When reading about the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement I can follow the logical flow as follows:

  • Hell is punishment for sin, the outpouring of the wrath of God
  • Heaven is being with God in the afterlife, which is only possible if our sins are paid for due to divine justice.
  • Christ came to offer forgiveness of sins
  • All those who have their sins forgiven therefore will be in Heaven
  • Not all end up in heaven
  • Therefore the atonment is limited to those God has selected to forgive

One of my arguments against this logical construct is to point out that the actual punishment for sin outlined in Genesis is death; and Christ's work obviously does universally redeem all men from death by the resurrection in an unlimited/universal way. How do reformed theologians answer the fact that Christ's atoning work does actually remove the fundamental consequence of sin for everyone? Is it simply to punish those who end up in Hell?

All of the discussions of limited atonement to this point have completely left out the universal resurrection. Is it irrelevant to the point? If so why?

  • Can you elaborate on," ...Christ's work obviously does universally redeem all men from death by the ressurection in an unlimited/universal way." Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 16:53
  • @Logan - It is my understanding that every Christian tradition believes that all men will be raised from the dead at the second coming. See John 5:28-29. And by all I mean all, as in all men and not as in all types of men.
    – Ian
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 17:04
  • So your question is trying to understand how reformed theologians maintain a limited atonement, yet every person will be raised up at the second coming? A reformed theologian would not view the "raising up" as a form of atonement, rather a prerequisite before judgement as outlined in Rev 20:12 Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 18:14
  • @Logan - Well, since "the wages of sin is death" and resurrection is escaping death it would seem logical to me that Reformed theologians would have to defend why resurrection is not a form of atonement or forgiveness of sins in their theory.
    – Ian
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 19:15
  • 3
    Yes, the wages of sin is death both temporarily and eternally. The limited atonement for reformed theologians though is not an atonement from physical death; rather, eternal death and damnation. A reformed theologian would contend the notion that resurrection is escaping death. The resurrection is just the means by which the dead will be lifted up to the judgement throne in Rev 20:12. It in itself has no eternal saving power. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


The Reformed understanding of the wages of sin being death is that the preeminent death we suffer is not physical, but rather spiritual. In Genesis 2:17, Adam was told "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die." Yet when he ate of it, he did not immediately physically die. In the New Testament, several passages explain this more clearly.

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

  • John 5:21-24

Here we see that those who hear and believe have passed from death to life (even while their bodies are still alive).

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

  • Romans 6:3-5

We are united with Christ through baptism into his burial, and just as he was physically resurrected, so too are we able to walk in newness of life (presently, not just after the physical resurrection).

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:12-17

Christ's physical resurrection is not just a promise for us of our future physical resurrection, but an acknowledgement of the power of Christ to take us out of the death of sin into the newness of life in Christ. If Christ was not resurrected, we are still in our sins because that would mean Christ cannot defeat spiritual death. Spiritual life means we are no longer in our sins.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

  • Ephesians 2:1-3

Here it is very clear; we were once dead. In what sense? It cannot be physical death, so it must be spiritual death.

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

  • 1 Peter 4:6

The gospel is preached to those who are dead, not physically (or how could they hear it?) but to those who are spiritually dead, and might live in the spirit (that is, become spiritually alive).

So when people are physically resurrected, this doesn't mean they have been spiritually made alive. They are still spiritually dead, which is far more important than physical death. In addition, there is a sense in which the lake of fire is a perpetual state of physical death in some way, but I don't think that's particularly pertinent. The punishment of sin is primarily spiritual death, not physical death.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .