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The Doctrines of Grace: TULIP Revisited
by Carol Berubee

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Limited Atonement, Part III

Common Questions
So maybe you have heard the teaching that says Christ made atonement for all sins except the sin of unbelief. This certainly sounds plausible. In this scenario, we can avoid the false teaching of universalism, which says that Christ died for all people and atoned for all sins, therefore all people are indeed reconciled to God.

In this teaching about unbelief, it is said that when Christ died on the cross, He atoned for all sins except the sin of unbelief. Therefore, salvation is available to all people; one must only overcome his unbelief. You may be saying, "Wait a minute. I'm not a universalist, but I also don't believe in a limited atonement. I believe that when Christ died, He really did atone for sins. I believe He atoned for all sins for all people, except the sin of unbelief. What's wrong with that?"

Well, that is still a limited atonement. To say that He atoned for all sins except unbelief does put a limit on the quality, or effectiveness, of the atonement. Beyond that, though, there is a logical problem with this teaching and there is a theological problem, as well.

Colossians 3:5
"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience..."

Paul lists some sins and then says that the wrath of God will come upon those who disobey. According to the teaching of unbelief, are not all sins except unbelief already paid for at the cross? If so, is God just in punishing those who commit these sins? Were not all the sins of all people (except unbelief) atoned for by Christ? Was not His atoning work good enough? God cannot, and will not, punish someone for something for which Christ has already paid the penalty. Therefore, these sins must not have been paid for (for all people) on the cross.

Revelation 22:15
"But outside (New Jerusalem) are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie."

John lists some sinners who will not be permitted fellowship with God. If Christ died for all sins (except unbelief), why are these people still paying the penalty for these particular sins? It would seem that if Christ died and paid the penalty for all sins for all people, then these people cannot be penalized for these sins.

So, now that we see that Christ did not atone for the sins (except unbelief) of all people, we still have the theological problem concerning the sin of unbelief.

Revelation 21:8
"But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire..."

Here, we see that unbelief is a sin right alongside murder and sexual immorality. Unbelief is sin. How is sin forgiven? By Christ's atoning work on the cross, right? So, if Christ's work was finished on the cross, but unbelief was not part of that work, how is anyone to be forgiven for unbelief; that is, how is anyone to be saved if not by Christ's work? The teaching of the sin of unbelief makes man the sole instrument in his own salvation. If this sin is not included in Christ's work on the cross, then the only way it can be atoned for is for man to shed his unbelief through his own strength of will, apart from the atoning work of Christ.

If you believe in Christ, and therefore are no longer committing the sin of unbelief, did you overcome that sin by your own effort? Can you be forgiven of that sin simply because you stopped doing it? Is not all sin forgiven on the basis of Christ's atonement alone? If Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, then on what basis can you overcome the sin of unbelief?

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