Is Unlimited Atonement biblical?

Question

Is Unlimited Atonement biblical?

Answer

Since everyone in the entire world will not be saved, there is one unavoidable truth to understand: the atonement of Christ is limited.

The false doctrine of unlimited atonement teaches that Christ died for every single sin of every single person in the entire world. This includes forgiveness for the sin of “unbelief” of every single person in the entire world. Logically this makes no sense, as this would mean every single person in the world would be saved (i.e., the false doctrine of universalism). Was Judas saved? What about Goliath?

The doctrine of unlimited atonement undermines the gospel. It is not a biblical doctrine. It is “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9) and not the gospel once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

The Bible teaches that Christ’s redeeming work was definite in its design and accomplishment. Through Christ’s work on the Cross he did everything to bring his chosen people into a right relationship with God the Father. Through the ransom of Christ upon his Cross he secured a genuine salvation, an actual redemption for his chosen people.

Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for his own chosen people. [1]

The false doctrine of unlimited atonement makes redemption merely a potential or hypothetical possibility. That is Christ’s sacrifice didn’t actually save anybody, but merely gave everybody a hypothetical chance to get saved. In essence its theology holds that Christ accomplished nothing on his Cross until the sinner believes in him. The sinner’s faith is the sole self-determining factor in one’s own salvation. Faith includes the work of believing. Thus, unlimited atonement is just another works righteousness religion which is against Scripture.

Tit. 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

Did Christ die for people whom the Father knew would never accept Christ as their savior? No, as this would make God himself unjust. The doctrine of unlimited atonement means that both Christ and the unrepentant sinner would suffer for the very same sins twice (Christ upon the Cross and the unrepentant sinner in Hell). Some were already suffering the wrath of God for their sins on the very day Jesus died. It makes no logical sense that Christ would be punished for their sins again. And if God knew ahead of time that Christ would die for the sins (including the sin of unbelief) of absolutely everybody without exception, then any punishment or judgment incurred by unrepentant sinners would be unjust! There would be no need of an eternal Hell.

The false doctrine of unlimited atonement makes Christ’s sacrifice a waste. It manufactures an ineffectual atonement. It falsely makes the believer the God of his own salvation.

Jesus literally saved people on the Cross. Redemption was bought and accomplished upon Calvary. As Scripture does, limited atonement (i.e., definite atonement or definite redemption) teaches that Christ’s death and resurrection actually secured (past tense) the salvation of his people.

Matt. 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Rom. 3:24-25 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Rom. 5:8-9 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Rom. 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

1 Cor. 1:30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

2 Cor. 5:18-19 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Cor. 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gal. 1:3-4 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Eph. 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love …

Eph. 2:15-16 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Eph. 5:25-26 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.

Phil. 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

Col. 1:13-14 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Col. 1:21-22 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

1 Tim. 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Tit. 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Tit. 3:5-6 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Heb. 9:12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Heb. 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Heb. 13:12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

1 Pet. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Pet. 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Reference

[1] J.I. Packer. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Forward.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).