We have seen how Jesus Christ made full atonement for man’s sin. The finished work of redemption is complete. Some questions now arise: Is the atonement for all, or is it a limited atonement? Are all saved or just the elect? Are the benefits of the atonement received with conditions or without conditions? Although theologians generally agree about the provision of the atonement, there is disagreement concerning the extent and application of the atonement.
Calvinism vs Arminianism
The two main theological viewpoints on this matter are referred to as Calvinism and Arminianism, after the two men who formulated their views on this subject.
John Calvin (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564) was a French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation and was a central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology. In Geneva, his ministry both attracted other Protestant refugees and over time made that city a major force in the spread of Reformed theology. He is renowned for his teachings and writings, in particular for his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’.
Built on the teachings of Augustine (354-430) Calvinism’s main tenets are summarised into 5 main points (outlined on the next page).
“James (Jacob) Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian who studied, taught, and eventually broke with Calvinism. He was particularly at odds with John Calvin’s emphasis on unconditional election and irresistible grace. The Synod of Dort (1618-19) strongly reaffirmed ultra-Calvinism in reaction to Arminius’ growing influence. As a result, hundreds of Arminians — also known as Remonstrants — were removed from their pulpits. But Arminianism was not to be conquered. Its strong emphasis on free-will, salvation for all, and resistible grace, continued to be influential, finding perhaps its strongest proponent in John Wesley.” (Diane Leclerc, Ph.D., Professor, History of Christian Thought, Northwest Nazarene College)
The major tenets of Arminian belief are also outlined on the following page.
Unfortunately, the proponents of these two views have taken some of the teachings to the extreme and it has caused much bitterness and division in the church over the past centuries.
Christian Outreach Centre would tend toward an Arminian standpoint, upholding the universal provision of salvation for all, and the free will choice of all to accept God’s gracious provision.
The Provision, Extent and Application of the Atonement
Provision – Divine Sovereignty
“The Scriptures show that the redemptive work of Christ was made on behalf of all mankind. No one will be cast into hell because Christ did not die for them, but because they rejected God’s offer of salvation in Christ.” “Foundations of Christian Doctrine”, Kevin J Conner
The scriptures make it clear that Jesus made provision for all people in His atoning sacrifice:
2 Corinthians 5:15 “He died for all.”
Hebrews 2:9 “He, by the grace of God, tasted death for everyone.”
John 3:16 God gave His son for “whosoever believes in Him”.
John 1:29 The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.
1 Tim2:4; 2 Pet 3:9 God is not willing that any should perish.
1 John 2:2; 4:10 Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
So the Scriptures show that the provision of salvation for all men has been made, however not all will be saved because of their unbelief and refusal to repent (Ezekiel 33:11, John 5:40).
Man is a free-will agent and so is free to accept or reject the salvation, which he in no way deserves or could ever merit (Ephesians 2:4-9). The sole way to salvation is to receive and accept it as a free gift by faith.
Application – Human Responsibility
Christ as Saviour lays down the conditions on which salvation may be experienced. The following passages point out the distinction between the provision and application of the atonement.
1 Timothy 4:10. He is the saviour of all men (provision), especially of those who believe (application).
John 3:16. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (provision), that whoever believes in Him (application) should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Hebrews 5:9 Christ is the author of eternal salvation (provision) to all who obey Him (application).
Romans 3:24-26. There is grace and redemption in Christ (provision) and so God can be just and the justifier of all those who believe in Jesus (application).
So the scriptures also state that atoning work of Christ is limited to those who repent of their sins and believe the gospel and trust in Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
We must, however keep a balance between Gods provision and man’s response. If divine provision is over-emphasised it can lead to fatalism, if human application is over-emphasised it can lead to a doctrine of works. The Sovereignty of God and human responsibility must be kept in a proper perspective.
Election, Predestination and Calling
Clearly, salvation is available to all, yet not all will be saved. Through His grace (the undeserved, unmerited and unearned favour of God bestowed upon sinful man) God had provided a way of salvation for all people of every age, and it is only by the grace of God that anyone is saved. God has manifested this grace to all men and so man is without excuse (Titus 2:11, Romans 1:20). The scriptures tell us however that only the ‘elect’ will be saved. The provision is universal in scope, but the application is limited to those whom God has elected to eternal life. How can these truths be reconciled?
The Election of God
In its simplest meaning, election means the intention, process and result of making a choice.
The Hebrew word is “bawkheer” which means “to select, choose or the person chosen.” The Greek word is “eklectos” and means “picked out, chosen by God.”
Who are the elect?
A brief study of the Scriptures reveals definite truths regarding aspects of God’s election. The following are examples of those ‘elected’ or chosen by God:
- Christ is God’s elect. 1 Peter 2:4,6.
- The angels that did not fall are elect. 1 Timothy 5:21.
- Israel in the O.T. is the elect nation. Rom 11:28, Deut. 7:6.
- Moses is called God’s elect. Psalm 106:23.
- Priests were chosen as God’s elect. Deuteronomy 21:5.
- Kings were also elected, such as David and Saul. 1Sam 10:24, 1Chron 28:4-6.
- Prophets were chosen by God. Jeremiah 1:5.
- Apostles were chosen by the Lord. Luke 6:13, Jn 15:16, Act 9:15.
- The Church is Gods elect. Luke 18:7, Rom 8:33, 1Cor 1:27-28, Eph 1:4, Col 3:12, 1Thes 1:4, 2Timothy 2:10, 2 Peter 1:10.
Clearly the word “elect” refers to various ones who were chosen by God for specific purposes.
Not all of those who were chosen by God were necessarily elected to eternal life however.
On page 249 of ‘Foundations of Christian Doctrine, Kevin Conner defines the two distinct aspects of election as revealed in Scripture. These are:
1. The Election of Time.
This is an election for temporary purposes, whether positive or negative. God chose various individuals and nations to fulfil His purposes in relation to time: Moses, Pharaoh, Cyrus, Israel, Assyria, Babylon, and Paul are examples of this.
2. The Election of Eternity.
This is an election involving eternal destiny, on the basis of grace.
When speaking of election in relation to salvation, we mean the sovereign act of God’s grace whereby He chose certain individuals from among mankind, whom He foreknew would accept His Son’s offer of salvation.
God is under no obligation to elect any person, and there is nothing of merit in Adam’s fallen race that demands God choose anyone at all. Election is therefore solely a sovereign act of God’s grace and mercy, and is only applicable “in Christ”. Because Christ has made atonement for sinful man, and no man in and of himself can affect his own salvation, it is only in and through Christ that anyone can be ‘chosen’ or saved.
Election and Foreknowledge
At first glance the doctrine of election can seem unfair. How can God, who is ‘no respecter of persons’ arbitrarily pick out some to be saved, and others to spend an eternity in a burning hell?
It is only when we dig deeper and consider what the Scriptures teach in entirety concerning this area that we begin to comprehend the process of election.
Election, according to the Scriptures, is based on God’s foreknowledge.
The Greek word for “foreknow” is “proginosko” and means “to know beforehand”. It refers to God’s ability to perfectly know the future.
- Christ was foreknown and foreordained to die. Acts 2:23, 1 Peter 1:20.
- Israel was foreknown as God’s earthly people. Romans 11:2.
- The Church is foreknown also. Romans 8:29-30,1 Peter 1:1-2.
The Scriptures firmly base God’s election upon His foreknowledge:
“To the…elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1Pet 1:1-2 NKJV)
Because He is omniscient (all-knowing), God knew beforehand who would respond to His offer of salvation in Christ. Those whom he foreknew would respond to and accept His Son as Saviour He elected to eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Election and Predestination.
Conner in ‘Foundations’ p250 defines ‘predestination’. The word “predestinate“ is the Greek word “pro-orizo”, and means “to previously mark out a boundary line, to pre-determine, decide beforehand.”
Predestination is not only knowing what will come to pass, but also having the power to bring to pass what has been determined to do. Only God has this ability to do absolutely everything He has purposed to do.
Based on God’s foreknowledge the work of the atonement was predestined. Acts 4:28, 1 Corinthians 2:7. Adam’s fall did not come as a surprise to God, and before creation even began, Christ has already died for the sins of mankind:
“All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev 13:8 NKJV)
Equally God already knew who would avail themselves of this atonement, and as such predestined them to be part of Christ’s body, the church:
- The saints are predestined
to be conformed to the image of Christ, Romans 8:29-30,
- to become the children of God, Ephesians 1:5,
- and to bring praise and glory to God. Ephesians 1:11-12.
Election means that God has chosen to save those He foreknew would accept His Son, Predestination means that God has fixed the destiny beforehand of His elect. This is what we mean when we say that God has a plan for our lives. The following Scriptures touch upon these amazing truths:
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10 NKJV)
“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose. For those whom He foreknew [of whom He was aware and loved beforehand], He also destined from the beginning [foreordaining them] to be molded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness], that He might become the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom 8:28-29 AMP)
Again, the ideas of predestination and free will seem contradictory. How can we make choices if our destiny is already marked out according to God’s sovereign will? I offer the following suggestion (on the next page) of how we can reconcile these two fundamental concepts.
Election and Calling
Another concept we encounter when we consider these things is the ‘calling of God’.
The Greek word for calling used most often is “kaleo”, which means “to call into one’s presence, invite or call by name”. As born again believers, we have heard, received and accepted God’s gracious call to salvation and participation in His universal purposes!
Just as Conner in ‘Foundations’ describes distinction in the election of God, so he outlines distinction in the calling of God:
- Firstly it is used as a call to salvation.
- Secondly it is used as a call to ministry.
The call to salvation
In reference to the atonement, God’s call is an act of grace by which He invites men to accept by faith the salvation found in Christ. God calls the “whosoever”, He calls all men to Himself.
“that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:15-16 NKJV)
“And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev 22:17 NKJV)
(Also: Matthew11:28; John 7:37)
God uses various means to call people to Himself:
- He uses the preached word of the Gospel.
Romans 10:17, 2 Thess. 2:14.
- He uses the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin.
- He uses ministers of the gospel and His saints
2 Chronicles 36:15; Jer 25:4; Rom 10:14-15
- He also uses the circumstances of life to draw men to Himself.
Romans 2:4, Isaiah 26:9, Psalm 107:6.
God’s call to men will continue to sound until this “age of grace” or “space of repentance” is ended and judgement comes. “So God in His grace, on the basis of His foreknowledge, elected in eternity those He knew would respond to His calling in time, and thus predestined them to eternal happiness in heaven. Others who God foreknew would reject His extended grace have their destiny in eternal punishment in hell.” “Foundations of Christian Doctrine”, Kevin J Conner,
Application – Human Responsibility
God has provided everything we need for life and godliness through the atoning work of Christ:
“…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,” (2Pet 1:3)
In Christ ALL people are saved, healed and delivered from sin’s powerful grip. His sacrifice was for “whosoever will”. The reality remains that many will never avail themselves of God’s provision however and will spend eternity in hell.
What God has provided in Christ, man must receive and apply.
As Conner points out: “Divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet together in the great redemptive plan.”
The foundational steps of salvation on man’s side are:
1. repentance from dead works
2. and faith towards God. (Hebrews 6:1-2, Acts 20:21)
In relation to salvation, we cover these two doctrines in detail in Module 2: Doctrine, Repentance from dead works and Faith toward God
We briefly summarise here what is taught in detail in those notes:
1. Repentance from Dead Works.
The importance of repentance is seen in the fact that it is the first word of the gospel.
- The first word Christ preached was repentance.Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15.
- The Apostles called men to repentance. Mark 6:7-13.
- The first message of Peter at Pentecost was repentance. Acts 2:37-38
- Paul preached repentance first to both Jew and Gentile. Acts 26:20-21.
- Repentance is a command to all men, without which all men will perish. Acts 17:30, 2 Peter 3:9, Luke 13:3.
Biblical repentance involves two main areas. There is the root and also the fruit of repentance seen in a person’s life who has genuinely repented.
The root meaning of repentance in the Scriptures is a change of mind, heart and attitude towards sin and one’s relationship with a Holy God. Repentance brings a complete turnabout. It is a change of direction, from going away from God to coming towards God.
- Repentance firstly involves the mind of man. It is a recognition of the truth of the Gospel and one’s own guilty state before God. It is coming to the knowledge that one is on the wrong path and is lost without God’s saving grace.
- Repentance also involves the emotions of man. There is genuine sorrow of heart and lamenting over sin, often with tears, when one realizes the awfulness of sin and the price Jesus paid on the cross. Psalm 51:1-14.
- Repentance also involves the will of man. It is a decision to turn from sin, an about face. It is a surrender of your will and life to Christ.
Evidence of a genuine root of repentance will be seen in the fruit it produces. The fruit or works of repentance include:
- A Godly sorrow for sin. Matt 26:75, Psa 38:18, 2 Cor 7:10.
- Confession of sin. Psalm 51:1-4, Luke 18:9-14.
- A turning to God through Christ. Acts 26:18.
- A forsaking of sin. John 8:11, Prov 28:13, Isaiah 55:6-7.
- A turning from dead works. Hebrews 9:14.
- A restitution where possible. Lev 6:1-7, Numbers 5:5-8, Luke 19:8.
It is the grace of God working by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that brings man to repentance.
“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4 NKJV)
Man’s part is to respond to that conviction by accepting the truth of the Gospel.
2. Faith Towards God.
The second word of the gospel is “believe”. Mark 1:15, Acts 20:21.
After repentance comes “faith towards God”.
The writer of the Hebrews states the absolute importance of faith.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb 11:6 NKJV)
True Biblical Faith in regard to salvation is simply accepting as true, and therefore acting upon, the reality of all that Christ has accomplished in redemption.
We are saved when we believe in the heart and make confession of the truth of what God has done in Christ. Romans 10:9-10.
Again, God’s goodness and grace are primary in this occurrence in the believer’s life:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” (Eph 2:8 NKJV)
When the repentant sinner accepts Jesus as saviour and receives saving faith, he then has to move into the life of faith:
“But the just shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4 NKJV)
Following conversion the believer must continue in a life of repentance and humility before God, and of faith. The Bible indicates that there are degrees or measures of faith. We are called to move from faith to faith:
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”” (Rom 1:17 NKJV)
- Little faith. Matthew 8:26, 14:31.
- Weak faith. Romans 14:1.
- Vain faith. 1 Corinthians 15:14.
- Great faith. Luke 7:9.
- Fullness of faith. Acts 11:24.
- Steadfast faith. Colossians 2:5.
- Rich faith. James 2:5.
- Strong faith. Romans 4:19-20.