Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Limited Atonement - is it Biblical?"

"Limited Atonement - is it Biblical?"
Author: tartanarmy (12:28 am)

Question: "Limited Atonement - is it Biblical?"

Answer: Limited Atonement, or Particular Redemption, is the most controversial doctrine in Calvinism. Limited Atonement simply teaches that Christ’s atoning work on the cross was not to redeem the whole world but to redeem only those given to the Son before the foundation of the world. Christ’s atonement was powerful enough to redeem any number of individuals, even the whole world, but it is only aimed to redeem those who are chosen by God before the foundation of the world. That means, no matter how hard it is to accept, Jesus did not die for every single person on the cross. It is very clear that Christ died for many (Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 20:28, 26:28), the church (Ephesians 5:25), the sheep (John 10:15), and those who will live for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).

There are many important things to be reminded of when viewing the atonement. First, it is very important to always view Limited Atonement through the eyes of Unconditional Election. If a person really considers the truth of Unconditional Election, then one sees the logical fallacy of saying that Christ died for everyone! Why would Christ die for those who will never be cleansed by His blood (1 Peter 3:18)? Are Christ and the Father not in unity? Is the Trinity confused? Did Jesus want to die for all when the Father wanted to save only some? If a person is not part of the elect then they will irrevocably remain in their willful unbelief and will eternally perish. They will never be cleansed by the blood of Christ! Why then would Christ spill His blood for those who will never be cleansed by it? He didn't! He died only for the sins of those who will believe according to the will of God.

Second, it is vital for someone to understand that, unless you are a universalist, or if you believe that a man doesn’t go to heaven unless he is cleansed by the blood of Christ, then you believe in a limited atonement because you don’t believe everyone goes to heaven. The question then becomes not “Is the atonement limited?” but “How is the atonement limited?” Is the atonement limited by the free will of man or the free will of God? The answer is found in the definition of “atonement.” If Christ atoned for the sins of everyone, then everyone goes to heaven. For that is the meaning of “atonement.”

To atone for sin is to clear sin from a person. "Atone" or "Atonement" in the Bible is primarily the Hebrew word "kaphar." "Kaphar" means "to cover over," "to pacify," or "to make propitiation for." "Propitiation" ("hilasmos") in the New Testament means "to appease." In 1 John 2:2, if by, "He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world," the Apostle John means that Jesus propitiated (appeased the wrath of God) then why would any one go to hell? Then you might say, "Well, the sins of all men are propitiated for, but that propitiation can only be applied by personal belief." My reply to that is twofold.

First, who determines who will believe? Is it man or God? It is God (review "Total Depravity" and "Irresistible Grace"), and God causes men to believe on the basis of election. So, to believe that the propitiation is "waiting" for the faith of men is to believe falsehood. Second, if one believes that belief or unbelief in Christ is the sin that condemns, then it must follow that those who do not get a chance to believe or disbelieve go to heaven. Sharing the Gospel would then become counter-productive, and there is an element to Christ's suffering that is rendered vain. The idea that people who do not hear the Gospel go to heaven is clearly rejected by Romans 1:20 and 2:15.

Thirdly, it is important to remember that Christ did not come to die just to make salvation possible, but Christ came to save. He came to die for the sins of His people whom He foreknew. There was no uncertainty about Christ’s work on the cross. Christ Himself knew that He was dying for those whom the Father had given Him before the foundation of the world and that He would lose none of them (John 6:37-39). Fourthly, if God punished the sins of men who went to hell on Christ, and then again punished men in hell for the same sins which Christ died, this would illogical, and would be an instance of "double-punishment" or "double-jeopardy," and God would be guilty of injustice to sinners and to Christ. If Christ suffered for the sins of men who are in hell, then whose sin are the men in hell suffering for? For Christ to die for men who will never believe would render a portion of His sufferings as vain. Not one drop of Christ’s shed blood was in vain.

Fifthly, Christ's death is substitutionary!! Please take note of this. For Christ to die for sins means that He was the actual substitute for men. Substitution means that someone actually fills the place of another. If I had a substitute teacher who didn't show up for my class, did I have a substitute teacher? If Christ indeed suffered a substitutionary death for every single individual person in the world, then He indeed showed up and was punished for them. Which means what? It means that the sins of all are paid for. Again, whose sins are the people in hell suffering for? They are suffering for their own because Christ did not substitute for them.


The first thing that I want to point out is concerning the definition of the word “world” used in the New Testament. I believe that Jesus died for the entire world, but does the word “world” always refer to every single person in the world? Can “world” simply refer to an unspecified number of people from within the world? I obviously take the latter position. I take this position, not because I as a Calvinist must believe in limited atonement, but because of the truth of election, and, most importantly, Scripture supports that the definition of world does not mean “every single person without exception.” I qualify this conviction with Revelation 5:9, "And they sang a new song saying, 'Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and did purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.''

People from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation are the world! Yes, “God so loved the world (people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation), that He gave His only Son.” Yes, I agree with John the Baptist when he described Christ as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yes, I believe John when he writes in 1 John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (people from every tribe, tongue, etc.).

Logical Transition:

We see that Christ died only for many, the church, the sheep, and those who will die to themselves in obedience of Christ, and not for every single person in the whole world. Now, this leads us to our next point. We see that God has chosen only some to save, and only those elected are who Christ came to die for. Since Scripture explicitly teaches men are incapable of coming to Christ on their own, how then does a man become a Christian?

Total Depravity asserts that men love darkness rather than light and do not come to the light lest their evil deeds be exposed, and also that men cannot submit to the things of God. How then does a man believe in Christ for salvation? Does God file down someone’s depravity until they come to a point where they can choose or accept? Does God, in drawing men to Him, mean that He brings them to a condition where they then have the ability to choose or reject? There are answers to these questions in the following section.

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