Warning!!!! This blog is about the doctrine of Limited Atonement….it’s theological in nature, it may be confusing at times. It’s controversial. You may not agree with me, and worst of all…..its LENGTHY…..Read if you’re interested….Ignore if you’re not.
This past Sunday, the sermon was over the doctrine that the reformers called Limited Atonement, also known as Particular Redemption. Basically the sermon attempted to answer the question: Who did Jesus’ death on the cross actually pay for? The World or the Church?
As I continue to preach through 1 John, I decided to stop at chapter 2, verse 2 and preach a message on the phrase, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only, but also those of the whole world.” My goal was to try and explain what “whole world” means (at least my understanding of it) and then pray that the Holy Spirit would cause our thanksgiving to soar as we pondered the atonement Christ provided on our behalf. So let me cut to the chase and give a synopsis at the front and then expound: I think “whole world” is more of a general term and clearly doesn’t mean Christ paid for “every individual.” I DO think that salvation is offered to everyone….and everyone rejects it because they are “dead in their sins” (Eph. 2:1) and think the gospel “foolish” in their natural condition (1 Cor. 2:14). I could be wrong…..but based on the two verses I just cited….Paul would be wrong too….as well as the ONE who inspired Paul. OK, enough small talk, let the theologizing begin…..
Anyone who believes in Hell, believes in Limited Atonement to some degree. If Christ PAID FOR all, then NONE should have to pay in Hell. Therefore if you believe that some people will go to Hell, then you believe the Atonement is limited to those who turn to Christ. I don’t think any Christian would argue that one.
Some would say that Christ PAID FOR everyone, but not all people partake in that payment until they add their “faith in Christ” to the payment. This is certainly an acceptable viewpoint for a Christian….but its one that I believe is still somewhat lacking. Either Jesus PAID FOR me or He didn’t. I have a real problem with the idea of a “hypothetical payment.” Whereas we tell people Jesus paid for their sins…..but they’re NOT REALLY paid for until they turn to Christ. This view could be called Unlimited Atonement, and is espoused by many solid, Biblical Christians. Of course if this view is true, then Jesus’ death MIGHT NOT have paid for anyone. After all, if NO ONE had chosen to turn to Him, His death theoretically would have been meaningless…..but at least God the Father would have been proud of Him for giving it the “ole’ college try.” I think there’s a better view… A view that shows Christ making a definite, all-sufficient, and complete (“It is finished!”) payment for the sins……of His people. Of the church…..of the sheep……dare I utter the “E” word….. of the elect.
If you stop and think “Limited Atonement” through to its logical conclusion, you see that it goes “hand in hand” with the Doctrine of Election (for my views on the doctrine of election, read my two blogs under "Theology" in the Archives) It stands to reason: if God chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1) then it really wasn’t a mystery to Him whose sins were being paid for on the cross. After you wrestle with these deep things of God and come to the conclusion that election is biblical (though admittedly hard to understand), you begin to see something truly beautiful. A Sovereign AND Gracious God, who doesn’t owe salvation to one solitary soul, since all have sinned and turned from Him (Romans 3:23). Yet, in His Grace has a plan…..and it’s a perfect plan….God doesn’t leave anything to chance. He chooses. He pays for. He draws. He convicts. He redeems. And eventually He glorifies. God’s perfect plan of redemption started before the world began, is being worked out today in numerous lives, and will come to completion at the end of time. I have NO DOUBT that God is WAY MORE sovereign than even most Christians realize. But is this idea Biblically supported? I think you see the entire idea succinctly declared in Romans 8: “And these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 NASB) How did he justify? By accepting Christ’s atonement on the cross. How does he ultimately glorify? By allowing us into Heaven to “behold His glory” (John 17:24). Who goes to Heaven? Those who are justified (atoned for). Is that everyone? Clearly NOT. Thus you have a LIMITED atonement. It’s God’s perfect plan of salvation….and thankfully for us…God Never Fails.
But, what do we make of verses that seem to talk of a Universal of Unlimited Atonement? Verses like: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NASB) or “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only, but also those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) How do we interpret passages like this in light of Jesus’ words: “I have come to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 26:28) Clearly “many” doesn’t mean “all.” Or Jesus’ declaration in John 10: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 NASB) Notice He didn’t say “all”…He said “the sheep.”
Sunday morning I offered 3 possible conclusions to this apparent dilemma: The first option (which I reject completely) says, the Bible is wrong. Jesus and John had two completely different ideas of the atonement’s extent. I think most of us can safely rule out that option. Option Two: Jesus paid for all, but not all actually receive the payment in the end. This is certainly better than option one, but still falls short….at least in my view….because it still has Jesus PAYING FOR (not simply offering, but PAYING FOR) SIN….and if sin is PAID FOR…then why should it have to be eternally PAID FOR again in Hell. Of course you could always say, “It’s a mystery.” Jesus paid for all, yet only some receive the payment, yet God is still just, etc., etc. That’s an option….but I prefer option three. Jesus paid for the sheep, and “world” is a general term. And Sunday morning, I offered one passage in particular as a defense for my view. It’s a passage that speaks of BOTH the atonement….AND the world…but it seems to elaborate on what “world” means. In Revelation 5, speaking of Jesus it says: "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9 NASB) And THERE, I believe is the answer to the question. Jesus purchased for God (atonement), people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (in other words---THE WORLD!). Can you see how “world” doesn’t mean every soul on earth? We use “world” in a general way all the time….and so did people in Biblical days. Of Jesus it was said by the Pharisees, “The world has gone after Him.” (John 12:19) Of Paul and his cohorts it was said, “These men have upset the world.” (Acts 17:6) In both cases, “world” is used in a general sense….and so it is in the passages dealing with the atonement.
One more problematic passage I’ll deal with….1 Timothy 4… “We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” (1 Tim. 4:10 NASB) What does THAT mean? Well….we know, we know, we KNOW that it doesn’t mean “savior” as in “eternal salvation” right? Because if it does then the rest of the New Testament is wrong. So what does it mean? In what sense is God the “Savior” of “all men?” Well, first you have “common grace.” God could send EVERYONE to Hell the first time they sin…..but He doesn’t. He shows them grace. You might even say they are “safe” temporarily, and hence the word “Savior (one who saves).” Furthermore you also see “restraining grace.” This world COULD BE much more messed up than it is….but God puts the “restraints” upon man’s depravity…and ALL MEN benefit from that. All men are “safer” (Savior) because of that. You could even push the text to say God is “Savior” in the sense that He offers eternal salvation to ALL MEN when He doesn’t have to. Of course, one more thing to keep in mind….the Greek word for “Savior” can also mean “Deliverer.” And perhaps we would be more comfortable translating it as such, in this case.
OK….I’m almost done….my hand hurts from typing (and my brain hurts from thinking)….Incidentally, if anyone is still reading at this point…I would LOVE for you to e-mail me and let me know….because I have a suspicion that there are only 2 or 3 of you left by now (Brian K. being one of them). I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before.
So, what’s the point? What difference does your view of Limited Atonement make? I think that it causes your thankfulness to God to SKYROCKET when you believe that Jesus death on the cross was NOT a hypothetical payment….but that He actually PAID FOR YOU, individually. This doctrine should be EXTREMELY humbling, and GOD glorifying. Who am I (and who are you)….that God HIMSELF should suffer and die so that we would (not could) WOULD be bought…paid for….washed clean….given a new life on earth….and welcomed into HIS eternal kingdom in Heaven? I don’t deserve it. No one does. BUT….I’m thankful for a God that leaves NOTHING to chance. He sent His Son to live a perfect life and die a perfect, atoning death to pay for individuals. To pay for me….and you (if Christ is your Lord)…..and for ANYONE else who will turn to Him as Lord (though WE have no clue who will and who won’t)…..It’s a privilege….It’s an honor…..It’s better than anything else in the universe….to be one of the sheep, who was paid for….BY THE LAMB OF GOD, who takes away the sins of the world…..every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation, every ONE…of His elect……………Until next time…