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While people may mean very different things by the term 'limited atonement', the short version of the theory is that Christ did not die as an atoning sacrifice for all men, but only for some. This clearly does not line up with what scripture says on the topic: "He is the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" [I John 2:2] Here we see that Christ was not just a sacrifice for believers, but the atoning sacrifice for the sins of everyone! Christ died for all, but only faith causes God to look at the blood and be appeased, passing over our sins and imputing to us the righteousness of Christ. "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed. He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.[Romans 3:21-26] This a beautiful passage of how God sent Christ, presenting Him as an atoning sacrifice to both Jew and Gentile. This was to satisfy the justice of God, as the penalty for sin had to be paid. It showed the righteousness of God in 'passing over' are former sins. It shows God as the righteous justifier of all those who had faith in Christ. He also did this so man could not boast in any work of the law, but could only be justified by faith in the work of Christ. The mercy and grace of God is great, to offer salvation to all people, who are but sinners! There is also a lovely passage in I John in which John is exhorting the brethren to love each other, as the love God has shown us is great. "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. [I John 4:7-16] God's love is not due to anything that we ourselves have done, nor does it only come subsequent to our faith, but it is a universal offering of love God pours out on all men. We teach children, "Jesus loves you" in hopes they will respond to that love in faith. We share with unbelievers of the great love and forgiveness of God. Here again, Jesus is sent as Savior to the whole world. John 1 has further detail on this. This is the beauty of Christianity among the world religions - Jesus came to save all. He didn't just come for the rich, for the pious, for a select ethnicity, for a special group. He came for everyone. He came for you and me. Like children, if we respond to that love in faith, then God forgives us for the sake of Christ. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." [John 3:16]
The doctrine of limited atonement as advanced by Calvinism is part of the five doctrines under their TULIP systematic. The foundational doctrine is the Total Depravity doctrine that teaches that following the fall in Adam, all men in all ages since Adam suffered spiritual death and fell into total sinful depravity and are dead in sin, unable to hear the gospel and come to God without first being regenerated by God. Calvinism teaches that since God determined from the foundation of the world on who among sinners will be elected, the salvation plan was already predestined and Christ's atonement was merely provided to fulfill God's eternal plan for His Elect. Those who are not chosen by God will be damned in hell to His glory. Having set out the philosophical concept underpinning Calvinistic soteriology, we now return to examine the doctrine of limited atonement. It is important to appreciate that none of the doctrines can be understood in isolation, philosophically speaking, because they all lie on a systematic taught by John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo. The limited atonement doctrine teaches that God provided atonement that exclusively targeted a specific group of sinners whose election was predestined by God from the foundation of the world. It teaches that the atonement was only actuated for and is efficacious to the Elect alone. While this articulation is partly true, the problem lies with the philosophical foundation which assigns election to God alone and extinguishes the sinner's free will choice in accepting or rejecting God's grace in the gospel yet this is plainly taught in the Bible. If God determined that a given number or set of sinners were specifically chosen ahead of Calvary for redemption, this should be affirmed in Scripture. There are several passages of Scripture that clearly teach or reveal that God's grace is primarily available to all sinners but only those who respond to the gospel will be saved. Calvinism teaches the opposite. It states that only those sinners who had been predestined to Election will be enabled by God to believe the gospel and those who are outside God's prior list will be hardened to damnation in hell. To this extent, my view is that the limited atonement doctrine is inconsistent with biblical truth and misrepresents the revelation of Scripture concerning God's offer of salvation. Several passages of Scripture, including John 3:16-17, explicitly proclaim that the sinner has a free will choice to make in response to the gospel. Calvinism denies this truth by asserting that salvation is exclusively God's choosing. The doctrine of irresistible grace again supports the limited atonement doctrine to the extent that it affirms God's explicit control of salvation to the exclusion of the sinner's free will choice. This is also true of the unconditional election doctrine which teaches that the sinner need not make any contribution or action to his salvation. For this reason, my view is that the limited atonement doctrine as outlined by TULIP Calvinism is largely unbiblical. I believe that salvation is available to all sinners since Calvary and that any sinner who hears and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ will be saved. I further believe that God did not predetermine that a given set of sinners shall be saved to the exclusion of others. God never hardens and prevents some sinners from responding to the gospel.
Our finite minds see Limited Atonement as harsh and cruel, and that it leaves us all as puppets to be used as God sees fit. The problem is that our minds are finite. Our minds are carnal. Even as our minds are being transformed and renewed by God's grace, we still only see and know in part. Just as the dear brother spelled out above, there is simply no way that human beings who are dead in their sins could have desire or choose to submit their wills to God and His righteousness. It must be a work of the Holy Spirit.
Justification is by faith alone without works to everyone that believeth. To the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 John 3:16 For God so loved the world, (everybody) that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER (anybody) BELIEVETH in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life. Who is salvation limited to? No one. Anyone that believes is saved. Eph 1:13 "In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also AFTER ye believed, ye were sealed unto the day of redemption." We do not get the Holy Spirit until after we believe the gospel - not before. First John 2:2 And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only, but for the sins of the whole world First Timothy 2:2 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. We are all born with some light. We know we have sinned. Faith is the vehicle of salvation. Rom 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, (all of us) his FAITH is counted for righteousness. John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me, will come to me, and ALL that come to me, I WILL IN NO WISE CAST OUT. Anyone can be saved by believing the gospel. First Corinthians 15:1-4 Do we have to persevere in the faith to stay saved? Second Timothy 2:13 If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful, He can not deny Himself. (His Holy Spirit that lives in the believer.) One of the reasons we could never go to hell. God can not send His own Spirit to hell. John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but is passed from death unto life. John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. Again as in First Timothy 2:4 God would have all men to believe the gospel and be saved. John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power, to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name. It seems as though we have a free will to accept or reject the gospel, but once we accept it we are sealed by the Holy Spirt and can never be cast out. John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. Romans 8 says. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God. All believers have been given eternal life through the Spirit when we believed the gospel. Ephesians 1:13. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace ye are saved, (what Jesus did for us) through faith, (when we believed) and that not of yourself, (we did nothing for it) It is the GIFT of God, not of works, (what we do or do not do) (no one can earn salvation by what they do) lest any man should boast.
Limited Atonement is difficult to comprehend fully at the best of times, even to experienced believers. If a believer is struggling with this doctrine, there are several questions that can help sort things out. The first question is: Did Christ die for all men of all time? Christ's work on the cross was completed at Calvary. He became sin for us, he then bore the wrath of God for those sins and paid the eternal price for those sins. That is why he could say "It is finished" and the veil was torn in two from top to bottom when he paid the price for sin. If Christ paid the debt of sin for every single person who ever lived, there is no judgment left for any man, because every sin was completely paid for. We know that this is not the case as the bible makes it very clear that many will be judged and punished for their sins in hell. It is a very dangerous thing to say that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was not complete as the torn veil in the temple is compelling evidence to tells us that Christ's atonement paid for all sin of every believer. A second question is this: If believers were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Ephes. 1:4), how can we then say that Christ's atonement on the cross was for anyone else except all of those who were chosen by God before the world was created? God has shown us all through scripture that He chooses, not us. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament is a clear example of God choosing a group of people to call His own, to the exclusion of all others. God showed Israel a special love that He did not show to the other nations. Even when Israel and Judah sinned against Him more than the other nations around them, God did not destroy them as He did the other nations. Ezek. 16 is a beautiful chapter of how God would forgive His people and restore them, while the surrounding nations were not forgiven and were judged. God has given us two truths that seem to be contradictory. He has chosen all believers before the foundation of the world was laid, and that every person will have to give an account to Him for their actions in this life. We cannot understand these two truths fully because we are finite; we live in a sinful and fallen world and we are bound by time and space. God is not limited by any of these things. In fact He is not limited by anything. This is a reality that we cannot understand but we need to humbly accept. Einstein's theory of relativity is amazing, whether I can grasp all of the concepts or not. I would be considered foolish to say that Einstein is wrong until he can fully explain to me all of the details of this theory. We need to remember that just because we don't understand everything that God reveals to us about Himself and His work of redemption, it doesn't mean that God's word is wrong or has to mean something else. It means that we need to humbly accept God's word and then ask Him to show us daily more of Himself.
The story of the bible is this in my condensed answer/opinion: God, because He is all-knowing, undertook to save all His creation because of His full knowledge of their willful failure. Rom 8:29. Therefore God is paying the redemption price for all whom He creates at no charge Rom. 3:24; 1Co. 2:12 This God planned before the foundations of the world. Eph 1:4. In His foreknowledge He wrote the book, did the planning of rewards for both who would choose to believe God’s choice for them and who would choose to not believe. Those whom God foresees will refuse His free salvation recovery plan will receive hell, and those who accept His free gift of salvation recovery plan will eternal life. Now God has foreseen and God has predestined, and now the story is just playing out. God grieves where He must grieve, e.g. Gen 6:6 and He is happy where He must be happy. Those who would attempt to seek after Him will do so at the exact time as He foresees they would, and those who willfully reject Him do so exactly as God foresees they would. Before the foundation of the world God prejudged those who would choose not to believe and those who would believe. Here is God’s pre-knowledge, which introduces His prejudgments; Those who would believe: God predestined for them… Rom 8:29, Eph 1:3-13, Rom 8:30, John 5:24. Ps 1:6, Jer 1:5, 1 Pet 1:2, Rev 13:8, Eph 1:4, Tit 1:2, 1Pet 1:19-20 Those who would not believe, God predestined for them… Rom 8:29, John 3:18-20, John 5:24, Ps 1:6, Rev 17:8.
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