Limited Atonement. Often the most debated and hated thing about Calvinistic Soteriology. I saw this first hand while teaching sola gratia to a group of High School students in Sunday school. It was like dropping a powder keg in the room and lighting the fuse. I was waiting to see what the real problem people have with limited atonement. The problem is people want to be responsible for their own salvation. They also want others to have that responsibility.
So what does limited atonement have to do with any of this?
I think it’s appropriate to understand what limited atonement is first and foremost so that we aren’t getting our definitions confused. When I say Christ’s death is limited, I am not talking about in effect. Meaning that when Christ died he paid the price of every sin. I am speaking that the atonement is limited to a specific group of people. The church, or God’s chosen people. This distinction is important to make. We believe that Jesus really did pay for all sins of some people. Meaning even the sin of unbelief, in which we are all transgressors, is paid for.
The alternative says the opposite. Jesus died for all people, but only most of their sins. While most Armenians wouldn’t make this claim, it’s logically consistent with their theology. Meaning the only sin that we must atone for ourselves is the sin of unbelief. The only cure for this is belief. So it ultimately is up to every individual to make this decision for Christ, and if they don’t that’s their choice. The problem is that Jesus then, ultimately, didn’t accomplish anything on the cross except a mere possibility for salvation.
Thus we come to the crux of this problem, unbelief. I mentioned earlier that we are all guilty of the sin of unbelief. Every time we sin, we don’t believe that God’s law was written for our joy. We don’t seek the things of God when we sin. We are so broken that when we do sin, we sometimes try to justify it with some vague spirituality. If our sin of unbelief is the root of all of our sin and Christ didn’t die for it, how can you rest in the promise that we are saved by grace through faith?
You can’t. No matter how hard you believe you can, you ultimately rely on your own self righteousness for salvation. Even though one of the purposes of grace is to rid you of your self righteousness, you still neglect that there is grace in our unbelief as believers.
That’s why a Calvinistic view on the atonement really does matter. It shows us that Christ really did become fully human to take on the penalty for all of his brides sins. We can be sure, complete, and confident that he saved all those who are being sanctified. It makes seals our election and promises our inheritance. It ultimately makes us realize we were powerless to do anything in our salvation. Salvation is of the Lord, not of us. We should remember this as we understand we were bought with the ultimate price. Because of this, he will never disown us as children of God.