L – Limited Atonement

Getting back to the series on Calvinism, I’d like to move on to the third of the 5 points of Calvinism. The L in TULIP stands for Limited Atonement. This doctrinal point deals with the question of “For whom did Christ die?” Typically when someone says that they are a 4 point Calvinist or a 4 1/2 point Calvinist, this is the point which they are having a difficult time with. Obviously, this is a topic that volumes of books have been written about. My purpose here will be to highlight a few key points and give the basic gist of the doctrines.

It’s important at the outset of this discussion to recognize that every Christian believes that the Atonement is limited. To believe in an unlimited atonement is to be a universalist. It is to deny the reality of hell and to utterly forsake the gospel. The atonement must either be limited in its extent or its effect. If the atonement is limited in its extent, that means that it only applies to those for whom Christ died. This does not mean that Christ’s death was not sufficient to pay for everyone’s sins, it does mean that Christ’s death only applies to the sins of those whom he has chosen. The alternative is to limit the atonement in its effect. In this case, Christ’s death paid the penalty for every human beings sin, who would ever live, they merely need to believe the gospel and the atonement will then be applied to them. For those who do not believe, they limit the effect of the atonement because they do not allow it to forgive them. Here again, we see the glaring difference between Calvinism an Arminianism. Calvinism is all about God, it leaves the limiting of the atonement in his hands. Arminianism is all about man, it leaves the limiting of the atonement in the hands of man.
The problem with the Arminian view of atonement is that it does not take into account the fact that man is dead in his trespasses and sins.
Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
If the Arminian position is that it is up to man to receive the atonement that Christ purchased, they must answer the question, “How are the dead raised?” The unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins, he cannot please God and will not believe if left to himself. Furthermore, the Arminian is left in the unenviable position of believing that every unbeliever who suffers the eternal wrath of God had their sins paid for on the cross, because the atonement is unlimited in its extent and therefore Christ suffered for each of their sins.
The difference between the Arminian position and the Calvinist can be illustrated in this way. The Arminian views the atonement as a wide bridge that stretches across the chasm that separates man from God. It is wide because there is room on it for all of humanity to come and be saved. The problem is that this bridge only stretches 3/4 of the way across the chasm. It is up to the unbeliever to leap the first 1/4 of the chasm, land on the bridge and then make his way into the kingdom.
The Calvinist views the atonement as a narrow bridge that stretches from one end of the chasm to the next. It is narrow because it is only for those whom God has chosen, but it reaches all the way across. You see, it wouldn’t matter if the bridge stretched 75% of the way or 99% of the way, because of my spiritual deadness I need God to do all of the work.

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February 26 2008 10:12 pm | Doctrines of Grace

3 Responses to “L – Limited Atonement”

  1. Damian M. Romano on 27 Feb 2008 at 7:01 pm #

    The way I see it Drew, is that not only does everybody have a “form” of limited atonement like you say (Calvinist: scope – Arminian: efficacy), but if we really believe God is omnipotent and omnipresent, then we must believe that God knows who will be saved (this, some construe as philosophy, which I strongly disagree with). Even if we use the thinking of Arminian then we must conclude that God would have sent Christ to die only for those whom will be saved (to propitiate and expiate). Otherwise God sent Christ to die for those He knew would not be saved. Which is why I conclude the only consistent Arminian is the one who (wrongly) affirms open-ness theology.

  2. Drew on 27 Feb 2008 at 7:38 pm #

    I agree with you Damian, the only consistent position for Arminianism is ultimately Open Theism, because their God is too small. The character of God demands that He be sovereign over all things. If man is in charge of his salvation or the limiting of that salvation, God ceases to be sovereign.

    It’s also more than God knowing in advance who would be saved, it is a particular redemption of specific sinners whom God has chosen for salvation.

  3. Damian M. Romano on 27 Feb 2008 at 9:34 pm #

    Exactly! That is the meaning of grace and mercy. May we praise God for His glorious grace. As Ephesians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he PREDESTINED US FOR ADOPTION AS SONS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.