Some Christians are often charged with limiting the atonement. The truth is that these Christians do not want to limit the atonement. No one does.
The reality, however, is that unless you are a Universalist, then you limit the atonement. How? In one of two ways. You either limit the effectiveness of the atonement, or you limit the extent of the atonement.
- If you limit the effectiveness of the atonement, you believe that Christ atoned for the sins of every human being without exception; yet, only those who trust in Christ will have this atonement applied to them. In essence, then, you are limiting the effectiveness of the atonement: the atonement is only effective for those who believe. For all those atoned for who do not believe, the atonement is not effective.
- If you limit the extent of the atonement, you believe that Christ atoned for the sins of every human being without distinction of whom God has given to the Son (John 6:37; 17:24). In essence, then, you are limiting the extent of the atonement: the atonement is only for a certain extent of people—those given to Christ by the Father. For all those not given to Christ by the Father, they are not atoned for.
Having given these two options, the question is: which option is biblical?
The answer is the position that limits the extent of the atonement.
When the Bible speaks about the atonement of Christ, it uses atonement language such as propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, and satisfaction. When these words are used, it refers to the actual accomplishment of these acts. So, for example, in Colossians 1:22 it teaches that Christ “reconciled you in His fleshly body through death.” Christ, the Bible says, actually accomplished reconciliation on the cross. He did not provide the possibility for reconciliation contingent on your faith; for if he did, then your faith makes the atonement effective. Rather, the atonement is effective in itself. Of course, the atonement must be applied to an individual heart, but this application does not impede on the accomplishment of the atonement.
The position I have taken has sometimes been called “limited atonement.” But, as you can see, the term is poor because, unless you are a Universalist, you limit the atonement. The question should not be, then, who really wants to limit the atonement? The question should be: who really does limit the atonement?
Still confused? If so, check out more in the teaching here.