A Primer on Limited Atonement-

The Coffee — As of late, I have been trying several roasts from Ethiopia. It has been great to try roasts from regions throughout Ethiopia and notice the similar flavor profiles. One that I have especially enjoyed lately is the “Ethiopian Limu Gera” from Kaldi’s Coffee, based here in St. Louis. The coffee has a sweet taste with notes of fruit, very similar to other Ethiopian blends I have tried as of late. I encourage you to pinpoint a coffee-producing country or region, and take time to identify, and appreciate, the common flavor profiles.

The Theology— Perhaps the hardest aspect of Calvinism for people new to theology to digest is the notion of “Limited Atonement”. To put simply, limited atonement is the notion that the atonement achieved by Jesus on the cross was limited to his elect. To put in another way, the pardon of sins is reserved exclusively for those God chose before time to save by a regenerating faith.

This is a hard pill to swallow for some. Would a loving God not save all people? Why would he chose to save some and not others? First, we must acknowledge the orthodox Christian view that there is a Hell, and there are people who face God’s judgment and are separated from him for eternity there. If that is the case, it is safe to say that they were not saved by Christ’s death. Is this because Christ’s death was not effective in saving them? Not at all. We see numerous places in the Bible that the only way for us to be saved is through Christ, and his death on the cross. We see this when Paul states in Timothy “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). We see this again when Jesus states in John “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one came come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Once again when Paul states: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
(Romans 1:16). Jesus is our only mediator and his death on the cross the only way for us to reconcile with God. This is another orthodox fact. So thus, if Christ’s death is effective in saving sinners, and has the definite ability to accomplish this task, it must be that this atoning death was not intended to cover those who never come to follow Christ. This should definitively answer whether or not God saves all people. The answer is no. This brings us to the next point: why would a loving God not save all people?

We can take this issue to scripture. Why did God say “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated”? (Malachi 1:2). Was Esau not Jacob’s brothers and also both sons of Isaac? Did Jacob do something for God that put him in God’s grace that Esau did not? No, yet God’s plan was to use the younger son, not the son with the birthright, to carry forward his covenant people while letting his covenant blessing pass over Esau. In Romans, Paul references this and says “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9: 14&15) he then elaborates: “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:19-23). We must remember that God’s wills all things for good and for his glory. Both those saved by faith and those that stand condemned are under God’s sovereign will. Some may think that this sounds bleak. However, this is a picture of grace. Many more who are uncomfortable with the idea of limited atonement are comfortable with the idea of total depravity. That we are inherently sinful and rebellious towards God. That sin has overcome and become part of human nature to the point that we are dead in it and cannot save ourselves. When we see our sin, we must acknowledge the judgment due to us for breaking the laws of a Holy God. With this in mind, we should not be asking why does God not choose to save everyone, but why does a Holy God choose to save anyone? The answer is love and grace. We are dead in our sins and rebellious against God’s law. However, God in his sovereignty chose to send his son to die on the cross to atone for our sins forever. He then rose on the third day, defeating death forever. We are saved through authentic faith in this message of hope.

When the Christian struggles and questions whether or not they are chosen by God to be saved, they should feel secure that the Holy Spirit is spurning this thoughtfulness within them to further sanctify them and bring them closer to Christ. As Paul said in Philippians: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. This calls us to be intentionally studying God’s words to further repent and love God in reverence. However, as we read scripture we can be assured that The death of Jesus on the cross is God’s plan of salvation for sinners, and regeneration and faith in this gospel message is our assurance of God’s love and plan for his followers.

All scripture from ESV Bible

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for future topics I urge you to use the contact function; or email pourovertheology@gmail.com

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