There are many Christians who do not come from Reformed and Presbyterian backgrounds who will often object to Reformed doctrine and teaching taught in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and reiterated in the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catachisms. The main concerns have to do with mankind being able to retain a modicum of personal freedom of choice in existence and in choosing God, over against a sovereign God who decrees everything that comes to pass. They are at odds with the idea that their salvation was orchestrated from before the beginning of the world and that at an appointed time in space, time and history, they would have their hearts and minds changed in such a way that that they would freely and irresistably changed such that they became Christians. Somehow, the retention of a personal freedom to be the master of their own ship is to important a concept to let go of. Predestination is a hard concept to deal with if you want to assert personal freedom.
But in the words of Janis Joplin's song Bobby McGee, "...freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." To be free, or have freedom to do anything...you have to be free <FROM> something to start with. If you are free...you are free from something/anything. According to Scripture, before you become a Christian, you are a slave to the Power of the Prince of the Air and dead in your sins and trespasses. No freedom there. When you become a Christian, you are changed such that you freely choose to become a slave of Christ. And again...not much personal freedom there in the directing of your eternal salvation. That is something that begins and ends with a Sovereign God who does what he wants.
Such Christians will often throw up several verses from the Bible to argue their point. Below are several of them that I have responded to in some detail.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 NIV11
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
This passage points to the unity of both the Old and New Testaments in their revelation of God. We don’t get to pick and choose which ones we like over and above others that we have problems with.
Hermeneutics is the theological science of interpreting Scripture within its original language, within the framework of the cultural setting in which it was written and within any discoverable framework of the thinking and intent of the author. Further, as Jesus says, the word of God cannot be broken…it cannot therefore have contradictory parts to a unified revelation. The hard bits are to be understood in light of easier understood passages. Hermeneutics is about doing exegesis (described above) over against eisegesis which is the taking a scripture verse out of grammatical, cultural or intended context. This is the root of much of the problem and differences stated such Christians.
2 Peter 3:9 NIV11
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
This passage does not mean what they think it means. Peter’s Christian readers must realize that the apparent delay of divine judgment is a sign of God’s forbearance and mercy toward them, particularly toward the believers in their midst who have been confused and misled by the false teachers. The repentance in view, for the sake of which God delays judgment, is that of God’s people rather than the world at large. God is not willing that any of His elect should perish.
Note John 6:39 NIV11
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
In the context of this epistle, the “any” of this verse refers back to the “us” of 1:3 “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”, indicating that Peter is talking about the elect, those whom God has granted everything necessary for life and godliness. The verse is not teaching that God wants everyone to be saved such that He is frustrated by the fact that not everyone is saved, and it is not endorsing a universalism that says everyone will be saved in the end. God has an elect people whom He has purposed to redeem and who will therefore be saved, for no purpose of His can be thwarted (Romans 9:1–29; cf. Job 42:2).
The Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked, but His eternal purposes are not overturned and He is not thrown into depression when people reject His gospel.
Ezekiel 18:32 NIV11
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
1 Timothy 2:4 NIV11
“who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
This does not mean that God sovereignly wills every human being to be saved (i.e., that God saves or wishes to save everyone, since Romans 9:18–24 says otherwise, and speaks of God’s “desire” in expressing His election and reprobation). It may refer to God’s general benevolence in taking no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) or to God’s desire that all types of people be saved (i.e., God does not choose His elect from any single nationality, class, or other group).
Ezekiel 18:23, 32 NIV11
“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
Again, these verses have been taken out of the context for which they were written. If you read vss. 21-32, you will appreciate the argument put forth…If God judges each generation for their own sins, Ezekiel’s contemporaries are part of a generation that is under God’s judgment. Is there any hope for their future? Ezekiel adds two more case studies: wicked people who turn away from their sin and righteous people who abandon their faithfulness. Real change is possible if there is repentance. On the other hand, those who are in a right relationship with God need to persevere in faithfulness, not growing weary of doing what is right (Galatians 6:9). This is precisely why Ezekiel has been appointed as a watchman for Israel in Chapter 3.
Verses 30-32 are a summary statement. The fundamental problem for Israel, and for all people, is not God’s injustice but a lack of righteousness. The house of Israel thoroughly deserves God’s judgment; sin can never be taken lightly in one’s relationship with God. Yet within the solemn warnings about the gravity of sin and the threat it represents, there remains the assurance that God does not desire or delight in the death of the wicked (2 Peter 3:9). God is both just and merciful, and all those who repent will find the way to life (2 Chronicles 6:37–39; Isaiah 30:15; 59:20; Jeremiah 18:8; Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:4, 15; Luke 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 24:47; Acts 3:19; 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words…this is not a reference to the “world”, but to the chosen people of Israel.
Matthew 23:37 NIV11
““Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Once again, who is being addressed here? Pagans? The world? Or the chosen people of God? Context chooses the latter. Jesus again claims implicitly to be God Himself by alluding to Scripture’s comparison of the Lord’s protection of His people to that of a mother bird sheltering chicks under her wings (a repeated theme in Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 91:4). His lament over unbelieving Israel is genuine, for God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, even though their sin is ordained in His sovereign plan.
“The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Luke 22:22 NIV11
The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!””
In particular, in Matthew 23:37-38 Jesus is addressing Jerusalem’s leaders who have not cared for her children in the way they should. Indeed, their ungodly influence has resulted in Jerusalem’s children not wanting to be “gathered in” by Jesus. Jesus wants to “gather in” the children of Jerusalem, but the leaders are “unwilling” to let Him do that. This passage is about “rebellious chosen people” …people God already picked.
Romans 8:28–30 NIV11
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
This is part of a huge passage. Verses 29-30 explain God’s “purpose” (v. 28). It is a plan of sovereign saving grace, entitling all who now believe to trace their faith and salvation back to an eternal decision by God to bring them to glory, and to look forward to that glory as a guaranteed certainty. The destiny appointed for believers (and their conformity to Christ and glorification with Him) flows from divine foreknowledge. Here, it is people not facts or events that God is said to foreknow. God does foresee events, but Paul’s point is that God has of His own initiative chosen the objects of His active, saving love. The word “Know” (which is from προέγνω—which literally means “to know ahead time” or “choose ahead of time”) implies an intimate personal relationship, not merely awareness of facts and circumstances (see also Genesis 4:1; Amos 3:2; Matthew 1:25); thus, the “foreknown” are the equivalent of “elect,” those whom God loved, individually and personally, even before they were created…
Ephesians 1:3–5 NIV11
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—”
This is especially evident in Romans 11:2 and 5: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…there is a remnant chosen by grace.” “Foreknew” here is the direct parallel with “not rejected” and is further explained by “chosen.” It continues to be a problem among those that misuse the term “foreknowledge” of future acts/actions and events of any individual as that which determines a willful act.
In looking at verse 30 of this text, we note that those predestined are, in due time, “called,” or effectively summoned through the gospel into saving fellowship with Christ (1:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9). We note that all of those “called” are also “justified.” This call cannot refer to the outward call of the gospel that many reject (Matthew 22:14). It is an inward call of God, by the Holy Spirit, that accomplishes what He intends. All who are predestined are called in this way. Predestination includes God’s determination that a person will receive such an inward call (called the “effectual call”). Predestination is not based on God’s knowing beforehand how people will respond to the gospel. Just as the predestined are called, so the called are both justified and certain to be finally glorified. The past tense of “glorified” indicates that from God’s standpoint the work is as good as done. He will complete it as planned.
In referencing Cain and his unwillingness to repent, in Genesis 4:6-7 and the assertion that it was not God’s fault, intention, but the fault of Cain we are in total agreement. Cain could do no other as a spiritually dead man.
Ephesians 2:1 NIV11
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Paul referencing here the Ephesians prior state…)
Matthew 7:13–14 NIV11
““Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”"
Presenting a rosy picture of the Christian life and minimizing that it is filled with trouble does not follow the lead of our Lord or His apostles…
Acts 14:22 NIV11
“strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.”
Philippians 1:29-30 NIV11
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
It may be that the “false prophets” of verse 15 are especially those who deny that the way is narrow and hard. So, the question is: who is using either road or either gate? At what point do “spiritually dead people” chose a road one way or the other? Up to this point, dead people will only go on the only path that is available to them…away from God. But if, at some point in their life, their heart is invaded by the Holy Spirit and have it changed from stone to flesh…they become regenerated. And from there, Justified. And from there…they can take the high road via the choice they have in free will.
1 Timothy 2:1–6 NIV11
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”
As regards verse 4: This does not mean that God sovereignly wills every human being to be saved (i.e., that God saves or wishes to save everyone, since Scripture elsewhere says otherwise…
Romans 9:18–24 NIV11
“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”).
Instead, this passage speaks of God’s “desire” in expressing His election and reprobation. It may refer to God’s general benevolence in taking no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) or to God’s desire that all types of people be saved (i.e., God does not choose His elect from any single nationality, class, or other group). Note this in verse 1: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— as can be seen from the next expression (“for kings and all who are in high positions”), this does not mean “every human being”; rather, it refers to “all types of people,” whatever their station in life. Context in reading the Scriptures is very important.
To illustrate, a commander in chief of military forces facing a war may well wish that no soldier may die on the battlefield, but due to the reasons behind the war many will indeed parish. Just because it indeed happens, does not take the sentiment out of the previous emotive response. No one likes war or to see people die…but sometimes it is necessary and just.
2 Corinthians 5:14–15 NIV11
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Once again, the context of this passage disallows for anyone to pick out “for all” as meaning “everyone who has ever lived.”
Grammatically, this could be the love we have for Christ or the love Christ has for us. Since Paul is speaking of what Christ has done for him by dying in his place, his primary reference is to the love that comes from Christ. However, Christ’s initiating love evokes our love for Christ and others (1 John 4:7–11), and thus it “controls” our desires and relationships with others, enabling us more and more to love our brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph. 5:2; 1 John 4:7–12).
The ones for whom He died are the same as the “all” who “died” with Him as a result of His death, who are mentioned at the end of the verse. Note how it is done elsewhere in comparison:
Galatians 2:20 NIV11
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Jesus died to secure redemption and eternal life for all of His sheep, but not all people are His sheep.
1 John 2:1–2 NIV11
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Christ’s sacrifice is not only sufficient for John and his immediate community, but it is valid anywhere in the world for those who believe. It is a sacrifice that requires no addition or supplement. This verse does not mean that the Lord intended the atonement to pay for the sins of all people without exception; rather, it affirms that there is only one sacrifice available for any sinner, namely, the sacrifice of Christ. This sacrifice is effectual for all who believe, but the only ones who will believe are those chosen by God for salvation from the foundation of the world, and Jesus made atonement only for this elect people.
John 10:11 NIV11
““I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Ephesians 1:3–6 NIV11
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
John 5:24 NIV11
““Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
Salvation is not only an object of hope for the future, but a present reality for the believer; such a one “has passed from death to life” (cf. 6:47). The phrase “eternal life” is a direct allusion to Daniel 12:2, which speaks of believers who “will awake … to everlasting life” in the final eschatological resurrection.
Daniel 12:2 NIV11
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Wherever this phrase occurs in John’s writings, it has this Old Testament background and thus refers to an end-time eternal-resurrection-life that begins spiritually in this age, when one believes, and is consummated at the final physical resurrection on the last day. There is no significant reference here that just “anyone” has access to this…but the saints of God only.
John 3:16–18 NIV11
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Some (including yourself) have insisted that God sent Jesus to die in order to make salvation possible for everyone without exception. However, Jesus makes clear that the salvation of those whom the Father gives Him is not a mere possibility but an absolute certainty. All of those whom God has chosen will come to Christ, who has laid down His life only for His sheep and not for those who have not been chosen from the foundation of the world.
John 6:37–40 NIV11
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.””
John 10:14–18 NIV11
““I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.””
John 17:9 NIV11
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”
The point made by the phrase “the world” is that Christ’s saving work is not limited to one time or place or people (i.e. the Jews), but applies to the elect from all over the world no matter the era in which they live or their ethnicity. Moreover, in John, “the world” often opposes God (John 1:10; 7:7; 14:17; 15:18, 19), so the wonder of God’s love is displayed in the unworthiness of its object. Those who do not receive the remedy God has provided in Christ will perish. It remains true that anyone who believes in Christ will not die (be separated from God) but live in God’s presence forever.
Jesus elsewhere says that judgment does attend His coming into the world (John 9:39; 12:31). His point is not that He will not judge, but that the time has not yet come. The world was already under threat of judgment before He came, but with His coming, salvation becomes a reality offered to a hostile world (John 12:47; Matthew 23:37; Romans 5:8).
In verse 18, we see that belief is not the only basis for condemnation, but it constitutes the climax of rebellion by resisting even God’s gracious offer of salvation in Christ. Jesus comes into a world that is already condemned because of its rejection of God’s self-revelation (Romans 1:18–32); and apart from the faith that unites one to Christ, individuals remain under condemnation for their sins.
John 3:36 NIV11
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
Note that the wrath of God does not start at the present rejection…but remains on them…as it always has from the beginning.
Typical of those affected by Arminian doctrine is the idea that since God has decreed everything and elected all those he would save and then called them to faith…is that we have no need for evangelism, because the outcome is predetermined. Such a notion is nonsense however. After one’s election, the next order in the process in salvation is God’s active calling by the Holy Spirit, where one’s formerly stone heart is changed to a heart of flesh that seeks after God. It is at this point of time that the will of any human being is made alive such that it can be exercised in choosing to follow such and irresistible call from God’s Spirit.
It is at this point that evangelism and the proclamation of the Gospel has its effect…leading to Justification by faith, Sanctification and finally Glorification in being united to Christ. Hence the following passage:
Romans 10:13–15 NIV11
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!””
Romans 10:17 NIV11
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
2 Peter 2:1 NIV11
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
This passage nowhere asserts what they say it does. The Greek term used here in ancient times referred to groups or sects in a neutral sense (as in “sect” of Acts 24:5). It was used by Paul of divisive groups (as in 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20) and it came to denote the specific teachings of such groups. Here, teachings regarding Christian conduct are probably in view—conduct that placed the teachers under judgment (see verses 3; 3:7).
Peter is not saying Christians can lose their salvation (cf. John 10:28-29; Romans 8:28–30 to the contrary) but is describing the false teachers in terms of their own profession of faith (20, 21) “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”” By teaching and practicing immorality, they despise the lordship of Christ and prove their profession to be false (1 John 2:3, 4, 19). They deny the one whom they have falsely claimed to serve as His precious possession.
Though some take the phrase “the Sovereign Lord who bought them” to mean that Christ’s substitutionary death applies to all rather than to the elect only. Peter’s concern here is to highlight the responsibility of the false teachers rather than to advance a theory of the atonement. It was the false teachers’ claim that Christ “bought them,” but such a claim is valid only for true believers. With their claim to be redeemed by Christ, their “sensuality” (verse 2) brings particular dishonor on Christ and His sacrifice for sin. It provides a false testimony to the world that lawlessness is the fruit of salvation.
Key Misunderstandings about Reformed theology and Calvinists...
- Calvinists do not dismiss free will as they often assert. They simply understand that people have no will to choose God on their own (because they are spiritually dead), until the quickening of the Holy Spirit—the changing of a stone heart to flesh. After the indwelling of the Spirit of God, they are then commanded to choose Christ…and will irresistibly do so. All of mankind will suffer the consequences of their choices good or bad, in this world and the next.
- They assert that because of election and predestination, Calvinists do not believe in evangelism. Jesus told us not to throw pearls before swine…but to preach Christ crucified to any and every one because we do not know who is elect or when the Lord our God will regenerate someone’s soul, such as they will hear and respond.
- Salvation is of the Sovereign Lord, and any effort on the part of our spiritually dead selves would be providing a part and participation in our salvation. Any contribution on mankind’s part to assist a type of prevenient grace with “free choice” …is part and parcel Roman Catholicism doctrine.
I offer the following statement from Dr. R.C. Sproul (founder and director of the Ligonier Study Centre, professor and minister in the Presbyterian Church in America):
The doctrine of definite atonement (also known as limited atonement) focuses on the question of the design of Christ’s atonement. It is concerned with God’s intent in sending Jesus to the cross.
Anyone who is not a universalist is willing to agree that the effect of Christ’s work on the cross is limited to those who believe. That is, Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers. Not everyone is saved through His death. Everyone also agrees that the merit of Christ’s death is sufficient to pay for the sins of all human beings. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some.
This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement. Those who deny definite atonement insist that Christ’s work of atonement was designed by God to atone for the sins of everyone in the world. It made possible the salvation of everyone, but made certain the salvation of no one. Its design is therefore both unlimited and indefinite.
The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect. The Atonement was an actual, not merely potential, work of redemption. In this view there is no possibility that God’s design and intent for the Atonement could be frustrated. God’s purpose in salvation is sure.
Reformed theologians differ over the question of the offer of the Atonement to the human race. Some insist that the offer of the gospel is universal. The Cross and its benefits are offered to anyone who believes. Others insist that this concept of a universal offer is misleading and involves a kind of play on words. Since only the elect will in fact believe, in reality the offer goes out only to them. The benefit of Christ’s atonement is never offered by God to the impenitent or the unbelieving. Since belief and repentance are conditions met only by the elect, then ultimately the Atonement is offered only to them.
John writes that: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). This text, more than any other, is cited as scriptural proof against definite atonement. At first glance it seems to argue that Christ’s death was intended for everybody (the whole world). However, if it is taken in that sense the text proves more than non-Reformed people want it to prove. It becomes a proof-text for universalism. If Christ indeed propitiated or satisfied God’s demands for the punishment of the sins of everybody, then clearly everybody would be saved. If God punished sins that were already propitiated, then He would be unjust. If the text is understood to mean that everyone’s sins have been conditionally propitiated (contingent upon faith and repentance) then we are back to the original question of only the elect satisfying the conditions.
The other way to view text is to see the contrast in it between our sins and those of the whole world. Who are the people included in the word our? If John is speaking only of fellow believers, then the previous interpretation of the text would apply. But is that the only possible meaning of our?
In the New Testament a frequent contrast is made between the salvation enjoyed by Jews and that enjoyed by non-Jews. A crucial point of the gospel is that it is not limited to Jews but is extended to people all over the world, to people from every tribe and nation. God loves the whole world, but He does not save the whole world; He saves people from all parts of the world. In this text, John may merely be saying that Christ is not only a propitiation for our sins (Jewish believers) but for the elect found also throughout the whole world.
In any case, the plan of God was decided before anybody was in the world at all. The atonement of Christ was not a divine afterthought. The purpose of God in Christ’s death was determined at the foundation of the world. The design was not guesswork but according to a specific plan and purpose, which God is sovereignly bringing to pass. All for whom Christ died are redeemed by His sacrificial act.
R.C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible (Accordance electronic ed. Orlando: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), n.p.