“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am 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.”John 10:11, 14-15 ESV
Christ did not die for all men. Christ only died on behalf of His sheep. His sheep are a definite number of people, chosen before the foundation of the world to adoption as sons and daughters of God-Ephesians 1:5 ESV
Not all men have been predestined to adoption, which means that not all men are sheep, which means that Christ did not die for all men. How can we be sure that the fact that not all men are predestined to adoption means that Christ did not die for all men? Because of what the elect have in Christ-forgiveness of sins. Paul writes-“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,”Ephesians 1:7 ESV
Those who will be condemned on judgment day do not have forgiveness of sins, which is why they will be condemned. If they did have forgiveness of sins, they would not be punished but would enter the kingdom of God. This is one of the clearest ways to know that Christ did not die for all men-those who will enter the kingdom of God have had their sins forgiven based on what Christ did on their behalf. Those who will be condemned have not had their sins forgiven because Christ did not act on their behalf. It is Christ and His work that makes the sole difference between who will be saved and who will be condemned. Sinners have NO CHOICE in the matter.
The atonement of Christ, which is limited to the sheep, is effectual-the atonement, by itself, brings about the intended and desired result. The intended and desired result is the setting aside of the record of debt against the elect (Colossians 2:14), leading to the forgiveness of their sins, and the demonstration of God’s justice and righteousness in forgiving those particular sinners (Romans 3:23-26 ESV). Let’s take a look at this text-
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”Romans 3:23-26 ESV
Salvation is solely of God. He put Christ forth as a propitiation, and those for whom Christ died are justified by His grace. There is nothing here about sinners doing something to make the propitiation of Christ effective for themselves. The cross was effective for the people for whom it was meant-those predestined by God to adoption-His elect, chosen before all of creation SO THAT their works, good or bad, would not, in any way, be considered as a basis for choosing them.
Most people believe in a universal atonement-one in which Christ died for all men and yet some of those men for whom Christ died still go to hell. Even many of those who call themselves “Calvinists” operate in their discourse as though Christ died for all men, in spite of the fact that they may be familiar with the doctrine of election. These same people get upset when someone like myself stands up to say that Christ died only for His sheep, and that this proposition is a necessary and nonnegotiable component of the gospel. I would go as far to say that if you deny effectual atonement for the elect alone, you don’t believe the true gospel, which means you are not yet converted.
Believing in a universal atonement which is ineffectual by itself means that you think you’re bringing something necessary to the table. it means you think you’re the one who makes the atonement effective by making a choice, or praying a prayer, or walking an aisle, or keeping the rules, or whatever you were told you needed to DO in order to be saved.
What this is really saying is that dead and condemned sinners do or add something to the work of Christ in order to be accepted by God and get into heaven-basically dead sinners become like a zombie that has just enough electricity firing through their brain that they can wander their way into salvation by making a decision. This is an inescapable conclusion of believing in a universal atonement which is not effectual by itself. There is something YOU must do something if Christ died for all but not all are saved. Obviously, this a denial of the doctrine of election and it is a denial of the teaching of grace. If there is something you CAN do to be saved, then salvation isn’t a matter of grace, it’s a matter of making the right choice.
Sometimes, I will hear people protest and say “well, what if someone is trusting Jesus and not anything that they did, are they saved?” Well, do they believe that Jesus died for everyone without exception and yet some people still go to hell? Then they aren’t trusting Christ alone, but rather their decision to save them. The bigger, more subtle problem with this question is the underlying assumption that salvation still has to do with something in the sinner-the “trusting.” Converted sinners believe God BECAUSE they have been saved, not in order to be saved. Believing the gospel is the evidence that you have already been saved, not something you do to be saved. Most people believe that “having faith” or “believing” is the thing they do (they’re always very careful to say that having faith is not a work, but I’m convinced they say that because they were taught it, not because they actually understand what “not of works” means as Paul uses it) in order to be saved. It’s what they bring to finish the job.
This shows up in a practical way when these people have issues with assurance throughout their lives. They will look at their lives and wonder if they were really saved when THEY DID X. Their assurance of salvation has nothing to do with what Christ did on the cross for His elect, and how could it? If Christ died for everyone, but you know that people are still going to hell, then you KNOW, whether or not you have actually thought it through, that the cross by itself doesn’t save-there must be something else you have to do. Jesus died and that’s well and good, but I gotta do something.
Some people, like R.C. Sproul, will say that people who believe in a universal atonement (Arminians) are just “inconsistent” meaning that they haven’t thought through the implications of their false beliefs, and therefore they get a pass, or as he puts it-“they are saved, but just barely.” What does that even mean? And, much more importantly, is that true? Does God save people in spite of the fact that their entire position calls the word of God a lie? Didn’t Jesus say that the truth would set one free? If it’s not true that Jesus died for all men and that salvation is conditioned on the sinner, then how can the sinner who believes a lie have been set free? Are they free but still in the trap of the devil? All those sorts of statements do is make excuses for those who do not yet believe the gospel, giving them false assurance of salvation, and ensures that book and video sales don’t diminish.
The belief that a universal atonement is ineffectual by itself is a particularly horrendous attempt to attack the gospel, because the sinner thinks that, in spite of the fact that he is dead, there is something he can do to be saved. It’s funny, and tragic, because Arminians will say that universalists teach heresy (they do) because they teach that everyone is going to heaven. However, the Arminian steps all over Christ saying that the universal death of Christ is ineffectual without their help! At least the universalist is logically consistent and understands the basic concept of atonement! The Arminian doesn’t understand atonement, they don’t understand propitiation, they don’t understand justice, and they don’t understand grace. They think they bring the missing ingredient to the recipe for salvation.
Christ tells us that God teaches the gospel to His people-John 6:45ESV. Because God does not lie, He will never teach a gospel that contains lies, such as universal atonement and salvation conditioned on the sinner. Which means that most places that call themselves churches are nothing of the sort, but rather gatherings of dead sinners thinking that their religious practices prove that God loves them, in spite of the fact that they have not yet been taught of God concerning Christ. Most people who call themselves “Christians” don’t believe the truth concerning Christ, but rather believe a gospel that suits them-one in which they made the choice to be saved.
Christ must be revealed. It is a supernatural thing to believe in the Christ of the Bible. It is not something within the capacity of the unregenerate sinner. If you believe the true gospel, it is because God raised you to life and taught you the gospel. It was not something possible within your natural fallen state to do. The true gospel is a gospel vehemently opposed to a universal atonement. If you believe in a universal atonement that does not by itself save, you necessarily believe that you have brought something to the table, and you call God a liar. Repent, and believe the gospel!