Limited Atonement

Limited Atonement

Written by Ryan M. McGraw |
Thursday, December 21, 2023

Gospel ministry should mirror the Spirit’s ministry. He calls people to Christ generally and particularly, externally and internally. He calls sinners through preaching, even though some resist His call (Acts 7:51). Yet He calls the elect also through this general call, ensuring that they will answer it by extending to the elect the internal call as well. The Spirit opened Paul’s mouth to preach Christ, but He opened Lydia’s heart to receive Christ (16:14). Maybe our hang-up is that while we tell people, “Jesus died for you,” the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

I am a strange Calvinist. The idea that atonement is limited to the elect is the last stumbling block for many, but it was one of my first steps into Reformed theology. While many people readily accept that we are totally depraved, that God chose us unconditionally and eternally in Christ, that we believe in Christ only by the Spirit’s irresistible grace, and that the triune God preserves us to persevere to the end, they find it harder to swallow that Christ died for the sins of the elect only. I came to Christ by understanding that God counted our sin to His Son in order to count His incarnate Son’s righteousness to us (2 Cor. 5:21). As soon as someone pointed out that all people must be saved if Christ did these things for all people, I was sold on limited atonement.

As a children’s catechism says, “Christ died for all who were given to Him by the Father.” The issue is the triune God’s design or intent in the atonement. We can best understand the fact that Christ came to save His people, and them only, from their sins (Matt. 1:21) by rooting Christ’s death in the saving work of the whole Trinity, and by answering two common questions.

The united work of the Trinity shows clearly why Christ died for the elect only. The Father chose believers in Christ before time began (Eph. 1:4–5). The Holy Spirit is the Father’s seal of ownership on the elect (vv. 13–14). No one receives the things of God or confesses that Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10–16; 12:3). The Father calls His elect to Christ by His Word and Spirit (2 Cor. 3:16–18James 1:18). The Trinity is undivided and indivisible. Christ’s death extends as far as the Father’s electing purpose (Acts 2:23) and the Spirit’s effecting power (13:48). It is not that the Father chose some and the Spirit changes some while Christ died for all. The Father saves by particular election, the Son by particular redemption, and the Spirit by particular calling. The Son will not be the broken link in the chain. Neither is Christ’s work divided.

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