Election, Limited Atonement, and Other Things That Make You Think

After Jeff’s message on Sunday dealing with election and predestination, I have gotten the chance to have some great followup conversations with church members.  That means, people have had some questions.  So, I thought I would give you a brief summary of some of the conversations.

    1. God is God – If God says that to get into heaven, you have to stand on your head and cluck like a chicken for 475 days straight, you have to.  He’s God.  Get over it.  So the first rule before entering into this conversation is just because something doesn’t feel right or fair doesn’t mean it might not be reality.
    2. Election is in the Bible – Like it or not, the concept of election and predestination are in the Bible.  Are they as thoroughly explained as church discipline, the Great Commission, or Christ’s work on the cross?  No.  But the concept is there even if it isn’t explained in Scripture as thoroughly as we may desire.

  1. Calvinism Explained – Many people hear the word “election” and think of Calvinism.  Calvinism is the term people use to describe the theology of grace articulated by the brilliant John Calvin, the Great Reformer.  Using the acrostic “TULIP,” here is the short description: Total Depravity – Sin is a part of everyone’s being, we are completely and utterly messed up and nothing in us is good.
    Unconditional Election – God chooses to save people unconditionally; they are not chosen on the basis of their own merit.
    Limited Atonement – Christ’s death on the cross can atone for the sins of saving the elect.
    Irresistible Grace – When God desires to save someone, He will and there is nothing we can do about it.
    Perseverance of the Saints – Whom God chooses will endure.  They will not lose their salvation because it is in the hands of God.
  2. The Baptist Position – Presbyterians would be considered Calvinists, Methodists are considered Arminians (believing the complete opposite of the TULIP), and Baptists float in the middle.  What I mean is there is no Baptist definitive answer in their statement of beliefs.  They believe the Scriptures do not provide explicit teaching that settles the matter on a few of TULIP’s points so they leave it up to the individual believer, pastor, or church to make their own decision on the matter.
  3. Unlimited Atonement is in the Bible – Here’s where it gets tricky for me.  I can agree with the majority of TULIP’s claims, but I cannot accept limited atonement.  Why?  Because unlimited atonement is everywhere through the pages of Scripture.  Unlimited atonement means that when Jesus died, his blood was sufficient for the salvation for the whole world instead of just the elect.  Here’s to name just a few:
  • and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. -1 John 2:2
  • This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. -1 Timothy 2:3-4
  • The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. -2 Peter 3:9
  • “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God , ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’  -Ezek. 33:11
  • The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  -John 1:29
  • Opening his mouth, Peter said:
    “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. -Acts 10:34-35

And that is just a few verses that support unlimited atonement.  So what does that mean?

I’m not a Calvinist.  I’m a Biblicist.  If it’s in the Bible, I believe it.  Therefore, I believe in election and I also believe in unlimited atonement.  Logically, it doesn’t make sense.  Biblically, it’s accurate.

The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was once asked how he could reconcile his stance between Calvinistic theology and his fervent preaching of the gospel. He replied, “I do not try to reconcile friends.”

If both are in the Bible, then both are of God.  And even if our finite minds can’t comprehend it doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.

The verse to summarize this post is Ecclesiastes 3:11: He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

Do you understand what that implies?  God has made us in such a way that we understand there is eternity, yet he hasn’t allowed us to fully comprehend all of it’s implications yet.  If a theological system espouses that it has it all figured out and leaves no room for possible misunderstanding, it is assuming too much.  The things of God are too high for us to understand.  If we could figure out how the biblical doctrines of election and unlimited atonement work together, God isn’t that impressive anymore.  The knowledge of God is something that he protects at some level from our understanding for right now (Gen. 2:17).

When we get to heaven one day, it will all make sense.  We will see how it all works together, but if we could comprehend it right now, it would probably blow our minds.  I’m just thankful if I can’t understand it, I have faith in the Author of it (Heb. 12:2)!

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