“An Effective Atonement” Part 1

by Paul Franco on December 19, 2009

Evangelicals are traditionally taught to view salvation based on an arminian type of theology. For this reason they are not used to thinking analytically about exactly how the atonement works. When asked the reasonable question, “How can the cross be a saving instrument?” The natural response given is different from the calvinist.

[The concept for the arminian is that the cross actually does not save any particular person. The death of christ satisfied the justice of God in such a way that it rendered all people savable without actually making anyone’s salvation certain, because each individual is saved by their faith, not by the cross. It rendered God propitious toward everyone. The Atonement is universal, of infinite value, designed for every human being, and accomplished for all. It made the salvation of no man actual, but rendered the salvation of all men Possible, the result being in every case conditioned by faith. The supreme principle of Arminianism is conditionalism. We supply the condition (faith) that God needs before he can act by our own free will decision. In essence, the cross becomes reduced to the means by which one is saved.]


The reformed view of the atonement is “Penal Substitution” or “Substitutionary Atonement”. It is clear in places like (Is 53, Rom 3:21-26, Gal 3:13) that Jesus died for sins not his own in order to be the sacrificial substitute for the real sinner, taking upon himself the sinners punishment. His death and blood indicated that he really satisfied Gods’ justice. Only a perfectly loving God could do such a thing, and only a perfectly just human being could be the means. Substitutionary satisfaction thereby fulfills all the symbolism in the Scripture about the need for a sacrifice.

The bottom line for any theory of the atonement is that the death of Christ was a deliberate act on his part. The question of the meaning of the cross remains, because many do not see the connection between the act and it’s purpose. What exactly did Jesus think he was doing or accomplishing? The calvinistic view of the death of Christ seeks to answer this question explicitly. The calvinistic or reformed view is that Christ offered himself as a necessary satisfation of Gods’ justice by dying as a substitute for all those whom the father had elected from eternity for salvation. This death of Christ actually SECURED and ACCOMPLISHED the certain salvation of the elect by satisfying Gods’ justice and securing the blessings of redemption on behalf of all those for whom the offering was made. This is what Jesus’ intercessary prayer in Jn 17 was all about. It’s scope is deliberately limited, v6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” When the arminian comes to realize that as long as the death of Christ is allowed to be in some sense a penal substitution, he is forced to deal with the issue of why everyone is not saved eventually. The only alternative becomes a particular/limited atonement. In other words, because John Owen believed the nature of the atonement is substitutionary, his conclusion that the extent of the atonement is limited to the elect is unavoidable. Because not all are saved, Christ could not have died a satisfaction for the sins of all existing unbelievers, for that would require God to punish TWICE for the same sins in the case of those finally lost. John Owen shows that if Christ died as a penal satisfaction for all the sins of all humanity, as the arminian would have it, he died for all the sins of unbelief. If so, then God cannot justly condemn unbelievers to hell, since christ has rendered satisfaction for this unbelief among their other sins.

This becomes unanswerable for the arminian, and the reason is clear. If the death of Christ is a manifestation of justice and love, the justice must necessarily be satisfied, and the love must terminate on a know object. But if justice is satisfied once, it cannot be required again of the same sinner, even though he or she remains in unbelief. And if loves object is knowable, it must consist of either all human beings or some. If all, then all must be saved, because all are atoned for, if some, then the atonement must have been limited in it’s intention. The only way to avoid these conclusions is to deny that Christ died to satisfy Gods’ justice, and to abandon the element of substitutionary sacrifice is to abandon the atonement taught by Scripture.

Some Scriptural proof of Particular/Definate Redemption (Salvation of a specific group Mt 1:21, Gal 1:3-4, Tit 2:14, 1 Peter 3:18) (It’s actual achievement Rom 5:8-10, Eph 2:15-16, Col 1:21-22, Heb 9:12) (Christ actually secured by purchase all the gifts needed for the regenerationa and sanctification of this group 1Cor 1:30, Eph 1:3-4, Eph 5:25-26, Phil 1:29, Tit 2:14, Titus 3:5-6, Heb 13:12) McGregor Wright; John Owen; John Gill

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