Brief Thoughts on a Limited Atonement

From the archives of a past project, around the time I first started studying Reformed theology for myself…

Did Jesus Christ die for everyone, bearing the eternal wrath of God for the sins of every person who has ever lived? Or did He bear the sins of only the elect, chosen before the foundation of the earth to receive saving grave?

It has occurred to me at varying times that Revelation 22:15 is a peculiar verse. In it, John describes for us those who are not permitted entrance into the New Jerusalem: “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (NKJV).

If all sins were forgiven at Calvary (except, apparently, unbelief), why is it here that outside of the New Jerusalem are sinners of a diverse sort? Why does John not simply say that unbelievers are outside the gates?

Earlier, John says that “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Here, unbelief is listed right alongside various other clearly unforgiven sins. But, if Jesus Christ died on the cross and bore the punishment for sins, why would God send them to Hell for their sins? Is not demanding a double punishment for sin (one bore by Christ on the Cross, the other by the sinner in Hell) unjust when only one payment was required for the elect?

Is it not more logical to conclude that the sins of those who are cast into Hell were never paid for at Calvary?

It could be claimed that the only sin which was not paid for at Calvary was the sin of unbelief, and that those who are cast into Hell are there because they never believe in Jesus Christ.

However, the problem with this view is that it creates a sin (unbelief) which is able to be fixed merely by the repentance of the unbeliever now believing. If Jesus Christ’s death had paid the price for even unbelief, then unbelief couldn’t be used as a criterion for being cast into Hell–its payment would have already been made!

When the “dead, small and great” stand before God to be “judged according to their works” (Revelation 10:12), just what works will be judged? If Calvary paid the price for all sins, then the only works left would be non-sins, so why would they be judged? If Calvary did not pay the price for their sins, then it would make sense that there their sins are judged.

It certainly can be said that we are damned or not because of our belief, but simply because that is the dividing line does not mean those in Hell are not there because they were liars or sorcerers or murderers or idolaters. What it means is that the first and most important sin that a person must deal with in their life is the sin of unbelief.

To repent of unbelief, placing one’s belief in Jesus Christ, testifies to the fact that Jesus Christ’s death has paid the price for sins. But to remain in unbelief is to remain in your sins, dead to righteousness and God. Because of unbelief the person will go to Hell–their sins were not paid for at Calvary, and they will spend eternity paying the price for them.

I would be interested in hearing comments from both sides of the fence–those who believe Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world and those who believe Jesus Christ laid down His life for His sheep only.

But I am uncertain I could ever accept the unlimited view of atonement at this point. To believe that Christ’s death paid the price for every sin of every one means that no one would have anything to pay the price for in Hell, yet the Bible is very clear that many will be there because they were liars, murderers, and so on. And even if one holds to the view that the sin of unbelief is the only one which would send you to Hell because the rest were forgiven, why was Jesus’ death efficacious for all sins except that one? And upon what basis is unbelief forgiven if not for the blood of Christ, aside from which there is no remission of sins?

2 thoughts on “Brief Thoughts on a Limited Atonement”

  1. I’ve heard it kindly put, “Jesus paid your price, but you have the choice to either accept or reject that payment.” However, this view is just as incorrect as any other one. Either He paid the price, or He did not. If He did pay the price, then it doesn’t matter whether we accept it or not, because it’s a done deal. You can’t repay shedded blood. But, if He did not pay the price, then we are still lost in sin and doomed to the fiery bowels of Hell, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Particular redemption is my belief, and the mightiest blow cannot knock me from it.

  2. Rick (plus any other Reformed Christian): I am talking with a young Christian about limited atonement, and I ask that you would pray to God, that He would open her heart to this truth and help her to clearly see what the Bible says. Thank you.

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