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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Rick Beckman