Why Do Arminians Deny the Atonement of Christ?
Arminians claim universal redemption: Christ died for everyone without exception. One would expect everyone to be saved, but Arminians know that Universalism cannot be the conclusion drawn from Scripture. To adapt, the Arminian separates redemption from atonement. Christ paid for the sins of everyone (redemption), but he atoned for no one. No one is actually saved by the blood of Christ, according to Arminians.
In the Arminian system, Christ is set as the example, and one must simply choose to follow Christ’s example (giving His all to God), by one’s earnest faith. This is what makes the work of obedient faith imperfect. It is a work of sinful man. Man cannot attain the standard of Christ, but he is rewarded with forgiveness of sins and eternal life by his earnest sinner’s prayer, or walk down the aisle, or raising his hand — indicating a decision has been reached by the sinner.
How does the Christian know the love of God? He looks to the cross, and never has he seen a greater love (Jn 15:13). The Arminian, however, cannot see love at the cross. He suddenly talks of God’s electing love and claims the cross was not necessary (other than for a demonstration). God’s love, for the Arminian, is bigger than any obstacle. He does not wish to speak of God’s hatred for sinners (Ps 5:5; 7:11; 11:5; Rom 9:13), nor the wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18). He denies that all people have a sin nature, and by that, are children of wrath (Eph 2:3).
The Arminian deceptively objects, “Did not God love the elect before creation?” The answer, of course, is, “yes,” but to talk about electing love, without redeeming love, is an error. God’s everlasting love, for His elect people, does not ignore the plight of man in sin (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Is 64:6; Rom 1:18–32; 3:10–12, 23; 6:23). It also does not ignore the necessity of Christ’s blood atonement (Eph 1:7; 1 Pet 1:19; 3:18). God determined Adam would fall into sin and poison His progeny (Gen 3; Rom 5:12–21). In love, God predestined the redemption of His chosen people, according to His eternal counsel (Rom 11:5). This was central to His eternal purpose, which He carried out in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Eph 3:11).
God chose His elect, in love, but this surely means, “in Christ.” It is never, “He loves me,” then “He loves me not.” For God so loved the world (elect believers from every nation), that He sent His Son to demonstrate His love, by having Christ die in their place of punishment (Rom 5:8), an atonement for their sin…that is actually made and applied to elect sinners, also being an act of love in the hearts of the elect regenerate (Rom 5:5).
As we have seen, there are two logical conclusions in view here. First, the Arminian denies the atonement, by claiming God loved His people from eternity, negating the necessity of Christ’s blood atonement. Second, the Arminian denies the application of the atonement, if per chance, it was necessary, being a work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Christ has failed to atone for anyone. Atonement, if even needed, only has application if man chooses to apply it by his own free will decision.
Our question is, “Why?” Why do Arminian despise the vicarious atonement of Christ for His people? What value is there in denying the Holy Spirit, as the agent of application of the atonement? Why hide behind the pleasant sounding terms of “general atonement,” when there is no atonement whatsoever? The premise, for interpretation of the Arminian heresy, is always to move the focus of men, from God to man. The will and works of men hold primacy in Arminian theology. In working through each Arminian error, we must see Satan’s ploy to exalt man, to the end, man’s self-destruction in pride.
The Arminian system summed up. Man is not totally depraved. God made man in His image, and God loves everyone too much to let total depravity happen (love trumps all other attributes of God). God has made a covenant that puts the death of Christ before the conditioned election. In other words, Christ died and then people are chosen by their faith. In this, Christ died for everyone without exception, but he atoned for absolutely no one. This is the Arminian denial of Christ’s substitutionary atonement for His elect. Rather, atonement is a mere possibility for those who choose of themselves not to resist God’s grace. Instead, each man exercises his own sovereign will to apply the provisional atonement. This is done by faith, which can be effective or ineffective at any point (imperfect faith). Man must choose to preserve himself in the ongoing exercise of faith. The Arminian is consistent when he claims one can lose her salvation.
Our corrective remedy remains: God chose a people for himself, in Christ, before creation; Christ’s death redeemed and atoned for these chosen people; and the successful application of His atonement is made by the Holy Spirit, at the point of regeneration. In this, Christ is not denied credit for His atoning work; rather, He is praised, honored, and exalted for it. Instead of being a complete failure in atonement (Arminianism), Christ is a perfect success (Reformed).
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 11, 2021