Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Atonement is NOT "Sufficient for all but Efficient for the Elect"

Sufficient but Efficient... That Seems Right, but is it True?

It seems that very many Christians in this day and age would agree that the atonement of Christ is: "Sufficient for all but efficient for the elect." In many Christian circles, the mere recitation of this “truism” sends heads-nodding and elicits pious affirmations, as though all within earshot had just entered into the veritable Holy of Holies of Christian doctrine. So universally esteemed is this statement that seemingly no evangelical, whether Arminian or Calvinist, dares to question it as the absolute bedrock of atonement truth. That being the case, I want to make this point as clearly as possible:"Sufficient for all but efficient for the elect" theology is self-contradictory, because if the atonement is only efficient for the elect, then it is insufficient for the non-elect, for want of efficiency. It is therefore FALSE.

If Not Sufficient but Efficient - What then?

An accurate statement regarding the atonement of Christ would be represented by the following: Insufficient for all, by its efficiency for the elect only. Stated another way, any monergistic work that lacks efficacy is insufficient, because it does not get the job done, and because there is no other agent at work wherein efficacy might be found. The force of that logic is formidable, and may only be rivaled by the force of the opposition you may encounter among God's people as you endeavor to make this point. Indeed, bogus doctrinal positions are often quite difficult to uproot.


  1. The maxim "Sufficient for all but efficient for some" succinctly captures the distinction between the provision and the possession of salvation.

    A Biblical illustration of this is found in John 3, where, in reply to questions from eminent teacher of Israel, Nicodemus, Christ likens his death to the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness.

    As leading scholar of the day, Nicodemus would have memorized large parts of the Torah and, likely, would have been able to quote the passage that Christ referred to, by heart.

    Nicodemus readily understood and needed no reminding that God provided a remedy for each and every Israelite without exception and that looking at the brazen serpent would have healed anyone and everyone from the deadly bite of the fiery serpents.

    "And the Lord said to Moses, Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole; and EVERYONE WHO IS BITTEN, when he looks at it, shall live." Num 21:8 (AMP)

    Nicodemus knew that only those who obeyed by looking were healed. "And Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole, and if a serpent had bitten ANY MAN, when he looked to the serpent of bronze, he lived." Num 21:9 (AMP)

    Nicodemus knew that the remedy was provided for all and only those who looked possessed God’s remedy and were healed.

    By understanding the implications of Christ's account, likening His death to the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness, Nicodemus would have come to the realization in His own mind, that Christ Himself, through His own words, underscored the difference between salvation provided and possessed.

    Or, in the modern day parlance of Arminian's and Calvinist's alike, Salvation, "Sufficient for all, efficient for some".

    1. Ultimately there is NO distinction between the provision and possession of salvation, since all of God's chosen people become possessors of that self-same salvation in due time. (John 17:2) This undeniable precept has two unavoidable logical ramifications:

      1) There is NO provision made for the salvation of the non-elect.

      2) Any offer of salvation extended to the non-elect is therefore without basis.

      It is for these reasons that the atonement is NOT sufficient for all, because it lacks the purpose to save all, and no one is saved apart from God's purpose in salvation.

  2. Notice it does not say -

    "and set it on a pole; and EVERYONE WHO LOOKS (ie only those elect/regenerated), when he looks at it, shall live." Num 21:8 (AMP)

    but -

    "and set it on a pole; and EVERYONE WHO IS BITTEN (ie elect and non elect alike), when he looks at it, shall live." Num 21:8 (AMP)


    Atonement sufficient for all (those who are bitten by sin, ie everyone), efficient for some (those who look to Christ, ie the elect).

    1. Was the atonement sufficient to save those who didn't look?

    2. The serpent in the wilderness was lifted up for the Israelites - God's chosen people in the old covenant. They are typical of God's chosen people in the new covenant - spiritual Israel. Just as the serpent was not lifted up to cure the snakebites of the Egyptians, Canaanites or Midianites, but rather to cure God's covenant people of Israel; in like manner, the atonement of Christ is a provision made not for all of humanity, but for God's chosen people in the new covenant - spiritual Israel.

      Israel is NEVER used as a type of all of humanity in the scriptures.

    3. Agreed. The serpent wasn't lifted up for the Incas and the Chinese. It was limited in its intent, purpose, and application.

      If the atonement was rendered ineffective by the refusal to look, it logically concludes that the atonement was insufficient to save. Therefore sufficient for all is rendered false.

  3. "and EVERYONE WHO IS BITTEN, when he looks at it, shall live."

  4. "and EVERYONE WHO IS BITTEN, when he looks at it, shall live."

    Stated another way

    " when he looks at it, out of everyone who is bitten, he shall live "

    The emphasis is on the one who looks shall live, not on everyone who is bitten.

    " Everyone who is bitten "is limited in scope by the one who looks. Much like For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto Salvation for EVERYONE who believes. Everyone is limited in scope by the believing ones.

    So is the atonement sufficient to save those who didn't look?

    1. There were not any for whom the serpent was provided who did not look. Likewise, all those for whom Christ atoned will receive eternal salvation.

    2. I agree. I was actually responding in rebuttal to the other anonymous commenter.

  5. Thank you brothers, for your thought provoking contributions to our discussion of the serpent in the wilderness, and my contention that it's role in healing Israel illustrates the Biblical distinction between salvation - it's provision for all and possession by some - or in the words of the author (TETH) - the atonement - sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.

    I may say, the author as ever, in his usual inimitable, no nonsense, style presents an excellent rebuttal of my contention, if only the veneer of one.

    To ensure that we properly examine the case, decently and in order, for and against my contention, with the authors agreement, I would like to categorize the arguments presented (so far) against my contention as follows:

    - Theological - the serpent cannot illustrate salvation, it's provision for all and possession by some because, in the view of the author, the atonement is only provided to those who will possess it, AKA Limited Atonement
    - Typological - Israel is never used to illustrate mankind
    - Logical - if the atonement is only efficient for some without being efficient for all then the atonement cannot be said to be sufficient for all for lack of efficiency

    The author is invited to confirm whether or not I have fairly categorized his case so far in this summary.

    Before I go onto address the case presented against my contention then and expose the flaws therein, to ensure we have established a proper understanding of the landscape of our discussion, may I inquire the following of the author -

    Do these arguments represent the case against my contention, as you would put it, in it's entirety or do you have any further arguments that you should like to educe in support of your case?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Heartiest Blessings,