When Jesus died on the cross was the atonement he gave limited or unlimited? What does the Bible teach? What different views are there? I’m hoping to answer these questions in this post, or at least point readers in the right direction.
You could say that I believe in neither Unlimited Atonement nor Limited Atonement, or you could say I believe in both, depending. If you think that Unlimited Atonement means you believe that everyone will go to heaven and that Limited Atonement means Jesus only died for the “elect” (that is -according to Calvinists- those who are predestined to be saved), I would say I believe in neither. If you simply believe that Unlimited Atonement means Jesus died for all and that Limited Atonement means that not everyone will choose to follow Christ, I would say I believe in both.
You see, the bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” It says that he (Christ) died for all. Notice it say “…that those who live might no longer live for themselves..”. It does not say that all “…those who live will no longer live for themselves”. Based on Revelation 20 and many other passages in scripture, I find that Universalism (the belief that all will go to heaven) is not an option. Many argue or ask: “If not everyone goes to heaven, then isn’t it a waste for Jesus to die on the cross?” or “If Jesus didn’t save everyone, then how could he love everyone?”. Calvinists will say that the blood Jesus shed on the cross was not ‘wasted’. They argue that before time began God pre-selected those whom Jesus would die to save. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the “How then could he love everyone?”.
One big problem with both the Unlimited and Limited Atonement mentalities, is that in reality, both rely on a ‘limit’ on God’s part. To me, Limited Atonement pictures that because it was known to God the hearts of every man, and every sin that they did, do, and will do; that when Jesus died, he died for that particular amount of people that were predestined to follow him, and for that specific size and quantity of sins they had and were going to commit. Often Unlimited Atonement can be viewed this way too, though not as often. They could say that since God knew exactly how many people would live on this earth, and exactly how much and many sins would be committed, and died for all of it, exactly the right amount. Why would they think like this? Because they don’t want to think Go ‘wasted’ anything.
But God doesn’t work like that. His love, his grace, and the atonement and salvation he offers is limitless. God did not predestine you to sin a certain amount and save from that certain amount of sin. He saves from every sin you will and ever could commit. His grace is a fountain, never-ending. He cries out to you:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.”
He loves all, and died for all, and would that all would come to him for salvation. He goes on:
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.”
If the Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement were true, why should we ‘come’ to him? Has he not, according to Limited Atonement, predestined us to be saved? Nay, he cries out to our hearts that we would “Incline [our] ear, and come to [him]“ of our own free will. He continues:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
If you “seek the Lord” he will “have compassion” and “he will abundantly pardon”. Does not Christ say in the famous memory verse, John 3:16, that “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ gave his life on the cross to save us all, yet he loved us so much that he gave us free will to chose him or not. If we refuse to follow him he will ‘give us over’ and let us have our own way.
One of the greatest pictures of how Christ satisfies and atones those who follow him is actually in the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’ as it is called.
“And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.”
Some could ask: “Why was Jesus so wasteful? Couldn’t he have made just enough for all the crowd, without having twelve whole baskets of broken pieces left over?” To me, this pictures how Christ’s grace covers our sin ‘running up and overflowing’. It wasn’t enough for David to write in Psalm 23 “you anoint my head with oil; my cup is filled.” Instead, he says “you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” This is a such a beautiful picture!
I love this verse:
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.”