By Colton Corter
Limited Atonement (1)
It will be helpful for the reader to keep in mind that the term “Limited Atonement” is not a great way to express the idea of Christ’s atonement from the Reformed (and dare I say biblical) perspective. “Definite” or “particular” would be the most accurate adjectives to describe the atonement of Christ. It will soon become obvious that there are far fewer texts to deal with for this doctrine than the previous two. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First, the other two doctrines presuppose a particular view of the atonement. Christ lays down His life for those the Father has given Him. Second, we must assume continuity between the Godhead. The Father, Spirit and Son are on the same team. I pray we have already see that the Father elects freely. We will soon see that the Spirit applies effectually. It is most logical, and biblical, that Christ died for those who the Father has chosen and the Spirit applies that redemption won by Christ. Systematic theology is a biblical and human necessity. Again, the question really is whether the system arises from Scripture or from our imagination. Finally, as we will see, how one views the facts of the atonement should dictate its extent. It is the Calvinistic burden that the cross of Christ accomplished something. Redemption, propitiation, expiation, sacrifice and reconciliation were decisively won. It is finished indeed. The logic of penal substitution begs for a definite atonement. This argument will be teased out shortly.
Limited Atonement (2)
What did Jesus come to accomplish? How one answers this question is telling. Many will say He came primarily to defeat evil and to bring about shalom. He came to alleviate poverty or to give us material prosperity. But none of these can function as the primary mission of Christ. Mark tells us that the Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many (10:45). In John 1, this mission is confirmed further. Verse 29 reads: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John the Baptist relates Christ to a Lamb. We know that John loves to refer to Christ by this name, as this is what the satisfied mass of the redeemed shout in worship around the throne in Revelation 5 and 7. The Holy Spirit certainly wants us to think of the OT sacrificial system when using the lamb language. God provided atonement by the sacrifice of a lamb. The sins of the people were imputed to the lamb and it was slaughtered, judged as if it were the people themselves. We know from the book of Hebrews that this system was a shadow of Christ’s atonement. After all, the blood of bulls and goats never actually atoned for sin (Heb 10:4). In the eternal mind of God, the Lamb was already slain. Christ was not a plan B that the sacrificial system was plan A to. John 1:29 speaks of Christ as taking away sin. Expiation is being referred to here. This is the taking away of sins. There is an actual payment for sin. The root enmity is taken on Christ in the place of sinners. Upon a shallow glance, the doctrine being defended seems to be disproven by the very verse being used to prove it. It appears the Christ taking away the sins of “the world” would make the atonement general. Two things are wrong with this. First, the immediate context of John debunks this objection. We have seen that John often uses world to mean the mass of fallen humanity. It is not necessarily the entirety of the world being saved but the salvation of people from in the world. The larger context of John proves this wrong as well. In John 10, we return to the language of the good shepherd. Christ is the ultimate Passover Lamb and the Good Shepherd. Here again we see that Christ is coming to lay down His life. No one takes the life of Christ. His death was predetermined by God to bring honor and glory to His name, so that God might be just and the justifier of the ungodly (Ro 3:26). This common mission, found here in chapter 10 just as in chapter 1, is narrowly focused. Christ knows His sheep and lays His life done for them. Christ does not redeem those who God does not know on the cross. Part and parcel to the work of the good shepherd is the laying down of his life as a substituted for the many, for the sheep. How is one a sheep? By the determined good will and pleasure of God. Only the sheep are ransomed by the cross.
Colton Corter is a graduate student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter at @coltonMcorter.