Limited versus Unlimited Atonement: The Tragedy & the Truth
by Felix Amiri
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The fact that you are reading this article shows that you care. Perhaps you also realize the significance of Christ’s atonement for you personally and you fully understand the nature of this atonement. This is good. Tragically, there are many people who do not know or even care to know. Yet it is a crucial matter.
The truth about “limited” and “unlimited” atonement is crucial because, whether we know it or not, it affects how we relate to God and other people. Depending on the stand or lack thereof that we have consciously or subconsciously taken, we may be offending God. The connection is obvious: This issue affects what we think about God. Our thoughts about God govern our attitude towards Him. Whether or not we revere and are obedient to God is dictated and demonstrated by our attitude towards Him. Our attitude also reveals to us and to others around us if in fact we are saved or not.
The evidence of our salvation is of course demonstrated in the way we live. This, in turn, demonstrates the reality, sufficiency and efficacy of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us individually. Therefore, irrespective of our verbal claims and heated arguments about this issue, we must ask ourselves if the truth about Christ’s atonement for our sins is a reality in our lives. Is the sufficiency and efficacy of this atonement demonstrated in our attitude and the way we live?
There is usually no argument about the sufficiency of the atonement among Christians. The problem (human engendered problem) is mostly with the efficacy. There are those who say that, although Christ’s atoning sacrifice is sufficient to cover the sins of all of humanity, its efficacy is limited only to God’s elect according to His sovereign discretion and act. Others say it is unfair and unlike God to limit the efficacy of the atonement only to some people. They say, in order for Him to be fair, God must give each person an equal chance and the free choice to determine his or her ultimate destiny. Therefore, the atonement for sin is unlimited but it is up to a person’s free choice for it to become effective for him or her. Thus the sovereignty of God is played against human freewill as well as against God’s graciousness (grace). So we are left to deal with the question of what the truth really is.
In discussions of this kind, the fury of the contenders almost inevitably puts out any light that could be shed. The usual clamor of the combatants about being right often drowns out the otherwise enlightening whisper of wisdom. Either there is a deliberate disregard for Biblical facts or there is the twisting of the Scriptures with each side accusing the other of doing so. The very Scriptures that must be considered in order to reach a reasonable conclusion about the truth become additional points of contention. This is particularly so wherever there is any discussion regarding the salvation of people and their freedom to make their own choices.
Blindness appears to overtake the minds of all combatants. Where there is no outright avoidance of the issues, the truth is often partially or erroneously represented. The Scriptures are altogether denied or abandoned in many cases. Such terms as: “sin” “salvation”, “everyone”, “all”, “the world”, “election”, “predestination”, “freewill”, etc., are used with only partial definitions or incomplete understanding. God’s intentions are not only misunderstood; they are dogmatically misrepresented.
The contention about “limited” and “unlimited” atonement falls well within the scope of this furious folly. Whereas the focus ought to be on God and on seeking His truth in a prayerful, reverent, loving, humble and cooperative manner; there is furious and unreasonable contention. This is inexcusably due to the truth obscuring focus on both sides.
The issue really is about the truth. What is the truth?
Irrespective of the side taken, either what is believed is true or it is not. It is of course irresponsible to say that any set of views that are clearly opposing can be equally true. If we are truly God’s children, we must take our stand only on what is true. This means that our conclusions about what is true must be based on the accurate understanding of the whole counsel of God – the Scriptures.
Sadly and shamefully, the usual approach of many combatants is to tactfully select Bible passages to support their case to the wanton neglect of the rest of the Scriptures. In many instances, the Scriptures are only partially studied while personal intuitions are guarded as the only truth. Instead of a commitment to further study the Scriptures, the combatants often prefer to remain blindly dogmatic and emotionally charged. This is hardly Christ-like and immediately throws into question if such combatants are actual partakers in the grace of Jesus Christ. The reality and efficacy of Christ’s atonement for our sins is not demonstrated with such combative postures.
There is a better way. For anyone who is truly seeking the truth about this issue of limited versus unlimited atonement, the Scriptures adequately provide the answers. Some questions to help you confirm the truth are provided below. Lest there be any selectivity or biases, Scripture passages have not been cited along with these questions. This is to encourage you to thoroughly study the Bible and find the answers for yourself.
As surely as it is the complete and inerrant word of God, the Bible provides the answers to all of the questions that we could ever ask about this issue. We just need to prayerfully search the Scriptures so that we may understand, live and testify according to the truth and only according to the truth. Otherwise, and irrespective of whether it is consciously or subconsciously, we would be guilty of sinning against God. This is the real tragedy that we must avoid.
Here are some questions to help you in your study. Rather than taking one passage and running with it, you should carefully make sure that your answer for each question is in line with the veritable truth according to the whole counsel of God – the Scriptures collectively and in their entirety.
1. What is the ultimate purpose of Christ’s atonement for our sins?
2. Does the purpose include the concurrent demonstration of God’s absolute holiness, glory, sovereignty, mercy, grace and other attributes; or is the purpose only for the salvation of people?
3. Is the measure of God’s grace and fairness determined by the salvation of people?
4. How is the ultimate purpose of the atonement affected, if the atonement were to be limited?
5. How is the ultimate purpose of the atonement affected, if the atonement were to be unlimited?
6. Does God exercise His sovereignty at all in the matter of our salvation?
7. Is God’s sovereignty absolute or is it restrained when it comes to the salvation of human beings?
8. Is God any less God if He does what He pleases with human beings?
9. Does God qualify to be God only if He caters to the well-being of human beings?
10. Is it true that God elected (chose) some to be eternally saved or is it not true?
11. Is God less gracious if He elects to save only some people?
12. Does predestination pertain only to ultimate destiny, only to temporal affairs, or both?
13. If predestination is true, does it pertain only to some people or all of mankind?
14. Is God more gracious if, in spite of His sovereignty, He left people to make their own choices in the matter of their ultimate fate?
15. Is God less gracious if He predestined people to their ultimate fate according to His sovereign discretion?
Perhaps you have other questions. I pray to God and trust that you will always and earnestly search the Scriptures for the truth irrespective of the matter at hand. You may contact me with questions or comments if you so wish. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2007 by Felix Amiri
For further information about the author and his other works please visit the Nuggets of Truth website - http://www.afisservices.ca
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