Many believer’s, or even more specifically, “4-Point Calvinists” against the all-encompassing argument-spawning L in T.U.L.I.P. (i.e. Limited Atonement), seem to have many misunderstandings about what this means. Many I have talked to seem to presume that by using the term “Limited Atonement” we are somehow limiting the power of Christ’s blood to say that He could have only paid for the elect and not at all for the non-elect. This is not the case at all. This term is talking about the scope or range of the atonement, not it’s power, who Christ actually bought on the cross with His precious infinitely valuable blood, not the value of His blood to be able to carry out salvation for all. It would have taken just as much blood, excruciating physical pain, heartbreaking spiritual torment of the Father’s wrath to pay for one person’s sins as it would an infinite number of people. Our sin has eternal weight to it, eternal hell. There is no limit here on Christ’s atoning power. It is indeed without limit. Could Christ have saved every single person for all time with His blood? Absolutely! What does Scripture say though? I believe it’s very clear on this. Not all have been chosen undeservingly for salvation.
The question here is who did Christ die for? If you say He died for every person for all time, then your definition of the atonement will be totally different than if you say He only bought some, i.e. those the Father has given Him, the sheep (John 10, John 17). We must start and work our way through our other points to clearly understand why this is the case. First of all, if our statement concerning Total Depravity is true, then we are dead in our hearts, morally speaking, and do not desire God in any manner. Our condition prior to salvation is that we were blind, deaf, unable to come, and most importantly, totally unwilling to go to Him. This is Total Depravity, being that sin, as a result of the fall, has extended to every manner of our existence. Thoughts, motives, desires, physical aspects, you name it, nothing is out of its grasp and its effects. We are slaves to sin prior to conversion (Romans 8). If this is true, then it must be that an agent outside of ourselves must work in us to give us the eyes, ears and heart to be able to even see, understand, or even believe on Christ and what He’s done. This agent outside of us is the Holy Spirit. As Jesus states in John 3, we must be born again by His Spirit to see the kingdom of God, i.e. regenerated from our dead state to life to even be able to believe on Jesus for salvation. We will not believe apart from Him regenerating our hearts because all that man desires apart from this change is unrighteousness. This is Irresistible Grace, not that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that when God chooses, He can overcome all resistance in a persons life to save who He wants.
Now with that said, and with Scripture as our guide, what does it say about how our change came to be? This is where Unconditional Election comes in. People will agree that God chooses some and not others, but what is the basis of that choice? If it is conditioned upon anything such as works, even our faith, then our entire salvation is based on what we do, not on God and His will. It ultimately comes back to us and what we decide. We find in John 6:44, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 9, Ephesians 1:4,5,11, and many other places, as John Piper says, that God decides unconditionally beforehand, in eternity past, who shall be chosen for salvation and undeservingly be saved, and who shall be passed over for salvation and deservingly perish. With those points stated, we now move to the atonement. What is an atonement? It is a sacrifice given on someone’s behalf that covers their wrong-doing, its resultant punishment, and removes their guilt. Even more specific within the atonement is a term called propitiation, which has the meaning of an actual turning away of the wrath of God from a sinner. So with these ideas in mind, what does this mean for the atonement for our sins, Jesus Christ and Him crucified and who He bought? When we believe in Christ for salvation, our sins are atoned for, our guilt removed, and we are justified in the presence of the Father, having been given the very righteousness of Christ. What does Jesus state about unbeliever’s though at the end of John 3, in particular verse 36? “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (ESV). The end of this verse is a clear judgment of the person who does not believe in Jesus for salvation. The person who has believed in Jesus has eternal life, the person who does not remains exposed to the awful and terrible wrath of the Father, something all of us have earned from our sin.
How does atonement fit into this? If an atonement covers sin and removes the guilt of our sins, and the aspect of the atonement called propitiation is an actual, real turning away of the wrath of God from a sinner, what does this mean for unbelievers if the wrath of God abides on them for not believing in Christ? Their sins are not atoned for and they are exposed to His fury against wickedness. And if our doctrine of unconditional election is true, that He chose whom He was pleased to save not based on anything within the person, then what was the intent of the death of Christ? And if they cannot believe in Christ because of their wild rebellious hearts having no desire to turn to Him, without God first choosing to come and give them a spiritual heart transplant (removing their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh, something they can’t do), and if there will be people in hell in the final judgment whose sins were not atoned for, as the book of Revelation clearly shows (Revelation 20), what implications does this have for the atonement of Christ on the cross? When He died who did he die for? If you say all people for all time, then your definition of Christ’s atonement will be an atonement of possibility, but not actuality. But if you state that He died for those He’s chosen to save undeservingly, then is this not an actual, real atonement, a true propitiation for sinners, planned from eternity past by the Father to save specific people of His good, wise choosing? And praise God for Jesus Christ and His obedience at the cross, that He would save anyone at all through His precious blood in great mercy! Oh how undeserving we are! How wicked I am in my heart that God’s only Son would have to die for a wretch like me! And praise God that death did not defeat Him, but that He rose to life by the power of God. What a wonderful God and Savior we serve!
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