The Unlimited Limited Atonement

There is a strand of Calvinism that teaches that Christ atoned for the only sins of the elect and nothing more—this is called limited atonement—however, it may be more appropriate to call it X-limited atonement. This is a minority view, and one would have to examine each Calvinist and what they wrote and preached to know how they understood Christ’s atoning work on the cross. (I am going to explain what I believe now.)

Because there are such misperceptions concerning what it means to be a Calvinist, it is best not to lump anyone and everyone who espouses some association with Calvinism into one category. Certainly, John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon would not agree with each other on every point, yet both are referred to as Calvinists.

So we need to be careful in putting people into a box. Baptists have stood for soul competency and the right of every human being to form their own opinions concerning religion and their interpretation of religious writings—most especially the Bible. We should do that today. The definition of a heretic is NOT someone who disagrees with me. Heresy has some very narrow criteria and how one understands the atoning work of Christ does not fall into that narrow criterion; nevertheless, the doctrine is important and it is appropriate to think about it and be able to articulate what you believe about Christ’s work on the Christ.

To those who suggest or teach that Christ died exclusively for the sins of only the elect, 1 John 2:2 is a problem.

1 John 2.2 states that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, for also for the sins of the whole world.”

Now that is exceptionally clear. In fact, it is overwhelmingly clear. Nothing stands in the way of the greatest sinner being saved but his own refusal to repent and believe the gospel—there isn’t anyone on the planet who would like to be born-again, but the problem is that Jesus didn’t die for them. Let me say that again. There isn’t and never will be anyone who desires to be born-again, and it is impossible because Christ didn’t die for them.

The Apostle John understood that Christ’s atoning work on the cross was for the sins of the whole world.

Jesus is the propitiation. What does John mean by propitiation? Propitiation describes Jesus’ atoning work as the sacrifice for sin. It communicates that Christ absorbed God’s wrath against sin in place of the elect, where the elect are defined as all those who are in Christ (past, present and future).

How sufficient was the atonement? How much of a debt can it pay? How many could be freed because of it? When the sinless Son of God died for sin how sufficient is that? Is it sufficient only for the elect? Was it limited to some huge number to something power?

Certainly God knew at the moment He was punishing Christ—in my place—the exact number of the elect. He knew and has always known who would believe, yet this isn’t the limit! This isn’t the limit in sufficiency. John also wrote: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

When the sinless Son of God—the spotless lamb of God—God Himself shed His blood for the remission of sins—it is sufficient for the “sins of the whole world.”
But WAIT. Please wait just a minute—at this point, you might be thinking pastor, I can’t imagine why anyone would have ever described atonement as limited.
But you must realize Christ’s atonement is limited—the Bible makes it perfectly clear that the whole world is NOT going to heaven. There are those who perish.
In fact, according to John 3:36 there is a group of people who do NOT believe; therefore, the wrath of God abides on them.

Although Christ’s atonement is sufficient for the sins of the whole world, it is NOT effectual or salvific to anyone who hasn’t repented and believed the gospel.
The wrath–absorbing, substitutionary atonement is limited to only those who BELIEVE. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the entire world past, present and future but simultaneously limited.
Christ satisfied God’s judgment against sin without limit—yet God placed a limit on the effectualness of that atoning sacrifice, and that limit will be revealed in the future by God.
If the atonement is NOT limited to only those who believe, then more are justified than those who believe and God would be unjust in condemning them.
The atonement is sufficient for anyone you and I share the gospel with, but we must also tell them it is limited. If they don’t repent and trust Jesus as their Savior, the wrath of God will remain on them. If the wrath remains on them, then it isn’t on Christ—God can’t remain just and pour wrath on Christ and still hold it against the person—that’s double jeopardy.
There is a difference between sufficient and efficient.
Sufficient means that it is enough; in Christ there is a sufficient quantity of righteousness for the entire world to be declared righteous.
However, God has limited the sufficiency of that atonement to only those who turn toward Him—repent and place their faith in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross. At which point it becomes efficient or effectual.
Christ’s work on the cross did not instantaneously result in the entire world’s sins being pardoned—that would be a Universalist’s theological perspective.
The reason Jesus began His public ministry preaching “Repent and believe the gospel” was because He knew His atoning work on the cross would be limited to only those who believed. Therefore, it was imperative that the Jews He was preaching to turn toward God with broken and contrite hearts and believe the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah come to seek and save the lost for the remission of their sins.

The atonement is unlimited in its sufficiency, but very (John 14.6) limited in its efficiency—where efficiency is understood as producing the desired effect. The atonement of Christ produces the desired effect only in the lives of those who believe and no one else—for the rest the wrath of God continues to remain on them and will for all eternity if they don’t repent.

Legalism: A Misunderstood Word

These are NOT my words. I found this short article while doing sermon research, but I think this unknown author gets it right for the most part and it is worthy of your attention for a few minutes. Today, the term legalism is being misused in an increasingly high rate among some Christians. When the preacher preaches on modesty, he is suddenly a legalist—not true. This article will help you realize what a preacher would have to do with a subject like modesty (or any other issue) to become a legalist. May God the Holy Spirit help you understand this message:

What does the term "legalism" mean?

A dictionary definition of legalism is "a strict, literal or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code." A popular meaning attached to the word today is that any form of biblical law-keeping is legalism and therefore to be avoided. The word is used pejoratively, especially against such practices as keeping the Sabbath or adhering to other laws given in the Old Testament.

However, this use of the word is incorrect. It is not legalistic to obey God's laws correctly. To be legalistic is to misuse God's laws in a way never intended.

Pharisees' interpretations undermined God's law

The Pharisees, an excessively strict branch of Judaism whose religious interpretations dominated popular thinking at the time of Christ, were examples of this. They added many of their own humanly devised rules and regulations to God's laws, which had the effect of misrepresenting and misapplying them.

Their added interpretations of God's laws so distorted the original purpose that they rendered them ineffective (Matthew 15:6), nullifying them. By following the Pharisees' interpretations and edicts, the people were no longer following God's law.

This mistaken view of God's law led many to reject Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, even though that very law had prophesied of Him (John 5:39-40; Luke 24:44). This was why Christ so strongly condemned the lack of understanding and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His time. He taught a return to the correct teaching and practice of God's laws according to their original intent and purpose, and also that He was the promised Messiah.

Paul condemned perversion of law.

The apostle Paul also wrote extensively against those who would pervert the proper use of God's law. This is particularly apparent in the book of Galatians. What Paul addressed was not the correct keeping of God's law, which he himself elsewhere upheld (Romans 3:31; 7:12, 14, 22, 25), but a claim that justification (the forgiveness and restoration of a sinner to a state of righteousness) could be achieved by circumcision and strict observance of the law. Some false teachers (Galatians 2:4; 5:10, 12; 6:12-13) subverted the Galatian churches by wrongly insisting that circumcision and the keeping of the law were sufficient requirements for justification and salvation, apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Paul condemned this erroneous teaching, noting that obedience to the law had never made eternal life possible (Galatians 3:21). He made it clear that justification—being made righteous in God's eyes and thus gaining access to eternal life—is only available through Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16; 3:1-3, 10-11, 22; 5:1-4). Paul made it clear that forgiveness of sin requires a sacrifice, and even the strictest observance of the law cannot remove the need for that sacrifice.

However, the law of God remains the righteous standard by which all mankind will be judged (James 2:8,12). The law is not annulled or abolished by faith in Christ (Romans 3:31), as many falsely believe. Instead, said Paul, the law's proper use is established by faith. When Solomon concluded that the whole duty of man is to "fear God and keep His commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:13), he expressed the enduring purpose of God for all mankind. The apostle John agreed when he concluded that, if we love God, we will keep His commandments (1 John 5:3). The woman taken in adultery was told by Christ to "sin no more" (John 8:11)—in other words, to uphold God's law! Jesus told the rich young man, who came to Him asking what he could do to have eternal life, "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments"(Matthew 19:17).

Biblical examples of legalism

So what does the Bible tell us about legalism?

  1. To substitute humanly devised laws for God's laws, as the Pharisees did, is legalism.
  2. To rely upon the keeping of any law to make one righteous in God's eyes, instead of faith in Christ, is legalism.
  3. If all one focuses on is obedience to law apart from the motivation of pleasing God, loving God and loving neighbor, this distorts the purpose of the law (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:10) and is legalism.
  4. If we believe that any keeping of God's law can earn our salvation as our reward, we are guilty of legalism.
  5. Technical obedience, or strict obedience to the exact letter of the law while searching for ways to get around the underlying purpose and intent of the law, is legalism.

Proper obedience is not legalism

But Jesus Christ and the remainder of the Bible make one thing perfectly clear: Proper obedience to the law of God is not legalism. After conversion, a Christian is given a much fuller understanding of the purpose and intent of God's law. He understands the importance of faith in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He is given a more complete understanding of why he is to be obedient. But it remains for him to obey. That is not legalism.

[I don't give the web reference where I found this because I can't wholeheartedly endorse everything this website provides as resources and the author is not listed so it is not a matter of giving credit where credit is due.]

The Separation of Church and State a Baptist Distinctive

Happy 4th of July and Independence Day!

Today these United States of America collectively celebrate 232 years of being an independent Sovereign Nation. We have so much to be thankful for and of course one of the greatest freedoms we have in America is the right to worship as we see fit without the interference of the State.

Baptists believe in and teach that local churches should be free—free churches govern themselves without any interference from the state or another hierarchal body or entity. (Today there is a Free Church denomination, but I am not using these words in that sense.) This belief or doctrinal persuasion significantly separates us from many other Christian denominations and religious organizations. It seems most appropriate to remind you of this point of difference and Baptist distinctive on our Nation's Birthday. Many lives were lost in defense of the establishment of an independent Sovereign Nation where people of all persuasions could worship God or chose not to worship God as they see fit.

This fundamental right of all Americans needs to be protected at all cost. Baptists have stood for the separation of church and state from the very first Baptist church established in America in 1638 (over hundred years before America's birthday). If you don't know anything about the first Baptist church in America check out their website at Roger Williams was their first Pastor/Elder in Providence, RI. Those of you familiar with US History will recall the significance of the Rhode Island colony and see why FBCIA started in RI.

Sunday we get another opportunity to take advantage of the liberties that men and women died for in the establishment of a Nation that gave its citizens a bill of rights. Let me remind you of the first amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Sunday morning you can get up and come to church without any fear of interference from the government of the United States of America or any of its states or cities. Isn't that wonderful? Consider for a moment the number of countries on the planet where that isn't possible and then thank the Sovereign Lord of the Universe for the freedoms He has in his Divine Providence granted us.

Now the government isn't going to interfere Sunday morning but the flesh might—so discipline the flesh, keep it in control (1 Corinthians 9.27). Don't let the flesh have the victory on any Sunday morning or evening for that matter, gain and sustain the victory week after week as long we have the freedom to worship as we see fit we should take full advantage of it.

See you Sunday!

Vacations a type of Sabbath

Vacations are an awesome thing and we have so much to be thankful for as citizens of America and children of the King. Pam, Austin and I really had a wonderful time being able to get away and relax—a Sabbath of sorts—a time to rest. (This Sunday we will look at what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath from Nehemiah 13 and then the law and what Christ taught.) I am continually amazed at the vastness of the ocean; its size is beyond comprehension and the power of water is nothing to be taken lightly and God made it. God controls it. It does what God commands it to do. The ocean is not an entity to itself. It like all that God commands is expected and does obey the voice of the Master. Every water molecule bound together with another and another responds to the voice of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. God asked Job where Job was when God set the boundaries, when God established the limits—when God, if you will, created beaches and coastlines and drew the limits of the ocean.

Even before the foundation of the world God knew that the very beaches He created would be used to profane the Sabbath—men, women and children deciding they need a tan more than preaching on Sunday mornings—yet God still created these beautiful beaches for our pleasure.

And God knew that the human beings He created and creates ignore Him, yet God demonstrated His great love in that while we were yet sinners—sinners by choice and sinners by birth—Christ died for us. My dear brother and sister in Christ let me strongly remind you that regardless of where we are at on Sundays we should unite with our brothers and sisters in Christ and worship God on the Lord's Day. Those downrange do you dead level best not to miss the corporate worship service—it is a testimony to your love for God to the glory of God.

On this July 4th weekend—let's all pause and pray especially for our friends and brother and sisters in Christ who are deployed. Every day they get up with intent to make a difference in their very little corner of the conflict. They don't think about the war as a whole—they just do their job—day in and day out. Pray for the future of America and then rest in God's Sovereignty. Think about God's providential hand upon America in the 17th and 18th centuries and then continue to trust that He is still in charge.