagerness which makes one sinner to differ from another. God’s election in Christ made that difference. The parallel of Hebrews 9:27-28 depends on one time dealing with sins in the past. The parallel is ignored by those who say that Christ was given for everybody and that sins now are dealt with by the application to some of what was done for all. It is appointed for man to die once. Even though the non-elect will die the second death, even the elect die once.
Man dies once. Christ died once.
Even though Christ will come a second time, Christ only died once. Since Christ died only for the elect alone, the elect alone will only die once. After the non-elect man dies once, there is a judgment, and then the non-elect man dies twice. The non-elect man dies twice because he is a sinner. But the elect man is also a sinner, and does not die twice, and the only reason for this is Christ having died for that elect sinner.
I know I am repeating what is very simple. But anything more complicated tends to bring in some other factor than Christ’s death as the difference between saved and lost. Even though what I am saying is so simple, very few people are saying it. Even though they talk about election, they tend to talk about Christ’s death without talking about election.
Don’t ask, don’t tell
When J. I Packer claims that election is not part of the gospel message (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God), he relegates the doctrine of election to the “hidden God” who we need not know. Besides the God who has already elected a sinner in Christ or not, there is a false god offering Christ to sinners. Instead of a propitiation in which Christ is offered by God to God to bear the sins imputed to Him, the true nature of propitiation and imputation is not supposed to be told.
It is not so much a matter of doubting how much God the Holy Spirit can teach a sinner about propitiation and imputation, but rather a desire that the truth of the matter not be known. It’s as if Packer is being more cautious and prudent than God. Of course we don’t know who is not elect. But we do know that God has an elect, and that Christ only died for that elect, and if we leave that out, we must also leave out the whole matter of a past imputation of sins to Christ. “Bearing sins” becomes a very flexible metaphor, in which the reality and success of the bearing are to be determined by the Holy Spirit convincing the sinner. If the Spirit fails to convince a sinner, that sinner will bear for himself the sins Christ bore for him, including presumably the sin of not being convinced by the Spirit.
The false gospel not only has two Gods, one wanting to save all sinners. The false gospel also cannot have a righteousness which was completed at once in the past by Christ. The false gospel can have an alien righteousness, but in the Augustinian sense that it’s God (and His water baptism) doing the work of righteousness by grace in the elect sinner. You can have a false God -righteousness, you can have a false election, you can say that God delivers faith to the sinner, and still have a false gospel.
Because if the message is not about what Christ did by Himself outside the elect sinner, if the gospel is not about sins imputed once and taken away once, then justification becomes a theoretical footnote, and assurance depends on regeneration making you different from other people. And instead of telling God’s elect that Christ is coming a second time not to deal with their sin, preachers still have people doing the dealing. Deal with your sins, or God will deal with them for you, is not a message about what Christ has done.
A done deal
I want to get back to the resurrection, the hope of righteousness. But before we do that, let’s glory again in what Christ got done. Daniel 9:24 gives us four interesting infinitives: “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness.” Even though the first two infinitives sound more like Hebrews 9:28, I think all four mean the same thing as what it means for Christ in His first coming “to deal with sin”. What Christ did with sin was not a beginning or the first episode. It is the whole story! It is the difference maker.
God cannot and will not be satisfied unless sin is punished by death, either the second death of the non-elect sinner or the one death of Christ for the elect sinner. God did not punish Christ for the sins of the elect without first imputing those sins to Christ. It would be unjust to punish a sinless Christ. Only by being legally constituted a sinner by imputation could Christ finish the transgression and put an end to sin. If iniquity had not been imputed to Christ, then Christ could not have atoned for it.
As important as this matter is, nobody seems to want to talk about it, because it means talking about whose sins were imputed (the elect) and when (already or not). Because Christ has finished the work of bringing in the righteousness for the elect alone, the elect look forward to their future salvation from wrath by the resurrection to come. That work of bringing in righteousness involved Christ dealing with transgression, sin, iniquity. Christ dealt with them only because Christ was imputed with them. This is not fiction, not theory, not ideology.
Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives to God.” The difference between the true gospel and the false is as simple as the difference between once for all done and anything else. To be done by you with the help of the Spirit is false gospel. You will decide what was really once for all done or not…that too is false gospel.
Christ died to sin, but never again
How can Romans 6 say that Christ died to sin? Christ was never unregenerate. Christ in His own person never sinned. When the false gospel says that died to sin is not about guilt but about the continuing power to sin, that false gospel is saying that Christ once had the ability and power to sin. Not true. Christ needed to die to sin, because Christ was imputed with sin.
But can’t we say that Christ was imputed with sin without getting into the question of election, and thus leave open the possibility that Christ was imputed with sins later to be further imputed back to the non-elect? Can’t we talk about imputation without talking about election? Can’t we talk about grace and not law, without talking about whose sins were imputed and when?
Of course, we can. Almost everybody does, even those who are talking about imputation. But to do so is to avoid the offense of the cross, as that which is the decisive bringing in of righteousness. If it’s our imputing which will determine what God will have imputed, then we are still under the law. And not only us, but also Christ is still under law. If the success of what Christ did hangs in the balance until the Holy Spirit convinces a sinner to impute his sins to Christ and then this wonderful decision causes God to impute sin to Christ, then there is no once for all. And then Christ Himself is still under law, also dependent on the Spirit to make sinners keep law by faith.
Some in the false gospel are more honest about this contingency than others. But everybody who keeps election out of their gospel keeps in a salvation by some future dealing with sin. The indicative is replaced by the imperative, and the good news is supplanted by the new directions.
Good news, not directions
But Romans 6:9 says never again! Christ has already died, and that death is sufficient for the elect alone. Why are people offended by election? Surely part of the problem is that they sit in judgment on God for exercising His divine prerogatives. People with the false gospel are haters of the true God. They think themselves so full of love that they complain that they do not want to be elect if their children with no exceptions are not also elect.
But the offense of election already at the cross is that there is nothing for sinners to do about it or decide about it. It’s as if those with the false gospel are saying that they can deal with one of their children being lost just so long as they know that God had nothing to do with it! Just so long as they can see that this person they love was also loved by God, then they will have no problem with saying that God’s love failed and that the reason God failed was the person’s own fault.
I am not at all saying that non-election is good news. It is not. But election is good news, and we cannot honestly teach election without teaching non-election. We can dishonestly say that the second death is conditioned only on the sinner. But since many sinners have been elected to be saved from the second death, it is false to act as though being a sinner were the only factor.
It is true that God owes no sinner election. It is the very nature of grace that it is God’s election, and God has a right to do what God wants with His own. God owes no non-elect sinner an explanation of why God elected one and not another. But God has declared the truth that God has already elected one sinner and not another, and every one of us who wants to tell the truth about God instead of having an idol needs to tell that whole truth.
When Romans 3:23 says that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, the whole truth means going on to the next verse, “and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Everybody who sinned in v 23 is justified in v24. This means that both verses are only talking about the elect. The non-elect sinned also, but they are not being discussed in Romans 3:22-24. There is no distinction between the elect. All the elect believe the gospel. All the elect sinned. All the elect are justified, when they are justified, by His grace in Christ. There is no good news for the non-elect, and the non-elect are not being described in Romans 3:22-24.
I Corinthians 15 is also only talking about the elect, those who sleep. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Verse 22 does not say that all in Adam die, and all in Christ live, even though this is the way we often attempt to understand it. Verse 22 is only talking about those who belong to Christ. Every person elect in Christ was also in Adam, died in Adam, and was under God’s wrath in Adam, even though that person was loved from before the foundation of the world. Christ Himself was not in Adam, and did not die in Adam, but Christ was both eternally loved and also ONCE FOR ONE TIME under God’s wrath for the imputed sins of the elect, including the sin of Adam imputed to the elect.
So what is the hope of I Corinthians 15? Is the task before us to make the decision which will get us out of Adam into Christ? No. God put the elect in Christ. (see I Corinthians 1:30). The hope of I Corinthians 15 is to be found in Christ. Even though Christ in us is also the hope of glory (see Colossians 1:27), the foundation of the “in us” is the “in Christ”. Assurance is not a confidence that we decided by the Spirit to get into Christ. Gospel assurance is about being joined by God to Christ. To be joined to Christ’s death is to know about ourselves what is also true about Christ: “the death he died to sin, once.” (Romans 6:10)
Death once, then resurrection
Romans Six is not about regeneration as a means to resurrection. Rather, Romans Six is about the death of Christ for the elect as a means to resurrection. Before there can be a resurrection, there must be death. And believing and working, no matter how much you do of it, is not a death. The only death before God which has replaced the second death is the death of Christ for the imputed sins of the elect. That death is not potentially something. That death is sufficient for all for whom it was intended. Everybody for whom Christ died will be resurrected to life.
Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” I will tell you the same thing I told you about I Corinthians 15 and Romans 3:22-24. Romans 5:18 is not talking about the non-elect. It’s not about potential justification and possible life. The very same all men justified by the one righteousness were the all men condemned by the one trespass.
That one righteousness is not that which the Spirit enables the elect to do. That one righteousness is the once and done doing and dying of Christ. Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” The hope is not that one day we will be righteous by the Spirit enough so that we will only need Christ’s righteousness to make up for the past. Indeed, the hope in this context is not for righteousness. Rather, the hope is because of righteousness. Because of imputed righteousness, and for no other reason, the elect have a certain hope for resurrection.
Eternal life is not a wish or a dream, but a present result of righteousness imputed to the elect. Eternal life means not only life in the Holy Spirit but immortality for the bodies of the elect. Romans 8:10-11, “The Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Not all creation immortal
The hope is not that all creation is immortal. The hope is not a soul that cannot die no matter what sins that soul commits. The hope is that Christ poured out His soul to death for the elect alone, and that His death to sin is their death to sin. Call that death righteousness! God calls Christ’s death for the elect righteousness because that death is righteousness.
That righteousness imputed is all the righteousness the elect have or need to have. Philippians 3:8….”I count all other things as rubbish, in order that I gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which comes through faith in Christ….” I do not think that “becoming like Him in his death” in Philippians 3:10 means being imputed with His death, but I do think that the resurrection from the dead attained by the elect is a result of being found in the imputed righteousness of Christ. Those found in that righteousness won’t count on anything else but the cross, no not even for their resurrection.