LIMITED ATONEMENT

This is the third of my posts on TULIP and my understanding of the 5 points of Calvinism or Reformed Theology.

Before I can begin a discussion of Limited Atonement I will first have to define and explain the Doctrine of Atonement. This will be a surface level explanation only – anything more is beyond the scope of this post.

Atonement, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “reparation for an offense or injury”. It is also defined as “the reconciliation of God and humankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ”. Satisfaction is a synonym of atonement. To recap a couple previous posts, we know that man suffers from Total Depravity and as such is a slave to sin (John 8:34) and is spiritually dead in his sins (see Total Depravity). As a result man cannot do even one good thing…in fact he does not even want to because his nature is so permeated by the sin. Even in this state God still loved His creation and desired to have a relationship with some of them but because of the sins of man there is a large chasm between God and man. The wages of sin is death and an eternity separated from God. To restore the relationship the debt must be paid, it must be satisfied. Man is unable to pay the debt so in order to satisfy the debt God sent Jesus to die and make atonement to God and thus to restore the relationship and bridge the chasm between God and man. Christ’s death on the cross at Calvary was the only thing sufficient to pay the debt.

Did Christ’s death make salvation a possibility for everyone or did it save the ones that it was intended to – the Elect?

What is taught by Reformed Theology: Since God only chose some to be members of the Elect (see Unconditional Election) then Jesus came to satisfy (atone for) the debt of those elected only. Therefore the extent of the atonement was limited to the Elect. Jesus could not have died for everyone because if He did then everyone would be saved – this is known as Universalism. We know that not everyone is saved so therefore Jesus could not have died for everyone. If Jesus did die for people who did not ultimately get saved then God has exacted payment for the persons sins from both Jesus and the person. This does damage to God’s character and causes Him to be unjust. Anything that makes God appear unjust cannot be true!!

My Questions and Comments: This is the part of the TULIP that I have the most problems with. An interesting point is that both sides (unless you are a Universalist) actually believe in a limited atonement. The only real question is who does the limiting. What do I mean by that? Let me explain. Those who believe that Christ died for all people of all times (past, present, and future) limit the atonement by it application to only those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Calvinists limit it as discussed above.

There are several passages in the NT that seem to suggest that Jesus died for everyone. John 3:16-17 may be the most well known. It says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

A couple more examples are:

Hebrews 9:12 “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (ESV)

John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (ESV)

The question that Calvinists ask is: Did the death of Jesus only make salvation possible or did it actually save those it was intended to? Until I started this study I had never considered this question. I had always thought that it actually did both – but the choice was up to the person to accept the atonement (sufficient for all but applied to only to some). I had never thought through the other side or considered the Universalism that logically results.

Why would a loving all-powerful God chose only to save some when He could have just as easily saved all? Does the fact that some people will never have an opportunity to know Christ affect the way we think about God? What if one of our loved ones is not included in the Elect? These and many other questions are very emotional and require much time and effort to put aside the emotion and search the text for the answers. Even the name “Limited Atonement” causes an emotional reaction. One thing I do find interesting is the fact that many Calvinists prefer to use the term “Particular Redemption” instead of Limited Atonement. Truthfully, I am not yet to the point of being past the emotion..…but I am closer than I was about a year or so ago.

I would like to take a moment to examine one of the most often used verses by Calvinists. John 6:37 (ESV) says All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. The first part seems to hint at a limited or particular redemption. There is only a certain number of people (the Elect) given to Christ. Who gives? The Father. The act of giving is entirely an act of God – an exercise of His divine sovereignty. Next, notice that those given will come to Christ. There appears to be no room for choice (to accept or reject) on the part of the one given.

When we add John 6:44 to 6:37 it becomes a powerful argument. Verse 44 says No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. Remember my previous discussion on Unconditional Election and Pastor Warren’s word study on the Greek word translated here as draws. It seems that it carries the notion of compulsion. The person must be compelled by God before He can come to Jesus.

As I type this post, I can see in my mind all the barriers I have to the idea of Limited Atonement crumbling and it makes me very uneasy. Honestly, it is more comfortable for me to believe that Jesus’ death was designed for everyone. It is easier to deal with and think about the non-elect in this way. By this I mean that if they are not saved it is their own fault….they make the choice to reject Christ and therefore deserve the wrath that God justly applies to them. At this point I would probably say that my only real objection to this doctrine is that it doesn’t feel right. That really bothers me because I have always prided myself on not letting my emotions effect my decision making. I have not always succeeded in this but more often than not….I hope it will be the same in this case.

I am praying for God’s guidance in this journey I am on. I have also asked for wisdom and discernment…may He grant me my requests.

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FAIRNESS DOCTRINE

The FCC has no plans to reinstate The Fairness Doctrine. That is cause for celebration but I bet the Dems will not be happy with this. How long before they call for the head of the FCC to step down? Read the article here.

I’M GLAD THE GOVT CAN SPEND OUR MONEY BETTER THAN WE CAN

Wow…this is amazing but it should not surprise us.  Click here to see what I am referring to.  And these are the same people wanting to withhold money from our troops and complaining that we are spending too much on the war.  Can you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E?

GOOD EXEGESIS OF ROMANS 9

Dr. James White over at Alpha Omega Ministries has posted this exegesis on Romans chapter 9. It is worth a listen.

FRED THOMPSON UPDATE

Found this article on Drudge.  Not sure why Fred Thompson is waiting but it now appears that it will be September before he officially announces.  He is also making some changes in his campaign…I guess in preparation of the next phase of his run for the Oval Office.

QUICK WORD STUDY FROM JOHN 6:44

Pastor Warren over at Love Acceptance Forgiveness has done a word study of the word draws in John 6:44. It is very helpful. Click here to read it.

LOGICAL PROGRESSION OF THE TULIP

One of the things about reformed theology that is really compelling to me is the logical progression of the system.  By that I meant the logical flow of the 5 points and how they work together to form a complete theological system.  I will trace that flow in this post.

Total Depravity:  The foundation is the Total Depravity of man.  From this the four remaining points flow.  Man’s inability to have fellowship with God, as a result of the Fall, is the reason a Savior was needed. Through Adam’s disobedience sin entered the world and all humans are now born with a sin nature that separates us from God.

Unconditional Election:  But God still loved us and desired to have fellowship with us.  So, before the foundation of the world, He chose some to become members of the Elect – to receive salvation and therefore a restored relationship with Him.  The choosing of the Elect is a function solely of God’s sovereignty.  God could have chosen all or He could have chosen none but He did neither.  He chose some and the choice was made solely on what pleased God.  No merit in the person chosen warranted being chosen.  The choice of some was the only option God had if He wished to exercise His sovereignty.

Limited Atonement:  God ordains the ends and the means of the reconciliation of the relationship with His people.  So, after God had chosen the Elect He then had to provide the means of the reconciliation.  He did this through the blood of Jesus Christ.  (If you do not understand how this was accomplished please ask me and I will be happy to explain it to you.)  Jesus’ death served as the propitiation for the sins of the Elect and only the Elect.  Jesus became the bridge (the Bible calls Jesus the Mediator) between God and fallen Elect.  The death of Jesus was sufficient to save everyone if that had been its purpose but it was designed to save only the Elect.  The death of Jesus did nothing for the non-elect because it was not intended to.

Irresistible Grace:  Once the bridge had been provided then it was time to call the Elect.  At the appointed time God regenerates the fallen Elect.  The act of regeneration involves changing a dead in their sins person to a person with new life.  This is a spiritual resurrection – spiritually dead to spiritually alive.  Once the person had been changed they can now respond to the inward call of the Holy Spirit beaconing them to come to God and submit to Him as LORD and Savior.  With the regeneration, a process is started that cannot help but be completed.  Once the person hears the inward call they will accept it willingly and be justified.  Once justified they will eventually be glorified – this happens when they enter Heaven.

Perseverance of the Saints:  A person that has become a new creation by accepting the inward call can never be lost again.  God has set them apart during the process and He protects them until the time they are glorified with Him.   A person’s salvation does not depend on their own ability to maintain it, because they could not, but depends entirely on God’s ability to maintain it, and He is able to do so.  Once God began the work of salvation in them He has promised to complete it.

In all honesty, I still have a couple points that I am having trouble with but the simple logic flow is quite compelling.  It is easy to follow and makes sense to my limited mind.  What do you think about the logical flow?  Am I wrong in my assessment of how it flows?  If there are points that you disagree with or have trouble understanding lets hear them………

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

This is the second of my posts on TULIP and my understanding of the 5 points of Calvinism or Reformed Theology.

What is taught by Reformed Theology: This choosing of the elect (and non-elect) is totally in conjunction with (or a function of) God’s sovereignty over His creation. God’s sovereignty basically means that God had the right to do anything He wishes with His creation. This is sometimes hard for us to accept but it is true. The Creator is always greater than the creation. In Romans chapter 9 the Apostle Paul gives us 3 examples explaining God’s sovereignty. In verses 9-13 Paul explains the Esau will serve Jacob, in verses 17-18 Paul tells of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, and in verses 19-23 Paul uses the example of the potter’s right to create out of the clay whatever he wishes. I recently saw (in his chat room) Dr. James White explain God’s sovereignty in the matter of election in this way (I will paraphrase). God has 3 choices in election – 1) God can save everybody, 2) God can save nobody, or 3)God can save some. Option 1 and 2 give God no room to exercise His sovereignty. Only option 3 allows God to exercise His sovereignty over His creation.

First we must consider the meaning of unconditional. By definition we see that there must be an absence of conditions for God’s sovereign election of His people. There are no conditions placed on God that require He elect or not elect someone. If conditions were imposed on God during this process then God ceases to be sovereign.

Next we turn to election. Throughout the Bible the concept of election or predestination is taught. The elect are the group of people who will receive salvation and who will become known as God’s children (John 1:12-13). Two examples are found in these passages

1 Peter 2:8-9 says, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Romans 8:28-30 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Unconditional election basically means that God, of His own will and pleasure, chooses some people to be among the elect. This choice is not merited in any way by the person God chooses. God does not see some good in the person, He does not look down the corridor of time and see that the person will choose Him, He does not see any future good works the person will do, etc. It is solely a choice by God according to God’s plan and purpose and for His glory and pleasure. God made this election or choice before the foundation of the world…before anything was created and before any man was born (Ephesians 1:3-14).

In summary, God has chosen to set apart (elect/predestine) some people to receive salvation and to become the children of God. He does this for His own purpose and pleasure and the decision to elect or not elect is in no way connected to any merit found with the person. In fact, the decision as to who would be included in the elect was made before the foundation of the world.

My Questions and Comments: The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this is that it IS God’s right to do with us as He chooses. God is sovereign over all of creation. If God wants to choose only some people to be included among the elect that is His right. It is a hard thing to swallow that God would choose some to be elect and others to be reprobate and those who were reprobate would never have that chance to receive salvation. This is known as Double Predestination. If God actively and sovereignly chooses some to be members of the elect (and He does) then He also is actively and sovereignly choose everyone else to be members of the reprobate. I can see no way around this. Not choosing is still a choice.

The next thing that comes to mind is a question. Does God allow the person to have a say as to whether he wants to be included in the elect? If God does allow the person to have a say then who is really sovereign – God or the person? Some would day that if the person has a say then God in no longer the sovereign being in the deal and the person is really sovereign. I have always thought that God’s allowing the person to have a say…to accept the offer of salvation..takes nothing away from God’s sovereignty. It would seem to me that it only sheds more light on truly how sovereign God is. Do you agree or disagree?

As a Southern Baptist, I have always been taught that we have to accept the offer of salvation to become a member of the elect. In my studies this seems to be implied throughout the New Testament but nowhere does it say it explicitly (that I am aware of). As a result, I have been doing a lot of reading and studying to see what the text of the Bible really teaches.

A key passage that I am struggling with right now is John 6:44. It says: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. The problem I am having is with the word “draws”. Draws seems to imply that God convinces or woos the person to come to Him. RC Sproul, in his book Chosen By God (p. 69-70), states that the same Greek word translated draw in this verse is translated as drag in two other NT verses. If the correct meaning in verse 44 is drag then it would change my entire understanding of the concept and necessitate a change in my theology. This actually caused me to have trouble sleeping the night I read this as the implications of the different meaning of the verse were bouncing around in my head.

Remember this is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the topic but just some points to help me work through them in my mind.  Any questions or  comments are welcomed.

EMERGENT CHURCH

One of the blogs I regularly check is Arminian Today. One of the recent posts is an excellent discussion of some of the details and history of the Emergent Church. Click here to read it. You might be surprised. I don’t know much about this movement but the more I find out the more I am concerned that it may have crossed the line. I think I may have to study it in more detail at some point.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

This is the first of my posts on TULIP and my understanding of the 5 points of Calvinism or Reformed Theology.

What is taught by Reformed Theology: In order to understand Total Depravity we must first understand where it originated. To do this we must look all the way back to Adam and Eve and the first sin. Read Genesis 3 to get the details of what happened. We see that through their actions sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12). Now we must remember that at the time Adam and Eve were the entire human race. So the entire human race was guilty of sinning against God.

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and this means they were created perfect but God gave them the ability to choose not to obey Him. When they chose not to obey Him there were consequences to them and all that would come from them (i.e. the entire human race). They lost fellowship with God that they had enjoyed and they became not perfect…a sin nature grew in them. This sin nature was passed on to their offspring and the Bible teaches that now all men are born in sin (Romans 5:18-19).

This sin nature that all men have inherited permeates every aspect of our being. There is no part of us, physical, mental, or spiritual, that is does not affect. The contamination is not just partial but is complete. It renders us spiritually dead. We are unable to do anything good in the eyes of God. We are unable to hear God’s call or turn to God, in fact, we don’t even want to because our will is so corrupted that we desire only to remain in our fallen sinful state. This is the concept know as Total Depravity.

My Questions and Comments: I really have no questions on this point of the 5 Points of Calvinism. I agree with it and understand that this is a concept taught throughout the Bible. One of the best known verses on this topic says for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If this were not the case then there would have been no need for God to send Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10 says In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Even in our fallen sinful state God still loved us enough to provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him.

Total Depravity serves as the foundation for much of Christian theology and this is certainly the case for Calvinism (and classical Arminianism as well but that is for another time). The remaining 4 points flow logically from this foundation and I will explore each of them in the near future.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Let me know