From the cross Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Was He thinking of the Roman soldiers who had nailed Him up there and now were gambling for His clothing at the foot of the cross? Was it that crowd who had yelled, “Crucify Him” and “Barabbas” for their choice of who should be released by Pilate?
Was it meant for those religious leaders who had just now rigged a mock trial that defied all principles of justice and legality? Was it meant for that same group who had and would reject Jesus Christ as their Messiah and promised King?
Or, was it meant for all mankind, whose sins had brought Him to this place of agony and suffering, to end with that cry of utter abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
We know that the words of Christ, that Living Word of God, as John identifies Him in that first chapter of his gospel account, are eternal, and as such, they ring out like crashing cymbals down through the ages. So, it is within reason that His prayer was all-inclusive, to sinners of all ages, all generations. This, of course, flies in the face of those who claim that Jesus only died for those who believe on Him. That is the hard-core view of some, which in my opinion, brings into question the true character of God and the nature of the love of God. Is it, then, conditional or unconditional?
One has to come to the promises of God with a pre-conceived notion that God’s love is conditional, if it only is available to those who respond favorably. That is, when John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world…,” He only meant that “world” of believers who would ultimately be chosen to follow Him. Yet, that verse also uses the word “whosoever” in connection with “world” and indicates that any person in that “world” has equal opportunity to be saved by believing in Christ.
Actually, Christ died and shed His blood before anyone had believed in Him, until after the fact. The disciples had a hard time of it, even when they were told, “He is risen!” (Yes, I know that the saints of old looked forward to His coming and fulfilling the promise that the foreshadowing sacrifices made, and John the Baptist’s alert tells us of that: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And even that statement suggests a broader application of the availability of the blood of Christ for those who could believe.)
Do not misunderstand my thinking on this issue! I am not suggesting that if the blood of Christ was shed for all people, so all will be saved. There is the matter of “limited atonement” that comes into the plan. Here is where the division is made—only those who believe in Christ are atoned for, or made right with God. But if the provision is not there for everyone, then God’slove is conditional, and anyone could, conceivably, stand before God and exclaim, “I had no chance!”
The problem actually goes deeper in the matter of understanding what is involved. It touches on how the “choosing” issue comes about. It reminds me of an old yarn that I heard as a kid:
A fellow who had had too much to drink was stumbling along a trail outside of a foliage covered fence line around a graveyard and heard voices from the darkness inside. “You take this ‘un and I’ll take that ‘un,” and so on. In his befuddled mind he thought surely it was God and the devil dividing up the inhabitants of the graves! He turned cold sober and took off in a terrified run. (Actually, it was only two youngsters dividing up the walnuts they had gathered underneath a tree there.)
The matter of God’s choosing those He claims as His own is not done like that, at all. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” That says faith is the gift that is made available by grace, the unmerited favor of God. Not special favor, but unmerited favor of God. Thus, no one can boast, even in pride that he is one chosen of God.
In one sense, believers are special to God, but in a broad sense, God is no respecter of persons. That is, He cannot tolerate sin in His presence, either in the lives of believers or in the lives of nonbelievers. Only the blood of Christ splashed on the doorposts of our hearts protects believers from the wrath of God.
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8), and Abraham must have, also, for he “believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). But how did these things happen? (It might be of interest that both Noah and Abram (Abraham) are listed in the lineage of Christ recorded in Luke 3, that scarlet thread from Adam through Seth to Jesus Christ.)
However, Romans 2:12-16 holds some secrets to the answer:
“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”
The mystery of God’s “choosing” does not and cannot contradict the established principles of law and justice that are inherent in His nature. It seems to me that the Spirit of God moves upon the hearts and minds of people throughout the entire world with His job description listed in John 16:8-11, looking for those whose hearts have been searching for answers to life’s issues because their conscience has been stirred with the presence of that imbedded law of God therein. Was that how Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord?
Is that how you “found” that unmerited favor of God? John 6:29 says: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” We have seen earlier that “by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves,” so the choosing is an inseparable combination of wooing and nudging of the Holy Spirit, the drawing pull of God (see John 6:44 and its preceding context from verse 37), and man’s responding in time, but overshadowed by an eternal God of foreknowledge and predestination.
Remember the inquiry that came to Saul of Tarsus while on his way to Damascus, recorded in Acts 9:5, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Itis hard for you to kick against the goads.” Earlier, at the stoning of Stephen,“…the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58), apparently for the purpose of stoning Stephen. So Saul stood by, hearing Stephen’s testimony and watching them stone him to his death.
In my own experience over 58 years ago, I saw the love and peace in the lives of a Christian family, and I wanted what they had. And, I said, “Yes” when asked if I wanted to accept Christ as my personal Savior. Trying as hard as I could, there was no breaking through that narrow gate of faith for me…until a verse of Scripture I was pondering showed me that I was an ungodly sinner before God, and Jesus was hanging on that cross for me that day, so many centuries ago.
That verse was Romans 5:6: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Not me only, but everyone must know that he has sinned against God, not just for what he has done, or will do, but for who he is; otherwise there can be no true repentance nor salvation. The truth of Romans 10:17 is vividly shown in this account: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That Word of God is the tool of the Holy Spirit.
It is an intriguing revelation in Psalm 139 that God is always very close by and relentless in His desire for our repentance and turning to Him. The psalmist writes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, anddwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10).
Even at the point of conception God is there and looks forward to that new person’s life in time:
“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb… my frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there werenone of them” (Psalm 139:13, 15-16).
With that kind of oversight and pinpointed, intense interest in every person (For God so loved the world…), how is it that so many obstruct the work of God in their lives, harden their consciences, and reject His call for their repentance? The Scripture does not say, flippantly, in 2 Peter 3:9, “…God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
The forgiveness is available, said often and in so many ways. Yet, that expression of faith must come from a repenting sinner: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). So, believing in Jesus is the operative phrase throughout the New Testament, and even that is the work of God in us!