Thursday, May 23, 2013


Limited Atonement?
L stands for limited atonement.  This is a concept that the atonement provided by the blood of Christ is limited to a certain number of individuals chosen before time began.  Augustine had the idea that God was preparing a specific number of sanctified beings to replace the exact number of the fallen angels.  But children of God will be greater than the angels, and share the rule of Jesus over the angels.  1 Cor 6:2-3 - “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (NKJ)  

Heb 12:22-23 -“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.”  (NKJ)  

Rev 3:21-22 - "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  (NKJ)
If we are greater than the angels in sharing the reign of Christ and judging angels, then we cannot be replacements for angels.  Christians and angels are two distinctly different beings.  Christians are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, while angels are powerful heavenly beings created by God.  God did not limit the number of the saints, but said their number would be as the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky. 
But the atonement of the blood of Jesus is limited to a certain category of people, those who hear and obey the gospel.  The atonement is for everyone, but only those who want it will receive it.  So it is a matter of an unlimited atonement available to a limited assembly, those who will believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said that only those who are born again can enter the kingdom of God.  This article about the new birth should give us a better understanding of what is involved.

This is Monday night, October 27, 1997, and my son-in-law, Tim Taylor, just called from the hospital in Providence, RI, to say that our daughter, Amy Taylor, is spending the night in the hospital, and our granddaughter is expected to be delivered tomorrow. 
Birth is a time of pain and a time of rejoicing.  The process of being delivered from the mother’s womb and entering into life outside, with the revealing of the glorious nature of the infant with all it’s promise and helplessness, is a time of wonder.
Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be born again to see the kingdom of heaven.  Nicodemus was surprised, and asked Jesus if a man could enter the second time into his mother’s womb to be born again.  Jesus explained that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
Talking of a born again Christian is redundant.  Unless one is born again, they are not a child of God.  A Christian is one who belongs to Christ, one who is a member of the body of Christ, which is God’s people.  No one can be a true child of God without being born again.
The apostle John talked about three witnesses (to our being sons of God) in heaven and three witnesses on earth.  In heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit bear witness that we are children of God.  On earth; the Spirit, the water, and the blood are witnesses.  (1 John 5:7-8)
Jesus connected the water and the Spirit in the new birth when He spoke to Nicodemus, (John 3:1-8) about birth by two elements, the water and the Spirit.  Then He connected the blood by talking about His crucifixion. (John3:9-16)  Also we remember that water and blood flowed from the spear wound in the side of Jesus.
We need to understand how the three witnesses (the Spirit, the water, and the blood) agree in their testimony that we are children of God.  Faith in the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus comes first.  Unless we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He shed His blood as a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world, we cannot come to God. (Heb 11:6)
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 6:3-5) are connected with the birth of water and the Spirit; which can be shown to take place in baptism, if we are willing to understand the scriptures simply.  We are trusting both the teaching of the Holy Spirit and the Power of the Holy Spirit in our baptism, according to Paul’s teaching to the Colossian saints: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12, NKJ)
Paul reminded the Roman Christians that they depended on the Spirit of God in them to have life, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
“And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”  (Rom 8:9-11, NKJ)
When we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, and trust the power of His blood to take away our sins, then we obey His simple commands to repent of sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins.  (Acts 2:38)  In baptism, the water, the Spirit, and the blood all agree that we are sons of God, that we have been born again. 

So we can see that the atonement of the blood of Christ is available to all who hear and obey the gospel.  That puts great emphasis on our responsibility to carry the gospel to all people.  This is why Jesus gave the great commission that we can read in Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, and Luke 24:47.  John says that the things written in the gospel are written so that we might believe, and believing have life in Jesus’ name.  (John 20:30-31)  The life of Jesus and His great faith becomes a pattern for our faith in God. It is important for us to follow the pattern of Jesus.

Following the pattern is very important when we want to make something for which we have been given the design.  When God gives us a pattern to follow in order to please him, our salvation depends on following the design given by God. 
Several stories from long ago illustrate the importance of following God's pattern.  God gave Noah the plans for the ark.  Noah made the ark according to the pattern God gave him.  He made it from the material specified by God, and according to the dimensions God gave him.  The bible says "Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did." (Genesis 6:22, NKJ)
Later God gave Moses the pattern for the tabernacle and all the things within it: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it." (Exodus 25:8-9, NKJ)  Israel made all the things as God had commanded them; "As the Lord had commanded, just so they had done it. And Moses blessed them." (Exodus 30:43)
From these two examples we get an idea that God's people should be careful to carry out the design of God in our lives.  God often has instructed His people about what they must do in order to receive His protection, and God always keeps his promises.  But what if Noah had failed to build the ark according to God's plans?  Or what if Moses had failed to build the tabernacle according to God's plans?  We can easily agree that God would have rejected the work of Noah and Moses if they had not followed the pattern given them by God.
But what about us?  Has God given us a pattern by which to build our lives in a way that is acceptable to Him?  Is it important for us to follow the pattern He has given to us?
Jesus is the pattern that God has given to show us the way to make our lives pleasing to God.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him."  (John 14:6-7, NKJ)
Again Jesus said, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."----"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:3&5, NKJ)  Following His resurrection, Jesus commanded his apostles: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."  (Mark 16:15-16)
Later the apostle Paul spoke of the facts of the gospel to the Christians at Corinth.  "I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you first of all -------that Christ died according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NKJ)
Paul explained to the Christians at Rome how they had followed the pattern of the gospel in their baptism, Romans 6:3-7.  At verse 17 of the same chapter Paul shows that they had followed the pattern given by God for their salvation: "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."
We need to follow Jesus.  He is our pattern in faith, obedience, and righteousness.  We need to constantly look at Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith.  (Hebrews 12:2)
Since the gospel is God’s power to salvation for everyone who believes, atonement is limited only by our faith in Jesus which leads to obedience of the gospel.  Atonement is not limited by the choice of God, but by the choice of man.  Augustine’s concept of limited atonement does not agree with the concept of salvation for all who believe. Mankind has responsibility regarding his personal faith. 

Augustine had a notion that God has chosen a fixed number of people to be saved so as to replace the number of fallen angels.  Of course, saved people are children of God, different from angels, and we are promised to share the reign of Christ.  We are promised that we will judge the angels. (1 Cor 6:3)  And God has promised that His children will be a numberless host, more than can be counted.  “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”  (Rev 7:9, NKJ)
But the concept of a limited atonement is still prevalent today, with many believing they can only be saved eternally if they just happen to be among the limited number of people God has chosen for salvation.  God has chosen a certain group of people for salvation, but the number is limited not by count but by personal choice.  God has chosen to save only those who are called by the gospel to become faithful followers of Jesus. 
However, some place the responsibility of responding to the gospel entirely in God’s hands.  The idea that even man’s free will has to be manipulated by God in order to respond to the gospel was promoted by Augustine and later by John Calvin.  However, there is a large body of teaching in the Bible about man’s free will.  God holds each individual accountable for the decisions we make in life.  Sin is a wrong choice against what is good and right.  We do not talk about animals sinning, because they are not like us to make choices between good and evil.  Animals do what comes naturally to them.  Sometimes humans act like animals also, but it is not acceptable behavior.  People are held accountable for their actions by society, and this is a demonstration of the principle of free will.  If we do not have the freedom to act according to our own will, then we are not held accountable.
Jesus paid the price for all the sins of every person who will ever live, and made salvation available to everyone.  But only those who will accept the gift will receive the reward.  God does not make that choice for us.  The invitation is extended to all who are willing:  “And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”  (Rev 22:17, NKJ)
The way in which atonement is limited is by the preaching of the gospel and by peoples response to that message.  That is why Paul said: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  (1 Cor 1:21-24, NKJ)
God has limited His atonement to those who believe the gospel enough to love and follow Jesus.  It is through the gospel being preached that all who hear are called to faith.  God does not put faith in a man’s heart, but faith comes by hearing the message of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  (Romans 10:17)  And that is why it is so important for us to share the story of Jesus Christ with everyone as we have opportunity.  Everyone who is willing is invited to come, and they can only come through the gospel.  It is the message of the cross that draws all men to Christ, and makes salvation possible for everyone who believes.

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