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Jesus is Saviour to all

I just heard again that song: 'Shout to the North' (lyrics here).  Great tune huh?  What do we think about the lyrics?

Years ago I led the music in a church (a very small church you understand, but my knowledge of four guitar chords made me a relative virtuoso).

Well happily enough, Shout to the North has only four chords.  So it went straight onto the 'playlist'.  The only issue was my troubled conscience.  You see, while I only knew four chords of guitar, I knew a whole six doctrines of theology (neat diagrams to boot).  And something grated.  The lyrics say "Jesus is Saviour to all."  Now we can't be singing that can we?

I can't remember, but I think I used to hurry on through that line - Jesus is Saviour to those who call... or something.

Because here's my unexamined, gut-level assumption - Jesus is Lord of all and Saviour of some.  Isn't that what all right-thinking evangelicals believe?  Lord of all, Saviour of some.  Which is basically to say that Jesus is fundamentally Lord but secondarily and more narrowly Saviour.  He's Lord through and through, He's partially Saviour.

And this gut-level assumption is strengthened by the fear of universalism.  (Fear is a wonderful tool to prevent us examining our beliefs).  Surely if we sing "Jesus is Saviour to all" we're demolishing any distinction between saved and unsaved, aren't we?

Well no, that's not how the bible argues.  Jesus is constantly called Saviour of the world (e.g. John 3:17f; 4:42) and Paul says:

We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.  (1 Tim 4:10)

So actually Jesus is Lord of all (but especially those who believe) and Saviour of all (but especially those who believe).

There is a distinction.  It's there in the word 'especially.'  But it's not in the scope of Christ's Lordship versus His Saviour-ship.  He is equally both.

This has implications for many areas, but let's just think about evangelism.  If I go with my gut-level assumption, how do I offer Christ to the unbeliever?  Well I can't presume to offer Christ as Saviour can I?  After all Jesus might turn out not be Saviour to this individual.  So perhaps I conclude: it's safer to confront the unbeliever with His Lordship.  And, on this understanding, this is a 'Lordship' that's considered somewhat apart from His Saviour-ship.

So I speak more of His hands raised up against us than His hands stretched out towards us.  I define sin far more as rebellion against His rule than resistance against His grace.  I offer salvation as submission to His sovereignty much more than resting in His rescue.

Now I will certainly mention those latter aspects.  But they are deviations from the norm.  They are potential fringe-benefits - not the main story.

In all this, I understand that there's massive overlap between Lordship and Saviourship.  In fact that's really my point.  When you say 'Jesus is Lord' you are saying 'The Saviour is Lord' (for 'Jesus' means Saviour!)  His Lordship is expressed and established precisely in His cosmic salvation.  Therefore we must not divide these aspects up and we certainly should not favour one over the other.

But if this is so then it can't be true that a preacher is good on 'Jesus is Lord', but not as strong on 'Jesus is Saviour'.  If we're not holding out the Saviour-ship of Christ then we're not properly holding out the Lordship of Christ either.

So what if we took the song seriously?  What if we really believed that Jesus is the Saviour of the world?  Imagine that loved one who you pray for - you desperately want them to turn to Christ for you know that Jesus is their Lord.  Do you know equally powerfully that He is their Saviour too?

In my conservative evangelical constituency we bang the Jesus is Lord drum very loudly.  I'm just not sure we hold Him out as Saviour with equal passion.  And it flavours our evangelism in some unhelpful ways.



0 thoughts on “Jesus is Saviour to all

  1. Heather

    You know. I recently was directed to 1 Timothy 2 and got my own boat rocked by:

    "This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
    who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
    who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. "

    This doesn't at all sit well with a lot of Calvinistic "Jesus only died for the elect" stuff.

    God wants to save everyone! And Jesus has already ransomed everyone! Even those who reject Him. Which, I suppose is the reason they will be punished. But still, it's a done deal as far as payment goes.

    And I've started wondering just how open IS Christ's offer of salvation?
    There's too much in Scripture that talks about punishment for rejecting this offer for me to ever embrace universalism. But I have caught myself wandering in that direction more than once lately.

  2. Glen

    Hey Heather,

    I'm happy to call myself a Calvinist and I didn't have the limited atonement issue in mind in writing this. Because I'd hope that every 5-pointer could agree to the central statement:

    Jesus is Lord of all (but especially those who believe) and Saviour of all (but especially those who believe).

    The limited atonement debate is about *where* you place the "especially" within your theological system (I hate that phrase!)

    Universalists are all about questioning *whether* to have an "especially".

    I'm saying, we definitely need the "especially", we can figure out where to put it later.

    But if we can agree to that central statement, then let's ensure our evangelism is not all 'king' and 'throne' and 'crown' and 'bowing' and 'submitting' and 'obeying' and 'being subject' and all those sorts of pictures that we paint when we think of 'Lordship' divorced from 'Saviourship'.

    Jesus (meaning Saviour) is Jesus to all.

  3. pgjackson

    "Because I’d hope that every 5-pointer could agree to the central statement:
    Jesus is Lord of all (but especially those who believe) and Saviour of all (but especially those who believe)."

    As a five-pointer (well, five's not enough actually, but that's a whole other story!), I'd say yes. You are quoting the bible pretty much after all.

    This raise questions for what 'saviour' means in different contexts doesn't it? I think the sense of 'especially to those who believe' raises that issue for us.

    And, relatedly, I've found that it helps to be post-mill when it comes to some of the expansive language of the bible (well, whaddya know, there's that whole other story again, my TULIP has more than one 'P').

  4. Chris E

    Alternatively, predestination should be placed where Romans places it - as a way of assuring the saved that God's will prevails and will hold them to the end, rather than discussing it along with providence and common grace.

    That way the 'whosoever' character of the offer of the Gospel is upheld.

  5. Heather

    "I’m saying, we definitely need the “especially”, we can figure out where to put it later. "

    Okay, Glen. I think I gotcha.

    Thanks for the expanded thoughts.

    I'm probably more Calvinist than anything. But it has been really interesting to me how many 5-pointers get hung up on election-predestination meaning that Christ's atoning sacrifice is limited in scope to "the elect"--as though there was nothing else that happened there.

    The mention of Romans is interesting to me.
    Chapter 9 seems to be a favorite launch pad for the topic of predestination/election. I don't disagree that it says that, but I think an often overlooked point is the same one God has made concerning the tree of knowledge, Deuteronomy 29:29 and Job's experience....

    Some things are just none of our business--and the decision concerning who is and is not "elect" is one of them. We need to trust that God's plan has always been good, even when we don't understand. FWIW.

  6. pgjackson

    Heather, I have to say that I believe in limited atonement too. So long as we define it properly (that is, biblically). But I don't think 'limited atonement' really describes the doctrine anyway.

  7. Heather


    Biblically accurate definitions are definitely preferable :)
    Necessary, In fact.

    Hopefully, I've not confused the main point of the discussion. I've no argument as to whether there is a specific, limited atonement that is meant for only the elect. The "especially" of Glen's original post is right on, I believe.

    I guess my mind went into overdrive and raced into consideration of the effect that concentrating one's focus to "limited atonement" can have on some people. There often seems to be a not-nice attitude toward those who are deemed to be "not elect" because of a difference in understanding or maturity level. I've also noted sometimes a sense of impatience, condescension and rudeness (by some 5-pointers) toward those who say things like "But the Bible says that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world,,," This protest is not meant to imply universality of forgiveness regardless of whether one receives Christ. Rather, it is in defense of the equal openness of Christ's offer of forgiveness to ALL.

    I believe the Matthew 13 field parables that Jesus told help illustrate the universality of His "purchase" (the whole field) in order to specifically redeem what He wanted (His special treasure).
    In conquering sin and death, Jesus effectively broke Satan's hold on the world and now holds exclusive title. He bought it all. He owns it all. He'll do with it as He pleases.
    Because of this, all men have equal opportunity (are urged strongly, as per Psalm 2) to reconcile with the rightful Owner before it's too late. Not all will, though, and this somehow has always fit perfectly into His plan right from the beginning.

    Eh. My rambling really has very little to do with you all here. Just venting a frustration I've had when trying to understand the various doctrines I've encountered lately.

  8. Si

    The name 'Limited Atonement' comes from:
    1)the desire to shrink the doctrine in the Canons of Dort into 5 phrases, directly addressing the 5 statements of the remonstrances that the Arminians put forth.
    2)the desire to make those 5 phrases from an acronym
    3)the desire to make that acronym something Dutch and rather nice sounding - TULIP.

    Limited atonement, being one of the worst fitting (and bad sounding) names tends to be the one dropped (Irresistible Grace is another one that isn't a great choice of words - sounds like it's forced onto you, rather than something that you, once regenerated want).

    God can't push punishment for the same sins twice - you have to believe in universalism, or some limit on the effects of the atonement to get round this (even universalists would struggle to have unlimited atonement, because only a limited number of people can receive it).

    All are partially atoned - Jesus couldn't come and dwell in the midst of sinners, the Spirit couldn't dwell in the elect while they were still among the unelect. The day of atonement is all about how God can dwell in Israel's midst - blood was needed and the blood of bulls and goats was only temporary - Jesus' atoning work had permanent effect allowed God to dwell amongst man (via the Son or the Spirit), even though not all of mankind is justified. Just another way the atonement is effective to all, while only being effective-unto-salvation to others.

  9. Heather

    Thank you, Si.

    I think this helps.

    1) I've heard this before but was unaware of exactly how the doctrines might have been distorted to make them "fit" the frame.

    2) Acronyms can be helpful. Or not.

    3) LOL! We people can sometimes be incredibly silly even in our most diligent effort to be profoundly serious.

    The thought has come to my mind that TULIP-style Calvinism might not at all accurately represent what Calvin himself believed. But I don't have the time to sort through all his writings in order to decide whether I want to be a "Calvinist". I don't mind learning from those who have done the work and measuring against scripture, though.

    I have a question in regard to:

    "All are partially atoned – Jesus couldn’t come and dwell in the midst of sinners, the Spirit couldn’t dwell in the elect while they were still among the unelect."

    Can you explain this, please? I can see in history that God's presence dwelt among Israel for a while and then left when things got ugly. But, if all had to be partially atoned in order for Jesus to come--wouldn't that activity have had to happen sometime before He came?

    What I mean is, if the real atonement for both Jew and Gentile was secured at the cross, how could He have walked among us before then?

    I think I'm following the logic concerning the Holy Spirit and with you on the limited effectiveness in justification.


  10. Si

    Heather - I'll try to address those points:

    "Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses." Lev 16:16

    "You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel." Num 35:34

    "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil may not dwell with you." Ps 5:4

    "You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men,
    even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there." Ps 68:18

    Atonement needs to be made for God to dwell in the midst, for he cannot live in a defiled land, cannot dwell in the midst of uncleanness. His relationship with Israel shows both his grace, of living amongst them, and his holiness, of requiring strict rules on which his dwelling is conditional.

    When, in Ex32, Aaron made the golden calf, God wanted to destroy Israel. Moses interceded and, in Ex33, God says that they can go into the land, but he wouldn't go with them, in case he destroyed them (but he would meet with Moses outside the camp). In Ex34, God renews his covenant with Israel - they build the tabernacle (which God had given the plans for in Ex25-31) and he would dwell in there, and they were to keep away, outside of some rules. Moses still met with God in the tent of meeting, but had to wear a veil when outside, as the people wouldn't come near him otherwise.

    Jesus' atoning work on the cross works both back and forth. Jacob is clearly saying his redeemer is Jesus in Gen 48:15-16. For Jesus to forgive the paralysed man's sins in Mark 2, there must be shedding of blood (see Heb 9:22) - Jesus' blood. For God to become flesh and tabernacle amongst us (John 1:14), without destroying us, atonement must be made.

  11. asif

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    In Jesus,
    Bro Asif

  12. Glen

    Dear Asif, God bless you in your work. Feel free to use and translate whatever you feel would be useful. I don't think I'd be able to pay you though. And if you wanted paid translation work, I'm sure there would be many other materials better than mine!!

    Email me if you want to talk further about this:

    glen at christthetruth dot org dot uk

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