Limited Atonement: Does Everyone Have an Opportunity to Be Saved?
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. John 3:36
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it (the gospel of Jesus Christ, and not sovereign election or predestination!) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16
14 “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” 2 Cor. 5:14-15
…God our Saviour…will have all men to be saved , and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all…. 1 Timothy 2:3-6
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.33 This he said, signifying what death he should die. ” John 12: 32-33
9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
The idea that God, before time began, preselected certain unborn people to be destined for salvation, while certain other people were pre-designated for hell, with no opportunity to believe and repent, is clearly and outrageously false – and fails when tested in the refining fire that is the word of God. We are to look to the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) for guidance on all issues, and the full counsel of God, as found in the eternal scriptures, obliterates the idea of limited atonement, along with the other pillars of Calvinism. However, for the purposes of this writing, I will focus on the error of limited atonement because it is a critical concept for believers since, if it is true, the Christian life of evangelizing, being a living example of Christ, and making disciples, has no value in terms of saving others from the flames…and both the piercing gospel of Jesus Christ (which is the power of God unto salvation, per Romans 1:16) and prayers for the salvation of others…are rendered meaningless.
From the dawn of time, men and women have had free will. In the garden, Adam and Eve had the choice to either obey God, or to listen to the deliciously wicked voice of the serpent. God did not make or want mindless robots, but instead, He, in his unimpeachable sovereignty given each of us freedom – which is best illustrated by the opportunity we all have to choose life or death, good or evil (see, Joshua 24:14-15). Far more often than not, we have chosen evil. But the idea that we are all preordained to go to heaven or hell, without a volitional element, makes the life and brutal death of Jesus Christ, as well as the commands of Jesus and the apostles, moot, a waste, a sham, a fraud, and an unfathomable cruelty perpetrated by a God who in reality has an unsearchable love for each and every one of His beloved children. We are far more than robots living an essentially meaningless, preprogrammed life. We are men and women who have received the gift of free will from the one and only God, and he wants us to use that will to seek him with all of our hearts. The evidence of his love and mercy…is everywhere (Ps. 19).
My primary problem with Calvinism and all other structures and belief systems superimposed on the Bible, such as hyperdispensationalism, covenant theology and pre/post-tribulation rapture, is that we tend to force every other scripture we find into the mold of those manmade paradigms, even if there are 20, 40 or even 100 scriptures that seem to contradict the 3 or 4 verses that support our belief. We tend to cling to our position as an idol, rather than seeking the “whole counsel” of God on a subject. Why? Because we learned it from a trusted youth leader, a long-time pastor or from a wise seminary professor. Instead of trusting men, who will fade away like grass (1 Peter 1:24-25), we must take the eternal word of God, as a whole, gathering all of the verses on a topic we seek to understand, so that we can study every single word Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, et. al. said regarding that issue. That is the ONLY way to truly understand the things of God. We must rely less on the teaching of men, no matter how much we love and respect them, and rely more and more on God’s everlasting word. As John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27 teach us, the Holy Spirit will teach us all things as we press into His word.
My hope is that we will all obey the Apostle Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 10:5, and cast down every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We must tear down the manmade structures that we place on the eternal scriptures, no matter the cost, and instead search the written word ourselves, diligently and in full, just as the Bereans did and were commended for it (Acts 17:11).
Below are an abundance of scriptures, most of which are self-explanatory, which establish the fact that every single person born on this earth has a chance to be saved. While I will never understand the thoughts and intents of the heart of God, or fully comprehend His foreknowledge (and Paul’s statements on predestination), I do believe that Jesus, Paul and Peter have made it more than clear to all of us who truly seek Him in His word, that no one, pre-birth is designated for hell at the whim of God, and that everyone has an opportunity to recognize and choose the only one who can save us from the consequences of sin.
If your theology requires you to change the definition of these simple words: all, any, every, and the world…then you have a problem. That problem is not with me. It is with God.
Nullifying the plain meaning of multiple scriptures in order to make them fit into the theology of our favorite authors and teachers, is a dangerous thing. For God so loved…the WORLD. Yes, God actually loved the whole world, so he gave his only begotten son to redeem us all, yet most refuse.
Psalm 19:1-4 In this passage, David states that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord and the earth shows His handiwork. Day after day they pour forth knowledge and night after night they pour forth speech. There is no language where their voice isn’t heard. Their words have gone out to the end of the world.
This scripture, in conjunction with Romans 1:16-21, teach us that, God has revealed himself to all through the beauty and power of creation. Therefore, we are ALL without excuse.
Psalm 97:6 The heavens declare His righteousness and all of the people see His glory.
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest….
Anyone who is weary and burdened is invited by Jesus to come to Him for rest. He doesn’t invite those he’s allegedly already chosen. He wants and has invited us all.
Matthew 18:14 When Jesus is talking about children, He specifically states that it is not His Father’s will that even one of these should perish. Clearly, Jesus is sharing His (and the Father’s) hope that every single one of the children on earth will seek Him and find Him. His will is that none perish, yet many do, thereby confirming that we have a will that can reject God.
Luke 2:9-11 When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds to announce Christ’s birth, he told them that he was bringing tidings of great joy which will be “to all people.”
Luke 13:34 Jesus laments over the fact that He so desperately longed to gather ALL of His elect jews to Himself – but they refused to come. His elect jews willingly rejected the one who made them and was calling them home. I recommend reading this passage. It makes no sense in the context of Calvinism.
John 1:1-18 The gospel of John (along with Romans Chapter 10) is a tour de force against calvinism, tearing it down from every angle. This extended passage, which I believe is one of the most important in the entire Bible (because it establishes exactly who Jesus Christ was, is and is to come), is an excellent place to start in proving that Jesus came to save everyone who believes. Sadly, most reject his offer of salvation by grace through faith.
In the opening four verses, the Apostle John states, with great clarity exactly who our savior is, and he makes it abundantly clear that: Jesus “was the light of men.” Jesus was not the light of some men. He was not the light for certain chosen men. He was the light of all men. John then goes on to state that John the Baptist came as a witness to Jesus so that through Him all men might believe.(V. 7). Again, it was Jesus’ hope that every single person on this earth would believe in God…not just some men, not just certain preselected men, but all men. In verse 12, John also specifically states that anyone who receives Jesus, to him he will give the power to become a son of God. John is emphasizing the fact that there is a strong volitional element to salvation. Anyone who receives Jesus Christ can become a child of God. John 1:16 goes on to state that we have all received the grace of God. Men predesignated for hell, with no chance to choose between Jesus and the god of this world, would not have the opportunity to receive God’s grace, thereby making John and the scriptures liars. I believe the clear, specific words of John the apostle, over any man, no matter their reputation, popularity or academic background.
John 3:16-21 In this well-known passage, Jesus restates the point made by John in chapter 1, by saying that anyone who believes in the name of Jesus will not perish but will have everlasting life. Verse 17 goes on to state that God sent Jesus into this world not to condemn it but to save it. He did not come to save a few preselected people who were already marked for salvation. Why would Jesus come and die a brutal, torturous death to save people who were already saved? Why would Jesus and Paul tell us to preach the word of God, to make disciples, and to contend for the faith vigorously, if it was already predetermined who would and wouldn’t be saved? In the rest of this passage, we learn, from the mouth of Jesus Christ, the author of our salvation, that we all have a choice…darkness or light, good or evil. (See also, John 3:36, which is just as strong on this topic, and is quoted in the heading of this article).
John 5:22-24 Jesus states that all judgment has been committed to Him by the Father, and that it is the Father’s hope that all men would honor His Son. Jesus then goes on to state that whoever hears His words and believes that He was sent from the Father, has eternal life. Again, there are no limitations placed by Jesus or the Father on who can hear and believe in Jesus Christ, and Jesus specifically states that it is His Father’s actual hope that everyone would honor Jesus Christ. The only person who seems to place limitations on who can hear the word of God and be saved is John Calvin.
“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” John 5:40
Jesus tells His fellow Jews that, while they search the scriptures daily, they do not choose to come to Him, the very one to whom the scriptures point. Jesus is making it clear that the study of theology doesn’t give anyone eternal life…but willingly coming to the one and only savior, Jesus Christ, does…and that is a choice we all have the opportunity to make.
John 6:45-47 Jesus again states that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life, not just a preselected few.
John 12:32 Jesus says that, if He is lifted up from the earth He will draw all men to Himself. Most will ignore Him, but Jesus says, with unmistakable certainty, that He will draw ALL men to Himself.
John 12:48 is another clear verse, spoken by Jesus Christ, warning us of the eternal consequences of using our freedom to reject His salvation:
“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Why do we have the scriptures? That we might believe and choose life. This is another clear verse explaining how God has given humanity certain things (like creation per Psalm 19:1-2; Rom. 1:19-21) to point our eyes, minds and hearts to him. Some heed the call of God…but most reject it and go their own way.
Acts 7:51 When Steven, “full of faith and power” is explaining the prophesies of Jesus from the Old Testament to the Jewish council, he informs them that, just like their fathers, they resist the Holy Ghost. Steven would not need to waste his time preaching this message to the Jews if it were predetermined who would and wouldn’t be saved. He also makes it very clear that their forefathers chose to resist the Holy Spirit, which is of course a voluntary act. In both Deuteronomy 30:19-20 and Joshua 24:15, God commands His people to choose…this day life or death, blessings or curses…thus, even in Old Testament days, God gave men the choice as to whether or not they would follow Him. Most of them chose the golden calf, Molech, the queen of heaven or Ashtoreth worship over the Living God, just most people today choose their idols over salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. We all have the ability to resist or accept the unchanging truth of our great God. He speaks to our hearts through His eternal word and through the glory and beauty of creation, so that all of us are without excuse. See, Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20.
Acts 10:34-44 When Peter was sharing the gospel with Cornelius, he stated that God is not a respecter of persons, and that every nation that feareth Him and works righteousness, is accepted by Him(we saw that with Nineveh in the OT when they repented after hearing the word from Jonah) . In verse 43, Peter teaches that through God’s name, whoever believes in Jesus shall receive the remission of sins. We also see throughout Acts and the epistles that Peter, Paul and many other Apostles spend their lives relentlessly preaching the gospel throughout the world knowing that all men everywhere have an opportunity to hear the truth of Jesus Christ and be saved.
*****Acts 17:24-31 In this powerful passage, where Paul is preaching to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, he lays out, in very clear terms, the fact that God, who made everything, created each person at a specific time and in a specific place that “they should seek the Lord and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us.” So even the godless Greek philosophers were placed on earth at a specific time and in a specific place, so that perhaps they too might seek God, find Him an be saved. This is true for every person ever created…says Paul: Acts 17:24-31
24” “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring…30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
Romans 1:16 This verse is self explanatory. The power of the God unto salvation is NOT predestination. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ransoms men from the flames of hell: 16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The great passage on Grace in Ephesians 2:8-9, also makes it clear that we are saved by “grace through faith,” not by “grace through predestination.”
Romans 1:19-23 Paul essentially restates what David said in Psalm 19, that all men are without an excuse when it comes to knowing God because God has revealed Himself to everyone from the dawn of time, through the glory and power of creation. Yet men choose to ignore what God has placed right in front of their five senses, and instead choose to degrade each other and embrace the darkest of sins.
**Romans 4:5 The calvinists claim that choosing to believe the gospel is a work, thus, true believers don’t choose to trust Christ but he alone chooses them. This verse makes it as clear as is possible, that choosing to believe is NOT a work because Paul contrasts belief with works:
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5 KJV
Romans 5:18 Just as judgment came upon all men by Adam’s sin, so by the righteousness of Jesus, the free gift of justification unto life came to all men.
***Romans 8:29 In this verse Paul explains predestination as “foreknowledge,” just as Peter defines the “elect” as those God “foreknew,” in 1 Peter 1:2. The point is, that God did not preselect men to go to heaven or hell, but he, in his omniscience, “foreknew” who would choose to believe on his name, and those who would reject him. See below:
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ….” 1 Peter 1:2
Romans 8:32 Paul states that God the Father delivered His Son to death “for us all.”
Romans 10:4 Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone that believes.
Romans 10:9-10 “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead (NOT” If thou art randomly preselected by Jesus for heaven before time began”), thou shalt be saved. For it is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Romans 10:12-17 Paul teaches us, without any limiting language, that the Lord is rich toward “all” who call upon him (vs. 12) and goes on to state that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (See also, Joel 2:32) Paul then implores the Roman church to preach the gospel, since the only way that people can believe in Jesus is by hearing the word of God. He states, “How shall they believe in him of whom they haven’t heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans10:14). This point is emphasized again in verse 17: “So then faith cometh by HEARING, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
Paul does NOT say that people believe in Jesus Christ because they are part of the “elect.” He makes it clear that people will not, and cannot believe…unless we preach, and they hear…the word of the living God.
In summary, Paul is telling us in Romans 10, with clear and powerful language, that salvation wasn’t accomplished at the pre-creation whim of God, but instead he exhorts us to go out into the world and preach the gospel in order to give more people an opportunity to hear the story of Jesus Christ, who ransomed us from hell with his blood, and perhaps, through hearing the truth, might be saved.
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
***1 Corinthians 5:11 “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”
The passage above is one that motivates me to evangelize perhaps more than any other. Not only is the terror of the Lord on the day of judgement very real, but Jesus Christ has called us to labor tirelessly to “persuade” people, via the gospel, to repent. If the false, Calvinist understanding of predestination were indeed true then this scripture(along with many, many others) is a lie because no one could be persuaded.
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Christ died for all (it says that twice), thus if any man be in Christ he is a new creature and all things become new.
2 Thessalonians 2:12 Those are damned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.
Who is damned? Those who choose not to believe.
1 Timothy 3:6-7 God’s wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, for He gave Himself as a ransom for all.
1 Timothy 4:10 We labor and suffer reproach because we trust God, who is the savior of all men.
1 Timothy 4:16 We must be careful how we live and with our doctrine for in doing so we shallsave both ourselves and our hearers. Clearly, our words and actions may have a bearing on who is and isn’t saved.
Titus 2: 11-12 11″For the grace of God which bringeth salvation has appeared to ALL men, 12 teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world….” The grace of God THAT BRINGS SALVATION has appeared to everyone. This is one of many passages that could not possibly be any more clear on the fact that God offers his grace to everyone, and he offers it for free.
Hebrews 2:9 Jesus, was made a little lower than the angels and was crowned with glory and honor so that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.
James 5:19-20 James tells us that many of our sins will be covered if we, through the truth, convert a sinner from the error of his ways, saving him from death. Jude 1:22-23 also emphasizes that by our actions, as followers of Christ, men can be pulled from the fires of hell.
2 Peter 2:9 God is long suffering toward us and is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:15 “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation….”
Peter makes it clear once again – God’s long suffering towards us actually leads to salvation. How? It his patience with our wickedness…his long delayed judgement, that gives us all the time we need to consider his gospel and repent. He wouldn’t need to be long suffering towards us – and his long suffering certainly wouldn’t lead to salvation – if each of us didn’t have a choice to make with our hearts. That choice is…the short term pleasures of sin, or the blood of Jesus Christ? Choose this day who you are going to serve.
1 John 2:2 Jesus is the propitiation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 5:1 “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God….”
Once again, the apostle whom Jesus loved, teaches us exactly who is saved. It is those who believe that Jesus is who He said He is.
Revelation 22:17 “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” At the very end of the Bible, THIS is what Jesus Christ wants us to know: whosoever is thirsty, whosoever will, let him take the water of life…freely! The offer of salvation to everyone, without limitation is being made abundantly clear one last time. Please, come to him and choose the saving blood of Jesus Christ, as the clock of of time…winds down.
Jesus Christ, the one who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things were made; the one in whom is life and that life is the light of men; the one who gave us grace and truth; the one who bore our sins in His body on the tree; the one whose head and hair are white like wool as white as snow and whose eyes are like blazing fire; The one who holds the keys of death and hell; the one who someday will appear in an open sky, riding on a white horse wearing a robe dipped in blood with a name written on Him which no one knows but He Himself; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and the author of such a great salvation, makes it clear, through His own words and the words of His Apostles, that He wants every single person born on this planet to be saved from the flames of hell. Why would He waste so much time teaching the jews about the dangers of hell if it was already predetermined who would and wouldn’t go there? Why would he give us the great commission or have us pray for the salvation of others, if everything was already set in stone? Why would he have allowed his son to be brutalized and murdered if we are all simply preprogrammed, predestined robots?
Because of His surpassing love, He gives all people everywhere an opportunity to repent and turn to Him. He even sends the gospel to pagans who are searching for the one true God (Cornelius, Lydia, and the Ethiopian Eunuch). However the road is narrow…and few find it because few want it. Let us all seek the kingdom of God through His everlasting word, unpolluted by the doctrines of demons and men, and let us joyfully share it with others who might also choose the glorious gift of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
I strongly recommend that each one of us ask God to tear down ANY man-made belief system, which we have placed on His glorious word, no matter who taught it to us. Jesus promises us in John 14:26 (and John says essentially the same thing in 1 John 2:27), that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things, so I humbly suggest that we pick up our KJV Bibles, and ask the Spirit to destroy any preconceived notions we have about anything related to God…and then simply read.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
*A note on freewill and the Old Testament: As John 3 and Romans 10 indicate so clearly, salvation is and has always been accomplished in the heart of a man who hears and responds to the word of God (see, 10:17). Since Jesus came to earth, in order for us to be saved, we must believe in our heart that he, fully God and fully man, paid for our sins with his blood, and was raised to life by his Father. There is nothing in these verses (or John 3) that implies anything else. Hebrews 11 also makes it clear that it was always faith that saved, even in Old Testament times(see also, Romans 4:2-5 and Hebrews 4:1-7). Wicked pagans and harlots, such as the citizens of Ninevah, Nebachadnezzar, and Rahab were saved – not because they were jews (because the weren’t), but because they believed in the true God of heaven, and it was credited to them as righteousness. Anyone who has read the major prophets and the books of Moses can see that most jews didn’t care one bit about the God who chose them and redeemed them from slavery time and time again, therefore, they were not saved even though they were God’s chosen people. God, through his prophets, begged them to choose Him and turn their hearts back to the one who delivered their forefathers from Egypt…but they would not. Their hearts were hard and they refused to exercise their God-given freewill to “choose this day” and “turn their hearts….” Therefore, God have them over to his enemies time and time again.
Ezra 6:19-21 is another excellent passage illustrating that even pagans who separated themselves from the filthiness of their heathen gods and turned to the God of Israel, were accepted by Him.
No verse quite sums up the tenor of the entire Old Testament, and the freewill-rejection by the elect Israelites, of a God who loved them deeply, and pursued them with all of his heart, like Luke 13:34:
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
God longed to gather them to Himself, as a mother hen does with her chicks…BUT THEY WOULD NOT. No passage could ever summarize freewill, and how 99% of the world uses its freedom to respond to God than this one.
Faith in the one true God has always been the only factor that saves. Even the Magi, who came from somewhere in the far eastern regions of the known world, traveled thousands of miles to honor the baby Messiah prophesied about in the Jewish scriptures. These distant pagans did what few Jews did. They read and believed the word of God… and were rewarded not only with eternal life, but by meeting in person the God who could save them.
God has always been available to the hearts of those who want to find him, no matter where they are. Cornelius, Lydia, Apollos and the Ethiopian Eunuch are more examples of New Testament gentiles who wanted to know the one true God and sought him with their hearts, so God sent his gospel to them. That…is how He works.
One more for the road:
“Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord:”
Proverbs 1:24, 29 KJV