Did Jesus Die for Everybody?

Tulip Tuesdays: Calvinism, Part 3, the “L” in TULIP

I’ve had a few questions from friends about my beliefs in Calvinism and what it means to call myself a five-point Calvinist. I’ve decided to devote Tuesdays to exploring my beliefs, outlining them for you here.

Simply, Calvinism can be explained using the acronym, TULIP. Persons who affirm
all five of the points of the acronym, are called “five-point Calvinists.”

Today I continue with the third point: the “L” in TULIP, which stands for “limited atonement.”

If you are visiting for the first time, get caught up by reading the posts on total depravity (“T”), unconditional election (“U”) and some questions and answers on election and predestination.


If you’ve spent anytime at all in or around the Church—especially in more conservative or evangelical groups—then you are probably quite familiar with the sentiment that “Jesus died for all persons” or “Jesus died for the world.” You may even heartily agree with that yourself.

That, however, is not quite the case. Jesus DIDN’T die for every human being on the planet. In fact, Jesus died only for a select group of people. His atonement was and is “limited” rather than broadly-applicable. (“Limited” refers not to Christ’s power or efficacy but to the number of persons to whom the atonement applies.) It is “particular,” effective for a specific group of persons. It is “definite,” decided by God before the foundation of the world, applicable to the elect.

Limited (or particular or definite) atonement is perhaps the most controversial and debated point of TULIP. Lots of Christians have a hard time believing that Jesus would die for some but not die for others. But consider this:

  • Jesus’ death and resurrection was EFFECTIVE in achieving God’s purpose of redemption.
  • We know that NOT every person goes to Heaven, correct? Some persons are elect; some are not. Some will spend eternity with Jesus; some will spend eternity in torment.

Therefore …

  • If Jesus died for every human being on the planet, but—for whatever reason—even ONE person did not go to Heaven but to Hell, then that makes Jesus’ work on behalf of that one person ineffective and a failure.

Is that a God you want to serve? A God who gets it right 99% of the time?

No. I believe that Christ’s work was ONLY for those who would believe in him. We call those persons the “elect” and know that their faith in God only comes from God. Christ didn’t die for every person and he’s not scratching his head trying to figure out who will accept his offer of life.

I hope you’re beginning to see how all of these points hang together. Because of our total depravity, we cannot “make a decision” for good. God sovereignly and from eternity past, chooses some for election. It is for those elect only that Christ died.

But, Mary! Wait. The Bible says Jesus died for the “whole world.” How do you explain that?

He [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

—1 John 2:2 (ESV)

In this context, “whole world” speaks of Christ’s sacrifice being offered not just to John and his readers but to all (the “whole world”). In a previous post, I addressed the role of evangelism for the Calvinist. Christ is still the only way to salvation—the only available atoning sacrifice to the whole world. This language also suggests that salvation in Christ is not exclusive of one ethnic group or race. Salvation has come to every race and nation: the “whole world.” The “whole world” must be told about him. Only the elect will receive him.

As with all things Calvinistic, the doctrine of limited atonement brings me to a place of humility and gratitude. The “narrowing” of the scope of the atonement makes it sweeter to me.


Next week, we look at “Irresistible Grace”—the “I” in TULIP. I’ve already touched on it as I described Christ’s 100% effectual sacrifice. But we’ll explore more next week the idea that God always “gets his man or woman”!


Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts!