Limited Atonement?

This is one of various articles in our Discipleship Series. You may read the other articles here .

From before the foundations of the world God planned for our redemption in Christ. Salvation and all needed to redeem man, was not an afterthought or a “plan b” in the work of God. In fact, before God created the heavens, the earth, and man to inhabit the planet, He knew that men would fail to obey His command and would therefore need redemption. Furthermore, God not only provided for our redemption from before the foundations of the world, but also knew each and every person He would redeem.

In Ephesians we read,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:3-12 (NKJV)

Sin, Redemption, and the Whole World

Sinful man needed redemption. The consequences of sin needed remedy. Therefore God planned for the redemption of mankind through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The provisions made in Christ are sufficient to save all men. Jesus made this abundantly clear. He said, “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.” John 3:16 (NKJV) The Apostle John added support to this fact when he said, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 John 2:1–2 (NKJV)

The purchase price of redemption was Jesus’ blood. It was Jesus’ life offered as the one and only, acceptable, sacrificial offering, given to redeem mankind; and remove the consequences of sin.

The Parable of the Treasure in the Field

The “…whole world…” scope of Christ’s sacrifice is illustrated in an unexplained parable in the Book of Matthew. We read, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44 (NKJV)
The parable clearly shows that the purchaser bought the whole field in order to gain the hidden treasure. The field represents the world. The unique treasure is the believer.

This parable beautifully explains the redemptive work of Christ; planned from before the foundations of the world. It shows that the price Jesus paid was the purchase price for the whole world.

Therefore, we can see that the redemptive work of God, accomplished in Christ, is sufficient for all men – the field. The extent of His sacrificial work was and is limitless in scope. The sufficiency of God’s once for all work of redemption has therefore made possible the salvation of all men – without exception. However, not all men will believe and therefore not all men will be saved. Those who are saved are those who believe. Those who believe are the recipients of the redemptive work of Christ – they are the hidden treasure.

Those Who Believe

Paul told Timothy, “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.” 1 Timothy 4:10 (NKJV)

Jesus Christ sacrificially paid the price for all men, but has specifically and especially become Savior to those who believe. Earlier in the same letter to Timothy Paul said that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) Since God desires that all be saved, He provided Christ as the ransom to make salvation possible. Yet God is the Savior of those who believe in a unique manner since only in them has His desire for their salvation come to fruition. This is why Paul said to the believer, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:12-13 (NKJV)

Limited Atonement

God has not, does not, and will not, limit His redemptive work to a select few persons – except by limiting the effective result to those who believe on His Son Whom He has sent.

We can therefore conclude that the only limitation to the atonement is the reception given it by those who reject or believe. The atonement provided in Christ is sufficient for all men. Therefore all men may be saved. As we have already seen, this is the will of God. However, many have and will reject the provisions provided, and as a result, forfeit the opportunity given.

The simple fact that God has known all who will trust Him for salvation, and who are therefore predestined to adoption as sons and daughters, is the result of His great foreknowledge – not upon an intentional limitation of or random discriminatory limitation in the atoning work itself. God has not, and does not trick Himself into not knowing, He therefore has no concerns over the effectiveness of His perfect work. He knew that the price paid would be sufficient to save all men, but also knew that many would still be lost. This by no means was a deficiency in the scope and effectiveness of the atoning work of Christ.

The doctrine of “Limited Atonement” embraced by many suggests that the atoning work of God was limited to provide redemption only for those whom God in His great foreknowledge knew would believe. This is a false conclusion. The atoning work of God, completed in Christ Jesus, is and was sufficient to save all men; but is limited only by those who reject His gracious offer.

Scripture tells us that there were and are people “for whom Christ died,” who have rejected the offer of salvation provided them in the atonement. In 2 Peter we read, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 2 Peter 2:1–2 (NKJV) Herein we can see that Jesus died for these false teachers who deny Him and are a detriment to others. They, like so many, are without excuse and “bring on themselves swift destruction.”

Salvation for All

Praise the Lord for His gracious plan of redemption! His atonement is sufficient for all. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Colossians 1:15–22 (NKJV)

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 John 2:1–2 (NKJV)

Pastor Paul