If you have followed my blog any at all then you know that I have been studying Reformed Theology for a little more than a year now. I started out (at least I thought) as somewhere between Calvinist and Arminian but I realized several months ago that I had actually always believed in 4 of the 5 points of the TULIP. The one problem I was having was with Limited Atonement. I realized and acknowledged that everyone but a universalist (someone who believes that all people will end up in Heaven) understood that the atonement made by Jesus for us was limited. The only question was who did the limiting. I started out thinking that we limited the atonement by our choice to accept or reject Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. I would say that the Atonement was sufficient for everyone but only effective for those who chose to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus. I also realized that this understanding of the atonement did not fit logically with the other four tenants of the TULIP. That did not change the fact that I want to believe this way. That is what makes it so hard…I have many years invested into this belief. So I have been working through this and I have been getting gradually closer to accepting the full Calvinist understanding of the limitation of the atonement.
One of the passages that has really helped move me is found in Matthew 1:21. It says
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
In our Sunday School class we are going through Matthew this quarter. I happened to be teaching the lesson that included this verse. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had read many people’s explanation about God limiting scope the atonement but had not really accepted it and then I read this verse. I had read it before….how many times I am not sure but it never jumped off the page at me like it did this time. I am not claiming a new revelation but I am saying I have a more accurate interpretation / understanding now.
Now to the question. Who limits the Atonement? Does God limit the scope (meaning that it is only for the Elect) or do people limit the effectiveness (meaning it is for everyone but is only applied to those who choose to accept God’s gift of salvation)? Who has the power…God or man? I light of Matthew 1:21 we would have to agree that it is God and only God. Notice what Joseph was told by the angel in the vision. The angel tells Joseph what, who, and for what purpose the baby was being born. I want to focus on the purpose for a minute. We see here that before Jesus was born God had already set His task and that task was to save His people from their sins. His people….. Let me say it again….His people.
Well that brings the obvious question. Who are His people? The Bible answers this question for us in 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.
So here we see the Jesus’ people are those that the Father draws. But this does not completely answer the question. It just leads to another question and that is…Who does the Father draw? That is a hotly debated question. Click here and here and here to read some posts that discuss this. One of the most obvious passages that answers this question is Ephesian 1:3-6. It says
(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love (5) he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
As we can see in verses 5 & 6, God chose whoever he wanted “according to the purpose of His will.” The Father draws whoever it pleases Him to draw. The Bible tells us in other places that this choice is not based on anything done or any faith foreseen by God. The choice is not earned in any way and it is not a result of God’s knowing that the people would choose Him.
So, to recap. God chooses whom he wants before the foundation of the world and draws them to Himself. He does this for His good pleasure and will. Once drawn, God gives them to the Son. They are His to make atonement for. He makes the atonement on the cross (salvation is actually accomplished) and then serves as the Good Shepherd ensuring that none who are His are not lifted up on Judgment day. From all of this there seems to be some good biblical evidence that God intended to limit the atonement in eternity past. Makes sense…right? Actually it does, but I still am having trouble shaking off the desire to believe the atonement was universal in scope. For me though, Matthew 1:21 was a big step in that direction. How about you? Does Matthew 1:21 help you?