Monday, July 30, 2007

Even Arminians Believe in Limited Atonement

The Arminian, in an effort to present God as the epitome of what they see as fairness, tries to make the case that Christ died for everyone's sins. After all, 1 John 2:2 says that he died for "the sins of the whole world," and Hebrews 2:9 tells us that he tasted death "for everyone." Of course, the Arminian interpretation of such passages is at odds with the rest of scripture.

When it comes to limited (or particular or definite) atonement, God's word is quite clear on the subject. In Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 we read that Christ gave his life as a "ransom for many." In John 10:11-15 Jesus talks about laying down his life "for the sheep." Contrast that with Matthew 25:32-33, where we see the shepherd separating "the sheep from the goats."

There are many other references to limited atonement. In John 6:39 Jesus says it is the Father's will that he "should lose nothing of all that he has given me." The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25 that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Paul reminds believers in Colossians 3:5–6 that the wrath of God is coming as judgment for the specific sins of individuals, sins like "sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Obviously, the sins of these people were not covered by cross.) John 11:52 says that the Messiah's death was not for Israel alone, "but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." In 1 Timothy 4:10 Paul says that Christ is "the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe."

A clear reading of scripture proves that Christ's atonement is limited to the elect. Even 1 John 2:2, the Arminian "proof-text" for indefinite atonement, demonstrates this basic truth. The entire verse reads as follows: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." Note the key word "propitiation." In its theological context this term means the satisfaction of God's demands. God demands perfection, and sinful man can never hope to live up to that standard. Sin must be punished, which is why man is born under condemnation. Christ's perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, however, satisfied God's demand for justice. In short, he paid the price for our sin, giving us eternal life.

But wait... If Christ died for every individual as the Arminian would argue, then why do people end up in hell? If the price of everyone's sin has been paid in full, then why does God feel the need to punish that sin again?

In essence, for one to insist that Christ died for the sins of all people, and yet believe that people still go to hell as punishment for those sins, is to say that God is unjust. And we all know that God is nothing if not just. So, if we follow Arminian theology to its logical conclusion, we end up with universalism: all go to heaven because Christ died for all.

But even the most devout Arminian would deny universalism. No true Christian believes that everyone goes to heaven. The only way around this is to admit that there are certain sins for which Christ did not die -- namely, the sin of rejecting Christ as Savior and Lord. The Arminian, then, is left with a stark realization: if that one sin was not paid for on the cross, then Christ's atonement cannot be considered limitless.

This has to be disconcerting because it leads these enlightened Arminians to an even more harrowing realization: they're one step closer to embracing Calvinism!


Seth McBee said...

questions for you.

If I say that I love my wife, does that imply that I hate you?

Can we not say the same thing when it says that Christ died for the many?

I am not denying the efficacious death for the elect, but don't let the other verses of Christ being said to die for all escape your thought process.

As far as your thoughts on universalism you are implying that Christ's death was pecuniary and not judicial. Which is what Owen implied...

take a look at these posts and let me know your thoughts...thanks for the link...

In Christ.

Seth McBee said...

by the way, check out this post for what Calvin himself had to say about the term "many"

I think you will be surprised.

Lee Shelton said...

Thanks, Seth, for your comments and the links.

Your love for your wife in no way implies that you hate me. However, that in no way implies that you love me in the same way that you love your wife.

So it is with God. While he may have a general love for his creation, it cannot be said that he loves everyone in the same way that he loves the elect: "As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'" (Romans 9:13).

Naturally, that would apply to the nature of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. While I have never really had a serious problem with the "sufficient for all, efficient for some" argument, I would never venture to say that Christ died for the non-elect in the same way that he died for the elect. Not only were their sins paid for, but the very faith and repentance required of them for salvation were obtained at the cross.

On the other hand, had God decided to extend the benefits of the atonement to all men (or at least to more than he has), I don't think Christ's suffering would have been increased proportionately. I think that's where the analogy of double jeopardy might break down.

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