Apologies for not posting on Monday. Life got crazy (more crazy than usual) and I totally blanked on posting this blog. But here we are, all is right in the world again.
Now then, if you thought things could not get any more heated, especially after the previous blog, I am sorry to say that I must turn up the heat even more. Out of all the five points, none makes someone a “four pointer” quicker than the doctrine of limited atonement. It is by far the most contested and devisive of the five points because of the theological and logical implications. However, this does not make it any less true. It simply requires us to put our presuppositions away and allow the Bible to speak for itself. It is my hope that this blog helps you in this endeavor.
The doctrine of limited atonement, or “specific atonement” to some, states that the salvific work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the intent of that work was limited (or specific) to only the elect. In other words, Jesus did not die on the cross for everybody. His sacrifice was for and only applies to a very specific group of people that the Bible describes as the elect (we covered this last time). In Matthew 1:21 the angel describes the future savior to Joseph when he says,
“She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
The phrase “His people” very clearly says that Christ did not come to die for the sins of the world. He came to save “His people” from their sins. Limited atonement is explicitly stated in the very mission of Christ as proclaimed by the angels. This doctrine is also clearly described in John 10:14-16.
“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. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”
There is great specificity in these verses. Notice the terms “my own”. He doesn’t say “all sheep” or “all that will”. God knows the specific amount of people that are His because He chose them. The sacrifice of Christ is limited to those that God has chosen. The work of Christ is limited because God only elected a certain amount of people to be saved. As we will see later, if God elected a certain amount of people, yet the work of Christ is for everyone, this places the burden of choice not on God, but on man and his fallen will.
Something to understand about this doctrine are the implications of it not being true. If Jesus didn't die for everyone, then obviously His death was in vain or simply not good enough for many people. We know not everyone is saved and that Hell is a real place filled with real people. If Christ’s sacrifice was for all, why was it not good enough for some? What is the deciding factor that causes salvation to be good for some and not others? The only answer by this logic, is that salvation must be given to those that choose it. The reason Christ’s death does not save everyone is because not everyone has made the choice to accept it.
This is the logical trail of thought in this line of thinking. We know from the doctrine of unconditional election and total depravity that humans neither have the will nor desire to choose salvation because of the sinful state they are in. Therefore, salvation must be attributed to those that God has chosen to be the recipients of it.
Are you beginning to see how the five points coincide with each other? Limited atonement is true because it puts the responsibility of salvation in God’s will. If the atonement is not limited to the elect, then it must be universally for all. If it is universally for all, and we know that not all enter into heaven, then the obvious conclusion to this predicament is that salvation must be based upon something other than God’s election. The only other answer is human choice. This is not in line with scripture in the least. Christ Himself said in John 10:26-29,
“...but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”
Again, notice the term “my sheep”. This passage denotes that Jesus knew exactly those who were His and He knew exactly whom it was that He was dying for. It is a very specific knowledge and does not give any credence to the opinion that the sheep have a voice in the matter. The atoning work of Christ was limited to those whom He already knew were His sheep. His foreknowledge displays specificity.
I realize that this is a hard doctrine to swallow. The obvious argument against this is how it supposedly makes God look. God must be some sort of tyrant to actively send people to Hell. He must not be loving to choose some over others. He must not actually care about people or He wouldn’t make such a choice. There is an inherent flaw in this line of thinking. The flaw resides in the view of God and the view of man. To say God is unfair to choose some over others is to say that man is somehow deserving of salvation. It says that there is something within them that is worth choosing and God is overlooking that. It depicts man as having some amount of good within him that causes him to not completely deserve Hell. This is simply not true. We are conceived deserving judgment. No Christian in their right mind would say that we do not deserve Hell. Yet if we say God is unfair in sending some to Hell, we are saying God is not right to do so. The only way someone is not deserving of Hell is if they are sinless, or the punishment of Hell has already been paid. These are the only two options. How then is man not rightly deserving of Hell and how is God not right to send to Hell whomever He will?
This is the main problem with claiming God is unloving or unfair to limit His atonement. Take into consideration what is actually fair in our scenario? Do we actually want God to be fair with us? Fair would be judgment for everyone, no questions asked. Fair would be us getting the rightful punishment we deserve for our sins. Fair would be Christ staying in His place in Heaven and never coming to save our wretched skins. That would be fair. Christian know this, of all the things to want God to be, you do not want Him to be fair with you. The question is not why does God not save everyone, the real question is why would He save any at all? With our cursing His name and rebelling against His will, why would He still choose to save some? God is not actively sending people to Hell. We are born going there already. God is actively saving people from Hell. Why would He do this? This is the mystery. The only answer I can see in scripture is because He is loving.
So when you actually look at it, the doctrine of limited atonement is actually a very loving and gracious doctrine. It shows the immense love and grace that God has to actually decide to save some, even though they rebelled against Him. This is nothing short of amazing that God would do this for us. What an amazing God we serve! His love is beyond anything we can fathom. His decision to save a remnant for His glory is staggering. We must open up our view of God and stop putting Him in a box. He is bigger than we can possibly imagine. He is more righteous and holy than we can handle. He has every right to do what He wants, when He wants because He is God and we are not. With all this power, He still chooses to save us. Dear friend, limited atonement, although it’s hard to understand, showcases God’s incredible love for a people that hated Him. It doesn’t get any more loving than that.