Why Limited (Particular) Atonement?

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:27-29 ESV)

I have recently been contemplating the doctrine of Limited Atonement, and I think I have come across something that makes some sense of the account of the fall of man and God being “fair” in His deciding who to save and, therefore, who to make atonement for on the cross. That is one of the big arguments against Limited Atonement even; that God is unfair to do something like that. I beg to differ. I believe that, Scripturally, it is perfectly fair of God to make the ultimate decision of who will be saved and who He will atone for. Here is my line of thinking at the moment.

In Genesis 1 and 2, we have the human race created. Mankind was created sinless and free. He was in perfect communion with God his Creator. There were no restrictions placed on Adam and his wife other than that they were not to eat the fruit off of this one tree in the garden.

In Genesis 3, mankind chooses to rebel against God. There is no indication in the text that Adam and his wife were forced to eat from the tree or that God made them do it. I point this out because, in Exodus, it is stated that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart. In the Genesis account of the fall of man, there is no such statement made. This leaves the impression that at this point in creation history, man was free to do as he pleased, save for eating from that one tree. When they ate from that tree, they transgressed the law of God, and God punished them. This is where I begin to see the atonement’s limitation start to come forth.

One of the first things that God does in punishment of mankind is that He takes away their power and control. He tells Adam,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (Genesis 3:17-18 ESV)

Where man once had control over the earth, now he no longer has that control. God then removed their freedom.

[T]he LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24 ESV)

Shortly hereafter in the Biblical narrative, God is the one who makes the decision regarding the kind of sacrifice that is pleasing in His sight. Cain and Abel are offering their sacrifices. Cain gives God some of the produce that he grew, and Abel gives God a firstborn animal, a blood sacrifice. The Lord chose Abel and Abel’s offering, but ignored Cain and his offering, and the only reason that one can deduce from the text is that this was God’s sovereign choice. Nothing in the text suggests that God chose Abel’s sacrifice because it was a blood sacrifice. God simply had regard for one and not the other.

So, thus far we see that God limited, first, what man can do in service to God. Man can no longer do whatever he pleases in service to God. He is limited by not having the freedom to do so and his ability to do so has been taken away. And, second, man is limited in how he can rightly atone for his sin. Why is there this limitation? Because God has chosen to do so. In both the punishment at the garden and the choosing of blood over produce, God is enacting His sovereignty to show people that they are not in control.

And why has God placed these limits? Because of man’s sin. God kicked Adam and Eve from the garden because they sinned. God limited man’s freedom because man sinned. God chose one sacrifice over another because man is incapable of pleasing God on his own; man is sinful.

All of this being said, it makes perfect sense, then, that God would choose who and how He is going to save. Man is sinful and is therefore incapable of bringing himself to God to be saved. Nothing man can do on his own is worthy of God’s forgiveness. The only way that any sacrifice that man makes is going to be pleasing in God’s sight is if God chooses for it to be pleasing to Him. So when Jesus comes along to pay for the sins of humanity, it only follows that God is in control of who and how this atonement works.

Let’s look again at the text from Romans that I quoted earlier.

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:27-29 ESV)

And we know, from earlier in Romans 9, that Israel is referring not to the nation of Israel. We gather this from these verses:

…For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:6-8 ESV)

And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call– she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:10-18 ESV)

As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.'” (Romans 9:25-26 ESV)

When Paul says “Israel” here in Romans 9, he is obviously referring to the chosen people of God, not the chosen nation of God. This limiting of who God will save was done in response to mankind’s sinfulness. God decided, after man decided not to live in the manner that God had provided for them to live, that He would “take matters into His own hands”, so to speak. He decided who He would save and how He would save them. He did so in the beginning, and therefore He must still be doing this today. Afterall, God is an unchanging God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

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