Our understanding of the purpose and value of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross is a bone of contention in Christianity. Basically, we have three choices: 1. Christ died for all people whether they believed in Him as their Savior or not. Theologians call this belief Universal Atonement. 2. Christ died for all, but only those who confessed a belief in Him are saved. This belief is called Hypothetical Atonement. 3. Christ died only for the elect, the true believers God has given to Him to save. This is belief is called Limited or Particular Atonement; it is what Calvinists believe. Hypothetical Atonement is what those who follow the tenets of Jacob Arminius, a 16th century Dutch theologian, believe. Arminianism was rejected at the Synod of Dort in 1618, but ironically, it is what Catholics of today believe. How can we know the truth? Christianity is a religion of the book, the Holy Bible, and, as with every aspect of the Christian doctrine, we should go to Scripture for our answers. So then, what does the Bible say about the value of Christ’s one time sacrifice for our sin?
Arminians base their belief in hypothetical atonement by referring to the oft-quoted John 3:16 which uses the word “world” as in “God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Arminians interpret the word “world” to mean every person who ever existed on earth. Calvinists believe that for this verse to be consistent with the many verses in the Bible that clearly state that Christ died only for the elect, the word “world” in John 3:16 must refer only to the elect in Christ all over the world. The premise, of course, is that God is not a God of contradiction, and we must therefore use the more clear verses in the Bible to explain the meaning of the less clear verses Arminians utilize to support their heretical belief. When the Pharisees say “Behold, the world has gone after Him” as recorded in John 12:19, they are clearly referring only to those who have followed Christ. Regarding John 3:16’s support for Christ’s death only making it possible for people to be saved, Jesus makes it clear that this choice to be saved is not up to us, but our salvation is determined by God. The choice is His, and only those who have been given to Christ by the Father are saved by his atoning sacrifice. See John 6:37-40, 10:14-18 and 17:9).
Arminians also refer to John 1:29 where John the Baptizer proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of this world” (ESV) as support for their belief in hypothetical atonement. Since we know though from John 10:15 that Christ, the Good Shepherd lays down His life only for His sheep, the elect God has given to Him to save, John the Baptizer must be referring to Christ saving the sin of all believers in this world and salvation is not limited to this particular time and place.
Arminians also quote 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)”The Lord is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should reach repentance,” to prove that Christ died for all people because that’s what our merciful and loving God wishes; but, when we understand the context of this verse in the light of who Peter is writing to, we must interpret Peter is referring only to the elect. In 2 Peter 1:1, he addresses “those who have obtained equal standing with ours by righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”the precious faith with us.” It is therefore not appropriate for Arminians to wrest this particular from its context to support their belief in hypothetical atonement. This not what we do in interpreting Scripture.
Arminians are believers who want to have some part to play in their salvation, and go in search of Bible verses that can be stretched or taken out of context to support their need to believe in the Arminian doctrine. Calvinists accept what the Bible clearly tells us about how God’s plan of salvation actually works, and are thankful for what He has done for us; we do not focus on what we think we can do for Him.