For Whom Did Christ Die?
The extent of the atonement deals with the question, “For whom did Christ die?”
Universalism is the theory that Jesus died effectually for the sins of all people, so everyone in the universe is saved. This view is clearly contrary to the Bible, which reveals an actual hell where there are unrepentant people.
Some say that Jesus died to make redemption possible, depending ultimately on man’s decision to accept the gospel. But this makes salvation depend on man.
Reformed theology holds to limited atonement. This does not mean a limit is placed on the value of the atonement. Its meritorious value is sufficient to cover the sins of all people. The sacrifice that Christ offered the Father was perfect. He could not have done more than He did to effect the redemption of mankind. Limited atonement limits the people the atonement was designed to redeem.
THE DESIGN OF THE ATONEMENT
From all eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were in perfect agreement about creation and redemption. God’s design and purpose for the cross were to save only some of fallen humanity by satisfying the demands of His justice. He determined by His Spirit to apply the redemptive work of His Son to those whom He chose from the foundation of the world (John 6:37). The ultimate design and plan of redemption does not depend on our decision for its efficacy or effectiveness. It depends on God alone. Salvation is of the Lord.
Many object to this, pointing to the Bible’s teaching that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Yes, Christ did die for people from all parts of the world, which is the way the Scriptures speak of ‘the world.’ In other words, Jesus did not die merely for the Jews. He died for Jews and Gentiles of every kind. He died for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. He died for the whole elect, which includes people from every part of the world. However, He did not die for the non-elect.
The gospel is offered universally to all; it is offered to anyone who repents and believes. But only those whom God chose and Christ died to redeem will repent and believe. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (John 6:37).
[Adapted from Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]