The Perfection of Christ’s Atonement

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The author of Hebrews writes: “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22 NASB). The atonement procured by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, perfectly saves forever those who trust in Him alone for salvation. “In this is love,” John confesses, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [ἱλασμός] for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NASB). Earlier He writes: “and He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NASB).

Calvinists, however, do not believe that 1 John 2:2 applies to the whole world. They deny God the right to lovingly sacrifice His Son for the sin of the whole world. Notice that John confesses that Jesus Christ propitiated (ἱλασμός, lit. an appeasement) for the sins of the whole (ὅλος) world (1 John 2:2), the word “whole” denoting “being complete in extent, whole, entire, complete.”1 John the baptizer confesses of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NKJV). The word “world” here cannot, for Calvinists, mean every single individual, for in their view, that would necessitate the salvation of all mankind (and Universalism is rightly renounced).

An unfortunate aspect of the Calvinists’ position (a presupposition upon which their doctrine of the atonement is based) is the assumption that Christ’s atonement is automatically applied to the unconditionally elect. In their view, Christ Jesus came to atone for those whom God had unconditionally elected unto faith and salvation — a notion which is necessitated by their philosophy of unconditional election, not biblical exegesis. As a matter of fact, their doctrines of limited grace strictly confines just about every significant doctrine concerning God’s relation to man: love, grace, faith, atonement, and salvation. God’s love is restricted to the unconditionally elect; thus His grace is given irresistibly to the unconditionally elect; faith is “given” irresistibly to the unconditionally elect; atonement was ever and only intended for the unconditionally elect; and salvation likewise.

In spite of God’s confession in His Word, that He desires the repentance of sinners (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9) and the salvation of all people without distinction (1 Tim. 2:4), Calvinists promote the error that God’s intention was to secretly will and bring about the salvation of the unconditionally elect. In other words, God tells the world that He loves it and sent His Son into the world to save it, but secretly that is not true. Hidden from man, God’s secret will was to save some and reprobate (condemn) the rest. Still, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

God, through Jesus Christ, does not fail to save any individual who trusts in the blood of Christ — He saves perfectly all those whose faith is placed in Him: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36 NKJV). After all, He came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), which includes every single individual (Rom. 3:23). The apostle Paul states that since “One died for all, then all died” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). Every individual is “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1; cf. Isaiah 59:2), and are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). All individuals are justified by God’s 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” (Rom. 3:24-25 ESV). And this grace was “given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9 NKJV). The end result of the providence of the saving grace of God is, according to Arminius, the “declaration of the divine perfections of Wisdom, Goodness, Justice, Severity and Power; and the good of the whole, especially of those men who are chosen or elected. But since God does nothing, or permits it to be done in time, which He has not decreed from all eternity either to do or to permit; that decree therefore is placed before providence and its acts, as an internal act is before one that is external.”2

Again, according to Scripture, Arminius insists:

      But, because “known unto out God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), and as God does nothing in time which He has not decreed from all eternity to do, this vocation [of man unto salvation] is likewise instituted and administered according to God’s eternal decree: so that what man soever is called in time, was from all eternity predestianated to be called, and to be called in that state, time, place, mode, and with that efficacy, in and with which he was predestinated.3

A person’s sins are only propitiated or atoned for or covered by faith in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:25). Apart from faith in Christ Jesus, the shedding of His blood can save no one (Heb. 9:22), though it was absolutely necessary that Jesus suffer, bleed and die for our sins. Though all sin was laid upon Christ Jesus for the potential salvation of all people, His atonement is incapable of saving even one sinner apart from faith in His blood. Terry L. Miethe writes: “[The Calvinist’s argument] assumes that because Christ’s death was ‘sufficient’ to save all from whom he died, then it must save all for whom he died.”4 This is quite a mistaken assumption, since it was Jesus Himself who confessed that not everyone will be saved (Matt. 7:21-23; John 6:64); nonetheless, He will give His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51).

When Calvinists complain of a double payment theory in the Arminian view (that Christ paid the price for the one who would not believe in Him, and that the non-believer will pay the price for his unbelief in hell, hence two payments were made), we understand immediately the Calvinist’s error. There is no double jeopardy. The unbeliever did not acquire Christ’s atonement, which is only applicable through faith. The unbeliever did not take for himself what Christ Jesus accomplished for him or her. The only way for there to be a double jeopardy charge would be if Christ Jesus paid the price for one’s sins and the sinner received His sacrifice (the payment) by faith and then subsequently was thrown into hell to pay for the price of one’s sins. In that scenario we find an unjust double payment.

Let us look at the double jeopardy charge a little closer. Christ Jesus, in very general terms, “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb. 10:12 NKJV). The condition which God established for the sinner to be justified before Him is faith in Christ’s blood (Rom. 3:24-26). Since the unbeliever is not justified, having failed to meet God’s established condition for justification, in what sense can it be maintained that Christ’s sacrifice was applied to his or her account? Since the unbeliever has not been counted righteous in Christ, then he or she will pay for his or her own sins in hell. A genuine offer of atonement was made in the unbeliever’s stead. However, the unbeliever failed to receive by grace the benefits of that offer through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus there is no double jeopardy.

The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, hanged on a cross from the third hour to the ninth hour of the Jewish day (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). From “the sixth hour [12 noon] until the ninth hour [3 p.m.] there was darkness over all the land” (Matt. 27:45 NKJV). At “the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Mark 15:34 NKJV). And “when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit'” (Luke 23:46 NKJV). Having received some sour drink, Jesus said, “‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, he gave up His spirit” (John 19:30 NKJV).

Remember Jesus’ words to His Father: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4 NKJV). Jesus remained in control of His own propitiatory death: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18 NKJV); and, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53 NKJV).

Our Lord is sovereign. He offered a perfect sacrifice. He offers a pure, simple and perfect Gospel, and He saves perfectly “those who believe” in Him (Rom. 10:9-17; 1 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 7:25). When we objectively comply with what Scripture explicitly teaches, we avoid the many man-made, philosophically-induced errors of a Calvinistic hermeneutic and application. A person is saved to the uttermost by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone (Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). This is the Reformed mantra which Classical Arminians affirm.

1 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition (BDAG), revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 704.

2 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XXVIII. On the Providence of God,” in The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:368.

3 Ibid., 2:235.

4 Terry L. Miethe, “The Universal Power of the Atonement,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 74.