The doctrine of Limited Atonement is the third of the Five Points of Calvinism, and is represented by the letter L in the acronym TULIP.
What is the implication of the word limited? The word limited implies that Christ died for only a limited number of people. John 17:9 says, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me; for they are thine.” This clearly shows that Christ’s atonement is for His elect only, and He prays for them continually. This is not because His power is limited, but because it was God’s sovereign will that it be so. The only thing limited is the number of people for whom Christ died.
What does the word atonement mean? The word atonement means “a payment for.” It suggests “making one out of that which has been divided.” Christ paid for His people’s sins on the cross, and this payment resulted in His people becoming at one with God, while previously they were separated from Him by sin. The word atonement also implies that Christ’s death actually saves, instead of merely making salvation an available option. Matthew 1:21, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Christ shall save His people from their sins.
So, what does limited atonement mean? Limited atonement means that Christ died only for His elect, and His death was totally efficacious for them, so they are definitely, 100% saved. John 6:37-39 says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” And John 10:14-15, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Christ loses none of His sheep, for whom He lays down His life. He accomplished the Father’s will. That is, He saved every single one of those whom God had given to Him, and these who are Christ’s shall never be separated from His love (Romans 8:38-39), and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand, but they will follow Christ and obey His voice (John 10:27-28). Whereas those who are not among Christ’s elect will not believe (John 10:26), and thus will never be saved.
Limited atonement shows the sovereignty of God in that those, and only those, whom God elects, will be saved, and others whom God has sovereignly reprobated, will be condemned to everlasting damnation. This shows that God, and God alone, is in control of all things. Total depravity is the reason why the atonement of Christ for His people must be efficacious for them; because total depravity teaches that man has no ability in himself to accept Christ (Romans 3:9-12; Romans 5:12; John 6:44,65), so we need the atonement of Christ as our only means of salvation. Those who put their trust in Christ only do so because God graciously grants them the gift of faith. Unconditional election teaches that man’s faith is not a condition to his salvation, but that salvation is all of grace (Ephesians 2:8), and God elects those who will be saved. Thus, atonement is limited due to God’s sovereign election. Limited atonement can only happen through irresistible grace, the unmerited favor of God upon those whom He will. The atonement of Christ for His people can never expire, and they will never fall away, but God will preserve them to the end (Psalm 37:28).
In summary, the doctrine of limited atonement teaches four things: First, that Christ’s death is the only atonement for sin (Colossians 1:14, John 14:6, Romans 5:8-10); second, that all those for whom Christ died are really and completely saved, and their salvation is guaranteed (John 3:16b); third, that Christ died for only a particular number of people (Ephesians 1:5,11, Titus 2:14, Romans 11:5); and last, these people are those whom God has ordained in eternity to be His people (Ephesians 1:4).
Limited atonement gives believers full assurance of their salvation, and in this truth, we see the absolute sovereignty of God over all.
Written by: Koh Ming Hui | Issue 7