A look at Limited Atonement.
Warning: This may be deep
Limited Atonement is perhaps one of the most controversial teachings within John Calvins Institutes:
. . . Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed in Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. (Ch. III, sec. 6)
For starters Limited Atonement needs to be defined, Limited atonement is the theological position, which states that Christ saving work on the cross saved somemen of their sins before the foundations of the world. These men are known as the predestined, chosen or elect.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,”.
Why is Limited Atonement so controversial?
There are two basic views of Christs work in salvation:
1. Armenians (freewillers or Universalists) Christ died for ALL men & man has the ability to chose to believe or not.
2. Calvinist (God wills; He is sovereign) Christ died for SOME men & God knew before hand all who would believe.
It might be a cop-out or not academic to say that I can support both from Scripture. Who says, you have to fall into one camp or the other? Who can say, one theological position out-weighs the other?The sovereignty of God is seen all throughout Scripture. God is in control, all knowing, infinite, and rules over all that He has made. There is no question that God could save all men or some men, or cause all or some men to believe in His sacrifice. He is God; He can do as He pleases. He has elected/predestined some to salvation. But even within Scripture you see a balance within His character. Mans sin unleashes Gods wrath, but Gods grace unleashes His salvation to man. To say that Gods saving and sacrificing work on the cross only saved a selected few is a contrary look at Gods own character. I will not argue salvation is all the work of God. Salvation is 100 complete sovereign work of God. He is through and through within the beginning work of justification (regeneration, reconciliation and redemption), sanctification (progressively making man more like Himself after salvation), and glorification (perfecting man to be completely like Him after death). For example, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16), or “No man can come unto Me, except it were given him of my Father” (John 6:65).It is not belittling to God or the message of the gospel to say that man has a choice in the matter of His eternal destiny. In fact, it is honoring and glorifying Gods grace. God demonstrated His love to man by sending His Son, and man demonstrates His love for God by accepting His Son. Faith is a concept communicated all throughout Scripture (Rom.5, 8; Eph.2). Faith is buying into Gods impossible and unexplainable grace.As I exegete or study the original language in context, it is clear that our Scriptures present far too many passages in that speak clearly of the grace, love and justice of God to justify the view that the Atonement was limited in its intention to a chosen few persons. I cannot honestly present the Gospel to the world at large or to my next-door neighbor unless I am convinced that God really desires the salvation of all men equally.
Such a verse as John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish,” is surely without limitation in its implication. And such passages as those which speak of Christ as the “Savior of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14), or “the Savior of all men” (1 Timothy 4:10), or as the one who gave Himself to be “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), or which affirm that He is “the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life unto the world” (John 6:33, 51), are so all-encompassing as to defy the concept of a salvation is confined to the elect of God while the vast majority of men are passed by. Statements like these, and there are many others, appear to prohibit placing limitations upon the intrinsic worth of that sacrifice or upon its intention in application.
Yet there are reasons to believe that another interpretation is possible, if not indeed more likely, both for these passages and others of a similar nature. That the Lord Jesus Christ should die for all, while only some avail themselves of his sacrifice, is surely to make a provision far greater than is required. It constitutes a kind of divine extravagance, which seems inappropriate in view of the appalling nature of the penalty paid in his own Person by the Lord Jesus. In the nature of the case the Father must have foreseen that the sacrifice of his Son would effectively have only limited application. It would seem only appropriate to make the payment limited accordingly: limited punishment to balance limited crime. The Lord Jesus pronounces this principle Himself when He said that the man whose offenses were few was to receive few stripes, whereas the man whose offenses were great was to receive many (Luke 12:47, 48). It is expected to say that the Lord’s sacrifice was sufficient for all, but efficient only for those who avail themselves of it. But to many people even this appears to be an evasion of the problem, a mere play upon words.
However, a careful reading of what Scripture does say about those for whom Christ died reinforces the impression that He did actually bear only the sins of his people, ‘You shall call his name Jesus for He shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). 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). Certainly the implications here are clear enough. It might yet be true that He gave Himself for us, while still dying for other men also.
Paul is very specific when he says: “He gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us” (1:4). And again in Galatians 3:13: “Being made a curse for us,” to the end that “we might receive the adoption of sons” (4:5). To the Roman Christians Paul wrote: “He was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). In writing to Titus, Paul said: “He gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a special people” (Titus 2:14).
Peter wrote: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), a picture reflecting Isaiah 53:5: “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by his stripes we are healed.”
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews said, “By Himself He purged our sins” (Hebrews 1:3), “having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). And in 1 John 4:9: “In this was manifest the love of God towards us because God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him.”
It might be argued that these passages were written to those who were already saved, yes, but that doesnt prove anything. The majority of these passages are references to what Christ has done and is still doing within the unbelieving world.
The Calvinistic and Armenian views of salvation are simply logical ways to explain an unexplainable theological issue. Theology doesnt always follow logic. For example, how does One God equal three Persons? Thats not logical to the finite mind of man. Why did God save all men? Why didnt God punish all men? These are questions we leave to God and do not need to define.
In conclusion, not out of ignorance, but out of conviction I walk the middle road. Gods sovereignty in salvation and mans acceptance are two important and parallel and proven truths within Scripture. These two truths are like two rails of a railroad track. The moment you try to deny one you derail the cars/truths. By Gods grace and by faith I believe that Jesus Christ paid my eternal debt and has forgiven me of sins that held me captive. To the praise and glory of His grace. (Eph.1).