Did Jesus really die on the cross for everyone? Can ANYONE come to Christ for redemption through His blood and receive His free gift of eternal life? Not everybody thinks so. Some faithful pastors teach the “Calvinistic” doctrines of “limited atonement” and “double predestination.” They sincerely believe Jesus atoned only for the sins of those who trust in Christ as Savior. These conscientious pastors believe God predestined some to have everlasting life in heaven and everyone else to spend eternity in hell. According to this theory that has been around for centuries, multitudes of people on earth today are not eligible to receive Christ as Savior.
The majority of born-again pastors, on the other hand, believe Jesus atoned for the sins of the whole world on the cross and that God predestines no one to hell. In His first sermon, Jesus offered salvation to everyone with the words: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) I suspect that 90-95% of all Christians in the world today understand and believe Jesus died for everyone and God predestines no one to hell. While preaching on Romans 9:13, Charles Spurgeon stated, “Your damnation is your own election, not God’s; you richly deserve it.”
What does God’s Word say about this issue? There are Bible verses like John 10:15 stating Jesus died for BELIEVERS. There are other verses like Hebrews 2:9 stating Jesus died for EVERYONE in the world. Then there are verses like 1 John 2:2 stating Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of believers AND for the sins of the whole world. But there is NOT EVEN ONE passage of Scripture stating Jesus died ONLY for those who believe. Some pastors choose to focus only upon the passages stating Jesus died for believers. Those verses are only one piece of this puzzle. We must always be careful to interpret select Bible verses in the brilliant blaze of the ENTIRE Bible; not in the fleeting flicker of human reason. Otherwise, we end up with man-made doctrines that did not come from the Holy Spirit and bring no glory to God. Scripture interprets Scripture!
While on the cross, our Lord expressed His love for everyone. “When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33,34) Were Jesus’ executioners among the elect who would later believe? Why would Jesus pray for them and desire their salvation unless His atoning death on the cross truly was for everyone? God’s Word says, “Christ died for sins once for ALL, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) Even Jesus’ executioners were eligible for salvation.
Jesus said, “Come to me, ALL YOU who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Anyone who is weary of sinning against God is invited to come to Jesus and be forgiven. No one is invited to come to Jesus on man’s terms, but only on God’s terms. Anyone who desires to continue sinning is not ready to come to Christ. “God commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” (2 Cor. 7:10) It is called “godly sorrow” because God is the author of it. The Holy Spirit came to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) Repentance leads to salvation as the Holy Spirit guides you to turn away from sin and to trust Christ as your Savior. This is how anyone can be “born again” and “born of God.” (John 1:13; John 3:3)
I have a good friend who is a pastor and a “5-Point Calvinist.” This term is used for those who believe in limited atonement and double predestination, among other things. We meet regularly for fellowship, discussion, and prayer. We are equally passionate about the gospel and we learn much from one another in spite of our doctrinal differences on predestination and limited atonement.
The biblical doctrine of election, or predestination, came from the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is sometimes called “single predestination.” It was placed in the Bible to give believers the security and assurance of their eternal salvation. This doctrine does NOT teach that some people are predestined to hell. Predestination is in God’s love letter, the Bible, to comfort those who ALREADY believe. Predestination does not contradict the clear teaching of Scripture that Christ died for the sins of ALL and that God wants ALL to be saved.
Why then do a number of pastors believe in limited atonement and double predestination? They point to a variety of Scripture passages and to human reason to support their view. These pastors have a high view of Scripture and a passion to reach the elect with the gospel. Their doctrine of double predestination, however, affects the way they share the gospel and the careful words they use so as not to suggest that everyone is eligible for this free gift. They don’t believe that God’s gift of eternal life is available to everyone but only to the elect.
Human reason says that if some are predestined for heaven, then others must be predestined for hell. The Bible does not teach double predestination. It is not a spiritual concept taught by the Holy Spirit. It is an analytical concept generated by natural thinking. Did human reason convince you that the Son of God came down from heaven to suffer on the cross for your sins and then rise from the dead?
God’s message of grace is not logical – it is a supernatural revelation of good news. One of the last passages of the Bible states, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” WHOEVER is thirsty, let him come; and WHOEVER wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17) It doesn’t say, “Whoever is of the elect.” “God so LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Martin Luther said, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but-more frequently than not-struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” Luther also said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel.” Like many other Protestant reformers, Luther understood the need for the Holy Spirit to work the miracle of the new birth through faith in Christ. Many believers today share Luther’s conviction: “My reason and my mind must be held captive to Scripture. Here I stand; I can do no other.”
The Word of God transcends and surpasses human reason. God’s inspired Word says, “The Lord is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, but EVERYONE to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) The Bible also says, “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of ALL men, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10) “Five-pointers” would interpret that verse to mean: “God is the Savior of all the elect, and especially of the elect.” What? Their theory just doesn’t fit into Scripture no matter how hard they try to force it in there. What flows like a heavenly stream out of Scripture is the teaching of single predestination and UNLIMITED atonement. “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:5) “God wants ALL men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
Some say, “It’s not logical to believe in single predestination AND to believe God wants ALL to be saved.” I agree. It’s not logical. But neither is another major doctrine that Christians believe – namely, the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not logical to believe that there are three Persons in one God. Believers do not learn about the Trinity from their human reason. The Holy Spirit teaches us about the Trinity and convinces us of this reality AFTER we are saved. This is why Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses reject that doctrine. They don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of them through faith if they believe what their church teaches them about earning their way into heaven. Even after you trust Christ alone for salvation, your mind will not fully comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity. Faith accepts even those things that we don’t fully understand but which are clearly taught in Scripture.
God’s Word is crystal clear regarding unlimited atonement. “We have an advocate with the Father-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for OUR sins, and not only for ours BUT ALSO for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.” (1 John 2:1,2) How does limited atonement sound when forced into this passage? “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the elect, and not only for the elect, but also for the elect.” Huh? This illustrates why the doctrine of double predestination was doomed from the day man devised it.
Ron Rhodes is a “4-Point” Calvinist and he writes: “If Christ died only for the elect, how can the offer of salvation be made to all persons without some sort of insincerity, artificiality, or dishonesty being involved?” Like most Christians, Ron is convinced that UNLIMITED atonement is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. I am able to honestly tell an unbeliever that I KNOW Jesus died for YOU and YOUR sins. Five-pointers could honestly say: “I HOPE He died for you and your sins,” or “Jesus died for SOME sinners.” The truth is that every single person in the world is eligible to come to Jesus and be redeemed by His blood through repentance and faith in Christ alone.
Thankfully, our differing views will not prevent my pastor friend and I from enjoying fellowship together. We will continue to learn from one another and pray for one another as born again brothers in Christ. If Jesus could pray for his executioners, Christians can certainly choose to accept one another in spite of these different views regarding who is eligible for redemption. It gives us another opportunity to put into practice this loving command: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7)
I’ll conclude with a personal word for YOU. Each one of us is just as guilty of sin as Jesus’ executioners. We ALL put Him to death with our sin. YOU put Jesus to death with YOUR sin. Jesus nevertheless loves YOU. Jesus died for YOUR sins. YOU are commanded in the Bible to repent of your sin and turn to Christ. YOU are invited to receive His free gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. God LOVES YOU and HE WANTS YOU to go to heaven and live with Him forever. If you are weary and burdened because of your sin against God, YOU are ready to come to Jesus right now! Will you trust that Jesus died on the cross for YOU and receive Him as YOUR Savior? YOU will be forever forgiven, loved, and accepted by your Creator. It doesn’t get any better than that!