Listen to Nancy’s answer recorded live on Moody radio, here:
This is a hot issue for sure. Friendships have been lost, churches have split and families disrupted over this issue. This is a question that we know make perfect sense to God but not to the human mind.
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The Bible has much to say on the atonement of Christ.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:8–10).
The question is whether His sacrifice was limited to a few or unlimited atonement to all.
Those who believe in unlimited atonement believe that Christ died for all people, whether or not they would ever believe in Him. The Universalists believe in that interpretation. Scripture would not support this.
in John 3:16 provides the answer: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In this passage, the necessary condition that limits the atonement is found: “whosoever believes” (literally in the Greek: “all the believing ones”). In other words, the atonement is limited to those who believe and only those who believe.
Scripture stands in opposition to such teaching. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that many people will be lost, with just a few verses highlighting this fact following:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22–23)
Since not everyone will be saved, there is one inescapable fact to understand: the atonement of Christ is limited.
The most controversial debate concerning the atonement of Jesus centers on what is referred to as “limited” atonement. One theological camp (comprised primarily of those holding to Arminianism and Wesleyanism) believes that Christ died on the cross for everyone who chooses to believe.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The other theological camp—made up of Reformed thinkers, who are often called “Calvinists” —say that Jesus only died for those whom the Father chose from the foundation of the world to be saved. This group of redeemed individuals is often referred to as the “elect”, the “chosen” of God or God-limited atonement.
This is why I believe that salvation is offered to all who believe in God’s Son.
In the book of Acts, Paul preached to thousands at a time after the death and resurrection of Christ. Salvation was offered to all who would believe without limitations or discrimination. Repentance and faith were the required responses (Matthew 21:32).
If Christ’s death did not provide atonement for all who believe as was promised, then Paul, the apostles, and even Jesus Himself, were offering something that most of their audiences could never receive. Promising them salvation through faith and repentance and then adding a God-limit on the gospel message would be discrediting to all that Paul preached and Christ taught. Such would be cruel and evil.
In addition, there is no assurance of salvation with God-limited atonement. How do you know that you are one of the chosen? Maybe you have been going through the actions but are not one of His? How could God embrace something that is contrary to His will?
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)
Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all sin, and the offer of salvation is for all. Our invitation for others to accept Christ should come from the heart of the scriptures.
Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
John 1:12: “But as many as RECEIVED him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”