The third blog post in our series titled: “Hey Protestant, what are you actually Protesting?” we now come to the L of TULIP, the Doctrine of Limited Atonement. (Read last week's article here regarding the U in TULIP here) This Doctrine may be better labeled Particular Atonement as we will explain later. But for now, lets think about what you may have been taught growing up… “That Jesus died for you”, that “Jesus died for everybody because God loves everybody.” I know I was raised on statements like these, but are they actually statements from the Bible? I humbly suggest to you, they are not.
Like me, growing up in America, the average evangelical Christian of the Arminian flavor is taught the “facts of the faith” that God loves everybody and that He sent Jesus Christ down to die for them all. You may call to memory the familiar Sunday School song that goes like this:
“Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white. They are precious in His sight…”
While it is certainly true that Jesus loves little Children, and loves children of all different colors, what is not true however, is that Jesus loves “all the children of the world” in exactly the same way. This is where the bible makes distinctions in God’s love. Let me give you this to think about as an example:
We are commanded to love our wives in the same way that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it; therefore, if Christ loved and gave Himself for all people in the same way, we are commanded to love all women in the same way that we love our wives. We know this is not Biblical, so why do some believe God loves every single human in the same way?
As a Protestant you make many distinctions between yourself and the Roman Catholic Church on many things. For example you do not partake in mass, you do not pray to Mary, but do you have the same view of God’s love and the atonement as the Catholic Church? If so why? And why as a Protestant do you not have the same view of God’s special love for His elect like your Reformed Protestant brethren, from whom the basis of your Protestant theology derived from? Why is it that being detached from Rome, you have a Roman view of the atonement?
The Roman Catholic Church has this to say about the atonement of Jesus Christ:
- “The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the "one mediator between God and men". But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, "the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" is offered to all men.” Source (Emphasis added by me)
- "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. "By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities" Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.” Source (Emphasis added by me)
- “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” Pope Francis
Let’s compare the views of the atonement of Rome and that of Reformers and see where you land. Catholics view the atonement as primarily a “self-sacrificial love offering” from Christ to God more so than a propitiatory sacrifice for sin. As far as its effect, that’s basically it. The sacrifice did not actually save anybody, just made people “save-able”. Man must now do the rest of the required work to save himself. And this is the task set before every man without distinction. So the question remains, when Christ said “it is finished.” What exactly did He finish if man is made only saveble and not saved?
Roman Catholicism openly teaches that Jesus Christ “atoned and made satisfaction” for all the sins of every single human and that this atonement is for all men and offered to “all men”. Thus all humanity really and truly has salvation available to them because Christ died on their behalf and satisfied God. All they have to do, is repent and believe to be saved.
The is in direct contrast of the Reformed view, which I would contend is the Biblical view. Here is the famous dilemma put forth by John Owen:
John Owen presents to you only three options here. Options one and three are discounted logically and I will demonstrate why they are discounted Biblically by showing how the second option is the correct option in a similar fashion to Dr. John Owen.
The Catholic Position is that Christ has atoned for all men, and God in fact has been satisfied with this atonement. John Owen’s logic here is quite clear, why then is anybody in hell? Since Christ atoned and satisfied God, why is God angry with anybody anymore? Why doesn’t everybody get a free pass into heaven since the payment for sin was made and accepted?
The answer is clear… because Jesus did not atone for every single human. This answer can be found in many locations, but let’s focus on a verse that I’m sure you have heard before in previous discussions of the atonement: 1 John 2:2. It reads “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (ESV) This verse is often used to tell us that Christ atoned for not just our sins (the Christians) but for the sins of the entire world! This includes all past, present and future sins you could ever commit.
The key to understanding if this is the case and if this is what the verse is actually telling us, is the word “propitiation”. That word single handedly narrows and confines the scope of the atonement to only the elect. Here is why: Propitiation means simply “to please and make calm a god or person who is annoyed with you.” Source Obviously we know that God is not simply annoyed, but is dreadfully and woefully enraged at the wicked.
So, the question as Owen pointed out, if God has been appeased why is God still angry with anybody? The Apostle John told us directly that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world”. Knowing now that the definition of propitiation literally means that God has been appeased, “whole world” therefore cannot mean every single human, for we know people go to hell (atheists for example rejecting and denying the existence of God) every minute awaiting final judgment in the lake of fire.
This leaves us with the atonement being particular. Particular to the elect. The atonement was specifically designed for those people Jesus was sent to save. Jesus told us in John 6 that “All that the Father gives me will come to me” meaning that certain people were given by God to Jesus to save. Let us now look at some scripture references that point us to the reality of Limited/Particular Atonement:
- God purposed to redeem a certain people and not others 1Chr 17:20-21; Mat 22:14; 1Pet 2:8-9
- It is for these in particular that Christ gave his life: Isa 53:10-11; Mat 1:21; John 6:35-40; John 10:3-4, 11, 14-15; Act 20:28; Eph 5:25 Heb 2:17; Heb 9:15
- It is for these in particular that Christ intercedes: John 17:1-2; John 17:6-12; John 17:20-21, 24-26; Rom 8:34
- The people for whom Christ intercedes are the same as the people for whom he offered himself up as a sacrifice: Heb 7:24-27; Heb 9:12 [note context, in which entering into the holy place is explicitly for the purpose of intercession], 24-28 [For a fuller understanding of the indissoluble connection between sacrifice and intercession, read Hebrews chapters 7-10]
This is not an exhaustive list, if you want to see a full list of atonement related verses and see where we pull our list from click here.
In the final analysis the question remains for you to answer, do you affirm the Roman view that Christ died for every single person appeased/satisfied God and yet then punishes a portion of humanity in hell forever? Or do you take a step away from Rome, going closer to Biblical truth and welcomed by your fellow protestant brothers and sisters in the Reformed community in recognizing that Christ died only for the elect?
I leave you with this last thought: If Christ died for anyone else besides the elect, His purpose in dying to save them failed. For the purpose in which He was sent, to save all humanity failed miserably. Do you have a victorious Christ who is able to save all those given to Him by the Father? Or a failed Christ who was sent to save all, but could only save some?
What do you think? Did this article convince you one way or the other? Do you feel something may have been left out that is important to mention? Let us know in the comments below!
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