Is the Atonement Sufficient For All?

, posted by drwayman

Is the Atonement Sufficient For All?

This post was written by SEA member, Roy Ingle

Arminianism affirms that the atonement of Christ was so glorious and powerful that it is sufficient for all to be saved. None can be saved apart from the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7) for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). When Christ shed His blood on the cross, His blood is sufficient to save all who come to the Father in saving faith in the precious Son (John 3:14-18). We are not saved any other way but through faith in Christ (Acts 4:12).

Calvinists argue that the Arminian view of the atonement means that Jesus saved no one on the cross. He only provided the potential for salvation. Calvinism teaches that on the cross, Jesus did not fail to save His elect. Any other view would lead to universalism.

There are several problems with such a view.

First, even Calvinists acknowledge that we are reconciled to God only through faith and repentance through Jesus Christ. In other words, the atonement saves no one until it is appropriated by faith. Arminians agree. None are saved but through faith in Jesus. Romans 5:1 makes it clear that we are justified by faith and not, as the Calvinist view of the atonement would lead, unto faith. As William Shedd (a Calvinist theologian) points out, “It is not the making of this atonement, but the trusting in it, that saves the sinner. ’By faith are ye saved.’”

Calvinist theologians will often speak of the great benefits of the atonement for all. They will even say that the atonement is sufficient for all. After all, there are so many passages of Scripture that say Christ died for all (John 1:29; 3:16; Romans 5:18; 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2). Not to mention the universal calls to salvation (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; John 3:16; Acts 2:38-39; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Therefore, Calvinism does say that the atonement is sufficient for all and even brings blessings upon the reprobate but does not save all. I affirm that the atonement does not save all unless the sinner comes in saving faith and repentance. Even Calvinists would agree in part while still trying to affirm that Christ died only for the elect yet still giving a call for all to come and believe.

Secondly, the Scriptures are clear that we must appropriate the cross to be saved. Romans 3:21-26 shows us that faith is necessary for the atonement to atone for our sins. Notice the text:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

It is clear that the atonement, by itself, saves no one. Each person must come in faith and repentance to be saved. Reconciliation takes place when the sinner repents and believes the gospel (Acts 2:38-39). We pass from death to life through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-9). Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) but each person must come to Him in saving faith and repentance and not merely because Jesus shed His blood.

The atonement is sufficient for all who would come in faith and repentance.

If Jesus secured the salvation of the elect then are they eternally justified? Hyper-Calvinists would answer yes. Scripture says that Jesus was the lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) so in the mind of God, Jesus was the lamb of God even before the world began. So were the elect “in Christ” before the foundation of the world? Depends on your view of the Fall. If God caused the Fall (as hypers teach) then He also chose before the world began those whom Christ would die for. They are eternally justified. They are born sinless and are already saved. Most Calvinist, however, do not agree with such a view. But I ask, why? If Christ did secure the elect’s salvation on the cross (all the elect both in the Old and New Testament eras) then why are they not born saved? Why must we preach the gospel to all? Isn’t it a bit unfair and unloving for God to want us to call all to come and repent when in fact He has already justified and saved those whom He had chosen from eternity past? Is this really a well-meaning offer for the masses to be saved when in fact the vast majority of humanity has been not just left in their sins (passed over by God’s sovereign hand) but also placed there by God Himself?

By the way, 1 Peter 1:20-21 is clear about the atonement and its application to us:

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Notice again that faith is necessary for a person to be in Christ. Again, the atonement apart from faith saves no one. 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is the potential Savior for all but He truly saves only those who have faith in Him. The verse reads, “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

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