Reformed Theology: {3 of 5} LIMITED ATONEMENT

by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.

Basic Contextual Background of Reformed Theology

John Calvin, the famous theologian and pastor of Geneva, died in 1564. Along with Martin Luther in Germany, he was the most influential force of the Protestant Reformation. His Commentaries and Institutes of the Christian Religion are still exerting tremendous influence on the Christian Church worldwide. The churches which have inherited the teachings of Calvin are usually called Reformed as opposed to the Lutheran or Episcopalian branches of the Reformation. While not all Baptist churches hold to a reformed theology, there is a significant Baptist tradition which grew out of and still cherishes the central doctrines inherited from the reformed branch of the Reformation. People grasp these points more easily if we follow a presentation based on the order in which we experience them.

  1. We experience first our depravity and need of salvation.
  2. Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith.
  3. Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins.
  4. Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God.
  5. And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith.

3.}       Limited Atonement

Here’s a great question that all Calvinists love to ask; “If Christ died for All men, thereby causing ALL sins to be washed away, then why are not ALL men saved? REMEMBER….the term “free will” in the Bible is in practically every situation used as a NEGATIVE description of human beings and their INABILITY to do the “right thing.”

woman-pushing-awayIn other words, your “free will” causes or prompts you to do the wrong thing…not the right thing. To claim an individual can and MUST participate in the process of salvation soley on the aspect of his own free will becomes quite literally impossible. One’s “free will” pushes you away from God.  It does not draw the potential believer closer.

Keeping that understanding of FREE WILL in mind while you read through the following examples of scripture should make the discovery of LIMITED ATONEMENT journey much easier. The term “limited atonement” addresses the question, “For whom did Christ die?” But behind the question of the extent of the atonement lies the equally important issue concerning the very foundation of what the atonement actually is and actually does.

What did Christ actually achieve on the cross for those for whom he died?

If you say that he died for every human being in the same way, then you have to define the nature of the atonement very differently than you would if you believed that Christ only died for those who actually believe.

In the first case you would believe that the death of Christ did not actually save anybody; it only enabled all of humanity to be savable. It did not actually remove God’s punitive wrath from anyone, but instead created a place where people could come and find mercy—IF they could accomplish their own new birth and bring themselves to faith without the irresistible grace of God. The extension of this belief is that Christ died for all of humanity as a group in the same way then he did not purchase regenerating grace for those who are saved. This errant position demands the believer must regenerate themselves and bring themselves to faith. Then and only then do they become partakers of the benefits of the cross.

In other words, if you believe that Christ died for all humanity in the same way, then the benefits of the cross cannot include the mercy by which we are brought to faith, because then all people….everyone…would be brought to faith, but they aren’t. If the mercy by which we are brought to faith (irresistible grace) is not part of what Christ purchased on the cross, then we are left to save ourselves from the bondage of sin, the hardness of heart, the blindness of corruption, and the wrath of God.  

(Hebrews 9:28)   28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

(Romans 3:25-26)   25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(1 Timothy 4:10)   10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

(John 17:6,9,19)   6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”  9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”  19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

(John 10:15-16)15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

(Revelation 5:9)   9 And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

(1 John 2:2)   2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

(Matthew 26:28)   28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.


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