This week, I’m writing on the subject of the “L” in the acronym of TULIP – Limited Atonement. In the first myth, I provided some personal reflections about how I came to embrace this doctrine as it’s revealed in the Word of God. Today, I want to point out the doctrine of limited atonement (or particular redemption; definite atonement) in the Bible. I hear people make statements in passing at conferences or even in my circle of friends regarding limited atonement. They often say, “I’m still having trouble with this doctrine.” I want to say to those people – join the club! I think we will often have difficulties with hard doctrinal truths, especially if we were raised to believe the exact opposite from the time we were children.
The flow of this series this week is as follows:
- Myth #1 – If Jesus did not die for the whole world, He is an unfair Savior.
- Myth #2 – To claim Jesus’ death was not for the whole world is philosophic reasoning and not truly biblical.
- Myth #3 – The claim that Jesus’ death was not for the entire world denies John 3:16.
- Myth #4 – A limited atonement contradicts 2 Peter 3:9 and hinders evangelism and world missions.
Myth #2 – To claim Jesus’ death was not for the whole world is philosophic reasoning and not truly biblical
As I begin, I want to remind the readers of this blog that I have no agenda to add more dust to the dust cloud of controversy that has been blowing in the wind for years in Baptist circles over this doctrine. Likewise, I don’t think we should veil truths that are contained in the Bible. Some men veil truths related to God’s sovereignty in salvation because they claim their church wouldn’t understand. That same man will stand boldly and preach the Old Testament texts where God commanded Israel to wipe out entire cities including women and children and animals without any problem at all. I find it troubling when preachers muzzle the Word of God. Will people have a difficult time understanding the deep sovereignty of God? Yes! As a pastor I am to allow the text of God to speak and work with the people in much patience and love until they understand.
The term “limited atonement” answers the question, “For whom did Christ die?” It seems obvious from several texts in the Bible that Jesus’ death was to secure the salvation by paying the atonement price for a specific people. Listen to Jesus speak 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.”
Jesus said explicitly, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” He didn’t say that He would die for the sheep and the goats. He specifically referenced the sheep. He went on to point beyond the Jews to another fold – specifically Gentiles. We know how sheep and goats are referenced in the Scriptures. Sheep are the children of God and the goats are rebels who receive the judgement of God (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus’ death was specifically designed to pay for the sin debt of His sheep.
As we consider the atonement, Wayne Grudem has offered the following definition: “The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 569). If Jesus earned the salvation of sheep and goats (all men) by dying a death that assured a full atonement from sin for every person, no person would ever go to hell. The atonement was designed to cover the sin debt of every person who would ever call upon the Lord for salvation. Who are those people? They are the elect of God. They are the ones chosen by God, out of sheer grace and mercy, before the foundation of the world. God’s choice was not based on any foreseen merit or goodness in them. It was by mere mercy that God saved wretched sinners.
Additionally, we could go to one of the most famous chapters in all of the Bible regarding Jesus’ death. What does Isaiah 53 teach us about Jesus’ death? For one, it says that it pleased the Father to crush His Son on the cross. Jesus took the wrath that we deserved upon Himself as He died. If we are not careful, we will become so overwhelmed with God’s love for us that we will overlook the way the chapter ends. Some people cling to Isaiah 53:6 as their proof text that Jesus died for “all.” However, they often stop with verse six and miss the truth in the last six verses of this chapter.
Isaiah 53:10-12 – Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
A couple of times, the prophet Isaiah specifically says that Jesus will bear the iniquities of a specific group of people. There is no doubt that Isaiah is referencing a certain group by his choice of language. He clearly says, “he shall bear their iniquities.” We know that Isaiah could have used the word “all” to reference the entire world, but instead he speaks of “many” and “their” as opposed to “all” in reference to Jesus’ death.
The claim that limited atonement (that Jesus died for a specific people) cannot be supported by the Bible is simply a myth. As we consider the death of Jesus, it should not lead us to a fight over Calvinism or Arminianism or Molinism or whatever feather of doctrine you embrace. The death of Jesus should humble us. Who is man that God is mindful of him? Why me? As I consider that God has saved me by crushing His Son on the cross, it brings me low to the ground. I have nothing in my hands to offer God. He alone has come to me. He alone has saved me. He deserves to be praised. To Him be all honor and glory forever and ever!
Why are you a Calvinist? Is it because it’s cool in certain circles? Why are you an Arminian? It is because it’s acceptable by the majority in your circles? Why are you a Molinist? Is it because you feel tension related to God’s divine sovereignty and you want to evade that tension? Wouldn’t it be better to just hear God thunder His truths from the pages of the Bible? Whatever God’s Word says, that’s what I want to believe. Don’t embrace a system or build your position based on what the “trends” are around you. Turn to God’s Word.
Nothing in my hand I bring (not my will, not my work, not my baptism, not my faith, not my religious acts, not my good deeds), simply to the cross I cling!
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Ligonier – Various Resources
Tim Challies – The “L” in TULIP
John MacArthur – Q&A 2010 Shepherds’ Conference
John Piper – What We Believe About The Five Points Of Calvinism
Wayne Grudem – Systematic Theology