A Question About Limited Atonement
Question: I have a question about the doctrine of limited atonement. I understand that by limited atonement we believe that Christ died for the elect. My question is how do I know if Christ died for me?
Answer: That's a great question, in fact it's one of the most important questions one can ask. However, I'm going to zoom out from limited atonement and look at all of the (so-called) Five Points of Calvinism. In response to the followers of Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius, the Dutch Reformed Church in the Synod of Dort (1618-19) put forth what are commonly called The Canon of Dort in which they rejected the errors of the followers of Arminius and re-affirmed the Reformed Faith. The Canons were divided into five heads of doctrine, which later came to be known as the Five Points of Calvinism. They are: (1) Total Depravity; (2) Unconditional Election; (3) Limited Atonement; (4) Irresistible Grace; and (5) Perseverance of the Saints (TULIP for short). They all logically flow together and support one another, and more importantly, they are biblical. The Bible does describe us as being born in sin and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-2). The Bible does teach that God has chosen us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-5). The Bible does say that Christ died to make atonement for those whom God elected (John 10). The Bible does say that God draws us irresistibly by His grace (John 6:35-40). And the Bible teaches that we persevere in the faith because God's Holy Spirit preserves us firm in our faith (Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 1:6). All of this is true for the elect. So the question becomes "how do I know I'm one of the elect?"
One of the best passages in the Bible that comes to mind regarding this issue is Romans 8:28-30, which reads:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)
This passage opens with the phrase "those who love God." Who are the ones who love God? Christians. Well, you might say to yourself, "I don't love God perfectly." You're right, you don't, no one loves God perfectly. You might say to yourself "I don't love God nearly as much as I ought to." You're right, you don't, no one loves God as much as they ought. Do you have any love for God? We should be able to say to ourselves, "yes I love God, not perfectly, not as much as I ought, but I do love Him." The very fact that you have love for God (sidenote: By love for God, I am not referring to some random, generic god of our own making, but the God who reveals Himself in the twin books of nature and the Bible) is evidence that you are elect. How can I say this? Because the Bible says this, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19 ESV). We cannot, properly speaking, love God or love neighbors unless and until God first shed His love in our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you have any love for God, any affection for God it is because God has first loved you. The Apostle Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 12 when he says, "Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV). We cannot say "Jesus is Lord" (and mean it) except by the Holy Spirit and the new birth He works for us.
Going back to Romans 8:28-30, if you love God (and you only love God because He first loved you), then in all things you can rest and be assured that God is working together for good. And by "good," God means your glorification. That's the point of vv. 29-30. It shows the unbreakable "golden chain" that connects those whom God foreknew from predestination to glorification with "called" and "justified" as stops along the way. The way the verses are constructed in the original Greek of the NT, you can shorten them to say "Those whom God foreknew, He also glorified." And those whom God foreknew are those who love God, it's one and the same group of people. If you love God, you have been foreknown by God; or more properly stated, since God has foreknown you (i.e., set His love upon you), you are among those who love God, and thus your glorification is secure. That security is not based on how strong your love for God is or how strong your faith is, but rather is based on whom you love or in whom you have faith. A weak and anemic faith in our strong Savior is more than enough to save us. Conversely, a strong and solid faith in anything but Christ Jesus our Lord is more than enough to condemn us.
So how do you know you're one of the elect? You're one of the elect because God has foreknown you, God has loved you, Christ died for you, the Spirit preserves you, and the fruit or evidence that this is so is your faith and love for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It's a faith that will wax and wane, but never fail. It's a love that will burn or cool down, but never be extinguished. Because it's not our faith or love that saves us, but Christ. Faith is the means by which we receive all that Christ gives us and love is the fruit of a heart loved by God.
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl