No Elect Person Dies Not Knowing the Gospel

As much as I agree with John Owen against the idea of double jeopardy, I think we need to be careful about how we use Owen’s trilemma about all the sins of all people, or all the sins of some people (the third hypothetical of course being some of the sins of some people).

The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the
elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also
entitles the elect to conversion.

Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because
of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. Christ
bought both the forgiveness of sins and the legal application of the
legal satisfaction God needs to forgive and continue to be just and

What does the application of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that
God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to
the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the
elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of
the elect.

So there is a difference between Christ’s work and the imputation of
Christ’s work. Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of
Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the
elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union
of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

Second, the application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus
now their inheritance) includes the conversion which immediately
follows the imputation. We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two.

Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of
Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit
through faith.”

And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and
conversion is a result of the imputation. Romans 8:10–”but if Christ
is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is
life because of righteousness.”

Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will be
life, not only forensic life but the life also the Holy Spirit gives
by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and
are converted. Because the elect are now in Christ (not only by
election but by imputation), Christ is in the elect. Christ indwells
the elect by the Holy Spirit.

As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal
standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus
Christ.” The reason we need to be careful about John Owen’s trilemma
is that Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final
sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person
faith in the gospel and conversion.

Of course Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ
died for all the sins of all Christians including all those after they are converted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows.

I am not saying that John Owen did not know this. I am only saying
that the trilemma (as it is often used by Cavinists) does not take
into account the time between Christ’s work and the application and
imputation of Christ’s work.

The trilemma in itself does not give us the necessary reminder that
Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

Romans 5: 17 speaks of “those who receive the free gift of
righteousness” and how they reign in life through the one man Christ
Jesus. This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an
“exercise of faith” (if you check the commentaries, Murray is right
here about the passive and Moo is wrong). The elect “receive” the
righteousness by God’s imputation.

The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute
Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer.

But here is the point: the receiving of the righteousness by
imputation is not the same as the righteousness. The imputation is not at the same time as Christ earned the righteousness. God declaring the elect to be joint-heirs with Christ in that righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. There is a difference between Christ’s righteousness and God’s imputation of it to the elect.

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4 Comments on “No Elect Person Dies Not Knowing the Gospel”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Righteousness is obtained (finished) before it is imputed (applied)

    How could the work of Christ be”finished” if it was not only for those who are saved?

    If Christ’s death needs to be finished by our accepting it, then it’s not finished.

    The only way it’s a “finished work” is if Christ’s death actually will save all for whom Christ died, ie if Christ died for everybody then everybody would be saved, or if Christ died only for the elect then all the elect would be saved

    but you could say: maybe the new believer has not thought this all out

    none of us has thought anything “all out”

    Bt my guess is that most who profess to be Christians do have an opinion already, and that opinion is that Christ’s work was “finished” for everybody but that “finished” does not really mean “finished” until you accept it.


    Jacobus Andreae, Acta Colloquij Montisbellogartensis, 1613, 447

    “Those assigned to eternal destruction are not damned because because they sinned. They are damned for this reason, because they refused to embrace Jesus Christ with true faith, who died no less for their sins than for the sins of Peter, Paul and all the saints.

    Beza—p448–”To me what you say is plainly new and previously unheard–that men are not damned because they have sinned….

    Garry J Williams, p 513—The notion that the lost will be punished for the sin of unbelief and not for sin in general allows Lutherans to hold that Jesus died for every general sin of every individual, and yet not all must be saved, because unbelievers may still be justly condemned for their unbelief since Christ did not die for it. This reply limits the sins for which Christ died..

    The Lutherans have created a difficulty with biblical texts referring to the sins for which Christ died. Every affirmation that sins have been borne by Christ must now be understood to contain a tacit restriction—except the sin of unbelief….If a sinner believes and becomes a Christian at age forty, and the Lutherans teach that Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, this means that Christ did not die for this man’s sin of unbelief committed over forty years.

    Psalm 130: 3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?

    II Corinthians 5: 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

    mark: Most people have not heard the true gospel. Most people do not believe the true gospel because most people have not heard the true gospel.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    not good from Charles Hodge—
    What was suitable for one was suitable for all. The righteousness of Christ, the merit of his obedience and death, is needed for justification by each individual of our race, and therefore is needed by all. It is no more appropriate to one man than to another. Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant under which all men were placed. He rendered the obedience required of all, and suffered the penalty which all had incurred; and therefore his work is equally suited to all.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but who for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

    This text does not mean that Christ died for everybody. But some say it does, because they argue those for whom Christ did not die would have no responsible to not live for themselves.

    I have a two part answer. One, everybody is born condemned but nobody knows that they are not elect. Two, even if a person did know they were non-elect, that would not mean they had no accountability to the law of Christ. Even if the rich guy was not elect, he was still under law to God.

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