Christ’s atonement of sins from mankind is one of the most debated ideologies in the Christian faith. Atonement by definition is “satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends” and the atonement of Christ is how Christ amends our sins.
Jesus died at the cross to atone for all the wrongdoings of mankind in the eyes of God. He literally suffered at the cross for our sins so that we may receive atonement. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 5:8-10:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Despite the clear effect of Christ’s death on the cross to us, atonement and its limitations or illimitation are a continuous argument among Christians. Some arguments state that atonement is unlimited and for all Christians, while others argue that it is limited.
Let us take a look at the different ideologies from different theologians about this topic before we come up with any conclusions as to whether the atonement of Christ is unlimited.
The Atonement of Christ
Some Christians believe that Christ’s atonement is limited. The limit is that Jesus’ atonement is purely for those who believe in Him, which many theologians support with the verse from John 3:16, “For 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.”
This verse clearly states that Jesus saved those who believe in Him and those who do shall have everlasting life.
The Calvinist ideology believes that God limits the atonement because He chooses to atone those who believe in Jesus alone. The “elect” or “chosen” are only people who believe in Jesus and who are, therefore, saved.
However, Arminianism or Wesleyanism say otherwise. These ideologists believe that God does not limit the atonement, but people do. In 1 Timothy 2:5-6, it states, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
It is humanity that limits themselves from being saved because they prefer not to believe in Christ. According to them, while atonement is unlimited, choosing to be atoned is limited to those who only choose to be.
This is supported in Hebrews 2:9, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”
2 Peter 2:1 also states, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
Universalism, on the other hand, states the opposite and does not limit who will be saved but argues that since Jesus died for all mankind, then all sins will be atoned. Since God loves all His people, He sent Jesus to save all His people.
This is supported by the verse in 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Also, in John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”
In John 6:51, it says, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
These verses emphasize the entire world as Jesus’ area of responsibility in terms of atonement. This is a very nice concept, and it tells us that the atonement of Christ is unlimited.
However, if we look at the context of the entire prophecy of Jesus, universalism is opposed. For example, Daniel 12:2 states that “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
In Matthew 7:13-14, it states, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Matthew 7:22-23 also says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
This means that others will eventually fall to the other path of darkness while others will continue to have everlasting life. Not everyone will continually experience atonement.
The righteous will receive eternal atonement and yet the people who continue to sin and not believe will not, as stated in Matthew 25:46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
What Does This Mean?
The atonement of Christ is unlimited only to those who believe in Christ and receive salvation through Him, but it does not mean that believers continually have it because mankind tends to falter. However, it can be attained again once we ask for forgiveness and go back to Christ.
We must accept Christ as our personal Lord and Savior and continue to follow His teachings until the end of our worldly life in order to have unlimited atonement. This is our great responsibility as people who have received salvation from God.
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Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.