In my most recent article, I began to speak about the doctrines of grace, or five-points of Calvinism, known as TULIP. As a reminder, TULIP is a summary of the Reformed view of salvation, and stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.
This time around, we will be picking back up with Limited Atonement.
Limited atonement is perhaps the most controversial of these five points, because in simple terms it proposes that Jesus did not die for every single person, but only for His sheep—that is, the elect. As I said, controversial right?
First of all, I should say that many modern Calvinists prefer the term particular/definite atonement as ‘limited’ can be a little misleading as they are not saying that Christ’s salvific power is inadequate.
Furthermore, the Arminian (non-Calvinist) view also ‘limits’ the atonement in a sense—an unlimited atonement would suggest that Christ died to make everybody saveable, but his death does not actually save anybody. The individual humans then choose to save themselves. Therefore, in this view the atonement is limited in its power, rather than its scope.
The Calvinist view then, flowing from Unconditional Election, is that before the world began, God the Father planned to save His elect people; therefore Christ then came and died for those the Father had given to Him.
Like many of the other doctrines, Jesus speaks into this in the book of John chapter 6 verse 37-40. Here, Jesus explains that only those given by the Father will be saved. Similarly, Christ goes on to explain that He is “the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (chapter 10 verses 14-15).
When the Jewish people reject this teaching, Christ then explains to them, “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life…” (verses 26-28).
In these passages Jesus teaches that God has given Him certain people, these people are His sheep, whom Christ dies for and saves. Those who are unbelievers are not His sheep, and therefore Christ has not laid down His life for them.
If humans are naturally sinful and unable to turn to God, but the Father in His loving grace chose to save some of His sinful people, then Christ came and died for these people, logically these very same sheep cannot thwart the almighty God’s plans—they will be saved.
This idea is called irresistible, or effectual, grace. God’s grace is powerful and effective to save His people. When God’s Holy Spirit calls His sheep, they hear His voice and lovingly come to Him.
This does not teach that God drags people to Himself against their will, saving people who do not want salvation. Instead, the Holy Spirit changes people’s hearts, saves them for their spiritual death, and brings them to the point that they lovingly run to Christ. Christ’s sheep come to Him because they want to come to Him; they love Him because they want to love Him. Nevertheless, this transformation is from God, and cannot be impeded by us.
Once again, Jesus explains in John, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…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.” (chapter 6 verses 37-39). Christ’s sheep will come to Him, and will not be lost.
Furthermore, God promises in Ezekiel chapter 36, verses 26-27, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Perseverance of the saints
This final point logically follows from the rest of our TULIP. If, despite our sinful nature, the Father chose before time itself to save His people as an act of His sheer divine grace, and Christ came and died for those people, and the Holy Spirit has drawn those people back to God, then it stands that those people will indeed be saved. This is also known as eternal security, and essentially posits that a truly person cannot lose their salvation.
Turning one last time to John chapter 6, Jesus explains that He will never cast out believers. The will of the Father is for Jesus to lose none that the Father has given Him, and everybody who has placed their faith in Jesus will be raised on the last day (verses 37-40).
Furthermore, John chapter 10, verses 27-30 explains the great work of God in our salvation: the Father gives the elect to Jesus. Christ has given them eternal life, they will never perish, and no one will snatch them from His or the Father’s hands. Once the Father and Son have hold of a person (and the Spirit indwells them) absolutely nothing can take them away.
This brings our five point TULIP to a close. Once again, there is so much more that can be said for each point, and these points themselves hardly scratch the surface of Calvinism as a whole. Furthermore, certainly many faithful Christians disagree with Calvinism altogether. My prayer for you is that these articles served as a somewhat faithful introduction, or at least provided mildly interesting reading.
Haydn Lea is an Ordained Minister, and is currently serving as an Air Force Chaplain in Adelaide. He is married to Shamsa Lea, is the father of Amira, and loves running, boxing and studying history and theology. Haydn describes himself as a five-point Calvinist, but he recognises that many faithful Christians disagree. If these articles did not provide mildly interesting reading, Haydn apologises but offers no restitution.
Some of Haydn Lea’s previous articles may be viewed below. He is working on getting them all together.