Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Certain 5-Point Calvinists insist that you should not randomly tell people that Jesus died for them, because if they are not one of the secretly elect, you could be lying to them:
Calvinist, Jay Adams cautions: “As a Reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died. But the counselor’s task is to explain the gospel and to say very plainly that God commands all men to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ.” (Competent to Counsel, p.70, emphasis mine)
Question: Why did the apostle Paul tell lost people that Jesus died for them, if supposedly he randomly “cannot say that”?
Notice how tricky Calvinists can be when trying to incorporate a Limited Atonement into the Gospel:
Calvinist, Jeff Noblit: “Our missionaries marched back into the mountains of Peru, and they preached the gospel. They preached the wickedness and offensiveness of man before a holy God, the lostness of man, and the wrath of God. Then they preached the love of God in Jesus Christ and that Christ came and died for sin, shedding His precious blood.” (A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism, p.98, emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? The 5-Point Calvinist is unwilling to stand with the apostle Paul, and confidently declare that “Christ died for our sins.” Instead, they cleverly say: He “died for sin.” That’s a big difference. In other words, Jesus died “for sin,” not necessarily yours, unless you are “one of the elect.” This same Calvinist then goes on to state:
Jeff Noblit: “The rise in the doctrines of grace or Calvinism will help us restore true evangelism.” (A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism, p.104, emphasis mine)
Calvinists are free to call it “true evangelism,” but it’s clearly at variance with “the gospel” taught by the apostle Paul at 1st Corinthians 15:3.
Question: If Jesus didn’t die for certain people, then what news do we give them?
Answer: According to a 5-Point Calvinist, the only news that you can give people is just a command to “repent” and “believe in Jesus,” without affirming whether it will do any good. However, doesn’t telling someone to repent and believe in Jesus, logically imply that they have a Savior to believe in, and if they have a Savior to believe in, wouldn’t that confirm that Jesus died for them? So, telling someone to believe in Jesus has the same effect as telling them that Jesus died for them. Therefore, for a Calvinist like Jay Adams to be truly consistent, his message would need to be modified so that the command to “repent” and “believe in Jesus” be restricted to only those for whom Jesus is a Savior (whom Adams says “no man knows”), and reiterate the Mosaic Law for the rest. Otherwise, if you tell them about Jesus, you are affirming that He is available to them, which upends the Calvinist’s entire theological system.
The underlying message is that no one is without a remedy. Everyone has a provision. The only question is whether they will receive it. And finally, if Jesus died for everyone, it’s hard to imagine that He would withhold the means by which to receive Him, and that’s the dilemma of the 4-Point Calvinist. So there’s no easy way out for the Calvinist of any stripe.
Question: Paul said that a component of the gospel was that “Christ died for us according to the Scriptures.” So which “Scripture” is Paul referencing?
Answer: Perhaps it is Isaiah 53:4-7: “And our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”
Calvinists are in a real pickle, so I’ve witnessed a few strategies advanced by Calvinists:
One Calvinist explains: Paul says that Christ died for our sins “according to the Scriptures.” He taught nothing except what was in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament says nothing about a universal atonement, but only an atonement for the sins of God’s people. Therefore, the Paul’s statement that Christ died for us, must be understood from this perspective: He died for believers only.
What about Isaiah 53:4-7?
One Calvinist explains: The “our” is the audience in Paul’s letter, meaning believers (i.e. the elect).
Yes, Paul is writing to believers, but he’s recalling what he told them as unbelievers, and that’s the key. Paul calls it “the gospel,” through which they are now “saved.” So this is what he told them when they were unbelievers. And what was his message? “Christ died for our sins.” R.I.P. 5-Point Calvinism.
Another Calvinist explains: You can’t prove that the sermon Paul initially preached to unbelievers included the words that “Christ died for your sins.”
Sure I can. It was “the gospel.” It was not a gospel, but the gospel. Otherwise, how many gospels do you suppose that there are? This is how you can know what Paul told every unbeliever, whether in Corinth or anywhere else.
The Calvinist explains: Paul could have said that for all who believe, your sins are paid for by the death of Christ. And now as he addresses believers, says that “Christ died for our sins.”
But that’s not how Paul defined the “the gospel.” Paul outlines what the “gospel” is, and how through it, they became “saved,” and then Paul describes what that gospel is, which is a statement that “Christ died for us.” I do not see any way around this.
Here is a Blog post on this verse.
Question: Is there an Arminian presupposition regarding the audience of 1st Corinthians 15? In order for the “you” in the first part of the passage to equal unsaved sinners, then Paul must be writing to them. Yet, at the beginning of the chapter, he says “brethren.” Applying the immediate context of the passage, then “you” in this chapter refers back to the “brethren” in verse 1. Any disagreements on that? (I should add that “our” would also refer back to “brethren.”)
Answer: Yes, Paul is definitely writing to Christians, but he is reflecting upon the gospel that he had preached to them back when they were as yet unconverted, which was the same gospel message in his own conversion.