I have asked a few people this now, and the overwhelming majority of those I asked said that what did it for them was the section on limited atonement in the position paper entitled What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism written by John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church. I was actually kind of surprised to hear this because for most people, this point is by far the most controversial. But upon thinking about it, I can also see now why it makes sense that this would be the one thing convincing people of Reformed theology’s truthfulness.
When you start distinguishing Christ’s sacrificial work, not as something that He just lobbed out there for us to grab a hold of by our own supposed moral power, but rather paint the Scriptural picture that Christ’s death is what effected even your faith in Him, you begin to see a stark contrast. It is the difference between an atonement that did not go the extra mile to raise you from the dead and get you in its benefits, and an atonement that grabbed a hold of you when you were running headlong into hell, dead in trespasses and sins, regenerating your will that was in bondage to sin, giving you eyes to see when you were blind, ears to hear when you were deaf, and a new heart made anew in the likeness of Jesus’ heart, that will inevitably be fully conformed to His one day. It is the difference between an atonement presented where Christ made it available to all and saves no one in particular effectively, and an atonement of power presented in the Scriptures that grabbed a hold of the sinners’ soul and will, raising them from the dead, breathing life into them when there was none there to start with.
I don’t know about others, but the latter descriptions above, in each instance, is how I was saved. I did not get myself “in” His benefits, but rather He got me “in” at the cross, from beginning to end. He united me to Himself and nothing could stop Him. I take no credit for my love for God, my faith, and my affirmation of the reality and truthfulness of the Gospel. That was God’s work, specifically effected in the cross of Christ, His atonement. What child of God in heaven is going to ever take credit for their coming to Christ? Was this itself not the work of God?
John Owen has a rather long quote in The Death of Death that Jon Dansby summarized a while back that I think is really helpful in distinguishing the difference between the common, American, traditional, “churchy” perception of the atonement and the atonement presented in the Scriptures: “If Christ died for all in the same way and faith itself is not a gift of the cross, then those who are in heaven have no more to thank Christ for than those who are in hell.” Why? Because they got themselves in. How does that honor God? That’s just wrong on so many levels.
The term limited atonement is very misleading because it makes it sound as if we are saying the power of Christ’s atonement is limited. But that is not what is intended, which is why I like the terms definite atonement or particular redemption more, but it messes up the TULIP acrostic. But oh well, who needs a silly acrostic anyway? The power of Christ’s atonement is infinite, able to save an infinite number of lost souls. I confess with John Calvin that the atonement is “sufficient for the whole world, but efficient for the elect,” that is Christ bought for His people more than just the possibility and opportunity of salvation, He actually and really bought their souls at the cross, making sure they would get in, which includes the purchasing and granting of the gifts of faith, repentance, the desire and the very will to come to Christ.
This section of Piper’s article apparently seems to be the most convincing argument for many people when it pertains to Reformed theology, because it is riddled with Scripture that shows these truths to be self-evident. But I know many others have been convinced of the truthfulness of them in other ways. Regardless, it may be helpful for some of you who are just not quite sure about the whole thing or those who are opposed to them, to go through this rather short section.
There are many people out there, including the Reformed, who have done a terrible job of presenting these truths in a way that is loving, Biblical frankly, and God-honoring. For that I am sorry. But what camp or movement does not have those within its circles who do a terrible job of presenting their positions, who are also the most vocal, yet also the minority of those confessing the position? To discount Reformed theology because a few loud, vocal wing nuts who were arrogant, emotionally heated, and unloving in their desire to prove these truths to you, does not negate the truthfulness of the teachings themselves. So just give it a chance and check it out.
How about me, you ask? What convinced me? Well, I was simply presented with the five points and Reformed theology in high school, and because of how God had previously worked in my life to save me, they just made sense. Of course God chose me first! I was running away from Him when He invaded my life. Of course He had me in mind when He purchased me with His blood before I came into existence. He set His affection on me in eternity. This just made sense and squared with the picture of God’s love in the Scriptures. Basically, by God’s grace alone, I needed no convincing, because the Scriptural salvation truths echoed within Calvinism exactly matched up with my salvation experience. God saved me, I did nothing, faith was just the inevitable response of a heart supernaturally changed by grace alone.