Did Christ Die for All Men? Or Did He Die for Only Some Men?
“The simple logic of Limited Atonement or particular redemption”
At some point in our Christian walk we must ask ourselves this vital question: “Who did Christ die for?” A huge portion of our theology is wrapped up in this little question, which has been a hotly debated issue for centuries. I want to offer the answer as I see it by using the simple logic that led to me changing my entire view of scripture several years ago. I believe that most Christians actually believe in Limited Atonement, but disagree on free will or election of the believer.
- I am assuming in this post that you believe that the Bible is the inerrant, eternal, Word of God
- I am also assuming that you, the reader, agrees that there is a literal Heaven and a literal Hell as defined in the Bible.
- I assume that you agree that our salvation is connected to our belief that Jesus Christ is God, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross in our place, and rose again on the third day securing eternal life for all who believe in Him.
Let’s Agree on One Point at the outset:
These 3 questions are the basis of this discussion. Read these and consider them very carefully:
1. Do all men/women go to Heaven?
I believe that all Christians who stand by the assumptions above would answer NO to this question. If your answer to this question is yes, then you believe in universalism, which is not Biblical and you are not a Christian.
2. Do all men/women go to Hell?
Again I believe that all Christians answer NO to this question. If your answer to this is yes, you are not a Christian because you don’t believe in the atoning work of Christ on the cross, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life with Christ in Glory for the believers.
3. Do only some men/women go to Heaven?
All Christians must answer YES to this question. Because both questions 1) and 2) must be answered NO and it is non-negotiable…for Biblical Christians this is the only option.
The answer to these simple questions gives us one simple point to agree upon as our starting point: Some people go to Heaven and some people go to Hell. All Christians will agree on this point.
How Does Someone Get to Heaven?
Ok, let’s take one more step together, so if some people go to Heaven and some people go to Hell, what is the deciding factor? How does one avoid eternal damnation in the fires of Hell and inherit the eternal life and glory with Christ for all eternity in Heaven? This is answered with the Gospel of course.
There is only one way…believe the following list and become a disciple of Christ (how this belief comes about is a different topic…i.e. free will/election):
- Christ, the Son, is the second person of the Godhead eternal and holy
- The Son condescended from Heaven to earth as 100% man and 100% God born as a baby
- Christ lived a perfect sinless life full of miracles, signs, and wonders
- Christ was tried for heresy and sentenced to crucifixion, and died on the cross.
- On the cross Christ became sin and received the infinite wrath of God the Father as a substitute in our place
- Christ’s death on the cross secured redemption, reconciliation, justification, and adoption as sons of God for those who believe, die to self, and follow Him
- Christ, on the third day, was resurrected, thus defeating death and appearing to many.
- After a short time in his resurrected form Christ ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes on our behalf as an advocate.
- Review John 18-21, Luke 22-24, Acts 2, 2 Corinthians 5:10-21, Colossians 1:10-23, 2:12-15, Romans 1-8
This is what we must believe to be saved from the eternal punishment due for our sins. All sin, all must face judgment (Romans 3). We are saved by our faith in Christ.
Romans 1:17 – For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Galatians 2:16 – “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
We should be good so far and all Christians should be in full agreement at this point.
Salvation (Justification) by Faith in the Cross Work of Christ
We know and agree that we are saved by faith in Christ’s death on the cross and we know and believe that He died in our place as a substitute and through our faith our sins are forgiven. So, this is where the controversy starts to kick in.
Let’s go deeper still with more questions:
1) Did Christ’s death on the cross secure eternal life through forgiveness of sins for God’s Elect? This means that every sin through all of history for THE ELECT (the children of God) only was paid for on the cross. Otherwise stated as: “All of some people’s sins paid for”.
** OR **
2) Did Christ’s death on the cross secure the potential of eternal life for forgiveness of sins to those who chose to believe? This means that every sin for every person throughout all of time was paid for on the cross. Otherwise states as: “All sins for all people”.
Which is it? This isn’t an easy question because both answers have HUGE implications on our entire theological position and it must be considered carefully. Did Christ’s death actually secure eternal life for the children of God or did it only give the potential for eternal life for those who believe?
What then does John 19:30 mean and what theological impact does it have?
John 19:30 – “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
What does “it is finished” mean? – We’ll return to this soon.
Very Important Logic Question:
Can someone go to hell whose sins were paid for on the cross? This is the implication from answer 2) above. In addition it would mean that Hell is full of people who had the potential of salvation because their sins were paid for, but they chose not to believe? This also means that Christ’s death on the cross was not actually effective.
Can this really be? Or is it bad logic? Let’s look at it from a different angle…scripture:
Ephesians 1:4-5 “4…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”
This passage is pretty clear that he (the Father) chose us in him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world. We were predestined for adoption. We were not predestined for the potential of adoption, but for adoption, which is to be an heir to the kingdom of God and to receive eternal life through faith in Christ.
Ephesians 2:4-6 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
How can we have the potential for salvation through choosing to believe in Christ if the Bible says that “even when we were dead in our trespasses (sins), God made us alive together with Christ”? God did it while we were still dead in our sins…before we believed.
Romans 5:6, 8, 10 “6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…”
Again, we see that Christ’s death and the reconciliation to God occurred while we were sinners, while we were enemies with God. How could our choice to believe in Christ apply the forgiveness of sins through belief when it has already occurred? There doesn’t seem to be any potential. Scripture reads as if it is a done deal. Return now to John 19:30
It is Finished
John 19:30, as we looked at reads simply: “…It is finished…”
The Word of God, God himself states on the cross: “it is finished.” There is no ambiguity in this statement. What was finished? Christ’s mission described in Philippians 2:5-8 to come to Earth humble and in the form of nothing (human) and to obey to the point of death. It was also to transfer us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12-14) and to defeat the enemy by nailing our sins to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). I could continue, but I think you get the point. His work for securing our redemption was finished by dying on the cross.
So, was it finished or was it not? Did Christ’s death ACTUALLY complete the work? Was the forgiveness of sins ACTUALLY finished for those that are predestined to be adopted as children of God? Was redemption actually finished? Justification actually finished?
In this short phrase, “it is finished”, we see several important aspects in the original language. First the word actually means to bring to a close, to end, to perform, execute, or complete. It also means to carry out the content of a command by fulfilling it. This word, which is a verb is a the Perfect, Passive, Indicative, which means that it was completed without need of repeating and it is a statement of fact. John is telling us that it is finished. The atoning work is finished, Christ did it a long time ago.
The Propitiation for Our Sins
Think about this logic for a minute. We agreed at the outset that not all go to Hell or Heaven in our basic assumptions. So, how could Christ be the propitiation of our sins (and every single person in the world) if all people are not saved? Propitiation (defined as: to appease or satisfy) means that those whom Christ was the propitiation for have not condemnation sin Christ has appeased and satisfied the penalty of wrath in our place as our substitute.
1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
- Important to note here: “World” is the Greek word “Kosmos”, which has 8 definitions in the Greek lexicon and none of the 8 definitions means “all people for all time”. Kosmos in this verse simply means that salvation is not restricted to just the Jews, but the whole world beyond Israel…God will save people from all over the world, all nations, and all people groups.
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Romans 3:25 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.
But What of Our Faith?
Those who have faith in Christ are saved from Hell and receive the inheritance of Heaven as adopted sons, so doesn’t everyone who believes have an equal chance at salvation? YES! Of course they do. All who believe in Christ will be saved, the Bible tells us so. Look at these passages relating to our faith:
John 6:37-40, 44 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”… 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
Only those given by the Father to the Son will come to the Son, which is faith. Only those who are given by the Father to the Son will look on the Son and believe.
Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
Hebrews 12:2 “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,…”
The Father gives the disciples to the Son, our faith is a gift from the Father, and Christ is the perfecter of our Faith. It is finished. Every child of God, predestined for adoption (Ephesians passage above) will have faith and will be saved. There has never been a person who cries out to God for salvation through faith in Christ who hasn’t been saved.
In conclusion, I want to return to the question above. Did Christ death on the cross actually secure eternal life for the Elect children of God? Or, did Christ’s death just secure the potential for all mankind depending on who believes?
Implications are everything with this question.
- If we say that Christ death actually secured eternal life for the Elect, we must then accept that God predestined every believer before time began and HE gives the faith to those. Then every single child of God is saved and the atoning sacrifice on the cross is perfect and complete and every single person whom God did not elect is punished in Hell for their sins which were NOT atoned for. I am very comfortable with this.
- Believers elect? – YES
- Sins of all mankind atoned for? – NO
- Sins of the believer atoned for? – YES
- Believers go to Heaven? – YES
- Sins of the non-believer atoned for? – NO
- Non-believers in Hell with sins atoned for? – NO
2. If we say that God doesn’t elect believers and that Christ’s death on the cross gives the potential for every single person for all time to be saved depending on their faith because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice then you are left with some people being saved based on their belief and their sins are atoned for and others who don’t believe and go to Hell, but their sins are atoned for. This I cannot accept under any circumstance.
- Believers elect? – NO
- Sins of all mankind atoned for? – YES
- Sins of the believer atoned for? – YES
- Believers go to Heaven? – YES
- Sins of the non-believer atoned for? – YES
- Non-believers in Hell with sins atoned for? – YES
Please consider this simple logic and the Bible verses above that support these two options. It was either finished on the cross or not. I personally chose to believe it was finished. To not agree with limited atonement means that you believe that there are people in Hell who have had their sins atoned for and the cross work of Christ was not perfect and effectual.
Ultimately the question in the title, for whom did Christ die? We could answer with, “He died for the elect.” However, even that is too shallow. For whom did Christ die? He died for God the Father who predestined before time began that the climax of Plan A would be Christ dying in an atoning sacrifice for the children of God.
This bottom piece is more simple logic that influenced me from John Owen:
FOR WHO DID CHRIST DIE?
The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
- All the sins of all men.
- All the sins of some men, or
- Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
- That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
- That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
- But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?