Friday, December 17, 2010

The Limited Atonement - Part 2 - Guest Blogger: Jessica Stem

The gospel can and should be freely offered to everyone because of the fact that the elect are only known by God (Thune).  This is why He charges believers in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go and make disciples.”  God uses believers to reach the rest of the elect.  Also, it must be noticed that throughout the Bible God calls the Christian to love all men, even their enemies.  It would be very hypocritical of Him to command man to love and for Him actually to love all people, and to some extent, Himself.  Even when holding the view of limited atonement, it is still the Christian’s job, according to scripture, to evangelize and love others (Torrance).

Another question to think about is about the will of man; because faith is not man’s choice that brings him unto salvation, does this mean that man has no free will?  The Arminian says that if one holds to the view of a limited atonement, man has no free will.  This is a common misconception.  Here is an illustration that will help explain how the free will of man fits into God’s will.  Picture an umbrella that represents the sovereign will of God.  Everything that is underneath the covering of that umbrella is man’s free will.  Man has free will inside the limitations of God’s will.  Furthermore, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (NASB).”  Faith is not the sinner’s gift to God, but God’s gift to the sinner through His sovereign grace.  Salvation is not our will, but the will of the Father for His children.

The view of unlimited or general atonement, which is held by many, draws its support from scriptures that say Christ died for the world or for all men such as John 3:16, II Corinthians 5:19, 1 Timothy 2:4,6 and II Peter 3:9.  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (NASB).”  The objection to this passage is the assumption that “world” means every individual human being (Berkhof, 395-396).  A person must look at John 3:17, the following verse, to define world in this case.  When looking at John 3:17, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved (NASB),” one must compare this verse to other scripture to fully understand its meaning.  The word “might”, for instance, can have one of two definitions when just looking at the verse by itself.  It could mean “has the possibility to” save, which would be the interpretation of an Arminian evangelical. 

The other definition for the word “might” is “will in time,” which would mean that everyone from the beginning of time will eventually be saved, which is not the case.  If “might” does mean “will in time,” then “world” in John 3:16 cannot mean everyone, but only the elect.  So how can it be determined what the definition of “might” really is?  Other scripture must be examined.  John 11:4 says, “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby (NASB).”  The word “might” must mean “will in time.”  There is no “possibility” of God being glorified; He will be glorified.  John 10:17 and John 17:12 also show the same meaning of the word “might.”  By reading in the context of John, the conclusion is that “might” simply means “will in time,” changing the meaning of the word “world” in John 3:16 to the group of God’s chosen and not every single individual that ever lived (Thompson).

Another problem with the interpretation of these types of verses is contextual error.  The Arminian would take I Timothy 2:4, 6, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth… who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (NASB),”  and say that this proves Christ died for all men.  One must read this passage in context to see that the phrase “all men” is previously defined as all types of men in verses one and two of 1 Timothy 2, not every individual man in the world (Berkhof, 396).  Some say that the Bible should just be taken at face value and not “manipulated,” as is the accusation towards Calvinists.  I Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (NASB).”  If this was to be taken literally, everyone will be saved, which scripture teaches is not the case and again, leads to universalism (Frame, 151-155).  Scripture must be interpreted with other scripture, not with the thoughts of man.

The Bible repeatedly and specifically qualifies the people group for whom Christ died in such a way that points undoubtedly to a limited atonement.  This certain people group is referred to as “His sheep” many places in scripture.  For example, John 10:11, 14 and 15 say, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (NASB).”  It is clearly obvious in scripture, life experience and logically, that not everyone will be saved.  This separates the world into two groups, the saved and the unsaved.  Jesus uses a metaphor in this passage to show that He is the shepherd, and the sheep are the saved.  He does not say that He lays down His life for the whole world, but only His sheep.  The shepherd died for His sheep, ultimately pointing to a definite limited atonement.  There are also other names for this saved group of people such as His church in Acts 20:28, His People in Matthew 1:21 and the elect in Romans 8:33 (Berkhof, 395).

While looking at passages of scripture, qualifiers in verses about the atonement must be given careful attention.  Matthew 20:28 says, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (NASB).”  The word ransom is a means of deliverance or rescue from punishment for sin, which is simply a synonym for atonement.  The qualifying word in this passage is many.  Christ came to atone for many, not all men.  Another similar verse is Galatians 1:4 which says, “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (NASB).”  The reader must first know that this is Paul writing to the church in Galatia.  So, in context, “our sins” and “us” is referring to the Christian, the chosen of God (Owen, 45).  Even though there are “many” applications that can be made from a Bible verse, there is only one correct interpretation which must be made in accordance with other scripture.  Scripture can never mean something that God never intended it to mean.   
Some theologians have proposed that the atonement is not what saves, but has merely broken down the barrier of original sin so that everyone has the choice to either accept or reject Christ.  This means that all the atonement did was make salvation possible by allowing everyone to freely come to faith; the atonement alone is not what gives us salvation (Frame, 151-155).  There are two problems with this.  The first is that it minimizes the Glory of Christ on the cross and maximizes human’s free will.  If humans did have the free will to accept or reject Christ, everyone would reject and go to hell because of the human’s sinful nature.  Romans 3:10-12 says, “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one (NASB).”  According to this verse, if it is the case that salvation is a choice of free will, no one will choose salvation because, naturally, no one seeks good or God; therefore, everyone is going to hell if salvation is a free choice. 
Charles Spurgeon said, “We declare on scriptural authority that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained toward Christ.”  The second problem is that the efficacy, effectiveness, of the atonement is limited; it has a limited power to save.  In turn, this confines the power of God.  Whether a Calvinist or an Arminian, the atonement is limited in either its extent or its efficacy.  Particular atonement is limited in its extent, and the unlimited atonement is limited in its efficacy.  It’s not that Christ made satisfaction for the whole world, it is the fact that Christ’s death on the cross is so precious that in itself it is efficacious for the whole world (Hanko, 54-55).  The immensity of Christ’s efficacy is taken away when the atonement is made unlimited and the variable of choice is added to the equation of salvation.

If the atonement was effective for all men, then why are some men still punished with eternal damnation?  When a person says that everyone was atoned for by Jesus’ death on the cross, this can be translated to mean that all of their sins have been paid.  If their sins have been reconciled, then they cannot be denied entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  John Piper uses an analogy that most Sunday school teachers use when explaining the gospel, to show error in the belief that all sins have been atoned for.  He says salvation is like a ticket.  It is bought with the great price of Jesus’ death on the cross.  This ticket is what covers all of your sins and gets you onto the only train that goes to heaven.  God has bought a ticket for you and for everyone else, but gives everyone the choice to believe and take the ticket.  If you don’t take the ticket, you don’t get on the train and therefore will go to hell.  The problem with this analogy is the purchase of the ticket, which is the canceling of the sins of unbelievers.  Sin is the only thing that is keeping anyone out of heaven.  If everyone’s sin has already been paid for at the cross, then why are people going to hell and not heaven (Piper)?  The Arminian would answer this question by saying that people go to hell because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ.  The problem with this answer is that unbelief and the rejection of Christ is a sin, which was already paid for on the cross for everyone, so if He did not die for unbelief, He did not die for all sin.  

Therefore the Arminian view of an unlimited atonement is self-defeating and ultimately leads to universalism.  John Owen further ratifies this point in his book, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”:  [If Jesus died for all men]...why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all     their sins?  You will say, ‘Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’  But     his unbelief, is it sin, or not?  If not, why should they be punished for it?  If it be     sin, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it; If this is so, then why must     that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of     the fruit of his death?  If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins.

Again it is seen that if the atonement was general and Christ did indeed die for everyone, everyone must be saved.  This is a recurring idea of universalism, an idea that is not biblical.  In Michael Horton’s book, “The Gospel-Driven Life,” he uses a brilliant illustration to show how the gospel should be explained:  The more we hear and understand concerning the gospel, the more our faith grows and strengthens.  Nevertheless, the weakest faith clings to a sufficient Savior.      Faith itself does not save us from judgment any more than the quality of one’s     confidence in the lifeguard is responsible for being rescued from drowning.  It is the rescuer, not the one rescued, who saves.  In fact, it is in the very act of rescuing that a victim finds himself or herself clinging to the rescuer in confidence.  I have yet to see a headline like, ‘Drowning Victim Rescued by Superior Clinging.’  It is always the lifeguard who is credited with the rescue.  It is on account of Christ that we are justified, through faith, and not on account of our faith itself.

Horton paints a beautiful picture of how the gospel should be told.  God sends His Son to come and save His children from drowning in their sins.  It is not because the sinner grabbed on to Jesus so they would not drown, but because Jesus grabbed and saved the sinner from drowning (Horton, 124).

When searching scripture by reading in context, fully and completely defining all terms, and interpreting scripture with other scripture, it is clearly seen that God’s intent in sending His Son was to make it certain for His chosen to be saved.  Also, the ramifications of what is implied with any view other than a limited view of the atonement are too great to be ignored.  Humans are not and will never be able to incline themselves towards God.  The love that God has for His people is specific.  The power of His saving grace can never be limited.  God is sovereign.  Thank God for the limited atonement!

Works Cited
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998. Print.

Bratcher, Dennis. "The Five Articles of the Remonstrants (1610)." Relocate. Web. 26
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"Calvinism -." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation. Web.

"Comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism." The Highway: A Repository of Historic Christianity and the Reformed Faith. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.

Frame, John M. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: an Introduction to Systematic Theology. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2006. Print.

Hanko, Herman, Homer C. Hoeksema, and Gise J. Van Baren. The Five Points of Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Association, 1976. Print. 

Horton, Michael Scott. The Gospel-driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker, 2009. Print.

Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002. Print.

Piper, John. "For Whom Did Christ Taste Death.” Minneapolis, Minnesota. 26 May 1996.

Powell-Smith, Michelle. "Calvinism: A Brief History." Online Magazine and Writers' Network. 6 Jan. 2001. Web.

Spencer, Duane Edward. TULIP: the Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979. Print.

"Theology: Predestination." Home | St Augustine of Hippo | Order of St Augustine. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.

Thompson, Thomas R. "Limited Atonement (John 3:16)." Grace Online Library. Web.

Thune, Bob. "A Dialogue Concerning Limited Atonement." Web. 

Torrance, James B. "The Incarnation and "Limited Atonement"" Web.

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