Christ’s Incarnation as Human Does Not Mean that His Death is for Everyone, by Tianqi Wu

Tianqi Wu — Being a human death does not mean that Christ’s death has saving value for all human beings. If Christ did not bear someone’s sins, then his death has no saving value for specific sinners.
Many people think it sounds pious to separate Christ’s death from the imputation of specific sins to Christ and say that Christ’s death has “intrinisic value” because of His “infinite deity” . But apart from God’s imputation of specific sins, Christ’s death is not a sin offering. No matter how much you seek to praise the dignity of the person of Christ, if his death is not a sin offering for someone, then Christ’s death is not the objective reality which saves any sinner from God’s wrath.

Some will agree that Christ’s death is not sufficient for angels because Christ did not take angelic nature but human nature. They do not say, Christ’s death has “infinite value” and therefore is sufficient for angels as well. Yet they assume that Christ’s death was also sufficient for non-elect humans. To them what matters most is Christ’s incarnation and all that matters is that Christ died a human death. To them, imputation is something the sinner is enabled to do.

But dying a human death, in itself, does not mean salvation for anybody at all. For a sinner to be justified, Christ had to die the death that is the punishment for their sins. For this to happen there must be a transfer of guilt of their sins to Christ. This transfer of guilt happened only if Christ is their representative, which relation happened only if their election in Christ was ordained by God’s counsel.

The sufficient but efficient distinction attempts to fudge this, by making Christ’s death have a less specific nature under the cover of “infinity”, and at the same time introducing conditions for using Christ’s death. Thus regeneration becomes the specific grace which enables the elect to make Christ’s death work for them. In this view, Christ’ ‘s death is not a propitiation for specific persons

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9 Comments on “Christ’s Incarnation as Human Does Not Mean that His Death is for Everyone, by Tianqi Wu”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Bobby Grow–What I personally maintain is that Jesus in the incarnation surely is the ontic ground of what it means to be human coram Deo, and thus his history (as Barth develops) is human history simpliciter; but I don’t see this penetration, by God in Christ, into humanity as a strong-arm move—like what we see in the patristic physical theory of the atonement. The physical theory as described by John Anthony McGuckin is,

    … The Logos descended to earth in order to teach the paths for souls to ascend once more on high. His death was an exemplary one. In patristic writing this does not mean “merely” or only exemplarist, for Origen certainly combines his pedagogical theory with sacrificial views and notions of transactional redemption. After the fourth century the Alexandrian theory witnessed in Athanasius, and later brought to a pitch by Cyril of Alexandria and the Byzantine theologians, begins to dominate Eastern patristic thought. This has been called the “physical theory” of atonement, whereby the entrance of the divine Word into the fabric and condition of the flesh so radically constitutes the humanity of the race that the mortal is rendered immortal. The image of Christ’s fleshly body (his finger or spittle, for example) becoming a divine medium of grace and power (healing the blind man or calling Lazarus back to life) is taken as a paradigm for what has happened to the humanity of all people after the transfiguration of Jesus’ own humanity. Irenaeus described it in terms of: “Out of his great love, he became what we are, so that we might become what he is” (Adversus haereses 5 praef.). And Athanasius repeated it more succinctly: “He [the Logos] became human that humans might become God” (De incarnation 54). After the fourth century the theory of deification (theopoiesis) dominated the Byzantine religious imagination….[4]

    While patristic theology is deeply informing and attendant to what we are about in evangelical Calvinism, we do not uncritically appropriate some of these apparent implications or aspects of patristic theology. Because this is important to get a handle on, particularly in light of Vanhoozer’s misreading of us, let’s look at how Myk Habets responds to the ‘physical theory’ charge as he distinguishes Thomas Torrance’s conception of this (and thus the evangelical Calvinist’s) from the patristic:

    Beyond a physical theory of redemption. Given Torrance’s stress on incarnational redemption it will pay us to return to the mistaken charge that Torrance presents a physical theory of redemption. Like Athanasius, Torrance understands the uniting of the divine Logos and human nature in the one person of the Son (hypostatic union) to divinise human nature. If this same process were applied to men and women generally, it would amount to a ‘physical theory’ of redemption. However, according to the way in which Torrance adopts patristic theology, the physical theory, mistakenly first put forward by Irenaeus, is not what is in mind.

    According to the physical theory of theosis human nature is immortalised (aphtharsia) and thus divinised by the fact of the ultimate contact that the incarnation establishes between it and the divine nature of the Word. This would make human beings indistinguishable from God and deification would be automatic. At the very least a strict adherence to a physical theory of the atonement postulates deification by contact. In place of a physical theory whereby ‘deification’ or theosis occurs automatically or naturally within human persons, Torrance presents an ontological theory of incarnational redemption, as we have seen. This ontological atonement, mediation, or redemption forms the first stage of theosis proper in Torrance’s theology, characterised by the theopoiesis of Christ’s own human nature. As Torrance articulates it:

    [Christ] had come, Son of God incarnate as Son of man, in order to get to grips with the powers of darkness and defeat them, but he had been sent to do that not through the manipulation of social, political or economic power-structures, but by striking beneath them all into the ontological depths of Israel’s existence where man, and Israel representing all mankind, had become estranged from God, and there within those ontological depths of human being to forge a bond of union and communion between man and God in himself which can never be undone.

    At the cross God meets, suffers, and triumphs over the enmity entrenched in human existence once and for all in Jesus Christ. Ontological atonement has been achieved in the incarnate life and death of the Son of God, confirmed in the resurrection from the empty tomb, and in the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.

    The human life of Christ contains redemptive value in the sense that it completes the efficacy of the incarnation. For full redemption and reconciliation to occur the incarnate Logos assumed our natural – fallen – human condition in order to divinise the human life in its various stages. That is to say ‘he lived it personally’. This does not imply that Torrance’s conception of the matter has any form of mechanical theosis for men and women, the physical theory simpliciter. There are processes or stages to be followed by which human beings in general may be ‘deified’, including the sacraments and the Christian life. This will be considered later in the study. Before that, Torrance constructs the basis for theosis to occur; it must first of all be a reality in the life of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. The work of theosis is supremely the work of Christ (and the Holy Spirit), to whom the initiative goes completely.[5]

    What Myk, and Torrance, rightly develop is a differentiation between Christ’s humanity as his (enhypostatic) humanity, while at the same time maintaining that what Christ has done as archetypal humanity in his assumed humanity pro nobis (for us) is accomplish, de jure, salvation and reconciliation with God all the way down. For evangelical Calvinists Jesus Christ in his unio personalis is who he is in relation to God by nature; and yet his assumption of humanity is an expression of God’s grace for us. Even though our humanity is what is, before God, and even though we embrace our full humanity in Christ, it is only by grace, it is not by nature. In other words, we do not conflate nature and person, as Vanhoozer claims we do, but instead we see Jesus’s humanity as the objective ground of what it means for all humanity to be truly human before God. In other words, contrary to what Vanhoozer writes, along with Paul and Calvin, we do affirm the need for personal faith for someone to fully participate in the humanity of God in Christ (e.g. it is not automatic in the incarnation), and thus experience the full benefits of reconciliation and salvation with God in Christ. It is just that evangelical Calvinists believe that all that is required for humans to be “saved” or ‘justified’ has already happened fully in Christ (which is not discordant from Calvin’s duplex gratia and unio cum Christo theology).

    In brief, we do not hold to the physical theory of the atonement as Vanhoozer mistakenly presumes about us. He seems to think, as we’ve been noting, that by virtue of the eternal Logos becoming human, that we believe that justification/salvation is both objectively and subjectively accomplished—so the physical theory—for all of humanity ipso facto; which is why Vanhoozer is so baffled by the fact that we reject universalism.

    I was going to explain how we can hold what we hold, and at the same time not affirm universalism. If we reject the physical theory—which hopefully this post has laid to rest—then how do we think it possible for only some people to affirm their election in Jesus Christ, and not all? What place do we have in our theology for the person and work of the Holy Spirit in transitioning us from our unbelieving states into believing states; and how does what has already happened in Jesus’s humanity work its way into ours? Since this post has run too long already, I will answer this question in the next post (so a mini-series). Stay tuned.

    [1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “The Origin of Paul’s Soteriology: Election, Incarnation, and Union with Christ in Ephesians 1:4 (with special reference to Evangelical Calvinism),” in Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo, and Kevin J. Vanhoozer eds., Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars (Germany: Mohr Siebeck).

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Mason–The Son of God became true man, in every way the same as those He came to save. And what is of supreme important for us here: the Son of God was united in Person with true and complete human nature itself, not narrowly united to a set of individual humans!

    Christ bore the substance of humanity, not a collection of individual subsistences. He did not bear the nature of Peter, James, and John to the exclusion of Judas and Pontius Pilot. The Creeds and Confessions of the Church have made this clear for many centuries. We read the following in the Formula of Chalcedon (A.D. 451):

    We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood.

    Jesus Christ, according to His Manhood, is “consubstantial” with us; that is, he shares the substance itself of all mankind and not just the substance-plus-accidents of only certain individual sunbsistences (e.g., Peter, James, and John). And He is “perfect” in this manhood; the human nature which he bears is complete, with both human soul and human body, and we can even add from the 3rd Council of Constantinople that also he bears the natural will and operations of our human nature as well:

    [B]ut we say that as the same our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures so also he has two natural wills and operations, to wit, the divine and the human: the divine will and operation he has in common with the coessential Father from all eternity: the human, he has received from us, taken with our nature in time. (A.D. 681)

    As such, we are fully warranted to conclude that God gave His only begotten Son to all mankind, for Christ the Lord has borne (and continues to bear) the self-same and complete human nature of all mankind. When God sent His Son, He sent Him as the Seed of Eve, the Mother of all the Living. He sent Him through the natural and human womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born and carried in the arms of His mother, bearing the nature of all infants and children. He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,” bearing the nature of all youth (Lk. 2:52). And as He grew into manhood, He “suffered” and was “in all points tempted as are we,” bearing the self-same nature of all tempted and suffering humans, being touched with their infirmities (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). And last, we see Him “made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

    As we contemplate the meaning of this Advent Season and the coming Christmas day celebration, I pray that we all may be sure of two things:

    The Gospel of the Incarnate God is for you.
    The Gospel of the Incarnate God is for all mankind.
    It was God’s own love for His creation that motivated Him to send salvation to fallen and wicked mankind, in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. And God sent His Son such that all that was necessary for the salvation of any and every human can found in His Person; for He is perfect and true God, consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit, and is also true, perfect, and complete man, consubstantial with the human race. As such, we must proclaim to our own tender consciences and to the whole of humanity the universal offer of the Christmas message.

    And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17)

    David Engelsma

    The truth of this missive is that the theory of a well-meant offer, that is, God’s offer of salvation to all humans with the desire that all humans be saved, and the heresy of universal atonement are inseparably linked. If God in the preaching desires all to be saved out of a love for them all, Christ must have died for all. Theologians are now pressing this truth upon nominally Reformed theologians and churches that have committed themselves to the well-meant offer. The theory of a well-meant offer necessarily implies universal atonement.
    The heresy is that God loves all (with a saving love–the love that gave Jesus to the cross), implying that the reason why some are saved in distinction from others lies in themselves: they accepted the offer, whereas the others did not. Hence, salvation is by the will of the sinner.
    The misunderstanding, if such it is, and not worse, is that one can promiscuously preach Christ, draw the elect to God, and assure elect sinners of their salvation only by preaching the well-meant offer. In fact, the gospel presents Christ to all; (externally, but seriously) calls all hearers to come to Christ for salvation; and promises salvation to all who come in a true faith. To preach promiscuously “whoever believes will be saved” does not need nor does it depend upon universal atonement. Those who will believe are the elect in the audience, whom God will draw by His inner, efficacious call as the gospel is preached.
    To state the issue bluntly, preaching “whoever believes will be saved” does not require, or imply, universal atonement. It requires, and implies, atonement for whomever repents and believes. And these are the elect.
    Prof. David Engelsma

  3. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Many who find salvation in their death find salvation from being born
    in the flesh. Either they find no salvation in Christ having come in the flesh or they deny that Christ has risen in the flesh

    I John 4:2 Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has[a] come in the flesh is from God.

    2 John 1:7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not
    confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh

    John 1:14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw His glory, the glory as the Only Begotten Son from the Father,

    Romans 8:3 God condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son IN FLESH like ours under the guilt of sins imputed

    Romans 1: 3 God’s good news concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead

    Acts 2:31 Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ–: He was not left in Hades, and His flesh did not experience decay

    1 Timothy 3:16 The mystery of godliness is great: God was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory

    Hebrews 10:20 He has opened for us a new aand living way through the curtain (that is, His flesh),

    1 Corinthians 15:50 Brothers, I tell you this: Flesh and blood
    cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit

    1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh,
    equip yourselves also with the same resolve—because the one who
    suffered in the flesh has finished with sin—

  4. Mark Mcculley Says:

    since Christ in His person is divine and infinite, so must be His work on the cross; therefore His death is sufficient for all.

    Answer: “It is a non sequitur to move from the deity of the sacrifice to the sufficiency for every individual person. Such a conclusion assumes that the Deity can perform nothing by measure,”4. In His feeding of the five thousand, Jesus multiplied the loaves by a divine act. Yet all the loaves in the world were not multiplied, only the ones He handled and blessed for the five thousand. Again, it was a divine act (and thus infinite) that raised Lazarus from the grave. Yet this was limited to Lazarus. To say that the raising of Lazarus was sufficient for all but efficient for Lazarus makes little sense if any. It is obvious that Christ had the power to raise whomever He chose. The fact is He chose to raise only Lazarus, and His divine actions were limited to that.

    “Perhaps more to the point, Christ’s nature, being divine and thus infinite, does not increase the intensity or quantity of that which was laid on Him at the cross. However, His nature does enable Him to bear whatever it might have been. Our sins are not infinite, and we are not infinite. it is Christ who is infinite. Christ bore the penalty for the sins of a finite number of people. His divine nature ensured that He would successfully bear the lasting wrath due to those sins, no matter how great or how many. His atonement is sufficient for all whom it was intended. It is sufficient for all whose sins were laid on Him, no matter how many. The question is, Was Christ a real substitute for, and did He bear the punishment due to, all men or some? The doctrine of limited atonement says some, the elect, or else all would be saved. To say that His death was sufficient for all implies otherwise.

  5. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Romans 6: 9-10 Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Christ 10 For in light of the fact that Christ died, Christ died to sin once for all time. . In fact
    Christ now lives….If by NATURE we are no better off than the
    children of wrath, but in LEGAL REALITY we were never really guilty or under God’s wrath, then was guilt ever imputed by God to Christ, and was Christ ever in history under wrath?
    If Christ was never under legal wrath, why did Christ in history ever
    die? Was Christ’s death only about “spiritual corruption and spiritual life”

    Does this mean
    that if God’s wrath is on a sinner, that wrath will always be on a sinner?
    That God’s elect were never in time under the wrath of God?
    That Christ (God’s elect, I peter 1:20) was never in time under the wrath of God?
    John 3:36 The one who believes in the Son has lasting life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life. Instead, the wrath of God REMAINS on him.

  6. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Jesus became incarnate in order to die under law and wrath for the sins of the elect imputed to Him. By His death Jesus obtained the righteousness revealed in the gospel. When God imputes that righteousness to the elect, they believe the gospel and are justified before God. You don’t have to use the same words (imputation, righteousness) to define the gospel, but you do have to believe the same gospel or you are not yet justified. Three questions. 1. What is the gospel (is any part of Arminianism the gospel?) 2. Does God’s sovereignty mean that God justifies some without any gospel? 3. If God only justifies by using the gospel, isn’t that a different gospel from the false gospel that claims that God justifies without the gospel?

  7. Mark Mcculley Says:

    double talk quotations from Mike Horton’s essay in The Extent of the Atonement, edited by Adam Johnson, Zondervan, 2019
    p 118—The term “limited atonement” distorts Dort’s teaching, which on the extent of the atonement repeats the traditional medieval refrain, sufficient for all
    p 132–“We declare not only generally to all but particularly to each
    person that Christ’s death is sufficient to save him or her. Nobody
    can say, there was no redemption for me. There is sufficient
    redemption in Christ’s cross for every person in the world
    p 133–“Because the death of Christ is sufficient for everyone, no one is left out except those who refuse this gift. God is not held responsible for our refusing this grace.

  8. Mark Mcculley Says:

    In Christ alone! Who took on flesh; fullness of God in helpless babe! This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save—

    Does this mean that Christ took on flesh for those Christ will not save? Does this song scorn Christ’s gospel for a different more popular false gospel?

    Circumcision was for all Jews.
    The Abrahamic covenant was for all the circumcised. Jews by birth belonged to the Abrahamic covenant.

    In the Reformed world today, if you hear about election at all, what you hear will be about “the covenant”. You will hear that 1. Jews
    were elected to be in “the covenant” and 2. that this election is not only a blessing for the Jews, because the elect Jews will be (or are
    supposed to be) a blessing for the gentiles, all nations, all people.

    But this kind of talk about election and covenant leaves so much out (about both election and covenants) that this kind of talk about “the covenant” has nothing to do with God having elected for whom Christ would die, nor does it have anything to with God having chosen which sinners will be justified before God.

    The Sinai covenant includes both elect and non-elect.
    The Abrahamic covenant includes both elect and non-elect.

    But only the elect come into the new covenant and are justified.

    This is why we need to make a historical covenantal distinction not only between the Sinai covenant and the Abrahamic covenant. We need a distinction between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant. The Abrahamic covenant has as one of its promised blessings that the seed of Abram will bless
    Gentiles. But Christ the seed of Abraham does not bless all people in all nations. There is no such thing as “common grace” or “natural grace” or “creation grace”.

  9. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Ursinus says, Christ is the PROPITIATION for the sins of all sinners – in the sense of “infinite value”, NOT in the sense that all sins were imputed.
    Tianqi Wu– Unless you read “is the propitiation” to mean “can propitiate” rather than “has propitiated”, this is nonsense.
    But if you read this to mean “can propitiate” rather than “has propitiated”, you are reading the text to mean “Christ” as a hypothetical plan rather than the one who was appointed for and has accomplished redemption in history.
    Ursinus says, Christ GAVE HIMSELF a RANSOM for all sinners – in the sense of “infinite value”, NOT in the sense that all sins were imputed.
    Tianqi Wu– Nonsense, unless you think something is a “ransom” for a sinner, even though it didn’t pay for his sins??
    Ursinus–. He is,therefore,said to be a Mediator, both in merit and efficacy ; because he does not only by his sacrifice merit for us, but he also, by virtue of his Spirit, effectually confers upon his benefits. As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickens them, so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” (John 10 : 15, 28 ; 5 : 21, 46.)”
    Tianqi Wu-This clarifies what Ursinus means by “efficacy”. It only means application of the death by the Spirit (no specific sins imputed)

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