Most of the articles I’ve read regarding Limited Atonement include at least one of two overlapping disclaimers:
- The doctrine is controversial
- The doctrine is not essential
Some of my Reformed readers may throw brickbats at me for agreeing with the second disclaimer, but, as a former Arminian who was genuinely saved, I need to stand by it. May the Lord give me the humility to avoid condemning fellow Christians who differ with me on this singular point (especially if they reach their conclusion based on their honest study of Scripture). Romans 15:5-6 and its surrounding context entreats us to set certain types of differences aside in favor of worshiping God in harmony.
Having said that, I will make my case that the sovereignty of God calls for the position that Christ died exclusively for His elect. He said Himself that He would lay His life down for His sheep (John 10:15). Yet He also said that not all people are His sheep (John 10:26). And notice His prayer just before His arrest:
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ~~John 17:6-21 (ESV)
He also said that He would shed His blood, not for all, but for many (Matthew 26:28). That “many” would be those whom He had chosen “from the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), since only His elect would actually receive salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10).
God doesn’t sit up in heaven, wringing His hands helplessly as He hopes people will take advantage of His work on the cross. He sovereignly rules the universe, so it’s reasonable to believe that He would apply His Son’s precious blood specifically to His elect. Yes, I’ve read the passages about Jesus dying for “all people” and “the whole world” (and I promise to deal with them soon). But we must keep focused on God’s sovereignty, worshiping Him as the One Who rules all creation for His glory.