The Extent of the Atonement and Racial Diversity

Many of you are probably unaware of the debate that continues to rage among evangelical theologians over the question of the extent of the atonement. Most Bible-believing Christians argue that when Jesus died on the cross he was making atonement for all the sins of all people. That is to say, his death was universal in scope. He died not only for Jews but also for Gentiles, not only for men but also for women, not only for the elect of God but also for those who ultimately die in unbelief, having rejected Christ throughout the course of their earthly life.

Others, most certainly a minority, in the evangelical world argue for what is known as definite atonement (sometimes referred to as limited atonement). They believe Scripture teaches that Christ offered himself up as an atonement and propitiation for the sins only of the elect, that is, those whom God chose before the foundation of the world to be saved.

My purpose here isn’t to resolve this long-standing debate. That would take a book-length article! I only want to draw your attention to the extent of the atonement when it comes to ethnicity. There can be no mistake but that when Jesus died he redeemed men and women out of every ethnicity, every race, every people group. This multi-ethnic focus of Christ’s redemptive work is highlighted in Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9; and 14:6.

When the NT speaks of the love of God for the “world” the primary point of emphasis is that the saving love of Christ, as seen on the cross, knows no ethnic or national boundaries. God’s saving love is for Gentiles as well as Jews. Christ died for the Aborigine no less than he did for Americans, for people in Uganda as well as those in the Ukraine.

If this was the focus of our Lord’s saving work on the cross, it should also be the focus of our life as the people of God in the local church. This past Sunday, January 14, 2018, was the day each year that we set aside to reflect upon and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of ethnic diversity. Our aim and prayer and hope at Bridgeway is that our local body of believers would be as gloriously diverse in terms of ethnicity as is the kingdom of God itself.

God loves diversity. He has created all humanity in his image. His purpose is to populate the new heaven and new earth with redeemed men and women who come from every color and nation and people and language.

May God give us the grace and wisdom to embrace this with zeal and passion in the days ahead.

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About Sam Storms

Sam Storms is the Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Visit