I recently read an article that appeared in the Christian Post magazine by Dan Delzell titled “Evaluating John MacArthur’s rationale for limited atonement.” I thought Delzell made some compelling arguments and I thought I would take the time to explain why.
After the Reformation began to take hold and a return to the authority of the Scriptures supplanted Catholic tradition, theological differences of opinion regarding the sovereignty of God and man’s will created a division among Bible scholars. Arminians stressed the will of man in salvation and the Calvinists emphasized the sovereignty of God. The division has existed over four hundred years.
The Calvinist position was represented by the TULIP. An acrostic that stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. I have heard some pastors say I am a two-pointer or three-pointer, meaning they embrace either two or three of the points but not all of them. I had one pastor tell me he was a three-and-a-half-pointer; it made me wonder what theological hair he split to come up with the half-point.
I tell people I am a no-pointer because I do not subscribe to any of the five points. I do believe in Total depravity, but not the one formulated by Calvinists. Typically, the point about which there is the strongest contention is the middle one, Limited atonement the subject of this article.
Calvinists believe the atonement of Christ was limited to the elect. Since they believe God had determined before the foundation of the world who would and would not be saved Christ’s sacrifice was limited to those who would eventually be saved.
If one cites John 3:16, “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.” I believe Jesus Christ died for everyone in the “world” so that “whoever believes” could be saved. the Calvinist have argued to me that refers only to the elect. And they view 1 John 2:2 in the same light, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world,” and that this is a message from the elect only to the elect.
But Dan Delzell makes a compelling point when he says “I do not find so much as one passage in God’s inerrant Word which says Christ died ONLY for his sheep.” Jesus did die for His sheep and the elect, but there is not a single verse in the whole of Scripture that says Jesus died for His sheep alone or only for the elect.
But there are Scriptures that point to the universal provision in the atonement, “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.,” First Timothy 2:3-4, and “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” Second Peter 3:9. If the Father wants “all to come to repentance” it would be reasonable to think He has made provision for them to come.
“For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers,” First Timothy 4:10. In this verse there is a distinction made between “all men” and “believers.” If God “is the Savior of all men” it means He has made provision sufficient for all to be saved, but it is only efficacious to those who by faith in Christ have been saved.
I believe God in His sovereignty gave man a will to make decisions similar to His in His image. The will is free by definition. I have had some say to me our will is not free from influence, but that is not what I mean by the word “free.” we are certainly influenced by our fallen nature, God’s call and the temptations of our adversary the devil. What I mean by our will being free is that our will is free of coercion. We are not forced to make any decision or take any course of action.
I believe God takes the decisions and actions of men, both good and evil, and weaves them into the tapestry of human history so that mankind progresses inexorably towards the culmination of God’s perfect will. On that day when the souls of men stand before the real Supreme Court none will be able to say they died and went to hell because Christ did not die for their sin.