Sunday, August 31, 2008
Limited (or definite) atonement has to be one of the most hated and most caricatured positions of all that's taught in the systematic theology known as Calvinism. I personally believe that this is due to people not believing that they are rightly condemned before God already for not believing in Christ (John 3:18). Also, I believe that when those who oppose are believers in Christ, this is due to the fact that they don't understand that they don't deserve to believe in Christ. That last statement might sound strange at first, but think about this: Does anyone deserve grace? Is anyone saved apart from grace? If grace is therefore necessary, do our works merit us any salvation or was it Christ alone? Is grace necessary and sufficient or just necessary and not sufficient? I believe this is where the crux of the dispute is. If a person believes that they are saved because of God's grace alone, the idea that God can show mercy to whoever He wants to show mercy to (definite atonement) makes sense. If someone believes they are saved by faith plus any work whatsover whether that work be attending mass, "praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart", taking the lonely trip down the aisle called an altar-call, or any of a number of the other things that people think merit them salvation, I'm convinced that the concept of limited atonement will never make sense to them. How could it? If salvation does not rest solely in God's hands but rests in ours, how could someone possibly accept the fact that God doesn't have to save anyone who does whatever work it is that person believes is meritorious? Certain people even turn faith itself into a work when Scripture teaches plainly that it's a gift. (Eph. 2:8-9; Php. 1:29) I believe that the doctrine of definite atonement is a sort of litmus test to a person's humilty although it isn't a foolproof test. If a person realizes that they did nothing but sin against God their entire life, that even their righteousness was as filthy rags, and they do not deserve salvation in any sense, naturally limited atonement will make sense to them, and they'll find themselves agreeing with the doctrine.
Many disputes arise about it because people just can't bring themselves to believe that Christ came and died with a specific purpose; that purpose being to save His sheep. They hold that Christ must have died for every single person who ever lived in existence. Perhaps the best argument I've heard against this came from the great Puritan John Owen.
Owen put it like this:
"The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
- 1) All the sins of all men.
- 2) All the sins of some men, or
- 3) Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
- That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
- That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
- But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
- You answer, "Because of unbelief."
I ask, "Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it is, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"
(The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Book 3, Ch. 3)
This analysis by Owen makes perfect sense logically. If there's a sin that Jesus didn't die for on my behalf, I still have to pay for that sin. Also, if I've transgressed one law (sin) I've transgressed them all, (Jms. 2:10) If all these factors are true, how could I not stand condemned before God? The only way is if I had a substitute who kept the law perfectly in my place; so perfectly that not one jot nor tittle passed away but was fulfilled in Him. This is what Jesus did. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom 10:4) If He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (as He said in Matt. 5:17) then who did He fulfill it for? On who's behalf was the law fulfilled? It was fulfilled on the behalf of everyone who has broken at least one of God's laws and is guilty of all AND who also believe on Him. The question must arise then, "Did he do this for everyone?" If so, why does the Bible speak so forthcoming about hell? Obviously He didn't substitute himself for everyone. Why are there unbelievers? It is because faith is a gift, and if faith is a gift, then God is not obligated to give everyone His gift. If he were obligated to give this saving grace to everyone, it would no longer be a gift, but a wage; a compensation for some sort of work the person did to merit saving grace. As Romans 11:6 states, though, if (salvation) is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
I said all that to basically prime the following video. Jim McClarty is a brother who leads a Sovereign Grace fellowship in Smyrna, Tennessee. He goes further into the teaching of limited atonement, and I believe the following hour will be well worth your time. I don't think I truly had love and understanding for Christ and what He's done until I understood "that dreaded L" that so many of us have had problems with or may even still have. This video should alleviate some of those concerns.