Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Limited Unlimited Atonement

One of the arguments against the Arminian view regarding the atonement is that both Arminians and Calvinists limit the atonement.  The Calvinist limits the atonement to the elect whereas Arminians limit the atonement to those who believe the gospel and become the elect but both limit the atonement in some way.  Only the universalist can claim that they hold to an unlimited atonement since in fact they see nothing to limit the atonement of Christ.

I would agree with this.  In fact, I agree that we Arminians limit the atonement.  We reject the idea that Jesus saves everyone by virtue of His death on the cross.  But I would disagree with the Calvinist by asserting that Jesus’ death saves no one on the cross.  It is faith in the finished work of Christ that saves us.  This is point of Romans 3:23-26:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

That Jesus died does not save.  That Jesus shed His blood for the sins of the world does not save (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). The gospel must be preached and believed on by faith in order to save the sinner (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-39; 17:30-31; Romans 10:11-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14).  The person who merely hears the gospel but rejects the gospel is not saved.  They can claim all day to believe in Jesus or that Jesus died for them but if they have not been truly born again (John 3:1-7; 1 Peter 1:18-25; 1 John 5:1-2), they are not saved (James 2:19).  If faith does not save us then Romans 5:1 should read that we are justified unto faith but instead it says that we are justified through faith.  Ephesians 2:8 is likewise clear that it is faith that saves us.  To merely say that Jesus died without calling people to faith and repentance does not save.

The atonement is then unlimited in its power to save (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21) but it is only appropriated by faith (1 Timothy 4:10).  Thus the question that arises, “Did Jesus die for people in hell” is pointless since only those who appropriate His shed blood are saved.  Those who are in hell are there because of their willful rebellion against God and refusal of His Son (Romans 2:6-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10) and not because of arbitrary choosing on God’s part.  We can thus preach to the world that Jesus shed His blood for our sins (Matthew 26:28) but only those who repent are saved from the power of sin (Luke 13:1-5; 24:47; John 6:40; Romans 5:8-9).  All can come and be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14-18, 36) but only those who repent of their sins are truly baptized into His death and His resurrection (Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21-22).

The Calvinist approach is one of completely limited atonement.  Jesus shed His blood only for the elect (who still must believe the gospel to have the blood of Jesus wash their sins away unless one teaches eternal justification or the idea that the elect were justified in Christ before time began and in the sovereign mind of God, the elect have always been the elect and have always been His children) and only the elect can be saved (and will be saved).  The atonement is not to be preached as vicarious for all people but only for the elect otherwise one is not being consistent with their soteriology views.

I can safely preach to the lost that Jesus shed His blood that they might repent and be saved because of my firm conviction that Jesus did in fact shed His blood for all people (1 Timothy 2:4).  I can preach that Jesus is calling the person to repentance and forgiveness of their sins because of my firm conviction from Scripture that He is (Luke 19:10; Acts 13:38-39).  I can preach that God has demonstrated His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NIV).  I can preach that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21).  I do this all because I believe that Jesus Christ shed His blood and was raised to life for our salvation (Romans 4:24-25) and all who have saving faith in Him can be saved (John 20:31; 1 John 4:14-15).

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