Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What is Limited about the Atonement?

This week, as we ponder the glory of the atonement of Jesus Christ, it is important that we ponder it correctly. In particular for this post, let's ponder the limit of the atonement.

Many people do not like the term "limited atonement" because they think it means that Jesus' atoning work on the cross was limited in its power. They believe it is an insult and an affront to Christ. They believe this doctrine is heretical because they think it states that Jesus' death was not powerful enough to overcome sin.

If that is what limited atonement (I like the term particular redemption better) means, then it would be a heresy. However, that is not what limited atonement means at all. Limited atonement in no way suggests that the power, strength or efficacy of Christ's death is lacking. Rather, limited atonement states that the application of that atoning power is limited to believers in Christ alone. To put it another way, Jesus died to pay for the sins of his specific elect, not for the sins of every individual in the world. This stands in opposition to the doctrine of general atonement, which states that Jesus died to pay for the sins of the entire world.

Limited atonement also states that the death of Jesus actually secures salvation for the elect. It is not a potential salvation, which is what logically must be tied to general atonement.

Although many folks do not like the idea of a limited atonement, this doctrine has two things in its favor. First, it simply makes sense. Second, and more importantly, it is supported by numerous scripture references.

Limited atonement makes sense because in this doctrine all sins are paid for one time. Jesus paid for all the sins of the elect. The non-elect pay for their own sins in Hell for eternity. If Christ's death offers a general atonement, then many, many sins are paid for twice. In this view, Jesus paid for all the sins of everyone in the world for all time. Those who reject him and go to Hell also pay for their own sins. This means that most of the sins in the world are paid for two different times. We must keep in mind that God is a just God. He would not expect sins to be paid for two times. Therefore, the doctrine of general atonement must be rejected.

The biblical support for a limited atonement is significant. I have listed some of the supporting verses below (I added italics to emphasize where they speak to a limited atonement).

Isaiah 53:12 "Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors."

Matthew 1:21 "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (ESV)

Matthew 26:28 "
for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Mark 10:45 "
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

John 6:37 "
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."

John 10:14 "
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me."

John 17:9 "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours."

Acts 20:28 "
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood."

Romans 5:8 "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

II Corinthians 5:21 "
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Galatians 3:13 "
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'"

Ephesians 5:25 "
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Titus 2:14 "
who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."

Hebrews 9:28 "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."

Revelation 5:9 "And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.'"

So, what is limited about the atonement of Christ? It certainly is not the power. It is the application that is limited. Christ died to pay for the sins of his followers. We can rejoice greatly in his sacrifice.


Aussie John said...


I too, would rather the term "particular redemption".

How my heart leaps when I read Scriptures such as you quote.

How blessed and privileged I am that particular redemption has been applied to such a sinner as I and the many similar brethren!

Eric said...


I, too, am amazed that God chose me. I am in awe of his grace. Praise the Lord!

Nicole McCurdy said...

I know that we couldn't say it any better but just to say a BIG (AMEN)!!!

Eric said...


Thanks for commenting on my blog. I hope all is well for your entire family up in NC. We are still waiting to hear what the Lord has for us. God bless you!