The Problem with “Us” Theology

Mark 9: 40 For whoever is not against us is for us.

Some Christians “act as if some vast conspiracy is brewing in America over the Christian faith, with naysayers organized against Christians. They feel like they live life on the cultural margins, so they take that as their identity–they count their marginalization as their righteousness. They are not looking to Jesus as their only righteousness, and so they act from prejudice, assuming that everyone hates them, and they act in a way that confirms this.” (Crucifying Morality, p 105, R. W. Glenn)

“For the manifestation of His glory”—that is how the Bible itself explains everything. Romans 9:13 declares “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:22 tells the truth: “God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory.”

The Bible was written to those who believe the Christian gospel (not the message of tolerance and loves everybody), so when Bible readers see a “loves us”, they need to ask the question Tonto asked the Lone Ranger— “who’s the us?”

According to the Bible, God does not love all sinners, and that love is never conditioned on the sinner. God has ordained evil things to happen to both the non-elect and the elect, but the promise of Romans 8:28 is that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Anti-individualism is the reigning ideology of our day. Most political and religious self-help books end with the exhortation to find fulfillment by finding community. We meet together to be chastised again for being too concerned about ourselves alone. We are reminded that “He loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20) does not eliminate the greater truth that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2).

Since me does not rule out us, then us does not rule out them. And since almost nobody talks about elect and non-elect, the truth that Christ died for His sheep cannot be understood as denying that Christ died also for goats. So the Arminians tell us. Election yes, but not when we are talking about Christ’s death

But what about the “Calvinists” who will also not talk about election when they are talking about Christ’s death and love? They only say, “if you put your trust in Him,” and will not spell out the antithesis between sheep for whom Christ died and goats for whom Christ did not die. They double-talk about God’s love. On the one hand, everyone listening to them is regarded as one of the “us” who Christ loves. On the other hand, listeners are being warned that Christ’s love depends on them “putting their trust in”. At issue here is not only the extent of Christ’s love but the nature of Christ’s love. If Christ’s love is often unrequited, then even His love for those who love Him back is of a very different nature than the biblical love which never lets go of any God gave His Son.

It does no good to say that God took the initiative, or even that God loved the unlovely. In our own relationships, one of us takes the first step. But if the other person does not respond to the first love, it amounts to nothing. Think about that. I say it quite seriously. If Christ’s love is an initiative which depends on our response, then Christ’s love amounts to nothing.

Galatians 2:20 does not say that the Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you. Nor does the text give clergy the authority to extrapolate that God loves you and gave Himself for you. Rather, the next verse says “if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If Christ’s love depends on you keeping the law to put your trust in Him, then Christ’s love amounts to nothing and His death was for no purpose.

A love which possibly amounts to nothing? In our relationships, we love the lovely. We become lovely to those who are lovely to us. In the same way, the false gospel depends on our becoming more lovely. If we don’t become lovely enough to at least put our trust in the love of the false Christ of the false gospel, then that love fails.

What good is a love for the unlovely which depends on them becoming lovely at some point? A love which CAN amount to nothing always DOES amount to nothing. We are unlovely sinners who cannot respond to initiatives. If we think we can do one lovely thing to respond, then we presume that God is wooing us. We think God is appealing to the part of us which God finds lovely. So then, no matter what we say, we don’t really believe that God loves the unlovely. We can’t believe it.

A divine love which CAN fail amounts to a meaningless nothing, because such a love disregards the cross and the death by which Christ paid for the sins of the elect alone. Many “Calvinists” think of election and definite redemption as two different things, because they think of love and propitiation for the elect as two different things.

Not so in the Scripture! John 10 does not say that the good Shepherd loves the goats so that they can become sheep if they respond. John 10:12 says that “he who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Notice the antithesis. The good shepherd does not act like the hired man. The hired man’s love amounts to nothing. How do we know the Shepherd loves the sheep? “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Does this mean that the Shepherd dies as a representative of the sheep along with the sheep? No. The Shepherd is not only the leader, not only the first to die. The Shepherd dies as a substitute for the sheep. Because the Shepherd dies, the sheep do not die. John 10 does not separate Christ’s love and Christ’s death. Christ loves those for whom He dies. Christ dies for those He loves.

So what’s my point? Christ did not die for “us” if you think “us” means everybody.. John 10 makes this clear and simple. It does not say, “If you put your trust in and believe.” John 10:26, “But you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice.” It’s NOT if you put your trust in me, then you will become my sheep.

Yes, many “Calvinists” reason, we also believe in election. We know that John 10:29 tells how “My Father has given them to me”. We just don’t we should talk about that when we are talking about Christ’s loving and dying. When we talk about Christ’s love, we stay with the “if you trust in Him”, and don’t get into the business of them not being able to trust if they are not elect. Christ knew who was not elect, but we don’t

I agree that we don’t know who is not elect. Just because a person does not now believe the true gospel does not mean that person never will believe. Any person who will one day believe the true gospel is already a sheep. Christ already loves them, and Christ already died for them. But we can say all that without leaving the door open for anybody (Lutheran or “Reformed”) who teach that Christ died for everybody. (or died “in some sense” for everybody, either to make an offer or to make punishment just or for whatever reason).

If we do not say that Christ died for the elect and not for the non-elect, those who climb in other ways will be saying (not only thinking) that it all depends on “if you trust In Him”. If we don’t talk about Christ’s death and election at the same time, we ourselves will be heard preaching a love that depends on the sinner to respond.

My main point is not the motives of the These “Calvinists”. Surely some of them are hired men who know they won’t be hired if they talk about Christ not dying for the non-elect. Others of them sincerely have essentially the same false gospel as the thieves who teach a universal death conditioned on a sinner’s faith.

My point is that Christ’s love amounts to everything! Christ’s love meant dying on the cross for those He loved, and that love is decisive. That love is not one factor among many. Christ’s love is not about making some people lovely. Christ’s love is about a death which propitiates the wrath of God against elect sinners for their sins. Because of God’s love for individuals elect in Christ, God imputed their sins to Christ.

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13 Comments on “The Problem with “Us” Theology”

  1. John 3:16 says “He gave His only Son, that as many as believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” God did not give His Son, so that everybody could believe in Him. God gave His Son, so that those who do believe in Him will not perish. God did not give His Son for them because they would believe in Him.

    Nor is the only thing going on in the giving of the Son the purchasing of faith for the elect, even though this is true. I Peter 1:21, “who through Him are believers” and II Peter 1:1, “to those who have been given a faith as precious as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    The main event in the giving of the Son is propitiation. The death of Christ does not make appeasement of God’s wrath possible if other factors fall into place. The death of Christ is the punishment required by God’s law for the sins of those God has given Christ.

    It is not only God’s law that requires the death. God requires the death. Never ever has God loved one individual sinner without God also requiring the death of Christ for that sinner. Never has Christ loved one sinner without Christ also needing to die for that sinner.

    It’s not, if I die for, then I will love. It’s always love, then die for. The love was decided from the foundation of the world. The death was about two thousand years ago, but that death was decided the same as when God gave the love.

    God gave elect sinners to the Son. God gave the Son for the elect sinners. We did not make the difference between us and them by putting our trust in Him. But there is a difference between us and “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.“ Revelation 13:8.

  2. he current ideology warns us that we won’t be ethical if we focus on individual names in a book. Even though there are some Arminians left around who are pleading with individuals to write their names in that book, most religious people today can’t be bothered to rejoice about names in a book. The current idea is not to argue about the significance of names when God loves everybody, but to move on to the need for “community”.

    The idea is that talking about guilt being appeased only makes people feel guilty. And they look back, instead of to the future. They think about themselves and their sins, instead of trying to help people.

    The idea is to “keep the right balance” which ends up meaning preach the texts without talking about election so that one Sunday we can make everybody feel guilty for killing Jesus and the next Sunday we can make people feel guilty for not being more busy for the kingdom.

    The false gospel, in all its forms, has enough guilt for everybody. This is the irony of what is supposed to be good news. Even if there are no sentimental songs about us killing Jesus, whenever you tell a person that Jesus died for them, but then deny that this is enough to take away their guilt if they don’t put their trust in it, you have just pushed that person further into self-righteousness.

    First, they think, even though I am guilty of all those sins and Jesus had to die for them, at least I am not guilty anymore of not putting trust in. Second, they think, God depends on us so much that our sins have ruined everything so much that not even Jesus dying for all of them is enough to get rid of the problem.

    You can argue that this kind of epistemological self-awareness is not real, but I think this attitude is in the very air we breathe. It is not individualism gone bad but an idolatry of the self which cannot be cured by being busy for the kingdom.

  3. The true God is not held hostage by our sins, and the love of Christ is not frustrated by a sinner’s lack of trust. I John 2, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

    Evangelical DA Carson says that world means everybody. And I say, this will not do. And Carson says, but the whole world agrees with me, not least because I have a PHD.

    I John 2:2 is not about making an offer of the false gospel to everybody, or telling them that God loves them, with extra for others in the fine print. I John 2:2 is about propitiation. Christ is the advocate, the propitiation, not only for us who are reading I John but also for the whole world. The world in this context does not include the non-elect anymore than world in John 3:16 includes the non-elect.

    God gave His only Son as the propitiation taking God’s wrath so that those for whom He was given do not perish under God’s wrath. John 3:16 is about a love which keeps those loved from perishing. If Carson wants to say that God gave the Son to die for everybody and that God loved everybody, instead of doubletalk he will need to explain why the propitiation is not effective.

    If it is not effective for everybody, how is it effective for anybody?

    Yes, we can discuss every text with the word “world” in it, and we will agree that it does not always mean the same thing. But when we are done with all that, the question remains— if the propitiation is for everybody, does the effectiveness of it depend on the sinner? Does the putting trust in also propitiate? It is not quite rational to accuse somebody of being a rationalist without answering that question.

  4. Election is God’s love, and when the Bible talks about God’s love, it talks about propitiation. I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” If the hireling “Reformed” leave it to the Arminians to climb in and stipulate that the appeasement of wrath will not work without our faith, then it’s inadequate for them to add on later that God sent His son to purchase our faith. The nature of the cross as a propitiation will not be proclaimed.

    People use the word without agreeing with the Bible about what it means. A propitiation for the non-elect amounts to nothing. Since there is only one propitiation, a propitiation for the elect which is also the same thing for the non-elect, amounts to nothing. We need to stop playing with words and tell the truth.

    Do you love the gospel of election, or do you hate the doctrine and suppress it? Yes, Christ loved the church, but the church in the non-election way of talking is not individuals written in the lamb’s book, but a class of people who put their trust in. So the “reformed but evangelical” does not talk about Christ not dying for the non-elect, but about Christ not dying for those who don’t put their trust in.

    Many “Calvinists” want you to give yourself to Christ without knowing anything about election. They will teach you that all who give themselves to Christ were given to Christ. They justify this as being the only perspective possible to us. We have to know we believe, before we can know if we are elect.

    I agree that knowing our election before we believe is impossible. Knowing our election is not our warrant to believe. (See Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings). But this is no excuse for leaving the doctrine of election out of the doctrine of redemption and propitiation by the cross.

  5. The person who believes the true gospel knows something about election. The gospel explains that the cross is what saves. The cross is decisive. The gospel is not only that only those for whom Christ died will be saved. The gospel ALSO tells how Christ loved the elect by propitiating the wrath of God in Christ’s death. You must know this to know the nature and purpose of Christ’s death.

    You can either argue that the thief saved on the cross did not know the gospel or you can argue that there is a gospel which omits the nature and necessity of propitiation.

    If we begin to say that people are saved without believing the gospel, then we are contradicting John 3:16 which says that those who do not perish believe on Him. If we can know who He is and believe on Him without knowing the gospel, then we have effectively become universalists. That’s what happened to me before God taught me to fear Him.

    If there is a gospel in which the death of Christ is not the good news, in which the death of Christ amounts to nothing, then let’s not waste anymore time talking to people who are already busy in the kingdom of the resurrected Lord with our scholastic debates on the meaning of Christ’s death. Can’t we all agree that Christ needed to die in order to be resurrected? Why say anything more?

    Some “Calvinists” have a gospel which not only does not know election but which is frightened by election and which redefines election to make it depend on the sinner believing (accepting the offer). These “Calvinists” claim to have already known Jesus Christ when they believed the false gospel that Jesus died for all of us. .

  6. Norman Shepherd defends Turretin against Daane.

    Turretin Locus 4, Question 10, AIthough we are not elected on account of Christ, yet we are not elected without and out of him; because by the very decree which destined salvation to us, Christ also was destined to acquire it for us, nor was it otherwise destined, than as to he acquired by Christ. Election, therefore, does not exclude but includes Christ, not as already given, but as to be given” (Paragraph 14);

    Turretin—“The Election of Christ as Mediator should not be extended more widely than the Election of men who are to be saved, so that he was not destined and sent for more than the elect” (Paragraph 19).

  7. II Thess 2:10— unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe what is false, 12 so that all will be condemned—those who did not believe the truth but enjoyed unrighteousness Colossians 1:5-6 Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    will you be one of those who use this confession against me? when they told me in high school that I could not give a valedictorian speech, but that the top ten percent would still wear yellow ribbons to set us apart,
    i gave my yellow ribbon to the guy who had to pass a test that day to graduate
    when my brother and I fought over the last slice of chocolate cake,
    i stuck my foot in the cake so nobody would get it
    the lack of an us
    it’s not good

    Psalm 91: 7 Though a thousand fall at your side
    and ten thousand at your right hand,
    the pestilence will not reach YOU
    8 YOU WILL ONLY SEE IT with your eyes

    9 Because you have made the Lord—my refuge,
    the Most High—your dwelling place,
    10 no harm will come to YOU;
    no plague will come NEAR YOUR TENT.
    11 For He will give His angels orders concerning YOU,
    to protect YOU in all your ways.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    I Cor 5: 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that his spirit be saved in the Day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch.

    I Cor 10: 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread. 18 Look at the people of Israel

    I Cor 11: 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, in order that we not be condemned with the world. 33 Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment.

    T. J. Davis, “Discerning the Body: The Eucharist and the Christian Social Body in Sixteenth Century Protestant Exegesis,” Fides et Historia, 38.2 (2005)—“For Luther in 1518/1519 the social aspect directed the individual. By 1523, for Luther, the individual directed the social. Love in the social/spiritual body do not disappear, but they become dependent on faith in the presence of the natural body of Christ, and that faith is now incumbent upon individuals and cannot be lodged in the social body.”

    Reviewing Anthony Hoekema (Created in God’s Image) in his Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective, p 328, Mark Karlberg quotes Hoekema: “To be sure, all infants are under the condemnation of Adam’s sin as soon as they are born. But the Bible clearly teaches that God will judge everyone according to his or her works. And those who die in infancy are incapable of doing any works, whether good or bad.” p 165

    Mark Karlberg comments— “This view appears to be something less than consistent Calvinism. Is not the basis of salvation the sovereign, electing purpose of God in Christ, rather than any consideration of human performance either in the case of adults or infants?”

    No. 20: Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated?

    Tom Chantry—1. When Esau sins and asks for forgiveness from God, can I assure him that his sins are forgiven?

    2. When I ask Esau to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask him to forgive Jacob? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because he should forgive in the same way the Messiah has forgiven him?

    3. Can Esau sing “Messiah loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)

    4. When Esau prays during family worship to his heavenly Father, what are the grounds for him praying such a prayer? Does he have any right to call God his “heavenly Father”?

    5. Should I desire that Esau have a “boring” testimony? Is it not enough for him to simply say each day that he trusts in the coming Messiah alone for their salvation?

    • markmcculley Says:

      Luke 1
      39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

      David Bishop—Notice the text says Elizabeth was the one who was filled with the Holy Spirit, not her baby. Notice that it was also she who made the proclamation of a proposition. The only thing the text tells us that the baby did was leap for joy. Isn’t this proof the baby understood and believed the gospel? No. It is proof the creature recognized it was in the presence of its Creator. Do you know who else can do this? Donkeys.

      Numbers 22: 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”

      Is anyone going to say Balaam’s donkey believed the gospel?

      We have other instances in Scripture where what we might normally call dumb animals are seen as praising and obeying God. The Scriptures tell us God commanded the ravens to bring food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:4-6). Joel 1:20 tells us that even the animals pant for the Lord. Revelation 5:13 tells us that everything on the earth and everything on and in the sea will sing praises to God in worship. Psalm 148 commands the entirety of the earth’s animals to sing praises to their Creator. Just because the babe leaped for joy does not mean he understood and believed the gospel. The fact is, at that point in his life, he did something animals can do and have done. The focus of the text is not the babe in Elizabeth’s womb. Rather, it is the babe in the virgin’s womb.

      Nebuchadnezzar’s submission to God’s sovereignty is not the same as salvation and lasting life

    • markmcculley Says:

      For the promise is for you in spite of yourself, as many Jews as the Lord our God will call, in spite of them being Jews, for the elect alone and not for the non-elect. The promise is for your children, as many children as the Lord our God will call, in spite of parents, for the elect alone and not for the non-elect. The promise is for all who are far off, as many non Jews as the Lord our God will call, in spite of them being born outside any covenant for the elect alone and not for the non-elect

      Paul Zahl –“The Holy Spirit is a true fact—the problem comes when the human being wishes to summon the Spirit on command. This proves impossible in every single case, without exception.”

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