“… there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Eph 4:4-7
Notice the following from the scripture above: “ …Father of ALL… above ALL … through ALL … in ALL … but to EACH ONE of us grace was given”
“If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered
and the sum labeled “chosen of God,”
They’d be numbers still, not names;
salvation comes by personal selection.
God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name.
Arithmetic is not his focus.”
Rom 9:27 MSG
In this writing, I want to look at both the scope and the focus of what God accomplished in Christ. Both are important and compliment one another. If we give a wrong emphasis to personal encounter it can become so narrow-minded, so introspective that it excludes and becomes useless to humanity. In the same way, we can so focus on the all-inclusive nature of redemption that it becomes theoretical and without personal impact.
The gospel reveals that God has successfully reconciled all to Himself, with such intensity that each one is called by name into a personal encounter with God. This very individual encounter does not exclude humanity, but invites them into the same unique and deeply personal relationship with Him.
The scope of reconciliation.
Lets start with the scope of God’s work of redemption – who is God’s audience, and who benefits from what He has done?
The word ‘all’ is very prevalent in Paul’s writings. This has presented great difficulties to those who hold to a theory of ‘some’ are elected and ‘some’ are rejected. One of the arguments that they present to counter the meaning of the word ‘all’ is that Paul obviously wrote to a specific audience of believers and that the ‘all’ he spoke of, is limited to the people he wrote to.
Well, thankfully Paul himself gave us an explanation of what he meant when he said ‘all’.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over ALL creation. For by Him ALL things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. ALL things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before ALL things, and in Him ALL things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in ALL things He may have the preeminence.
For it pleased the Father that in Him ALL the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile ALL things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
So Paul defines what ‘all’ means, namely: everything created, visible or invisible. There is only one Creator, and everything He created is the audience of reconciliation.
Again in Rom 5:18 Paul gives a clear definition of what he means by all.
“Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to ALL men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to ALL men, resulting in justification of life.”
Obviously Paul is not limiting his use of the word ‘all’ to those who first received the letter. Yes, he wrote the letter to a specific audience, but his message concerns all men in all time. In fact, on one occasion Paul says that he is a minister to all of creation under heaven! (Col 1:23)
A scripture that summarises the all-inclusive work of Christ is 2 Cor 5:19: “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”
Even the classic passages (Rom 9-11) that were used to support the idea of ‘some’ are elect and ‘some’ are rejected, end with this conclusion: “For God has imprisoned ALL in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on ALL.” (Rom 11:32)
If you read all three chapters in context, you’ll notice that the ‘elect’ become the ‘non-elect’ and the ‘non-elect’ become the ‘elect’. Being non-elect therefore is not a permanent state that cannot be changed, rather it is a temporal state, to which there is only one ultimate conclusion. The message translation says it so beautifully:
“…there was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we ALL experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.” Rom 11:30-32 MSG
So I hope it is clear that all means all. The scope of what Christ did for man is all-inclusive – the world was reconciled, the world was forgiven.
How did Paul come to this understanding? There was a time when Paul did not understand this – he wrote about this saying: “… we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” 2 Cor 5:16. There was a time when Paul considered Jesus as just another individual, but something happened that gave Paul a completely new understanding.
At some stage Paul came to the conclusion that what happened with Christ, did not just happen to Him individually, but had significance for all of humanity … all of creation.
Maybe at some stage after his conversion, he read Hosea 6:2:
“After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.”
…and maybe as he read this, he realised that the death of Christ was not the death of an individual man, but the death of the whole Adamic race that stood guilty and under the judgement of God … maybe this is what made him realise that Jesus’ resurrection, was the revival of a new humanity that stood blameless before God.
It could have been this scripture that inspired him to write: “If one died for all, then all have died … Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh” 2 Cor 5:14-16
Or it could have been the encounter he had with Jesus, that left him blind for three days, that gave him this insight. Whatever and whenever it happened, it is clear that Paul understood the significance of Christ as something much more than an individual act, that could potentially benefit individuals. He saw that the world … all of creation … was deeply and in reality affected by the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
When the Word became flesh, when God became a man, it was the Creator and Origin of every man that was made flesh in the person of Christ Jesus. As such He represents each and every man. Everything He did, and everything that happened to Him, happened in the context of the incarnation, the context of a God who so completely embraced His creation, that whatever happened to Him, happened to His creation.
It is because of this association that His resurrection is not just the resurrection of one man, but the birth of the new creation! (Col 1:15)
Within the enormity and all-inclusive nature of this redemption, God preserved His focus and the intensity of its implications for each individual. As the Message translation states so beautifully:
Arithmetic is not his focus. “
God is not a duplicator, but a creator. He uniquely and individually designed you. You were on His mind from the beginning.
“Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love.”
Eph 1:4 Amp
His love is not a general feeling of goodwill towards humanity, but an intense love which began even before time began, when He dreamed about you individually. He knew you even before He formed you in your mother’s womb. (Jer 1:5)
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
Can it get more personal, more intimate than that? He knew you, dreamt about you, and anticipated every detail of your life, before you were formed!
No more hear-say
At one stage Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
For many of us, there was a time were we only knew Jesus based on what someone told us about Him. And there are many opinions to choose from. But there comes a time when He confronts you personally and says: “But who do you say that I am?”
His knowledge of you is not general … He even knows the number of hairs you have on your head! He desires that your knowledge of Him will also be just as personal and intimate.
The intensity of the incarnation.
When the Word became flesh, the implications were both universal and individual. He embraced humanity and your being individually. He made your cause His own. You were present, when your Creator, your Designer, your Originator became a man in the person of Christ Jesus.
The relationship between God and man was fulfilled, completed and perfected in this one God-man person, Christ Jesus. We are invited into an already perfected relationship. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1 Cor 1:9
This does not simply refer to fellowship with Jesus, but the fellowship of Jesus. In other words the same quality of fellowship Jesus enjoys with the Father, is the quality of relationship you are called into.
Love anticipates a response of equal quality … love aims to awaken and stir.
“As for me, I will continue beholding Your face in righteousness; I shall be fully satisfied, when I awake beholding Your form” Ps 17:15
This is part of what repentance means: to come to your senses, to come to yourself, to awaken!
We can make a decision for God, because He made one for us. We love, because He first loved us. We can respond in faith as we reflect the faith He has shown in us. This romance, this ecstasy has no place for formal protocols and mechanical replies … simply respond naturally to the love He reveals.
In conclusion: The scope of God’s love is ‘all’, the focus of His love is each one. Understanding the ‘all’ gives us the motivation to speak to any person. In our communication of this gospel, the aim is nothing less than bring the individual to a place of intimate encounter with God. To do that we need to see both these aspects: this person is included … part of the ‘all’ and secondly, this person is individually known and loved by God. What good news we have!
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