Faith in Focus

Being Reformed : Just Five Points ? (3)


There are four-pointers as well as five-pointers.

Some of our readers will know of the expression: "He (or she) is a four-point Calvinist."

That refers then to someone who accepts four of the five points of Calvinism, but not the point that is the subject of this article: LIMITED ATONEMENT.

What does it mean?

The focus is on the third letter of "TULIP", the letter "L". LIMITED ATONEMENT follows on from the two doctrines which were discussed in the previous two issues of Trowel & Sword. If TOTAL DEPRAVITY is true (and it is); and if UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION is true (and it is), then it must necessarily follow that LIMITED ATONEMENT is true.

In a way, it may appear to be somewhat of a confusing term.

How could the saving work of our dear Lord Jesus be limited in any way? Is it not enough, what our Saviour did? Are there shortcomings when it comes to the doing and dying of the Man of Sorrows?

Atonement, yes, but limited? LIMITED?

While I was writing these words, the contents of the little booklet "The Four Spiritual Laws" came to mind. As a tool for evangelism it may not be as popular in the Evangelical world as it once was in the 70's and the 80's, but I well remember the first statement one was supposed to address to someone who was not a Christian: "Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!"

Reformed thinking and practice never warmed to the approach of the "Four Spiritual Laws", and rightly so.

The Reformed starting-point in reaching out with the gospel would never be an unqualified: God loves you; Jesus loves you; Christ died for you. I'd like to say it once more, that such remarks - beautiful as they are in themselves - are not the starting-point in a Reformed approach to evangelism.

Why not?

Because the Biblical understanding is that the death of Christ is only for the elect.

Remember how the Calvinist position began by focusing on what Scripture says: that man is totally depraved. Then comes the glorious truth that God elects some of these totally depraved persons to salvation! Then He send Christ to die for them and them alone, thereby saving them. Thus the atoning sacrifice of Christ is limited to some, and is not intended for all.

Thus the name: LIMITED ATONEMENT; limited in the sense that Christ died only for those given to Him by the Father.

Of course that does not mean that the saving power of Christ's sacrifice was only that much, and no more. As if it was a certain quantity, and after it was all given out there was nothing left for whoever came after.

No, the saving power of Christ's sacrifice has no limits. For it was a perfect sacrifice, a complete sacrifice. And yet, the effects of that sacrifice were only for those on whom the Father has put His love.

As Calvinists we sometimes put it this way: Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for everyone, but it is efficient only for the believer.

What about Arminian teaching?

That teaching holds that Christ intended that his death should be for all men. Christ died for all, and He is the Saviour of the whole world. He secured complete forgiveness of sins and salvation for everyone, but . . . it does not become theirs until they believe.

The Arminian position is as it were like this: there is a huge storage place somewhere, in which there is salvation for the whole world. But you will not get that salvation unless and until you go to that storage place. Many people never do, so even at the time when Christ returns there will be, so to speak, a great quantity of forgiveness - for which Christ had to die an unspeakably agonizing death! - that was never used up.

The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist position is this:

* the Arminian teaches that Christ made salvation possible for all men, but does not actually cause them to believe on Him; He leaves it rather up to men;

* the Biblical or Calvinist position is that Christ Jesus actually secures salvation for the elect. He does not leave them to themselves as to whether they want to be saved or not. Remember: by nature man is spiritually dead. By nature he does not even want to be saved, he does not want to respond to Christ, he cannot even do that.

No, our Lord Jesus actually causes men and women, boys and girls, to believe in Him, and so to be saved. Saved by GRACE!

The one view makes salvation possible for all people;

the other view makes salvation certain for some, the elect.

* * *

The sheep and the goats

Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John has some very clear teachings about LIMITED ATONEMENT. That chapter tells of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who is caring for His sheep. He knows the sheep and the sheep know Him, and follow Him. He gives them eternal life and they will never perish; no one can snatch them out of the Father's hand (vss 27-29).

Now in verse 11 Jesus clearly says that He was about to give His life not for everyone: "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep"; and again in verse 15 He says: "I lay down my life for the sheep."

That is LIMITED ATONEMENT.

The Lord Jesus lays down His life for the sheep, and His sheep alone. In verse 26 He tells those who do not believe in Him that they are not of His sheep.

That is why Christ did not die for them, they were not His sheep. He did not die for the goats, Matthew 25:31 ff. Of them Jesus bluntly says: "You belong to your father, the devil" (John 8:44).

Prof. K.Warren (Principal -Reformed Theological College, Geelong).

This series is reprinted by permission of the Trowel and Sword.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised December 96 / Copyright 1996