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One has died for all

2 Corinthians 5:14 (ESV) …. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died…”

The opposing side of the paradoxical power of Paul’s revolutionary life is now introduced. Whereas verse 11 introduced the fear factor (“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord”), verse 14 introduces the love factor: “For the love of Christ controls us.” Fear of Christ had motivated Paul, and now Christ’s love for Paul completes the motivation.

We died in Christ. We’re not left to wonder what the love of Christ is because it is demonstrated in his death—“because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (v. 14b). To uninformed ears, this may sound strange—“one has died for all, therefore all have died.” Curious logic? A seemingly more reasonable expression would be, “One died for all, therefore all did not die.” Or “One died for all, therefore all lived.” The spiritual math of both these equations makes easy sums. But the mystic calculus of “one has died for all, therefore all have died”—how does that compute?

However, if you are familiar with the Bible, the math is rigorously logical and sublime because it sums up Christ’s representative death for his children. As Gresham Machen, the great defender of the faith, explains:

“Christ died for all, therefore all died” … is so because Christ was the representative of all when He died. The death that He died on the cross was in itself the death of all. Since Christ was the representative of all, therefore all may have been said to have died there on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem when Christ died.

Christ died our death, so we died! What unmitigated love!

Here Paul speaks of Christ’s love as a controlling force. Love controls us—that is to say, it holds us within bounds or hems us in. Just as our fear of Christ controls us, so likewise the unspeakable love of Christ positively controls us. The overpowering love of Christ, demonstrated when he died on the cross for us, controls us and calls forth a mighty response. This is what so mightily drove Paul in his epic missionary endeavors.

We live for Christ. “All have died,” argues Paul, because Christ died as our representative on the cross. He died our death. And it is this unfathomable love that controls us. How does it control us? The answer follows in no uncertain terms: “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (v. 15).

Hemmed in by Christ’s love, Paul and those who walk in his revolutionary footsteps “no longer live for themselves.” A thousand things that work to draw us into ourselves are attached parasite-like to our possessions and passions and appetites—all freighted with implosion, all laden with the potential to make us very small and useless. The fact that Christ in love died our death keeps us from living for ourselves, just as it did Paul, so that we are graciously hemmed in by Christ’s love.

But gloriously, we’re not hemmed in so that we can do nothing at all, but rather so we can do things that are more worthwhile. We are kept from doing evil things so that we might do good things. We are kept from doing things that bring death so that we might do things that bring life. The utter positiveness of this lies in the mounting force of Paul’s words: “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (v. 15). There is nothing constricted here. This is freedom. What good thing will be denied those who follow the living resurrected Christ (cf. Romans 8:32)? Indeed, it is the path to new freedoms and unfolding joys.

The energy cell in Paul’s revolutionary heart was charged with a negative and a positive—the fear of Christ and the love of Christ. The combination was explosive. Paul was a real revolutionary.

After Mikhail Borodin’s concession regarding the Apostle Paul, there was another long silence. But as the correspondent tells it:

Then suddenly Borodin whirled, his face contorted with fury as he shook his fist in my face.

“But where do you find him today?” he shouted. “Answer me that, Mr. Roots. Where do you find him? Where? Where? Where?”

Then furiously, triumphantly: “You can’t answer me!”

Unnerved by this outburst, I sat speechless, then quickly changed the subject.

Later that week he brought up the matter again. This time he was very quiet.

“You must understand, Mr. Roots,” he explained, “that with a revolutionary, his life is not his own. That is our pride. That is our strength. And because our opponents cannot match our sacrifice or our faith, they are powerless to stop our advance. For this reason Communism will win.”

Borodin’s proud assertion rested upon ignorance of the essence of Christianity, ignorance of the radical commitment of gospel-committed missionaries, and his faith in the dialectical progress of metaphysical materialism. There were hundreds of missionaries in China living out the gospel in the dynamic paradox of fear and love. Their weapons were not brutality and the sword. Their courage and tenacity far exceeded that of Borodin and his train. Yet for a time Communism prevailed.

But today, as Borodin’s sad ashes rest in a niche in the wall of the Novodedichi Cemetery outside Moscow with the other old revolutionaries who didn’t quite rate the more prestigious Kremlin Wall, while Communism is morphing in China, Christianity is growing at an unparalleled rate.

Paul’s principles will prevail wherever men and women are galvanized by the fear of Christ and the love of Christ. May it be so for us. May we know the fear of Christ and his controlling love.

May we raise up an army of young men and women who are controlled by the paradox that fueled Paul’s missionary heart.[1]

[1] Hughes, R. K. (2006). 2 Corinthians: power in weakness (pp. 114–116). Crossway Books.

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