We must begin by rejecting a term that is commonly applied to this doctrine. The rejected term is that of limited atonement. It should be rejected for two reasons. One is that it is misleading with regard to the teaching of the Bible, and the other is that it misrepresents the debate. One of the most obvious features of the atonement in Scripture is its universality. Consequently, a phrase which appears to deny that universality on the surface is not useful. Secondly, every Christian who holds to the reality of eternal judgment believes (in some sense) in a limited atonement. The debate is over what aspect is limited — efficacy or extent. But more on that shortly.
Present the question to yourself in this way. It is not a choice between limited and unlimited atonement. It is a choice between definite and indefinite atonement.
The universality of the atonement in Scripture is not the only obvious thing about it. Another truth, equally precious, and equally clear, is that the atonement is substitutionary.
This means that if Christ died for someone, the for means instead of. It is not a potential substitution, if . . . It is an actual substitution, and therefore efficacious. For example, see:
I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:14-15).
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:25-27).
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit . . . (1 Peter 3:18).
The debate centers on the meaning of the word for in the phrase, “Jesus died for sinners.” One position is that Jesus died to give a chance to sinners. The biblical position is that Jesus died instead of sinners.
Doesn’t the Bible say that God so loved the world? Yes, it does, and yes, He does. But let’s take a look at how the Bible uses the term world (Grk. kosmos).
1. Kosmos describes the universe as a whole (Acts 17:24).
2. Kosmos describes the earth (John 13:1; Eph. 1:4).
3. Kosmos describes the world-system (John 12:31).
4. Kosmos describes the entire human race (Rom. 3:19).
5. Kosmos describes the entire human race minus believers (John 15:18).
6. Kosmos describes Gentiles as opposed to Jews (Rom. 11:12).
7. Kosmos describes a redeemed humanity (John 1:29; 3:16-17; 6:33; 12:47; 2 Cor. 5:19).
Christ Died For . . .
These are our basic options. Christ died for:
1. All sins of all men
2. All sins of some men
3. Some sins of all men
4. Some sins of some men
If we opt for #3 or #4, then we have to say that no one is saved, because all have some sins to account for. If we say that #1 is the case, then the question is why some men are lost. Because they do not believe. Is this unbelief a sin, or not? If not, why are they condemned for it? If so, then did Jesus die for it? If so, then why are they not saved? If not, then Jesus did not die for all sins — leaving us with #2.