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Atonement: Limited or Unlimited?

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A debate of long standing is over the issue of the extent of the atonement: for whom did Christ die? Some suggest Christ died only for the elect, whereas others emphasize that the death of Christ was universal—He died for everyone even though not everyone will be saved.


A term that is preferred to “limited atonement” is definite or particular redemption, suggesting that the atonement of Christ is limited to a definite or particular number of people. The defense for particular redemption is as follows.

There are a number of passages that emphasize Christ died for a particular group of people and not for everyone. As the Good Shepherd, Christ laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:15); not everyone is included in this flock. Christ gave His life for the church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25); He died for the elect (Rom. 8:32–33). Therefore, the objects of God’s love are particular; He does not love everyone with the same love (cf. Rom. 1:7; 8:29; 9:13; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). “Since the objects of the Father’s love are particular, definite, and limited, so are the objects of Christ’s death.” This truth is also reflected in verses such as 1 John 4:10, and Romans 5:8 and 8:32.

If Christ actually made an atonement for sin then the objects of that atonement must be a particular group. Otherwise the atonement’s effect is weakened because not everyone is saved for whom Christ made atonement.

Other arguments advanced for limited atonement include the following. If God is sovereign (Eph. 1:11) then His plan cannot be frustrated, but if Christ died for all people and all people are not saved then God’s plan is frustrated. If Christ died for all people then redemption has been made for all and all are justified. That thinking logically leads to universalism (everyone will be saved). In passages stating that Christ died for the world it means He died for “people from every tribe and nation—not only the Jews.” Similarly, when the word “all” is used (2 Cor. 5:15) it means all classes of people but not every person.


The doctrine of unlimited atonement, as understood by evangelicals, means that Christ died for every person but His death is effective only in those who believe the gospel. The arguments for unlimited atonement are as follows.

  1. If the statements of the New Testament are taken at face value, then it is evident they teach Christ died for everyone.
  2. Limited atonement is not based on exegesis of the texts of Scripture but more on the logical premise that if Christ died for everyone and everyone is not saved, then God’s plan is thwarted.
  3. The world, as John describes it, is “God-hating, Christ-rejecting, and Satan-dominated. Yet that is the world for which Christ died” (cf. John 1:29; 3:16; 17; 4:42; 1 John 4:14). These passages emphasize a universal atonement.
  4. The word whosoever is used more than 110 times in the New Testament and always with an unrestricted meaning (cf. John 3:16; Acts 2:21; 10:43; Rom. 10:13; Rev. 22:17).
  5. The word all, or an equivalent term, is used to denote everyone. Christ died for the ungodly—everyone is ungodly (Rom. 5:6); Christ died for all, suggesting everyone (2 Cor. 5:14–15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 4:10; Tit. 2:11; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9).
  6. Second Peter 2:1 indicates Christ died for the false teachers who were “denying the Master who bought them.” The context indicates these are heretics doomed to destruction, yet it is said of them “the Master bought them.” This militates against the limited atonement view.
  7. “The Bible teaches that Christ died for ‘sinners’ (1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 5:6–8). The word ‘sinners’ nowhere means ‘church’ or ‘the elect,’ but simply all of lost mankind.”

Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 326–328.

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Seven Minutes That Moved a Generation

I was 18 years old, had just finished high school and vaguely knew the name John Piper, but somehow this sermon found its way to me. Still to this day, this is one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard. Pastor John Piper is just a man, but for some reason God has chosen to use him to speak to my generation about the authority of scripture, the sovereignty of God and the beauty there is in living your life for God and for no other reason. I am so grateful for great preachers and the internet which allows us to be encouraged and challenged by men far away.

20 Ideas for Dating Your Wife

I think its safe to say that 100% of marriages are hard work. If you disagree with that statement, please take me out for coffee and teach me your tips and tricks. I know better than to think that difficult marriages is a new trend, but it sure feels like things are rough right now in the Christian marriage world. Men, we must fight for our marriages instead of just venting about our marriages. This blog post was very encouraging to me.

4 Books That Made a Priest Leave the Church

This blog post title is definitely click bait-y, and I definitely took the bait, but I'm so glad I did. I love Martin Luther. I love reading about his life, reading what he wrote and studying the impact he made. So, when I clicked on this link I was expecting amazing books written by his contemporaries, instead what was in the blog was even better than that!

The "I Don't Knows" of Demonology

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There is much we do know from God regarding Satan, sin, demons, and the war they’ve been raging against God’s purposes and people. As early as Genesis 3 and as late as Revelation 20, Scripture provides insight into much of the who, what, where, when and how concerning the devil’s beginning and ending.

Yet, there is much we don’t know as well. I was poignantly reminded of this as I read through the questions that were texted in last week in our service. It was the fourth week in our summer series “Doctrine that Goes the Distance,” and the topic was demonology. Though you’ll probably be seeing the phrase “We simply don’t know” a good bit in the coming paragraphs, perhaps you’ll find my “best guesses,” opinions, and related information, as well as the questions, intriguing and stimulating. Regardless, here’s my take on some tough questions.

Since only God is all-knowing, how does Satan know to tempt you with past or “secret” sins or temptations you’ve never voiced?

You’re right, Satan isn’t all-knowing, but neither is he all-ignorant. He is powerfully perceptive, as well as destructively deceptive. So how does he find out about our personal weaknesses and past sins and develop temptations to “steal, kill, and destroy?” While we don’t know a lot about this, consider these options.

First, Satan’s system (i.e., the world) appeals to many of the things in our past (and present) we think are secret. He may not know yours specifically, but he knows humankind in general. Combined with our own sinful nature (i.e., the flesh), you may sense he is warring with you quite personally when really he is simply attacking and making appeals to areas he knows to be common to all people. Technically, he didn’t know your “secret” sin, but practically you feel like he did.

Second, Satan and his regime have other ways of finding out about our specific weaknesses than voice only. I believe they communicate based on what they see, read, and hear, not only from us, but from others as well. Where we go, what we watch, what others say and what we say about others, etc. all are things which the enemy can and will use to wage war against us.

Can we have victory over sin in this life or is it just a matter of enduring?

Yes, we can experience victory over sin’s power in this life (Romans 6), but sin’s presence will not be eliminated until Christ’s return (or our death). I apologize if, in my insistence that we “endure evil,” I unintentionally communicated that victory isn’t possible. Frankly, the fact that Christ has already won the victory is precisely why we can endure evil, say no to temptation, experience character change, and pursue holiness. Victory is more than possible; it’s promised! Still, even in this Satan will hound us. In other words, live in the victory Christ has won, and with his resurrection power kill sin in your life. But simply be aware that your battle with evil will continue till you’re present with the Lord.

If we cannot approach the throne of God because of our sin and God’s holiness, how can Satan, full of sin, stand before God?

I think S. Michael Houdmann, trusted CEO of Got Questions Ministries, provides some excellent insight on this issue: When we say, “God cannot allow sin into heaven,” we simply mean that God cannot allow human beings who are still in their sin to live in His presence. But it is possible for God to command a sinful being to stand (temporarily) in His presence in order to commission him (Isaiah 6), to exact an account from him (Job 1-2), or to judge him (Revelation 20:11–15) without compromising His holiness.” [Read his full answer here.]

Did sin/evil start with Satan?

One thing we can say for sure: he was the first to sin. So in that sense, yes, sin started with Satan. But what made Satan sin? Or, as another questioner curiously asked, “How was Satan, being in the very presence of God in heaven where there is no sin, able to sin?” The origin of evil is the question of the ages, and why Satan sinned, as well as the other angels, is something we’ll continue to wrestle with until God consummates the kingdom and we no longer “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Why not go ahead and chain all the demons? Why wait for a later judgment for some?

First, the belief that about 1/3 of the angels fell is something we derive from comparing Hebrews 12:22 with Revelation 12:3–9. It seems to fit and make biblical sense.

Second, why Jesus only choose to immediately chain a portion of this 1/3 is unknown. This is their initial judgment, and more (a final) judgment is reserved for later when Jesus judges Satan and the rest of the fallen angels/demons. Keep in mind, though, that since all things are created and designed to maximize God’s glory (Rev. 4:11), a general and biblically grounded reason is that God must know that he will receive greater glory for this type of punishment than had he done so to all of them immediately.

Here’s the good news—at least 2/3 of the angels stayed true, loyal, and faithful, serving God. And since they are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14), that means there are more of them serving us than there are demons opposing us. Hallelujah!

Does the enemy tempt angels just as he tempts us?

Paul referred to God’s angels—I think he’s speaking of the ones who did not fall—as “elect” in 1 Timothy 5:21: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels…” So apparently, God had chosen them. As with humans, and regardless of your position on election, the Bible speaks definitively about God’s undeniable involvement in choosing who would be saved. I believe this is also true with angels, not in regards to being “saved,” but in regards to who of them would not sin. Did God give them all a one-time choice to obey Him or not? Were they created with a free will, then God removed that after the fall of their leader? Is it because their former leader is no longer there (i.e., Lucifer)? We simply don’t know. We do know that the angels who followed Lucifer are lost and condemned, and that, according to 1 Timothy 5:21, the rest are “elect,” indicating to me they are secure. Just as we believe God’s “true Israel,” his elect on earth, will never fall away/be lost, I see no reason from Scripture to think more angels will fall or rebel against God like Lucifer once did.

Consequently, I’d say angels are no longer being tempted as we are. Keep in mind, however, that there is no verse that explicitly says this. It’s a deduction we arrive at from implication.

How much of our physical battle is really spiritual warfare? For example, fear—Is it a state of mind or are we in a spiritual fight?

How about this answer: both! To use your example, there are times fear is simply a human reaction to our surroundings. A child afraid of the dark, a woman afraid of walking home alone, a man afraid of parachuting—you get the idea.

But sometimes fear is rooted in the devil’s attack. In fact, Paul told Timothy that God doesn’t give his children “a spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7). So some fear is Satan’s tool to keep us from trusting God. Obviously detecting when it’s a Satanic temptation and when it’s a human reaction is something very personal, so it’s hard to answer your question specifically as to how much of our battle is one or the other. I’m content knowing it can be either and that God will show me as I’m sensitive to him the moment I sense fear gripping me unnecessarily.

How to be a Wise Decision Maker

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Making decisions has always been hard for me. I have often found myself in the middle of the office supply aisle at Wal-Mart agonizing over which pen is really going to serve my needs best, and if getting a higher quality pen outweighs the higher cost. Or sometimes it’s Amazon. I have scrolled through countless pages of iPhone cases, searching for the one that has the best reviews, the best cost, and best eye-catching design. In some ways, living in Haiti has laughably made that trait worse! Coming from a place where the menu is predictable and unchanging week to week to a cereal aisle in America where the options are limitless can be paralyzingly overwhelming at best. I say that partially in jest, but to a certain extent it’s true. My lengthy decision-making can be amusing for some people to observe. One of the first times I came back to the States after moving to Haiti, on a road trip with my parents and sister, I found myself wide-eyed and immobilized by the vast quantity of candy bars to choose from at Quick Trip. I chose one, second guessed my decision, put it back, chose another, put it back, and finally, after a few more candy bar exchanges, decided to opt for the chocolate covered doughnuts instead. A good 10 minutes after entering the store I returned to the car, finding my family chuckling at my inability to simply choose what snack I wanted to eat.

How does one make wise decisions? I don’t mean choosing what shoes to buy or choosing what drink to order at Starbucks. I mean the decisions that have the capacity to change the shape of your life; the decisions that are forks in the road; the decisions that become monuments in your life. I recently found myself in a position of having to make one of those decisions. And the most difficult part wasn’t that I wanted one choice over the other or that one was blatantly wrong. It was that both choices laid before me were good and that God was giving me a choice. He was trusting me with a choice. 

Sometimes we come to forks in the road and we know, based on Scripture, which direction to turn our feet. Scripture is the first test and filter in making a decision. 2 Timothy says that God’s Word is profitable, making us complete and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We measure the choices we have against the Word of Truth, and if a choice falls short, then it must be scratched off our list of options. Simple.

But sometimes in weighing options against divinely inspired Scripture, we come to find that all the options in front of us align with the words of God. And it is then that we find ourselves flummoxed. How can I be expected to make a wise decision if Scripture is silent on my specific dilemma? How can I know I am choosing the right path if there is not one that is blatantly wrong? Stress and anxiety begin to press in at the corners of our minds, and fear of making a wrong decision can easily overwhelm the heart. And it’s paralyzing! It is in those moments that I find my own heart begging for wisdom, pleading for an answer. But God doesn’t often give audible answers or guidance. He does, however, mold and shape us into people of wisdom and equip us with what we need to make decisions. This is the guidance he “does” in our hearts and lives, the guidance that is perhaps not as clear cut as we would sometimes like, but is nevertheless better for the sanctification of our heart.  

While Scripture may be silent on the specific dilemma you and I may be facing, it is abounding with references of what wisdom looks like and where to get wisdom. Proverbs 19:20 says that a person who listens to counsel and receives instruction will be wise. We need to surround ourselves with wise, trusted people and hear the advice and admonition they give – even if we think we know better. Proverbs 11:2 tells us that arrogance and pride has no place in wisdom, but is rather made up of humility. We need to foster a heart of humility. Ephesians 5:15–16 says that a wise person is one who is making the most of their time, taking advantage of every opportunity. We need to open our eyes to see the opportunities placed before us and act on them. James tells us in James 3:17 that wisdom is pure, peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without pretense. This is wisdom and this list is by no means exhaustive. So often, I waste time being frustrated and fearful when faced with a difficult decision, when I should actually be focused on cultivating wisdom and reveling in the freedom and gift God gives in choosing between multiple good options. That He would even deem to give me, the sinner that I am, one good choice is enough to make my heart sing with thanksgiving.

We can also rest in the knowledge that while God does give us the freedom to choose, He also has absolutely determined what our lives will be. I plan my way, but the Lord determines my steps (Proverbs 16:9). It’s not one or the other. It’s both – at the same time. And I know that He will work each step that I take for my ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

The Bible is not silent on what wisdom looks like, nor is it silent on where to find wisdom. James tells us to merely ask – ask for wisdom from a God who delights in generosity and we will receive it (James 1:5)! Proverbs 2:6 tells us that the words of the Lord are full of knowledge and understanding. Paul tells us in Colossians 2 that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom comes from time and experience, yes, but the best and most treasured wisdom comes from gazing intently at Christ and endlessly studying His Word.

The past several months have given me multiple opportunities to practice this truth and hone my decision-making skills. I pray that as fellow believers and followers of Christ we are able to purposefully cultivate, through the Spirit’s work, a heart of wisdom so that when difficult decisions do arise, we can make them with joy and freedom in Christ. 

The Problem of Anger

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This week in our continuing study of 1 Samuel, we will see David fall into one of mankind’s most deadly traps–anger. In fact, we see the deadly nature of anger almost immediately after the fall when Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel causes Cain to kill his brother (Genesis 4). Like Cain, David’s anger in 1 Samuel 25 causes him to take 400 men and set out to kill the man who caused David’s anger to flash, a wealthy farmer named Nabal. Fortunately for David, Nabal’s godly and wise wife interceded on behalf of Nabal and gave David the opportunity to cool down, and he did. 

As we know from the Bible, there are two kinds of anger: sinless anger and anger that causes us to sin. The Apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 4:26 that we can be angry yet not sin. But that’s the trick, isn’t it? After all, In Galatians 5:19, Paul identifies anger as a work of the flesh. Perhaps the simplest line of demarcation between sinful anger and righteous anger is the root cause. Sinful anger is always rooted in self-serving motives; righteous anger is that which seeks either God’s good or God’s will.

As much as we might like to think that our anger is righteous anger, it’s usually not. Attempting to walk that fine line is equal to trying to light a candle in a room filled with natural gas hoping not to ignite the gas. To complicate matters even more, those of us who try and act from a righteous anger position find ourselves stepping into God’s shoes, which also is sinful. It is not our place to seek vengeance for the Lord; vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). Anger, like the sin of lust/adultery, is a sin of passion. Once ignited, it takes on a life of its own. It quickly leads us to sin. Proverbs 6 is describing the danger of adultery, but I believe the same reasoning applies to anger when Solomon asks, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). 

How Can We Learn to Control Anger?

Anger is not something you can hope to rid yourself of and be free from for the remainder of your life. As we see in this week’s text and the example of David, anger ignites in the most godly people. So, while we can’t rid ourselves of anger, we can learn to control anger and not let it become a sinful, destructive pattern in our life. 

  1. Recognize the spark that ignites anger. As we observed above, the spark that leads to anger is almost always rooted in a strong sense of injustice, and the focus is always on either ourselves or those we love. We have a strong inner sense of what is right and wrong for us, and when someone crosses that line, it sparks anger within us. Learn to spot the small spark landing in your heart and quickly extinguish it. Don’t let it simmer until it becomes an uncontrollable flame.

  2. Watch for the physical signs of anger. You may not think you have them, but if you ask your family or those close to you, they can tell without question when you are getting angry. The signs may be subtle (e.g. your face or ears get red), or they may be obvious (e.g. you start to pace or your voice gets louder). Whatever are your signs of anger, learn to detect them and observe the warning.

  3. Learn to trust those who love you and know your patterns. Just as Abigail rushed to derail David’s anger in this week’s text, learn to trust those around you who attempt to derail your anger before you sin. Understand, however, that depending on your past history, this may take a lot of time. If you have vented your anger at your family and others close to you over the course of many years, they have likely learned to retreat from your presence rather than walk toward you when you are angry. Few things can sow more mistrust and relationship destruction than anger. Solomon warned, "Make no friendship with a man given to anger” (Proverbs 22:24). If you have subjected those in your family and circle of influence to the heat of your anger, you will need to walk in humble repentance for a long time as you re-earn their trust.

  4. Guard your physical and emotional health. As we noted above, anger is an emotion of passion, and we tend to be most vulnerable when we are physically and emotionally depleted. In our text this week, David and his men have been out on patrol, protecting the flocks of Nabal while running for their lives from Saul. They were tired and hungry. When Nabal refused to give his men food David felt they had earned, his anger sparked and he was off to the races to kill Nabal. We are no different. We are most vulnerable to sinful anger when we are tired, hungry, or lonely. In fact, a key tool used in 12-step programs is summarized by the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Those are triggers that make us vulnerable to sin. It’s important be extra cautious with our emotions when we know we are vulnerable, because it’s at moments like this when anger can go from 0 to 100 in seconds.


Bible Verses Concerning Anger 

As you wrestle with the problem of anger, here are some helpful bible verses to meditate on:

  • Proverbs 14:29–Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
  • Proverbs 15:1–A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
  • Proverbs 15:18–A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
  • Proverbs 16:32–Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
  • Proverbs 19:11–Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
  • Proverbs 22:24–Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,
  • Proverbs 29:22–A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.
  • Ephesians 4:26–Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
  • James 1:19–20–Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 

Free Downloadable Bible Study

Do you need help getting control of anger in your life? We are offering a free 44-page Bible study titled “Anger: Facing the Fire Within” by June Hunt. You can pick up a copy of the Bible study at the info wall or download a digital copy at http://myffc.co/2pCISVe.

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