This is the third of six posts regarding TULIP. If you are not familar with that acronym, Wikipedia has a number of articles on the subject. This one is probably the most succinct and provides links to the counter positions of Arminians.
3) Limited Atonement
This is the one that turns everyone off from Calvinism. Everyone. And that is odd, because both Calvinists and Arminians believe in a Limited Atonement. Calvinists believe it is limited when God decides only to die for those He sovereignly elects, and Arminians decide it is limited when men sovereignly decide not to accept the benefits of Christ's death for themselves.
Calvinists teach that Christ did not die for every man, but only for every man whom the Father gave to Him.
Arminians universally find this point unscriptural and offensive. I know. I was one, and I still have never found an Arminian who can accept the idea that Christ did not die for everyone. The scriptures that say, "everyone," are so clear that they consider any other interpretation reprehensible.
John 3:14-18 - "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
2 Cor 5:14-15 - "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again."
1 Timothy 2:3-6 - For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."
1 Timothy 4:10 - "For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe."
Titus 2:11 (ESV) - "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people."
1 John 2:2 - "And He [Christ] Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."
These verses are powerful.
Against them, the Calvinists array a barrage of verses of their own. I will quote only my favorite.
John 10: 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
25 Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
The bottom line is that the Lamb knows the names of the sheep that are written in His Book of Life.
But, again, the Calvinists have one huge thing wrong. They are thinking about God sovereignly and semi-randomly selecting the weak of this world to be saved as if His focus were upon masses of humanity. Their statement is not false, but it is insufficient.
Jesus is thinking of His Father and His bride when He is dying on that cross.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Heb 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Son dies for His bride; specifically; purposefully.
When, in Israel, the lamb was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the past year, God could have accepted the blood of that lamb as atonement for the sins of everyone on earth. He didn't. That lamb that was killed in Jerusalem was killed for the sins of Israel. The rest of the world died without that blood to cleanse them before God.
Israel was God's bride pictured on earth, just as that lamb was God's Lamb pictured on earth.
The Calvinists are wrong because they focus on people in time, and on God's sovereign plan to not atone for some. That is clearly not taught in scripture. There is never the sentence, "I will not die for you."
The Arminians are wrong because they focus on people in time, and on God's submission to their free will. They have Christ dying in doubt as to who would be saved by His sacrifice.
Christ died for His bride. Period. He knew whom she would be, and every name of every member in her. He laid His life down for her in particular, and not for just anyone. His death was not intended for men in time, but for His bride whom He knew perfectly before He ever put on the likeness of sinful flesh. And He knew their names, because they are written the Book of Life of the Lamb.
When He died, it was not to make possible her salvation, but to redeem her. The blood of that Lamb is powerful, and it is handled as a precious gift.
Heb 9:12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining [b] eternal redemption.
The difference between obtaining a possibility of eternal redemption and the actuality of it is huge. Christ secured the redemption of His bride - absolutely.
Could anyone have been redeemed by that blood? Yes. Of course. Either way, He knew those by name for whom He died, and He spent His blood for them. He spent His blood for her.
But maybe He died to give a chance to those who had no chance, whose names were not in that book? I cannot grasp my Lord's blood shed for those who will never profit by it, but I cannot fight over this one. If the atonement was only limited by the coldness of faith among men, the difference is moot. We agree together that His blood was precious, and that is the third point of EMPTOR.
His blood cleansed all that which it touched, and we are made clean by His sacrifice. All those whom He has redeemed are made holy enough and pure enough to know and be with Him. He is greatly satisfied with His work.