T – total depravity
U – unconditional election
L – limited atonement
The third point is often most contentious bringing about two groups, the 4-pointers and the 5-pointers. The 4-point Calvinist would reject limited atonement whereas the 5-point accept it.
The point of contention is on whether or not the atonement for sin paid by Christ’s death was effectively paid for all or was just paid for those who are the elect. All would agree that Christ was more than able to pay for the sins of all; however, only the elect effectively come to salvation.
What am I referring to with the word ‘atonement’? Well, thinking back to T for total depravity, mankind has become totally depraved and is focused on self first and foremost. As we see throughout the old testament, to make restitution for these sins, blood had to be regularly spilled. These sacrifices were but a foretaste of the ultimate sacrifice given in Jesus Christ. His sacrifice was enough to be the final sacrifice, an atonement for sins.
Limited atonement (a.k.a. particular atonement) states that this atonement made by Christ’s death was only for the elect as they are the only ones who effectively come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, I point out the points of contention because I have no intention of being dogmatic and I don’t want people to think that somehow one side or another is the true Christian and the other not. Both the 4-pointer and the 5-pointer are true Christians despite how we may argue one of the two to be inconsistent. These points summarized in TULIP show the inner workings of salvation as we find them in the Scriptures. None of us needed to understand these things to become true believers in Him. Even so, it is not Christ’s desire for us to remain ever infants in the faith. Always seek out God’s truth and grow in maturity (1 Cor. 14:20), but always remember to be compassionate and far from legalism (e.g. reducing faith down to works-centered following of rules and a pride that looks down its nose at all who do not appear to follow – the Pharisees of Christ’s time are great examples).
Verses for further reading that are often used for this point: Matt. 26:28 (use of ‘many’ rather than ‘all’); John 10:11, 15; Matt. 25:32-33; John 17:9; Acts 20:28; Isaiah 53:12
For further study on Limited Atonement, go here.