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Is the Atonement of Christ Unlimited?

The Bible has much to say on the atonement of Christ. The question is whether His Sacrifice provided limited or unlimited atonement. The word atonement means “satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.” The doctrine of unlimited atonement states that Christ died for ALL people, whether they would believe in Him or not. When applied to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, atonement concerns the reconciliation of God and humankind, as accomplished through the suffering and death of Christ. Paul highlights the atoning work of Jesus when he says: Romans 5:8-10  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (KJV)

How this compensation of wrongs or reconciliation was accomplished, and what was involved in the act, has been debated by theologians for centuries. There are at least nine different positions on the atonement of Christ ranging anywhere from the act being merely one of moral influence (the Moral Example theory) to one that holds that Christ’s atonement was a judicial, substitutionary act (the Penal Substitution theory).

But,one of the most controversial debates concerning the atonement of Jesus centers around what is referred to as ‘limited’ or ‘definite’ atonement. One group, comprised mainly of those holding to Arminianism and Wesleyanism, believe that Christ died on the cross for everyone who will ever live. The other group, made up of Reformed thinkers, often called “Calvinists” say that Jesus only died for those whom the Father chose from the foundation of the world to be saved. This group of redeemed individuals is often referred to as the ‘elect’ or the ‘chosen’ of God. Which position is correct? Did Jesus die for everyone in the world or only a select group of individuals?

Is Everyone Going to be Saved?

The first question is: Is everyone going to be saved through the atoning work of Christ? Those who hold the position called universalism say “yes.” The universalists argue that because Christ died for everyone and all the sins of humanity were laid on/punished in Christ, everyone will spend eternity with God. http://hisservants.org/f_pluralism_universalism.htm

BUT . . . Scripture, however, stands in total opposition to such teaching. The Bible makes it very clear that many people will be lost. Here are just a few verses stating this fact:
Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (KJV)
Matthew 7:13-14 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (KJV)
Matthew 7:22-23  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (KJV)
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (KJV)
2 Thes.1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; (KJV)
Rev. 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (KJV)
This being true, there is one inescapable fact to understand: the atonement of Christ is limited. If it isn’t, then universalism must be true, and yet, Scripture clearly teaches that not everyone is going to be saved. So unless one is a universalist and can defeat the biblical evidence above, then one must hold to some form of limited atonement.

How is the Atonement Limited?

The second question is this: IF the atonement is limited, HOW is it limited? Jesus’ famous Words gives us the answer: John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV) . . . The NEEDED condition that limits the atonement is found in these words: “whosoever believeth” simply meaning ALL who believe.
John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (KJV)
1 John 5:10-13 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. 11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (KJV) . . . This is VERY clear! Do NOT call God a “liar.” In other words, the atonement is limited to those who believe and only those who believe.

WHO Limits the Atonement?

Both groups mentioned will not argue this point . . . the atonement of Christ is limited to those who believe. The disagreement is over WHO it is that limits the atonement . . .  God or man?

*****#1.Calvinists/Reformed uphold that it is God who limits the atonement by choosing those whom He will save and thus places on Christ the sins of those He has chosen for salvation.
*****#2. The Arminian/Wesleyan position states that God does not limit the compensation of Christ, but instead it is humanity that limits the atonement by freely choosing to accept OR reject the offer that God makes to them for salvation. The Arminian/Wesleyan group states their position is that the atonement is unlimited in its invitation, but is limited in its application. God offers the invitation to all; however, only those who respond in faith to the gospel message have the work of the atonement applied to their spiritual condition.

To support the position that humanity, and not God, limits the atonement, the Arminian/Wesleyan proponent lists a number of Scripture verses, including the following:
1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (KJV)
John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (KJV)
John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (KJV)
John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (KJV)
1 Timothy 2:5-6  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (KJV)
Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (KJV)
2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. (KJV)

The Arminian/Wesleyan group also provides a number of logical arguments to support their case. The most common is that if God is all loving, how could Christ not die for everyone? Doesn’t God love each and every person (Jn.3:16)? They see a God-limiting atonement as a denial of the omni-benevolence of God.

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