Is it true that the whole world's sins are forgiven at the moment of Christ's death on the cross? We don't have to ask for his forgiveness, but in order to be saved we must place our faith in His resurrection after death?
In recent times, a false teaching has emerged within the church to the effect that Jesus’ payment on the cross forgave the sins of the entire world without regard to faith. Usually, this teaching cites 1 John 2:1-2 to support such a conclusion:
This reading is a misinterpretation of John’s teaching and is contrary to other scripture.
First, John’s teaching in 1 John 2 is not arguing for universal salvation. John was writing to an audience of Jewish believers living in the Diaspora in the mid-first century. To these believers, John says that Christ’s death on the cross was a payment not only for them but for the “whole world,” meaning for all kinds of men (i.e., Jew & Gentile), in all places and throughout all history. The Lord was dying for the sins of humanity, not just to save the Jews of the first century.
John's comment is similar to the statements of other writers of the New Testament when they say:
In all these passages, the author is speaking of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. His death is a once-for-all sacrifice sufficient to enact the Father’s plan of salvation such that no additional sacrifice is needed. No additional Messiah is required. Jesus did all the work needed.
Therefore, these statements do NOT mean that the payment of Christ on the cross was applied to the sins of all humanity nor that all people will ultimately benefit from it. As John himself says:
Notice, those who do not believe are showing evidence they were “judged already” because they did not believe. Men are born sinners, and therefore all human beings are due judgment from birth. As Paul says:
As someone once said, we are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are born sinners. Therefore, all men are due judgment for their sin nature from birth, not for some specific sinful decision or action during their life. Those who fail to place their trust in Christ will be judged for their sin nature and the life of sin that resulted.
As John himself writes in Revelation:
At the judgment, the world of unbelievers will be called to account. They will not be judged for a specific sin of rejecting Christ. In fact, many of these will never have even heard the name Jesus or been exposed to the Gospel. Millions die every day who have never heard the name Jesus. Nevertheless, they will be rightly judged at the Great White Throne since they are sinners by nature and are due the penalty of sin.
Only by God’s grace may a person come to trust in God’s propitiation in Christ and be saved from the penalty of their sin. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the once-for-all payment for the whole world, but the effective application of His payment requires God’s grace to bring a man or woman to trust in that payment.
Regarding the unforgivable sin, please read our article on this important question.