Perhaps in your darker moments of not feeling very righteous or very close to God, you have entertained doubts about being included in God’s plan of salvation. Am I really included in John’s testimony that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son? (John 3:16) Am I really included in the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them?” (2 Cor 5:19) Could there be something about me or about God that would exclude me from the saving work of Christ on the cross?
Some Christians have thought that it could possibly be so. They do not believe that Jesus atoned for the sins of everyone. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that Jesus did not die for you or me. This possibility is predicated on an interpretation that the word world in the above two New Testament passages should be understood to mean the full number of those God has chosen to save. In other words, Jesus did not suffer and die for those who are lost. This conclusion is based in part on the thinking that it would be beneath God to send his Son to atone for the sins of those who would end up in hell. Hence, Jesus just atoned for the sins of some sinners, those whom God chose to save. With this understanding, the question: “Am I really included?” can be very troubling indeed.
Any conception that contends that Jesus only died for some sinners turns the gospel into an uncertain message for everyone. Such a view of the atonement declares that only some have their sins forgiven and turns every gospel word into a provisional message: God may have forgiven your sins, because he may have sent Jesus to die for your sins, because he may have chosen to save you. This limited view of Christ’s atonement removes confidence in the forgiveness of sins not simply for some, but for every individual sinner. It makes the question about Christ’s atonement and forgiveness: “Am I really included?” a relevant question for all sinners.
Any conception that contends that Jesus only died for some sinners turns the gospel into an uncertain message for everyone.
If we allow God to interpret his word, how should we understand, “world” in the above passages? Can I know if I am really included? Does the term “world,” mean that just some people have their sins forgiven, or should it be understood to include the sins of all sinners, including me? Notice how those included in Christ’s atonement are described by the writer to the Hebrews. Christ entered “once for all into the holy places, and by his blood,” secured “an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). And, “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26). He described this redemption as accomplished by the “offering of the body of Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). From these passages, all sinners can understand confidently that the word “world” means all. God so loved all that by his only begotten Son, he reconciled all to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. All is everyone, and that includes you and me!
Does this mean that all are saved? Unfortunately, it does not. Some come to faith and receive God’s grace unto salvation, and others live lives of sinful rebellion running from God at every turn. Thus, some will end up in heaven and others in hell. A common notion is that heaven is the place where God rules with mercy, but hell is where his justice holds sway. You either eventually receive God’s mercy and are saved, or you receive his justice and are damned. The true picture of heaven and hell are, in many ways, almost the opposite. Heaven is where God’s justice reigns supreme, having been executed in the atonement of Christ on the cross. As with the cross of Christ, heaven is where God’s will is done, and hell is where the lost sinner’s will is ultimately done. God would have it otherwise. He sent his Son into the world to die for their sins, and he takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. In heaven, all receive what they do not deserve. Hell is populated by all who insist on their rights and what they deserve, and they are willing to die for this.
He sent his Son into the world to die for their sins, and he takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.
God has acquired for everyone perfect righteousness and acceptability in Christ’s universal atonement. This means the declaration of forgiveness and reconciliation presented by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:19 exists in the present as a result of God saving-work in Christ in the past. The forgiveness of sins means the same thing as the declaration of righteousness or innocence. God has already reconciled himself to a world of sinners once for all, and that means everyone: including you and me. Anyone and everyone, regardless of how wretched you may think you are, may look to the cross of Christ and know that you have the full forgiveness of your sins and God’s complete favor now and forever. So, if you might ever ask: “Am I really included?” You bet you are!