Saturday, April 2, 2011

Particular, Definite, or Limited?

In the theological acrostic, TULIP, the “L” seems to give a lot of people the most trouble. What this acrostic stand for is, Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, and the Perseverance of the saints. Tulip is a simple way of recalling what is known as “The Doctrines of Grace.” And, it is this, a “Limited” atonement, which gives many fits. The word, “limited” is an unfortunate choice of words. But then how would one spell the word, “TULIP” if the “L” was eliminated and something else used instead?

What the “L” in this acrostic was originally meant to convey was a Particular Redemption or Atonement. Another way of putting it is a Definite Redemption or Atonement.

To avoid boring you with theological jargon, let me cut to the chase: Does the Bible teach that Christ in His death died for the sins of all people without exception or did the atonement Christ made on the cross, with His substitutionary death, die for those whom God the Father elected from before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1: 3-13)?

In other words, did Christ's substitutionary death effect a potential atonement or did it effect a definite, particular, or limited atonement?

Those who reject a definite or particular atonement are in essence saying that what Christ purchased with His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension is an eternal potentiality. Christ indeed endured the cross but rather than purchasing with his shed blood an atonement for God's elect, He rather made an atonement deposit in God's bank of salvation waiting for clients to come along and decide to go in and make a withdrawal of eternal life. This makes man in his absolute depraved nature the deciding factor in salvation when the Bible is all too clear that to have atonement for your sin, it is “not of yourself” but totally and absolutely of God (See Ephesians 2:1-10).

I mean really, think about, if salvation according to Ephesians chapter 2 is true in its assertion that salvation is by unmerited favor and not “of ourselves”, it is the “gift of God and not of works lest anyone boasts,” then how can the Atonement be a potential atonement just waiting for some depraved sinner to come along and make a withdrawal of eternal life?

To throw you another curve ball, let me ask this: What is atonement and when exactly were our sins atoned for?

Atonement is “the reconciliation of alien parties the restoration of a broken relationship (J.I. Packer).”

When Jehovah brought the Jews out of their Egyptian captivity, He set up a way in which to atone for their sins through animal sacrifice. Some say this was at the core of their relationship with God. They made an atonement for their souls through the shedding of blood of animals (Lev. 17:11). These sacrifices were, however, a “type” of what was to come.

“Typology is a special kind of symbolism. (A symbol is something which represents something else.) We can define a type as a “prophetic symbol” because all types are representations of something yet future. More specifically, a type in scripture is a person or thing in the Old Testament which foreshadows a person or thing in the New Testament. For example, the flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-7) is used as a type of baptism in 1 Peter 3:20-21. The word for type that Peter uses is figure.” (

The sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to something permanent and more worthwhile, to something that was to come. But, note this: sins were atoned for when the sacrifice was made or offered. Of course, the blood of animals could not atone for sins in any permanent sense. It was the blood of Him who would fulfill the type, The Messiah, who would once for all blot out sin (see Hebrews 10).

Let me repeat from the above paragraph: “Sins were atoned for when the sacrifice was made or offered.”

Christ did not make a potential atonement for someone who would decide negatively or positively towards the Gospel message in the future. Redemption was not waiting for the decision of man whether to take advantage of the bank account of eternal life to make a withdrawal or pass it by. The Atonement was made two thousand years ago for those whom God chose before the foundation of the world.

“...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will...” (Ephesians 1: 4,5)

Christ, our Great and Eternal High Priest, atoned for our sins when He offered Himself on the cross more than two thousand years ago. Just as in the case of the typological Old Testament sacrifices, atonement was made when the sacrifice was offered or made, so was Christ's atonement for His people made when He offered Himself as The Sacrifice for sin two thousand years ago.

It was not a potential redemption but a definite and particular one.

If you are a believer today, it was not you in your corrupted, depraved nature that chose yourself unto salvation. It was God who chose you before the foundation of the world, in eternity past, that in due time you would, by His grace, be made alive together with Christ being saved by His Grace (Ephesians 2:1-10).

“Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. (Romans 8:30; Romans 11:7; Ephesians 1:10, 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14; Ephesians 2:1-6; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:17, 18; Ezekiel 36:26; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:27; Ephesians 1:19; Psalm 110:3; Song of Solomon 1:4)” (THE BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH)  (

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16)