I once read a man’s illustration on atonement regarding his wife’s love of dark chocolate. The man’s wife loved expensive, dark chocolate. She did not want the processed milk chocolate that is made in factories, trucked around the United States, and sits on grocery store shelves for weeks. No, she liked the good stuff. And luckily, this wedded couple lived only a few miles from the first bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Texas. This guy, J. A. Medders, would go there on special occasions and buy $7.00 chocolate bars for his wife. When he would arrive at home, his daughter’s eyes would light up at the tray of expensive, dark chocolate and ask if it was for her. He would always reply, “no, these are for my wife. You can eat the cheap stuff.” The point of this illustration is that Medder’s gift of expensive, dark chocolate was “for a particular person, deliberately and lovingly bought for her, and deliberately and lovingly given to her” (Medders, Humble Calvinism, 96). This is similar to when I buy my girlfriend coffee from Starbucks. She loves coffee, but her favorite coffee is a $6.00 white chocolate mocha from Starbucks. And when I buy her this coffee, I smile as I swipe my debit card, knowing it will make her smile. And if anyone asks who it’s for, I assure them that it is not for them. This gift of a Starbucks coffee is bought for a particular person out of deliberate love.
Christ’s atoning death on the cross is perceived in the same way. The famous saying is 100% accurate: Salvation was bought with the precious blood of Christ. But, who receives this beautiful gift of atonement? Simply put, the Church. Christ died for His bride. In a broader sense, all who would believe in him. Christ paid for the sins of everyone who would believe in Him. And these people form the Church.
I am writing this article because of a church sign that I saw the other day which read: “Some died for many. Christ died for all.” This is a dangerous statement to make because it possesses a universalist connotation. Universalism is a doctrine of theology which claims that every single person will be saved. Christ’s work on the cross paid for everyone’s sin so everyone will be saved. This is not biblical. Rather, it is heretical. Here are a list of verses that explicitly say “not everyone will be saved.”
- Matthew 25:46 – “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might“
- Revelation 20:15 – “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.“
- John 3:36 – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.“
The Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement receives much negative feedback because of its description. Limited Atonement is the doctrine of theology that states “the atonement is limited in that it was designed to secure salvation for certain sinners, but not for others” (Steele, The Five Points of Calvinism, 40). Although I think that this doctrine is explicitly biblical (below are a list of verses that support this), I believe the better and much more appropriate term for Christ’s work of atonement is definite atonement.
- Matthew 1:21 – “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
- John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
- Ephesians 5:25-27 – “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
- Hebrews 9:15 – “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
I think you may like/agree with this term more. Limited atonement seems to put a limit on Christ’s atonement. However, definite atonement realigns the focus on what Jesus did, not what he didn’t do. Medders writes, “Definite atonement means that Jesus’ death definitely and explicitly, surely and indubitably, absolutely and incontestably paid for the sins of all who would believe in him” (Medders, 100). This is what the blood-splattered cross achieves: It purchased a people for God. Christ, through his death on the cross, achieves definite atonement for all those who would believe. Jesus, on that old, rugged cross, paid for the sins of His people so that they can be reconciled back to God. Oh, what a beautiful and hopeful image!
John 3:16 with a Definite Atonement Lens
John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Readers, please do not read this verse with a universalist lens. It does not say “God gave his only Son so that everyone will be saved.” It says, “God gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will be saved.” It is a biblical fact that whoever professes faith in Christ and strives to live according to His Word, they will be saved. Romans 10:13 reads, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” It does not say that everyone will call on the name of the Lord. Think back to my illustration at the beginning of the article. I buy Starbucks for a particular person (my girlfriend) out of deliberate love. Christ died for a particular people (the Church, His bride) out of deliberate, all-sufficient, beautiful, perfect love. And oh, how good His love is! This is the gospel we are to share. That Christ gave His life for the atonement of the Church and those who profess faith in Christ and what He accomplished on the cross will be welcomed into the Church, the very flock of God.
Medders, J. A. Humble Calvinism. Epson, UK: The Good Book Company, 2019.
Steele, David N, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004.