The Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement was born several years after John Calvin died… and it has been in need of a proof text ever since. It teaches that Christ only died for a relatively few elect individuals who, according to the fifth point of Calvinism, will persevere in living for Christ until the end of their physical lives. This means that we can look at the fruit in people’s lives and determine whether or not Christ even died for them. It also means that if we want to know whether or not Christ died for us, we need to look at our own works.
But doesn’t this diminish Christ and His work on the cross? Should we really be looking to our works for assurance of salvation rather than to Christ’s work and Christ’s promises to save anyone who believes in Him?
John calls Christ:
the mercy seat for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for whole world’s. (1 John 2:2b my trans)
John the Baptist calls Him:
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29b ESV)
Who is Christ? He’s the One who died for everybody! Paul writes to the Corinthians:
For Christ’s love joins us together, discerning this, that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, so that those living could live, no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for all and was risen. (2 Cor 2:14-15 my trans)
Now, Paul has just said three times in two verses that Christ died for all. Some folks at gotquestions.org respond that all doesn’t mean all. Their proof text is Luke 2:1, 3, which has:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. […] And all went to be registered, each to his own town. (ESV)
Caesar couldn’t command the whole world and surely not everyone went to be registered. The problem is that the word for world is oikoumene (οἰκουμένη), which the Middle Liddel Lexicon defines as:
the inhabited world, a term used to designate the Greek world, as opp. to barbarian lands, Hdt., Dem., etc.:—so in Roman times, the Roman world,1
It’s completely reasonable that Caesar commanded the entirety of his empire to be registered and that everyone who wasn’t already in his hometown had to go there.
All means all.
Returning to 2 Cor 5:15, “He died for all, so that those living could live […] for Him.” The fact that everyone has sinned does not prevent anyone from being saved (not even Ivan the Terrible!). Once we are saved through faith (Eph 2:8-9), we have the ability to walk in the good works which we were created for (Eph 2:10).2 A few verses later, Paul tells the Corinthians, “be ye reconciled to God” (5:20 KJV). Being reconciled (katallasso καταλλάσσω) means changing a relationship from enmity to friendship.3 Paul is writing to believers and that he uses the imperative demonstrates that these believers have the option of disobedience. After all, why command someone to do something that they are being forced to do?
Well, I could keep writing about this, but the sun has come out, so I should probably get to work on some other things.