(image courtesy ChristArt )
By Spencer D Gear
TULIP Calvinists promote belief in Limited Atonement. Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or did he die only for the sins of the elect – the church? To ask the question another way: ‘When Christ died on the cross, did he pay for the sins of the entire human race or only for the sins of those who he knew would ultimately be saved?’ (Grudem 1994:594).
Anglican Reformed theologian, J I Packer, gave this definition:
Definite redemption, sometimes called “particular redemption,” “effective atonement,” and “limited atonement,” is an historic Reformed doctrine about the intention of the triune God in the death of Jesus Christ. Without doubting the infinite worth of Christ’s sacrifice or the genuineness of God’s “whoever will” invitation to all who hear the gospel (Rev. 22:17), the doctrine states that the death of Christ actually put away the sins of all God’s elect and ensured that they would be brought to faith through regeneration and kept in faith for glory, and that this is what it was intended to achieve. From this definiteness and effectiveness follows its limitedness: Christ did not die in this efficacious sense for everyone. The proof of that, as Scripture and experience unite to teach us, is that not all are saved (Packer 1993:137; also available HERE)
Baptist Reformed theologian, Wayne Grudem, stated that
those whom God planned to save are the same people for whom Christ also came to die, and to those same people the Holy Spirit will certainly apply the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work, even awakening their faith (John 1:12; Phil. 1:29; cf. Eph. 2:2) and calling them to trust in him….
The term that is usually preferred is particular redemption, since this view holds that Christ died for particular people (especially, those who would be saved and whom he came to redeem), that he foreknew each one of them individually (cf. Eph. 1:3-5) and had them individually in mind in his atoning work(Grudem 1994;595, 596).
Is limited atonement or particular redemption taught in Scripture? For a defence of that position, see J I Packer, ‘Definite Redemption’; Packer 1994:137-139).
However, what do the Scriptures teach? We will find that unlimited atonement (Jesus died for the whole world) is taught by biblical Christianity. The following are representative passages in support of unlimited atonement:
Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (NIV)
John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'”
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John Calvin’s commentary on John 3:16 states:
16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….
That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (John Calvin, Commentary on John, vol 1, John 3:13-18, CCEL, emphasis added).
John 4:42: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.'”
Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.”
1 Timothy 4:10: “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”
Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
1 John 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (Please note the contrast of ‘ours’ and ‘the whole world’.)
1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
I was helped with the listing of these Scriptures by Ron Rhodes’ excellent article in support of unlimited atonement. ‘The Extent of the Atonement:Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement‘ (Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries). Another article in support of unlimited atonement is Robert P Lightner, ‘The Death Christ Died: A Case for Unlimited Atonement’.
So the teaching on unlimited atonement is very biblical. Also, the founder of Calvinism, John Calvin, believed in it.
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Packer, J I 1993. Concise theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.