The Vicarious Man

Christ as the Last Adam
It is one thing to believe that Christ died as a man. But it is altogether scandalous to believe He died as humanity.
To see the massive scope and cosmic ramification of the finished work of the cross, we must first step back into a most misunderstood and volatile subject in theology ... the topic of election or predestination. It is no wonder that theologians have battled over election for centuries; Karl Barth calls it “the sum of the gospel.” In the following pages, I hope to simplify a deep subject for the casual reader – and I hope to challenge the “experts” who have already staked out their opinions.
In a nutshell, the common debate over election has always pitted two streams of thought over against one another: Arminianism and Calvinism. Essentially, the argument revolves around this question, “Do we choose God, or does God choose us?” Like a dog chasing its tail, the never-ending squabble proved the most puzzling dilemma for those who swim the deepest waters of theology. It seemed locked into question of our free will versus God’s sovereign choice.
The Current Debate
As these two theologies evolved, it became clear that both contained truths. Yet the flaw in each one seems to be an inherent “human focus” that quickly overlooks the centrality of the person and work of Christ.
For the Arminian, he recognized that Christ died for all men – that God did not intentionally desire any of His creation to be destroyed. Therefore, the Arminian insisted that salvation must ultimately be a human choice – whether to accept or reject God’s goodness in Christ. Salvation became about man’s “personal decision” for Christ – a human response of the human will – to something that was available to all. Hence, the advent of the altar call, the sinner’s prayer, etc. God gives a fair shot to everybody, but it’s up to you to decide.
The Calvinist, however, saw the fatal flaw in this concept. Salvation is not up to you. Your crooked, depraved willpower is incapable of “choosing God.” In fact, it is God who must choose you. Faith is a gift, not something you drum up. If “my response” or “my decision” saves me, then I am boasting in human willpower – and therefore saving myself. Christ is not glorified, and I am adhering to my own striving, legal attempts to please God – rather than the grace of God. The Calvinist rightly shows that the Arminian version of God is impotent, lacking the power to overcome an individual’s decision-making process. Free will is the ultimate power broker for the Arminian – not the grace of God. Even for man to meet God “half-way” is an admission that Christ’s work alone was not enough.
The Calvinist is right in attesting that salvation is God’s business, from beginning to end. Like Martin Luther and the early reformers, the Calvinist recognizes that human willpower has nothing to do with salvation in the least. If self-effort is involved, it is not grace.
But hold the phone ... before we all join a Baptist church and hand trophies to the Calvinists, let’s follow their conclusions a bit deeper. If God is completely sovereign over the salvation business – then how does the Calvinist explain the fact that some people are clearly not Christians? Faith is a gift from God. Okay. So why doesn’t everyone have it? If man can take no credit for having faith – should man likewise take any blame for not having faith?
If God is sovereign ... who is to blame for those who don’t have faith?
Over the centuries, reformed theologians edged into what is commonly called “hyper-Calvinism” or “federal Calvinism” – from which flowed the despicable doctrine of double-predestination (also called “limited atonement”). For God to be sovereign, they say, He must make the sovereign decision over who is saved and who is damned. The hyper-Calvinist therefore could not admit that Jesus died for everybody ... instead, He just died for the “elect.” The idea of double-predestination is this: Since God is fully in charge of a Christian’s salvation (even choosing to save them before they were born), He must likewise be in charge of an unbeliever’s damnation (also damning them before they were born). They rightly believe that God is in control, not man. They rightly believe that willpower does not save you – God does. But the logical conclusion that followed is God must also “choose” some people not to be recipients of salvation. His sovereignty must mean that God chooses to hate some people and to send them to hell – absolutely apart from their own human choice. Forget blaming Adam ... its God Himself who is sending untold billions of people to cook forever in hell!
Wait ... did you just say God hates some people? Not all Calvinists would say it that way. But hyper-Calvinist who is honest about their theology will. Puritan revivalist Jonathan Edwards in the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, puts it this way, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours."

Does that sound like the heart of Jesus? Intentionally choosing to send some people to hell before the foundation of the world? God is not the enemy of the damned; He’s the finder of the damned. And so the theological battle continues ... The fatal flaw of the Arminian is that he relies on human willpower to save himself from hell (and often maintain that salvation on his own). The fatal flaw of the Calvinist (who is right on most other points) is that he blames God for intentionally choosing billions of people for hell. In the one camp, salvation is up to you. In the other camp, salvation is a gift of God ... yet He maniacally withholds it from certain people!

Christ the Elect
If you’re not confused by now, you should be. Both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism are humanistic theologies – based more on logic than centered on the person of Christ. The Arminian relies on his “self-choice” or “human decision.” The hyper-Calvinist thinks God is randomly picking certain humans to burn at the dawn of creation: “This guy is going to heaven. This guy is going to hell!”
But God is not arbitrarily making decisions for or against certain individual humans. His focus is on Christ. In the beginning, the Word was not “this guy versus that guy.” In the beginning, the Word was “Christ!”
It is Christ Himself who was the Decree of the Father at the dawn of creation. He is the Word. He is the Chosen One! He is the Predestined One! He is both the Elector and the Elected. All of our ideas of election must be changed and re-grounded in the Father’s election of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s choice for humanity. In Ephesians chapter one, we see that our own personal election is always tied first and foremost to God’s election of Christ. We are chosen “in Him,” predestined “in Him,” elect “in Him.” He does not choose us independently of Christ. No, it is Christ who was chosen, therefore all of humanity was chosen in Him.
A History of Election
All of scripture is full of election. Not God's election of Ned Flanders over Homer Simpson. In every Biblical case of “choice,” it is always a type and shadow of God's election of Christ.
For starters, Adam was the one “elect” man who represented all of humanity ... all men came from him. His sin affected all.
All of humanity was again represented and narrowed down to Noah (the eight in the ark). His seed would represent and repopulate the entire human race. Later, in Abraham, another election was made. And from his loins, yet another election as Isaac was chosen over Ishmael. Next, Jacob's line was chosen over Esau (don’t think of God literally hating Esau and loving Jacob. He hated what Esau represented ... the old man/the sinful self. Scriptures also show God abundantly blessing Esau in another phase of life, whose face was “like seeing the face of God” {Gen. 33:10}. We all get to play the role of both Jacob and Esau. These men would serve not as individual objects of blessing or wrath. They symbolized overarching realities of our old and new nature. But moreover, they point to Christ, who would be the ultimate vessel of honor as well as the vessel of wrath).
The concept of election continued as Israel became God’s chosen people. But we must see that they were elected not just for themselves. No, Israel was the chosen nation elected on behalf of all the nations.  "You will be a light to the nations ... " (Gen. 12:1-3). Israel was not for itself alone. It was to point all humanity toward God. We see that Israel – in and of itself (unfortunately like the church today) displayed no more real integrity or morality than the world around them. They obviously failed in their purpose – but God never failed in His!
Wait! The process of election continues. ... There was a further narrowing down and electing within Israel itself through its many captivities, exiles, backslidings and wars – the people of God are sifted down to remnant after remnant after remnant throughout the centuries. And all the way through, there were shimmers and glimpses of something God had been scheming all along.
Then finally, in the fullness of time, Jesus Christ emerges on the scene. Not just as any man. Jesus Christ arrived as the One True Israelite.
Every election, every narrowing down was ultimately pointing to this ... the one man Christ. The Representative Man. The Vicarious Man.
The man who would not just come as the one - but he would step in as the substitute for the many. The One who represented all Israel, and therefore all the nations. He died for us, as us.
Like Israel, he was sent to Egypt as a child (Matt. 2). Then, like Israel, he was brought back through the waters (Matt. 3). He went into the desert for temptation (Matt. 4). And then God gave the law through him (Matt. 5-7). Throughout the Book of Matthew, you see Jesus as the one true Israelite – the elect Chosen One. He was God’s representative of the nation and therefore God's representative choice for humanity. He was the True Light to the nations. But He was not just any man – He is the God-Man, the incarnation of God Himself – coming to do what mankind could never do. Dying a death you could never die. Again, the vessel of honor who was also the vessel of wrath. The One in and through whom all Israel would be saved. 
"Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19).
“God particularizes salvation, first in Israel and finally in Jesus, precisely in order to universalize it. He cuts out everybody, just so he can eventually draw in all. He excludes, but only to catholicize,” writes Robert Capon (Hunting the Divine Fox, p. 103).
All Have Died
It's one thing to believe Jesus died as a man. There’s an untold dimension of grace when you realize He came to die as mankind. The apostle Paul was literally "standing outside Himself in ecstasy" (2 Cor. 5:13), because he had realized this: "that if one died for all, then all were dead" (verse 15).
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).
When we see election through the person of Christ, we see that God is not expecting our willpower to drum up salvation. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, became our human response to the Father. Likewise, when we see election through the person of Christ, we see that in His sovereignty, He is not randomly picking one person over another. His choice is for Christ – therefore His choice is for all of humanity.
Are All Saved?
It is now impossible see anyone as an insider or an outsider. All are included in Christ. Even Paul in speaking to pagans said, “‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:28). That’s right ... he said this to pagans. And again, Peter speaking to unbelieving Gentiles said, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). That’s right ... he said this to unbelievers.
Everyone is included in the cleansing work of Christ. We can no longer use a language of exclusion. We no longer say “forgiven” or “unforgiven.” We can only appropriately say “believer” or “unbeliever.” God has clearly reconciled, redeemed and unified all of humanity in Himself. How does this cause you treat the waiter, the cabbie or the parking attendant – knowing we’re all family! We are all included, whether we know it or not. Even the unbeliever is included in Christ in a hidden way.
Christ’s work on your behalf is true, whether you know it or not, feel it or not – even if you don’t believe it! The believer is a man who, by faith, recognizes what has happened and therefore enjoys his participation in it. But our acceptance or rejection of Christ’s loving sacrifice does not nullify its cosmic scope. No matter how much you reject Christ, He never fails to love and include you. At the height of Israel’s rejection of their own Messiah, they reached the point of crucifying Him – and yet this was the very act by which He chose to forgive, include and save them.
How far did the work of the cross stretch? The Bible says, “God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). Through Jesus Christ, all things are already forgiven, reconciled and beloved of God. ... And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col.1:20).
His death has unified all of creation into Himself, “to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:10).

Am I saying that faith is not important? Of course faith is important! But faith is not the self-willed magical potion that saves you. Faith is simply the recognition that Christ and Christ alone has already died to save you. In fact, the scriptures say it is grace (the free gift), not faith, which saves me. Faith is the simple trust and recognition of that salvation. Faith is what causes it to manifest in my life.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
A Bigger Perspective
What does this new lens do for us? For starters, we begin to see that God is not “for or against” any sectors of humanity. He loves all equally and died for all equally. Unlike the hyper-Calvinist Edwards, we know that God does not abhor sinners with “hatred apart from love.” Instead, we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). We know that He saved us all – not when we were perfect moral peaches, but sinners, as “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And we also know that Jesus Christ is “the atoning sacrifice ... for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11). And again, He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
There is something all-inclusive about this gospel message! “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
Not Universalism
As soon as you begin to expand on the huge, universal consequences of the atonement ... someone will be quick to label you as a “Universalist.” That term means lots of things to lots of people, but Wikipedia is not the best place to learn theology. So I would suggest you do your homework and read your Bible a bit before you start labeling people and throwing big words around! Not everything you learned in Sunday school is true, and not every label fits your snap judgment.
For starters, if you boast in a victorious cross, some people think you are throwing away concepts like hell. “What are you doing with the hell we know and love?” Other people assume that you are saying “all roads lead to Rome” and that since everybody is “covered” it’s not important what you do with Jesus or how you live your life. Of course no one gets to the Father except through Jesus! Also, we must never write off the fact that this gospel must be personalized in the heart of everyone who believes. Faith is vitally important, but we must recognize that faith is a gift.
For starters, I am and I am not a Universalist. If you’re talking about what Christ did to suck up the sin of the entire cosmos in his death on the cross ... then yes. Label me. I am a Universalist. He defeated hell and the grave once and for all. But if you’re talking about writing off the existence of hell ... then no, I am not a Universalist. As Capon says, “I take with utter seriousness everything that Jesus had to say about hell, including the eternal torment that such a foolish non-acceptance of His already-given acceptance must entail.”
But along with Capon, “I will not – because Jesus did not – locate hell outside the realm of grace. Grace is forever sovereign, even in Jesus’ parables of judgment.”
Reason for Hope
I don't know why some men are faithless. Paul calls this a “mystery.” I also don’t know if all men will one day get recognize their acceptance in this life or the next. But I’m not looking for some future reconciliation to happen. The world has already been reconciled at the cross. I’m just hoping they realize it one day!
Often our questions in this area are simply bad questions. They become problem-oriented and causal-focused. It’s better to take a positive approach. Instead of asking why some people don’t have faith, let’s just recognize that Christ has finished the job and know that we have faith to give away! We’ve been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation, like Paul, proclaiming that God has reconciled mankind. As they accept the fact, they will experience it. We can leave the rest to God.
Unlike the forever debating Calvinists and Arminians, I'm okay to say “I don't know” about some things. I can leave it in the dialectical tension of mystery. Christian mysticism can take you where intellectual theology never will. I can live in the tension of not having all the answers – because I have The Answer. All I know is that God is for all of humanity – so don’t paint Him out to be a sadistic torturer of souls. I am not a Universalist, because just like the other theological camps, Universalists often rely on logic – drawing hard lines about the future that we cannot accurately predict. I would never make the claim that hell doesn’t exist and write off all those scriptures. But at the same, I refuse to write off all the clearly universal texts that we’ve mentioned above. You can make a solid scriptural case for hell. And you can make a solid scriptural case for Jesus saving the whole universe completely. Instead of writing off one or the other, let’s live in the tension of mystery, while maintaining a brilliant hope of a victorious future.
Capon also writes, “The rule in theology is: When you've got two truths which you can't hold in harmony, you don't solve the problem by letting one of them go. You hang on tight and hold them both in paradox. At least that way you don't end up sweeping jewelry under the rug in the name of compulsive neatness” (Hunting the Divine Fox, p. 95).
While I’m not a dogmatic Universalists, I will boldly admit that I am a “hopeful” Universalist. That means I have a strong hope that everyone gives up on their self-imposed hell. I’m not gonna blame God for their hell. Hell is not God’s revenge on sinners; it’s the condition of unbelief itself. It’s the self-destructive consequence of not trusting. It’s rejecting your already-given gift of acceptance. And part of me thinks the love of God is ultimately inescapable.
While I have hope, I do not veer into dogmatic assertion. We need the humility of saying “I don’t know.” The early church fathers maintained the “possibility” but never the “presumption” of the salvation of all men. After you’ve died and come back, then you can teach me a thing or two. But until then, all of my Universalist and non-universalist friends will just have to stay mad at me for remaining a mystical agnostic on this one! In the meantime, I’ll keep preaching this glorious gospel to all who have ears to hear – and those who accuse me of evangelical apathy for this universal hope can attempt to match my record on the mission field.
Revelation 21 tells us that there are unbelievers outside the gate of Heaven. But it also tells us that those gates are never shut day or night – and that the Spirit and the Bride are always beckoning “Come ... drink freely of the waters of life!” The gates of Heaven are always open. And as CS Lewis said, “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” I know the hope of all men being saved causes an initial anger in those who have a predetermined view of hell learned in Sunday school. But if you actually want people to go to hell and fry in their own fat, you’re probably headed there yourself! God has this very same hope, as He is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And again, God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:4).
All men have been included in this glorious gospel whether they realize it or not.
When it comes to election and Christ’s work on behalf of humanity, I most align with Trinitarian theology – something that is often confused with Universalism by those who are “quick to nullify the word of God for the sake of tradition" – such as their traditional view of hell (Matt. 15).

If you are interested in further study on election, specifically an exhaustive study of Romans 9-11, we encourage you to pick up our new five-part Election Series teaching, now available for digital download at

John Crowder, 2/1/2012