by Mike Ratliff
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:26-32 ESV)
As I write this, it is about 4 days until the Jewish Passover 2014. It was over 2000 years ago just before Passover on the Jewish calendar that our Lord Jesus Christ was arrested, tried, and crucified. In Christian Doctrinal Orthodoxy we believe that at the Cross of Christ, at His crucifixion, His death made atonement for a specific people given to Him by God the Father. He became their propitiation. Please carefully read the passage I placed at the top of this post. Do you see the serious emphasis God places on the need for His people’s atonement? What is this atonement? Biblical atonement is the act of God canceling the debt of His people’s sin. Without it God’s wrath against their sin could not be appeased.
Now, let us move to that point in history to the actual day that our Lord was crucified. An innocent man is nearly beaten to death by brutal Roman soldiers. He is covered in blood from his innumerable wounds from being scourged. He is covered in bruises from his many beatings. His beard has been nearly ripped out of his face. He is bleeding from the scalp wounds from a crudely formed crown of thorns that has been forcibly crushed into the top of his head. He is being forced to carry a huge beam of wood that the soldiers have tied across his shoulders and arms. He is being lead by them out of the city to the place of the skull.
There are two others who are going to die this day in this procession, but the crowd is focused on this man. They hardly recognize him. Could this be Jesus who cleansed the temple just few days ago? He barely looks human now. Perhaps he isn’t who he claimed to be after all. Before the procession reaches the place of crucifixion the one receiving all of the attention collapses under the weight of the beam. He has lost much blood and has had nothing to eat or drink since the meal with his disciples the night before. He is dehydrated and his internal organs are already being stressed to the point of shutting down.
The soldiers beat him to try to force him to rise and carry his cross, but he has no strength left for that. The soldiers force a bystander to carry it for him. Then the procession continues towards its appointment with the purpose and will of God.
They arrive at the place of death that is near the road leading in and out of the city. The Romans always execute criminals publicly with their bodies left hanging on their crosses to be a deterrent against crime and treason and insurrection. They force each of the three men to lie down on their backs with the beam of wood under their shoulder’s and arms. Sometimes they simply raise the condemned by the beam up to a vertical beam forming a “T” shaped cross. Other times they use metal or wood spikes nailed through the wrists into the horizontal beam and through the ankles into the vertical beam to affix the condemned man. Jesus is nailed to his cross. He is raised up above the ground and so begins the hours of agony that always leads to death.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:32-34 ESV)
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:23-30 ESV)
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:45-46 ESV
For whom did Christ die? Why was it necessary and what has that got to do with the doctrine of Limited Atonement? Remember what the word atonement means. The atonement of the doctrine of Limited Atonement is the work of God in Christ. By the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, his obedience and death, God cancelled the debt of our sin, appeased His holy wrath against us, and won for us all the benefits of salvation. Most people nowadays do not take sin seriously. However, God takes it very seriously.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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. (Romans 3:19-26 ESV)
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All in Christ are justified as a gift by God’s Grace through the redemption, which is in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ took my place on the cross because I am unable to atone for my own sins because I am a sinner. Jesus Christ is God and sinless. He is the only one who could take my place as my propitiation. It was by His blood that we are saved by grace through faith. This demonstrates His righteousness. Why? How? Our sin separates us from God. God takes it so seriously that he sacrificed His Son in order to reconcile us to Him. The cost was higher than we can comprehend. Therefore, in this demonstration of God’s Righteousness we must never dare to cheapen the Atonement.
The Gospel is serious business. I have used this example before, but I feel it is appropriate here. Several years ago Ted Bundy was executed for being a convicted serial killer. He was guilty. He admitted it. He also became a Christian in prison. I remember when he was executed, the outrage people expressed that this man could possibly be in Heaven after being such a horrible murder was extreme. However, in God’s eyes all of us are just a guilty as Ted Bundy. It is outrageous that God has forgiven my sins. It is wrong. It is an affront to the Righteousness of God that I am forgiven and declared righteous by God. However, all we have to do is look at the cross and our Lord crucified there to see where the price has been paid. Then we see the awful thing our sin is and it should break us and send us to our knees in humility and spiritual brokenness.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (1 Peter 3:18 ESV)
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:9-10 ESV)
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)
Who limits the atonement? Both Monergists and Synergists limit the atonement. Synergists limit the effectiveness of the atonement by denying that it purchased the promises of the New Covenant for irresistible grace. Monergists, on the other hand, affirm this purchase of the promises of the New Covenant for irresistible grace. By this, they limit the full blessings of the atonement to those God irresistibly brings to saving faith.
I personally don’t care for the term “Limited Atonement.” It brings a negative connotation to our faith that angers many people unnecessarily. I prefer to call this doctrine either Definite Atonement or Particular Redemption. Most of the authors I enjoy who write about these things lean towards Particular Redemption and I do as well. Definite Atonement means that it is designed for definite individuals who are effectively saved by it. Particular Redemption means that God has particular people in view in the design of the atonement. Through it he purchased all the blessings of salvation for His people.
Synergists or Arminians counter with Unlimited Atonement or Universal Redemption. What they mean by that is that God’s design in the atonement is the same for all individual people. I have preached on John chapter 3 and I don’t think that I ever watered down John 3:16, but that is the accusation from Synergists against Monergists.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)
I do not believe that Monergists water it down because this verse affirms that God loved the world so that anyone who believes will be saved by the death of His Son. Both Monergists and Synergists affirm this truth: All who believe will be saved by the atonement of Jesus.
So, why are Monergists and Synergists at each other’s throats? Why the name-calling and character assassinations? What is the dispute? Monergists or Calvinists believe that the death of Christ definitely accomplished or purchased something more than Synergists or Arminians believe it did. That bone of contention is the effectual grace to believe and come to Christ.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV)
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14 ESV)
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65 ESV)
Monergists believe the Atonement purchased more than Synergists believe it did. They base that on those verses above and many others. Monergists understanding of this is that God limited the atonement by conscious design or intention to accomplish the conversion of a definite group of people. They believe that in that, God will effectually save His people not just hold out the opportunity to all people to believe. In other words, Monergists tie the doctrine of Particular Redemption to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. Why? It is because of the New Covenant promise of this grace to God’s people and the blood of Jesus, which purchased the covenant.
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20 ESV)
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25 ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33 ESV)
And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32:38-40 ESV)
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)
The Christian faith is bound to a covenant with God, which He called the New Covenant or New Testament. In the New Testament we have a book that ties the promises of the Old Covenant to the fulfillment in the New Covenant. That, of course is the book of Hebrews. How did the author of this wonderful book develop this?
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV)
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:14-18 ESV)
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:9-18 ESV)
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV)
Now let us look at an extra-biblical work by one of my favorite authors. John Owen was a godly man and very learned. He is considered by some to be a Puritan. He lived in the time of the English Civil War and the Restoration. He wrote many books and papers, all of them very difficult to read because of his heavy Latinized English. However, they are full of treasure for the one willing to dig. His book, The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ, is without a doubt the most definitive work on the Doctrine of Particular Redemption that has ever been published. The following from John Owen addresses Jeremiah 31:31-32 and Hebrews 8:9-11.
“Wherein , first the condition of the covenant is not said to be required, but is absolutely promised: ‘I will put my fear in their hearts.’ And this is the main difference between the old covenant of works and the new one of grace, that in that the Lord did only require the fulfilling of the condition prescribed, but in this he promises to effect it in them himself with whom the covenant is made. This then is one main difference of these two covenants – that the Lord did in the old only require the condition; now, in the new, he will also effect it in all federates, to whom this covenant is extended”1
The following Biblical texts are commonly used by Synergists to deny the veracity of Limited Atonement.
who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:6 ESV)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 ESV)
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9 ESV)
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV)
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 ESV)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1 ESV)
In each of these passages, except 2 Peter 2:1, there are words that seem to make the action all inclusive such as all, everyone, the world, the whole world. While each of those passages can mean that, it does not necessarily follow that they do. For example, we use all-inclusive words much of the time when we don’t mean it. An example would be when I say that a co-worker of mine is “always abusing his speaker phone privileges.” Well, he does, but it isn’t all the time or always. It just seems like it to many of us there. Another example would be when the Sanhedrin became fearful when some of them complained, “the whole world was following after Jesus.” Was it the whole world? Of course not! So you see we do this sort of thing all the time. Uh, no we don’t. You get the idea.
2 Peter 2:1 seems to imply that Jesus bought not only the elect, but also those reprobates who were false teachers. Did Jesus buy them with His Blood as well as those who are truly saved? The Greek terms that Peter used in this section of 2 Peter are more analogical than theological. They speak of a human master over a household. The master bought slaves, and the slaves owed the master allegiance as their sovereign. Doctrinally, Peter’s analogy can be viewed as responsibility for submission to God which the false teachers had refused. They were also probably insisting that they were Christians. Therefore, the Lord had bought them actually and personally. Peter’s description here is marked with sarcasm where he mocks their claim by telling of their coming damnation. Peter uses this literary vehicle to describe the sinister character of the false teachers who claim to be Christians, but deny His Lordship over their own lives.
The following passages seem to speak of the Atonement for a limited group.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:6-8 ESV)
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ESV)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11 ESV)
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15 ESV)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25 ESV)
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)
He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:51-52 ESV)
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.(Hebrews 10:14 ESV)
Now, if I was a Synergist and I had my proof texts that seemed to show that God died for all people and that salvation was only a possibility available to all people, and it was entirely up to them to exercise their will in order to have it, I would feel that I was right. However, when confronted with the passages above I must admit that there is another dimension here that does not fit with my “understanding.” Likewise, being a Monergist, I look at the passages above and see God’s sovereignty in designating a people for Himself and doing all to make salvation effectual for them. However, when confronted with the passages that seem to speak of free will and Christ dying for the whole world then I must not turn a blind eye to them as if denying their existence. There is some tension here and we must determine how to approach that to be as biblically correct as we can.
Synergists take the passages above that speak of the atonement being solely for a designated people and say the meaning is that God designs and intends the atonement for all people in the same way, but that God applies it as effective and saving only for those who believe and, therefore, become part of “us” and the “the sheep” and the “the church” and the “the children of God.”
Their view, then, says that the sentence, “Christ died for you,” means: Christ died for all sinners, so that if you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins. To many Monergists this is an acceptable understanding, as far as it goes. However, the problem arises when Synergists deny something clearly taught in Holy Scripture, which is that the texts about Christ’s dying for “us” or “his sheep” or his “church” or “the children of God” were intended by God to obtain something more for His people than the benefits they get after they believe. They specifically deny that the death of Christ not only intended by God to obtain benefits for people after they believe, but even more, Christ’s death was intended by God to obtain the very willingness to believe. In other words, the blood of Jesus also obtained the divine grace that it takes to overcome our hardness of heart so that we can become a believer.
Synergists and Monergists are not in dispute over the facts that Christ died to obtain great saving benefits for all who believe or that Christ died so that we might say to everyone everywhere without exception, “God gave His only begotten Son to die for sin so that if you believe on Him, you may have eternal live.” No we are not in dispute here. The dispute is whether God intended for the His Son’s death to obtain more than saving benefits after faith and a genuine invitation that can be made to any person to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. That, of course, is this: did God intend for the death of Christ to obtain the free gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and repentance (2 Timothy 2:25)?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:25 ESV)
We must then determine if the Synergistic interpretation of Universal Atonement contradicts the Monergistic interpretation of scripture that includes the free gift of faith and repentance. To be fair, most Synergists or Arminians despise even the hint of “Universal Salvation,” therefore they do not teach that the death of Christ “for all” saves all. In other words, most honest Synergists would have no problem with this statement; “God intended the atonement to make salvation possible for all persons, but this atonement becomes effectual only in those who believe.” Does this statement conflict with the Monergistic or Calvinistic contention that God does intend to obtain the grace of faith and repentance for a definite group by Christ’s death on the Cross? No it does not.
I ask Synergists or Arminians to honestly assess their interpretation of their “Universal Atonement” and “Free Will” texts. If you do then you will see that the interpretation of those texts simply affirms that all may have salvation if they believe. Monergists or Calvinists are in full agreement there. Monergism, however, goes further. I understand that our contention of this “further” by God, which is not done for everyone therefore limiting atonement, causes the Synergist to cry foul. This, of course is where Unconditional Election comes in.
I am not trying to be divisive by writing on the doctrines of grace. I am trying to show where the differences really are. I believe that many of the Synergistic and Monergistic disputes are born from prideful arguments that have little to do with describing and defining the truth. The doctrines of grace is a Soteriological view that is highly misunderstood, even by many Calvinists. Many have a tendency to remove Man’s Responsibility to believe and repent to the point of not offering the Gospel freely to all. To do that is the result of dishonest interpretation of clear Biblical texts. On the other hand, most Synergists’ Soteriological views remove the Sovereignty of God and seem to elevate man to that position. Can you see how each extreme is out of balance? The correct view of our incredible Salvation is one in which God is glorified and man cannot boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Soli Deo Gloria!
1 John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ, Book III Chapter 1, pp. 325-326