Close Menu X

The Doctrine of Definite Atonement (Part 2)

The Bible teaches that Jesus died in the place of His people in order to secure their salvation. Jesus (whose name means, 'God saves') came to earth in order to provide a way for those chosen by the Father to be saved from sin and its effects.

The Question:

When Jesus died on the cross, did He pay for the sins of the entire human race or only for the sins of those whom He knew would ultimately be saved? Here are the four options.

1. He died for all the sins of all people.

2. He died for all the sins of some people.

3. He died for some of the sins of all people.

4. He died for some of the sins of some people.

The Non-Reformed or Arminian View:

· since the gospel is offered to all people, and this offer is genuine, therefore Jesus must have paid the penalty for sins for all people

· if Jesus did not die in the place of all men, the gospel cannot be freely and in good conscience offered to all people

The Reformed or Calvinistic View:

· if Jesus died for all people, then all people will be saved without exception since in His substitutionary death Jesus accomplished salvation (see last week's notes: purchased, redeemed, ransomed, propitiated the Father, reconciled to the Father)

· if God condemned to eternal judgment those whose sins were paid for that would demand double payment and make God unjust

· as for our freedom to offer the gospel (to offer Jesus) to all men:

"The fact that God foreknew who would be saved and that he accepted Christ's death as payment for their sins only, does not inhibit the free offer of the gospel for who will respond to it is hidden in the secret counsels of God. That we do not know who will respond no more constitutes a reason for not offering the gospel to all than not knowing the extent of the harvest prevents the farmer from sowing seed in his fields." - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 595.

Why a Limited Atonement?

· some limit the effectiveness of the atonement (not everyone goes to heaven, therefore Jesus atonement must not have been strong or good enough - He needs us to add to it)

· some limit the application of the atonement (those to whom are applied the benefits of His cross-work are fully saved)

· nobody is limiting the value of the atonement. by virtue of who Jesus is, the atonement is of infinite value!

To the Word: For Whom Does the Bible Teach Christ Died?

· John 10:11-15 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."

· Acts 20: 28 "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood."

· Ephesians 5: 2, 25 "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

· Romans 5:6-11 "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." Note the context here: this verse is addressed to Christians alone!

· 2 Corinthians 5:21 "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

· Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

· Mark 14: 24-25 "And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

· Isaiah 53:12 "Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (plus the whole context of Isaiah 53 where Isaiah speaks on behalf of God's redeemed people - not on behalf of all humanity)

What About "Whosoever Will?"

Some of the confusion comes from passages that use words like "all" or "world" as they describe the atonement of Jesus. There are many excellent books and articles that deal with these verses. Most of the time, a careful look at the context will make it clear that the "all" is being limited to a certain group - not every single human. But let's try to tackle the most difficult verse to the Calvinistic view of the atonement!

· 1 John 2:1, 2 "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

If this was the only verse in the Bible that described the atonement we would have to conclude that Jesus died for all men indiscriminately. Since this is not the only verse in the Bible that speaks about the atonement, we either have to re-interpret all the other verses that limit the application of the atonement (see above for a small sampling) or else see if there is any legitimate way to think that John was thinking "limited atonement" when he penned these words. Three possible solutions have been proposed and they are summarized here:

· These words might be emphasizing the ethnic universalism of Jesus' atonement - in other words, His cross-work was not limited to those Jews who had "heard, seen and touched" Him (note the context of 1:1-4), but extends to all the nations of the world.

· It could be that John used these words to teach the exclusive sacrifice of Jesus - He is the only one in the whole creation that can make atonement between men and God. no one else in the world atones.

· Another solution is to understand John as emphasizing the on-going effectiveness of Jesus' propitiation - He appeased the rightful wrath of God for the first disciples and He will do the same for all who ever come to Him out of the whole world.

Conclusion: It is easy to see that there are many options. perhaps a combination of the three is best. But we are not bound to conclude that John was teaching a general redemption - in fact, careful use of the rest of our Bible shows us exactly what John was not intending in these words. After all, if Jesus propitiated the wrath of God toward the sins of every human in the world, then every human in the world is going to heaven! Experience and the rest of the Bible tell us this is just not so.