Discussing Limited Atonement

Recently, I received an email from a fellow who was distressed to hear that I preached Limited Atonement, or Particular Redemption. His concerns were typical of many who have grown up hearing only the Arminian position, so I decided to include our discussion in the GCA Q&A section. This is actually his second correspondence. In his first, he asked me if I would want to know if anything I was preaching was wrong. When I responded in the affirmative, he sent his corrective response. This, then, is my reply to him.

Jim – Please forgive the length of this email. You’ve brought up several points that deserve a thoughtful and reasonably thorough response.

And I empathize with what you’ve written. Coming out of a Lutheran background, I was once firmly convinced of the position you’ve espoused. In fact, the church in Los Angeles where I interned was firmly committed to the universal atonement position and I have vigorously defended that view in the past (using the parable of the treasure in the field as my key text, arguing that Jesus is the man who bought the whole field in order to get the treasure out of the field).

When I began reading Reformed literature, I found the writing of men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Pink, Boettner, and Spurgeon (to name a few) to be more convincing and biblically-consistent than the positions I had long held. I came to recognize the sovereignty of God in all things, especially the salvation of men and women. In fact, when I first came in contact with what are historically called “The Five Points,” I had no trouble agreeing that mankind was sinful and that election had to be God’s enterprise. I agreed that the power of God was irresistible and that a saved person was secured by the indwelling Spirit. BUT, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that Jesus had died and resurrected with those particular, elect people in view exclusively. In fact, I struggled with it for a couple of years.

It was a series of messages taught by my good friend David Morris that finally shifted my thinking. He walked through the theological dilemmas that are inherent in the notion of universal redemption. I held his argument up against Scripture and was finally convinced that Particular Redemption was not only true, but that it could be no other way.

It is not my intention to necessarily convince you in this email. However, inasmuch as you’ve laid out your position and argued for its truth, I will recount some of the thoughts and arguments that convinced me of the truth of Particular Redemption. I do appreciate the spirit in which your email was written. Your words had both a kindness and a passion that I find very agreeable. I trust that you will also read my words with a spirit of graciousness, despite the fact that I will be forthright and provide a vigorous (though hopefully not contentious) defense.

Let’s start with the big, overarching concepts and then I’ll respond to the details of your email.

While people may object to the phrase “Limited Atonement,” every Christian theology limits the atonement in some fashion. Either you limit it in its scope or you limit it in its efficacy.

On the one hand, you have folk who say that Jesus fully paid for all the sins of all the people who ever lived, but He did not actually, finally save anyone. He simply made salvation available as an option. Salvation is a possibility, but it does not become effective until the individual believer activates it (by choice, reception, etc.).

On the other hand, you have people who say that Jesus fully paid for and actually saved people in His redemptive work, making salvation not merely a possibility, but a finished reality. In that case, the completely satisfactory work of Christ is utterly effective is eternally securing salvation, but it is limited to an elect group of people, chosen by God for that very purpose.

But either way, you must limit the atonement; it is limited to either God’s choice or man’s choice. It was either done for everyone but actually saved no one, or it actually saved some people and was intended for those specific people.

Standard Christian theology says that Jesus died for someone else’s sins. He was personally innocent, so He died a substitutionary (or, “vicarious”) death. The question raised by that event is: For whom did He die?

The 17th Century Puritan, John Owen, wrestled with this very question. According to Owen’s reasoning, the answer to that question is that Christ either died for:

(1) all the sins of all men;
(2) all the sins of some men; or
(3) some of the sins of all men.

Again, historic Christianity states that God poured out wrath, due to sinful men and women, on His son. So, Owen concluded that if number 1 were true (Christ died for all the sins of all men), then we have to explain how it is that all men are not free from the punishment due their sin. It’s a form of “double jeopardy.” Christ died for every man’s sin, yet some of those men have to pay yet another, eternal debt for that same sin.

If number 2 is true (Christ died for all the sins of some men), then Christ is the sufficient substitute for all the sins of the elect and there is no injustice involved in judging those who have not been so redeemed.

If number 3 is true (Christ died for some of the sins of all men) then all men have some sins to answer for. Consequently, no one is truly “saved” by Christ’s work at Calvary. If anyone were to end up in Heaven, it would be the result of their meritorious effort, essentially finishing what Christ only partially did. Meanwhile, those who are judged are condemned on the basis of those sins for which Christ did not pay.

Now, most modern evangelical churches will say that number one is true: Christ died for all the sins of all men. That being the case, the dividing line between the saved and the unsaved becomes “belief.” If one believes on Christ and accepts the gift of salvation offered to them, they will be saved. But, if they choose to reject the offer, they will perish due to their unbelief.

But, that answer is internally inconsistent and creates a terrible theological conundrum. To wit: If Christ paid the sin price for all the sins of all men, then His sacrifice would have to equally cover the sin of unbelief. After all, even the person who eventually believes and is saved had a period of time in his life when he did not believe, which unbelief would be remitted in Christ’s atonement. So then, how does this work? Did Jesus die for every sin except unbelief? Well then we’re back to the choices above and we must conclude that number 3 is correct: Jesus died for SOME of the sins of all men, but unbelief is the exception.

When I started thinking logically about these matters and considering the consequences of the positions I once held, it became inescapable that the only statement number 2 could be true: Christ died for all the sins of some men. Even if you argue that only those who believe are saved (which I completely agree with), then only the believer has all his sins remitted; while the unbeliever is still responsible for his sin of unbelief. Hence, only some men had ALL their sin expunged, including their unbelief.

That was John Owen’s argument (with extra comment). And I found it compelling.

Now, as for the positive argument in favor of particular redemption, I won’t rewrite what I’ve already written. I wrote a book several years ago in defense of the doctrines of grace, called “By Grace Alone.” It is listed under the “Read” section of our website. It is a downloadable .pdf file. You can read the chapter that pertains to the subject if you’d like to see the biblical defense.

Now, let’s get down to the details of your email.

Q – Just wanted to pass along a thank you for the reply you sent me a few weeks ago. I so appreciated your being approachable and taking the time for such a complete answer. After getting your response I listened to some more messages from the salvationbygrace website (still love your website!).

Jim – Thank you for your kind words. We work hard on the site (and Jeff is certainly to be commended for his efforts).

Q – However, I heard something that made my heart heavy. It was not something that I heard you say out of context, you were not quoting someone else, and you even spent time defending your view during one of the sermons. The statement that, quite frankly, alarmed me, was (I do not know the exact quote, but it was similar to): “Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world…” and “Did Jesus die for all men? No…” I was very surprised, so I listened more and found that this did seem to be your view.

Jim – To clear away any confusion, that is exactly the view I espouse. But, this is not some novelty I’ve dreamed up. This is the consistent, historic Protestant view. Despite the fact that the doctrines which lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation have been largely ignored and forgotten in the contemporary church, they are true and genuine nevertheless. In any recent messages you may have heard, I would have only touched on the subject. I have taught on it at length in the past, but our congregation knows and agrees with that position, so I mentioned it only in passing, not feeling the necessity to launch into an extended defense.

Q – The deeper problem came when I started to realize the absence of a few key scriptures when you were defending your position. The same scriptures were absent throughout all of what I have heard so far on your website. The reason for their absence was obvious — it was because they very clearly defend the opposite view of what you were teaching.

Jim – You’ll excuse me for taking umbrage at the implication that I’m purposefully hiding verses from people in order to promote an unbiblical position. That’s a rather striking indictment. As I mentioned above, any recent reference to the position of Particular Atonement would have been a passing point, not a full-blown defense. I have never shied away from the debate surrounding the doctrines of the reformation and in my book and teaching series I’ve addressed both sides of the discussion fairly and openly.

So, allow me to point out that there are proper responses to the verses you’ve offered. I’ll respond to each verse individually.

Q – Here are just a few of them:

2 Corinthians 5:14 – ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:’

2 Corinthians 5:15 – ‘And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

Jim – One of my theological pet-peeves is out-of-context use of a verse in order to defend a position. Only when we understand the “big picture” of the Bible will we understand the details in their proper historical/grammatical/contextual place. A very important (and oft overlooked) detail of the New Testament (particularly the Pauline epistles) is that it was written BY Christians TO Christians. Consequently, when you read inclusive language, such as “we all” or that one “died for all,” you must realize that the “all” spoken of in those texts is “all” Christians.

It’s like singing, “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here!” In that song we have no problem identifying the word “all” as referring to “all the gang.” That’s exactly how Paul is using the Greek term “pas” or “all” when he writes —

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

Do all men, hateful sinners included, live for Christ and not for themselves? No, of course not. But, in Paul’s construction, “all” those for whom Christ died will live that way. Also, those for whom Christ died are equally dead — “one died for all, therefore all died.” It’s axiomatic that not everyone reckons themselves dead to their flesh and alive in Christ. Paul is using the word “all” in a limited way in these verses, referring to “all” those who have died to themselves because Christ died for them.

Far from teaching universal atonement, this passage teaches Christian mortification.

Q – 2 Corinthians 5:19 – ‘To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.’

Jim – It’s difficult for the modern Christian to view the words of Scripture through the eyes of a First Century reader. Historically speaking, only Israel had the promises, the covenants, the temple, the priesthood, the oracles, the prophets — in short, the whole ball of wax where God was concerned. The Gentile world, up until the time of Christ, was considered not only separate from Israel, but not worthy to be counted among God’s people. In the book of Acts you can read about the resistance Paul encountered at Jerusalem when he told John and James that the Holy Spirit had come to the Gentiles. It was just unthinkable to them. Fortunately, Peter had had a similar encounter at the house of Cornelius and sided with Paul.

My point is, when we read the world “kosmos,” or “world” in the New Testament, we must consider its context. “World” does not mean “every person who ever lived without distinction.” Nor does it mean “everyone alive at any given moment.” In fact, in the Apostle John’s writings alone, we find at least sixteen different uses and meanings of the word “kosmos.”

For instance, John writes that “God so loved the world …” (John 3:16). Yet he writes in the same gospel that Jesus said, “I pray not for the world.” (John 17:9) Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to His apostles, “(even) the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive;” (John 14:17). And John writes that if we love the world the love of God is not in us (1 John 2:15). He also contrasts believers and the world, when he writes, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)

So, when we read Paul writing to the folk at Corinth and he says that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, is he talking about the same world that Jesus did not pray for; the world that cannot receive the Holy Spirit; the world we are not to love or else the love of God is not in us; the whole world that lies in the power of Satan? Is that the world Paul says is somehow simultaneously reconciled to God?

When you look at the Biblical lexicon in context, it’s clear that these statements are not as cut-and-dry as one might assume. The most frequent meaning of “world” in the New Testament is: People of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation, as opposed to Israelites exclusively. What Paul was telling the Gentiles in Corinth was that God was in Christ (the Jewish Messiah) reconciling men of every ethnicity to Himself. Clearly and obviously, God did not reconcile every man who ever lived to Himself (Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees is sufficient to prove that). But, the Messiah of Israel IS in the business of reconciling all kinds of men to God. And, that’s Paul’s meaning here.

If we were to conclude that the whole world (all men without exception) is in view in 2 Corinthians 5:19, then you must take Paul’s words at face value and conclude that all men without distinction have not only had their trespasses forgiven and their guilt is not imputed to them, but they are also reconciled to God, meaning that there can be no judgment against them because God is no longer at odds with them (which is the meaning of reconciliation). In other words, this verse would be teaching not only universal atonement, but universal reconciliation, resulting in universal salvation. And I’m certain that’s not what you are promoting.

Q – Hebrews 2:9 – ‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.’

Jim – Context helps. Here’s the passage —

“For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Heb 2:8-12)

The first thing we must recognize (and this is obvious) is that the book of Hebrews was written by a Hebrew believer to Hebrew believers. In fact, the word “Gentile” never appears in this epistle, nor does the author ever address them. So, right from the start, the writer is addressing a limited audience.

Then, what does it mean when he writes that Christ tasted death “for every man”? Does it mean that He died for all men everywhere, without exception? Well, the rest of the passage defines who these men are that Christ died for. They are called “many sons.” They are “one” with Christ, inasmuch as “He that sanctifies and those who are sanctified (by His death, the subject of this passage) are all from one Father.” They are Christ’s “brethren” and He is not ashamed of them. Now, given this contextual description of the “every man” for whom Christ died, it is clear that the author did not have rebellious sinners in view.

Again, far from teaching universal atonement, this passage teaches the humility of Christ in His suffering on behalf of His people.

Q – 1 Timothy 2:5-6 – ‘…the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.’

Jim – This used to be one of my favorite passages when defending universal atonement. It’s one of “The Big Three,” along with John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9. Paul’s repeated us of “all” seemed rock solid … well, until I started researching the Greek context and comparing Paul’s use of “pas” in other parts of this same epistle.

But, for sake of brevity (if it’s not already too late for that) I’m going to defer to what I’ve already written on this passage. If you’d like to look into it, read the Q&A entitled “1 Timothy 2:4.” It encompasses the verses you’ve cited.

Q – Hebrews 10:10 – ‘By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’

Jim – Be careful, sir. This type of proof-texting without proper context can be a minefield. Here’s the whole passage. Follow the progress of the people who were “sanctified” through the offering of Christ’s body —

“After saying above, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired, nor have you taken pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:8-14)

Okay, first off, the phrase “once for all” indicates “for all time,” not “for all mankind.” It is used in creating a contrast between the priests who stood daily sacrificing before God and the finished work of Christ, after which He sat down at God’s right hand. Notice the parallel phrases:

” … the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

” … having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time.”

So contextually, this is not a phrase advancing the idea of universal atonement. But, more importantly, it IS a passage about those for whom Christ died!

By the will of God, according to the Hebrews author “WE have been sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ ….” Who is “we” in that sentence? It is the collective group of Hebrew believers that make up the audience for this epistle. In the largest sense, it may mean every believer who is sanctified (set apart) by the “once for all time” sacrifice of Christ. But, what it does NOT mean is “everyone who ever lived without distinction.”

Look at the result of Christ’s finished work — “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” That’s a very important phrase, because “those who are sanctified” by Christ’s “once for all” atoning work are in that position as the direct result of the will of God. And, “those who are sanctified” (tous hagiazomenous) is a “present passive participle.” In other words, the recipients of this sanctification are passive in the process. God is the actor. The person being sanctified by Christ is the passive recipient of God’s action. But, of vital importance to our discussion is the end result of this sanctifying process — “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Now, follow the logic the author of Hebrews has constructed: God no longer wanted animal sacrifices and burnt offerings as were offered according to the law. So, Christ said, “I’ve come to do your will.” In so doing, He takes away the first covenant (of law) and establishes the New Covenant. But, the will of God is that we (whoever “we” is) have been sanctified (passively) through that once-for-all-time offering, in contrast to the priests who ministered continually, offering the same sacrifices over and over, which could never take away sin. But Christ offered a single sacrifice for sins, sat down at God’s right hand (the work being finished) and the end result was eternal perfection of those who were (passively) sanctified by the will of God.

Far from being a defense of universal atonement, I frequently use this passage to prove Particular Redemption. It says, without controversy, that Christ’s finished work fully redeemed and perfected those who were sanctified by the will of God. In other words, whoever Christ died for not only had their sins expiated, but they are eternally perfected. Now, if you contend that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, then this passage argues that all mankind is “perfected forever.” And if anyone is later judged, that would mean that eternally perfected people might still somehow go to hell. It’s a terrible conundrum.

This passage of Hebrews 10 is actually one of the strongest statements in favor of God’s particularity in the New Testament.

Thanks for bringing it up. ๐Ÿ™‚

Q – Romans 5:18 – ‘Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.’

Jim – You need to be careful when you use Paul’s writing to advance the cause of universal redemption, because he wrote some of the New Testament’s most convincing arguments in favor of God’s right and power to elect and foreordain the course of all human destiny. For instance, in this same Romans epistle, he writes —-

“And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (Rom. 9:10-18)

God picks and chooses. God elects. God “mercies” and God “hardens.” People have tried for years to lessen the intensity of Paul’s words in Romans 8 and 9, but the words stand on their own. People want to explain away a God so sovereign that He can do whatever He wishes, in accordance with the good pleasure of His own will. But, that’s the only God you find in the Bible. God can raise up Pharaoh for the very purpose of hardening his heart and overthrowing him for God’s own glory.

Therefore, when you compare Paul’s writing in chapter 9 to the verse you’ve cited in chapter 5, either Paul is theologically schizophrenic, or the “all men” in verse 18, is “all kinds of men,” as opposed to Israel exclusively. And that is precisely the way Paul uses the word “pas” in the larger corpus of his writing. (Again, this idea is more fully developed in the Q&A on 1 Timothy 2:4.)

For instance, when he wrote, “For the love of money is the root of all evil” in 1 Timothy 6:10, it begs the question, “In what way is money the root of sexual lust, lying, slandering, drunkenness, or the like?” Certainly, money was not the motivating factor in Eve’s rebellion and Adam’s fall. So, how is money the root of ALL evil? The answer lies in Paul’s use of “pas.” He uses it not only to designate “all of a group,” but also “all kinds.” As a consequence, most all later translations of 1 Timothy 6:10 have rendered that phrase, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds (or, all sorts) of evil.”

So, we have no difficulty in looking at Romans 5:18 and recognizing the exact same syntactical use of “pas” (“eis pantas anthroopous”) as meaning “all kinds of men,” as opposed to Israel exclusively.

Now, getting back to the “big picture” of Romans 5, Paul’s view of the atonement is spelled out earlier in this same chapter —

“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:9-11)

Let’s look at the details of that passage —

(1) The blood of Christ did not merely make salvation possible by paying the sin debt of the world. According to Paul, justification was also accomplished as the blood was spilled. Were “all men” justified? No. If they were, “all men” would be saved.

(2) The death of Christ reconciled us to God, though we were enemies (not willing choosers-of-God). Were “all men” reconciled to God? No. If they were, “all men” would be saved.

(3) Paul says that, having been (past tense) reconciled by His blood, we shall be saved by His life! Who is “we” in that passage? It is a direct reference to those who have been reconciled and justified by Christ’s blood at Calvary. In Paul’s lexicon, salvation, justification, and reconciliation are all synonymous, concurrent events.

In other words, the consistent Pauline message is that Christ did not merely make salvation available or possible. His blood “saved from wrath,” justified, reconciled, and ultimately “saved by His life.” So, we rejoice — NOT that Christ made salvation a possibility, but because through Him we have now received the reconciliation His blood procured. There’s no real reason to rejoice if salvation is merely possible. But, if God has actually, fully redeemed, justified, reconciled and saved His people by the blood of Christ’s once-for-all-time sacrifice, perfecting them forever, then there is every reason to shout it to the Heavens.

Given Paul’s theology building through chapter 5, I can conclude nothing other than that his reference to “all men” in verse 18 is to all kinds of men — especially considering that the “all men” Paul refers to receive “justification of life,” which the hell-bound sinner and rebel never receive.

Allow me to put a fine point on this by quoting Paul, again from this same Romans epistle —

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30)

Notice that there is only one, singular group of people in view here. Those whom God foreknew, predestined, and called, he also justified, resulting in them being glorified. So, where did that justification take place? According to Romans 5, it happened when Christ spilled His blood. So, did Christ spill that blood for everyone? Well, if He did, then everyone was foreknown, predestined, called, and will be glorified. If even one person fails to be glorified, it can only be because they were not justified, or called, or predestined, or foreknown.

I’m sorry, but that limits the atoning work to those whom God predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. And there’s no way around it.

Q – 1 John 2:2 – ‘and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’

Jim – I’ve already dealt with John’s use of “kosmos” above, so I’ll leave it to you to assume what my reply to this verse would be.

Q – There are more verses I’m sure, but these are the main ones that come to mind.

Jim – There are some others. I’m familiar with them and have examined them. Once I came to realize the consistent testimony of Scripture, those verses that I thought held so much weight (like the ones you’ve listed) started coming apart at the seams.

Q – From listening to other messages, I also know that right now you might be thinking, “Don’t tell me you believe in universal salvation, because if you believe that Jesus died for everyone’s sins, then everyone must be saved!”

Well, you would be correct in thinking that, if “being saved” meant “getting your sins forgiven.” But that is not what it means to be saved. “Being saved” means to be rescued from the penalty of sin, which is death, by receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23). We are not saved by getting our sins forgiven (the death of Christ), we are saved by getting eternal life (the resurrection of Christ – Rom 5:10).

Jim – These are interesting distinctions. But, they’re not biblical. As we just saw in Paul’s writing in Romans and the constructs in the book of Hebrews, salvation is the direct result of the finished work of Christ, resulting in justification, reconciliation, redemption and ultimately glorification. You cannot exegetically separate the aspects of Christ’s atoning work into distinct categories; they are all part of the one-and-the-same finished work. All the attributes of His work are applied fully to everyone for whom He died.

For instance, you’ve chosen Romans 5:10 as proof text of your assertion that being saved is not merely “getting our sins forgiven (the death of Christ),” Yet that verse inextricably ties the death of Christ to the result of eternal life —

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

We were enemies, yet we were reconciled through Christ’s death. And, because we are reconciled, we shall receive eternal life. In other words, all those who are reconciled receive eternal life. There is nowhere in this verse to insert an artificial separation between Christ’s death for sin and the resulting reconciliation and eternal life. Paul’s language simply does not allow for the paradigm you’ve created.

Also, your language is confusing. You’ve stated that “being saved” means to be rescued from the penalty of sin, while at the same time “being saved” does not mean “getting your sins forgiven.” How, pray tell me, do you escape the penalty of sin without having your sin forgiven? I would also request that you offer a Biblical defense for your definition of salvation as merely “to be rescued from the penalty of sin, which is death, by receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life.” While it is true that Romans 6:23 contrasts the wages of sin and eternal life in Christ, this is not Paul’s definition of salvation. Rather, when he speaks of salvation he uses the language we read above in Romans 5.

Lastly, the eternal life that you posit as the result of being saved is the direct result of having your sins forgiven, which sins demanded the penalty of death. In other words, sin demands death. Christ paid for your sin. Your sin is removed. Hence, eternal life. To separate the two concepts in this unbiblical and illogical way does terrible damage to the text.

Q – The only way He could give us life which was eternal was to first take away the only thing that could have killed us again, and that was sin. As John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world‘.

You can’t take a man who has died from cancer, and raise him from the dead without first taking away the cancer that killed him. Otherwise, he will just die again, and the life you give him is useless and only temporary. That’s why the priests of the old covenant had to continue to offer sacrifices again and again, because they could never cure the cancer of sin! That blood of bulls and goats could only cover the disease, like a band-aid, not take it away. Jesus Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice satisfied God’s death penalty, and took away the sin (cancer) of the whole world once, for all. So that when He offers to those which He has elected the gift of life, it then truly is eternal life, because the cancer of sin was taken away.

Jim – Please take a close look at what you’ve written here. This construct is full of internal contradictions. You say that the elect receive the gift of eternal life because the cancer of sin was taken away. But, you also contend that Christ’s “all sufficient sacrifice satisfied God’s death penalty and took away the sin (cancer) of the whole world, once, for all!” So, you’ve stated that everyone’s cancer is cured. Christ’s atonement was “all sufficient” — “for all!”

So, I fail to see how you can distinguish between the saved and the lost. But, you do try —–

Q – Lost men do not go to hell because their sins were not paid for; they go to hell because they are dead. And they are dead because they did not believe the good news of the One who paid their sin debt and offered them eternal life.

Jim – Nope, that’s not consistent with what you just wrote. You’ve just said that everyone’s cancer was cured. Everyone’s sins were paid for in an all-sufficient fashion. On what basis do you contend that sinners are still dead? There is no cause for their death and in fact they’ve been fully cured. You can’t have it both ways.

And if they don’t believe, that’s no hindrance to their eternal estate, because Christ’s “all-sufficient sacrifice” would have paid for their sin of unbelief — otherwise, it was not truly all-sufficient and did not remove their cancer. After all, as you’ve stated plainly, the One they did not believe “paid their sin debt.” So, were there leftover sins, like unbelief, he did not pay for?

This is highly contradictory.

But, more to the point, the theology of salvation-by-choice is just another way of saying that some people are just intrinsically better then other people. Everyone had the same advantages and opportunities, but the smarter, cleverer, keener people somehow took hold of something the others just failed to grasp.

In other words, by this scheme, God truly is a “respecter of persons.” He’s watching to see who will choose Him and then electing them on the basis of their foreseen faith. The good people get saved while the others are lost — despite the fact that they were ALL the recipients of an “all-sufficient sacrifice” that fully cured their cancer, meaning that they must receive eternal life because there is no more debt to pay.

Very confusing.

Q – By the way, yes, I believe that the scripture teaches the doctrine of election, but not the doctrine that says that Jesus Christ’s death was not sufficient for every man’s sin, or that it was not applied to the sin debt of every man at the cross when Christ cried out ‘it is finished’.

Jim – So, let me make sure I understand. You do believe that God elected some people to salvation before the foundation of the world? Right? In other words, you agree with Paul’s description here —

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Eph 1:3-6)

You agree with that statement. Yes?

So, what you contend is that God sent His Son to Calvary and then poured out the wrath that was due to people whom He knew all along He was positively not going to save. God made Christ suffer the immensity of His torment in the place of people who were just going to wind up in Hell anyway. Plus, the lost are going to have to pay a second time for sin that was already paid for at Calvary. God knows who His elect are, but He opted to make Christ suffer pointlessly and remove the sin debt (cancer/death) for people God KNOWS He is going to judge for their sin and turn over to eternal death nevertheless.

What a cruel God you describe here. I know nothing of that God.

People say that the doctrine of Limited Atonement makes God cruel in that He does not allow the lost any possibility of redemption. I say your version of God is much crueler because He intentionally inflicted massive harm to His Son on behalf of people He already knew He would damn. And, though He removed the penalty of sin from all mankind and paid the debt that would demand their death, He condemns them anyway because of some failing in themselves that He also paid for.

That’s just cruel, confused, and nothing like the God of the Bible.

Q – Having had that sin debt paid, they now must have life; otherwise, they are just forgiven dead people.

Jim – You are going to use this terminology again in your next paragraph — “forgiven dead man.” It appears that you are describing people whose cancer is fully paid for, whose sin debt is rectified (so they’re fully forgiven), but who end up in hell anyway. They’re “just forgiven dead people.” Please show me anywhere in the Bible where the concept of “forgiven dead people” is presented. This is an oxymoron.

Part and parcel of Christ’s finished atoning work is the infusion of eternal life, reconciliation, justification, and glorification. He did all those things, all by Himself, on behalf of all those for whom He died. There is no such thing as a forgiven man who is judged by God. Judgment and forgiveness are opposite concepts. You can only be one or the other. You are forgiven or you are dead. You cannot be both at the same time.

Q – When I share the gospel with someone, I cannot tell them that ‘Jesus might have died for your sins, but maybe not.’ God’s word clearly calls us to proclaim His message of reconciliation which says, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the whole world unto himself, not counting their sins against them‘ (2 Cor. 5:19). I can confidently walk up to any man on the street and say, ‘sir, your sins are all forgiven through the death of Christ for you, but God’s word says that you are still spiritually dead, and He offers you the gift of eternal life which only comes through faith in Jesus Christ…’ If that man was chosen before the foundation of the world, then the Holy Spirit will draw him and give him the faith to believe on that gospel unto salvation and eternal life in Christ. Otherwise, he is just a forgiven dead man that will spend eternity in Hell without life, and without the Source of life.

Jim – I can do no better in replying to this paragraph than to quote my friend Lee. I forwarded your email (anonymously, of course) to some friends for their comments. Here is his reply to you:
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Lee: Jim, you may recall in one of our first email exchanges, I expressed some concern over how evangelism (in the “walk an aisle and say a prayer” sort of way) and the sovereign electing grace of God could be reconciled. Before I had ever discovered SalvationByGrace.org and your teaching, I had already come to understand the Doctrines of Grace through my personal bible study and some rather Jonah-like encounters with God’s overwhelming authority in my life (which I won’t go into now).

But I was (and still am) involved in a prison ministry and the one problem that lingered in my mind was exactly how I could stand before a group of prisoners and tell these men, “God loves each and every one of you and Jesus died for each and every one of your sins. Don’t waste His forgiveness. Won’t you please decide to make Jesus your Lord and Savior so you can go to heaven?”

It sounded good but was it biblical?

I knew that ultimately not every one of these men would profess faith in Christ and I also knew from the bible that if they did not, it was because of their natural-born, sinfully-hard heart and their unbelief – which is the mark of a spiritually dead, unregenerate soul. For whatever reason, God has not (perhaps yet) quickened this person, thereby giving him “ears to hear.” It is not that he WILL NOT hear, but that he CAN NOT hear. Spiritually dead men are NOT forgiven and just ignorantly refusing to accept their “free gift.” They are condemned. They are goats. They are sons of their father the devil and they will never bow the knee to Christ until He returns and breaks their legs (ahh, Gentle Jesus, meek and mild!). But there ARE sheep among the goats.

The tricky part is that I, in my extremely limited knowledge, cannot always (if ever) tell the difference between the goats and the lost sheep, who act an awful lot LIKE goats, especially in a prison environment. I know they (the sheep) ARE already forgiven and they are ignorant and I must share the Gospel because that is the means by which they will receive Eternal Life.

I have since learned to temper my language and now I just trust that God is smart enough to know who are His and that He is working out His plan. It is not up to me to save anybody or to force people to make a profession. It is my job to present Christ – Crucified and Risen – and let God do His thing.

But again, the question for me at that time was: Am I being honest by saying to a entire random group of people, “Jesus loves every one of you and died for all of your sins,” when I know that He only gives eternal life to BELIEVERS and only God, by His will and through the Holy Spirit, MAKES believers?

It can be a dilemma if you are intentional about the “Great Commission.” I believe that this may be where this fellow’s heart is, as well. He seems genuinely interested in presenting the Gospel, as we are all commanded to do. However, his “Gospel” language (i.e. presentation) has been so colored by mainstream Arminian doctrine that he cannot imagine any other way of spreading the “Good News.” How can he approach a stranger on the street without the assumption that God loves that person? He can’t… and there’s the rub.

Without “God’s universal desire for salvation” or without “God’s universal love/forgiveness for every person” you are left with a big hole in that kind of presentation. You have to resort to actually pouring over scripture in context and presenting Christ in much more uncomfortable terms (or, as He really is!) and that will NOT help your evangelism batting average, will it? By the way, I think there are many people who “give their life to Jesus” based on an emotional presentation only to find out later, after reading scripture, that they don’t care for the Jesus of the bible at all!

The Gospel message is NOT, nor has it ever been, that “God loves you and Jesus died for you whether you choose to accept it or not.” But rather, “Jesus died for the sins of all those who believe and trust in His finished work.”

The question is not, “WILL you accept this free gift?”

Rather it is, “CAN you believe that He has been raised from the dead to justify His people? CAN you stop trying to justify yourself before God through your own efforts? CAN you trust in HIS finished work? CAN you give up YOUR agenda, YOUR plan, YOUR desires to obey the King’s commands?” These are things a man can do ONLY if God through the Holy Spirit enables him to do so.

Paul reasoned with people in the synagogues and in the public squares using scripture to prove that Christ was the Messiah sent to redeem HIS people. You never see Paul appealing to men’s emotions, trying to manipulate them into “accepting a free gift.” He declared the Truth about who Christ ACTUALLY was and then suffered the consequences. He was often run out of town and beaten on many occasions for presenting Christ as THE only atonement sufficient to save. When it came to evangelism, Paul presented Christ, always welcoming with joy those Jews and Gentiles who displayed saving faith (which he knew came as a gift from God) and he expressed very little sympathy to those who did not:

If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!” (1 Cor. 16:22) Not very seeker sensitive there, Paul!

We are all called to obediently share the good news of Christ with every living creature, but ultimately “Salvation is of the Lord.”
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Jim: My friend, despite the fact that you are concerned with whether or not you can walk up to strangers and confidently tell them what you think about salvation by Christ, you must make sure that what you are telling the strangers is the actual truth about Christ. As Lee pointed out, nowhere in Scripture will you find any of the New Testament writers advocating the approach you’ve presented here. You are doing no one any favors by telling them unscriptural things, despite how much confidence those un-truths may give you.

The gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace stands intact as one, complete whole. God’s predestination of certain individuals was determined before the foundation of the world. He wrote those names in the Lamb’s book of Life. He sent His Son to redeem those people. Those people exclusively receive the Holy Spirit (whom the world cannot receive). That Spirit “seals” those people until the day of redemption. And those people end up glorified, by the determinate counsel of the One who works all things after the good pleasure of His own will.

That’s the only gospel you find in Scripture.

And, it’s a glorious gospel! This is the gospel of the God who actually saves. This is the gospel of the God who foreknows and loves His people, as a demonstration of His own sovereign mercy. This is the gospel of full atonement and a secure eternity.

And this is the gospel that so irritated and infuriated the religious establishment that it resulted in the martyrdom of all who professed it. This is not a gospel that is pleasant to the flesh. It is not a gospel that makes sinners feel loved and accepted by God if they’ll just choose to receive the free gift. This is not the gospel that appeases the wretched estate of humans by assuring them of God’s loving acceptance and universal atonement.

But, it is the gospel of God.

Q – Jim, I had asked you an important question the last time I wrote. You answered ‘yes’ to that question, which was, ‘If any of what you believe is not the truth, would you want to know that?’

I truly pray and hope that you will search the scriptures to see whether or not what you are teaching on this subject is the truth. I know that you will let God be true and every man be a liar as you consider what God would have you believe, regardless of what men, denominations (including Sovereign Grace), or any other book, opinion, or commentary, etc. might say. You need only that the Holy Spirit teach you and lead you into all truth (1 John 2:27, John 16:13).

Jim – As I said at the beginning of this overly-long email, I appreciate the passion and commitment you have to the things of Christ. And I am convinced that you are attempting to correct me out of a heart of compassion and love for the gospel. I have searched the Scriptures diligently to see if these things be so. And I am convinced that God is wise enough to send His Son as the propitiation for the sins of His people, exclusively. To say that God involved Himself in the redemptive activity on behalf of people He positively knew He would damn is to charge God with folly.

Allow me to ask you to consider these plain statements:

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

By the way, not everyone on Earth is considered “Christ’s sheep.” Notice His statement to the Pharisees, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” (John 10:26)

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25)

In each of those verses, both Jesus and Paul limit the atoning work to a select group of people — friends, sheep, the church. Those words must mean something. And you cannot postulate universal atonement from such words.

So, while I cannot find a verse that clearly states the universal position (despite suggestions such as the verses you cited above, which do not defend that position when they are viewed in context), I do find verses that clearly declare a limitation to the scope of Christ’s work.

So then, I suppose the ball’s in your court. You challenged me to reconsider what I believe in order to see if it comports with Scripture. I am convinced that it does and have offered you sufficient proof to support my convictions.

The question now is: Are YOU willing to stand up to the same challenge you posed to me?

Q – Thanks again for your time and for the passion you have for proclaiming the truth of His grace!

Jim – It is all by His grace and to the glory of His grace, which is completely sufficient in the salvation of His particular people. ๐Ÿ™‚

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.