The question of who Christ died for is one of heated debate among evangelicals. While it may be easy to refuse to interact with this question, believing it to be impractical, it is quite apparent that those who desire to be faithful to God’s Word cannot gloss over this topic. And actually it is a subject of great practical concern. For the answer to the question for whom Christ died will dictate how a person’s shares the Gospel with non-believers. Can a Christian legitimately tell a person they are sharing the Gospel with that Christ died for them?
Louis Berkhof states in his Systematic Theology that, “…Christ died for the purpose of actually and certainly saving the elect, and the elect only. This is equivalent to saying that He died for the purpose of saving only those to whom He actually applies the benefits of His redemptive work.” But how does Berkhof’s concept flow out practically? For while Berkhof clearly states the purpose of Christ’s death, he fails to elaborate on the nature of Christ’s death. Jay Adams expounds on his view of the nature of Christ’s death when he writes in his book Competent to Counsel that, “…counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died.” The view is that when Christ died, his sacrifice effectually saves the elect. John Owen states the classic Calvinistic view plainly: “the death and bloodshedding of Jesus Christ hath wrought, and doth effectually procure, for all those that are concerned in it, eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter.”
It is this view that if Christ died for someone that they automatically must go to heaven which leads people to believe they cannot tell someone Christ died for them. But biblically I believe the Bible paints a different picture as to the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. I agree that the purpose of Christ coming was to provide salvation to his elect (Matt. 1:21), but that his sacrifice, in its very nature is universal, not in application, but in provision. I believe that the classical view of limited atonement oversimplifies the atonement and therefore at times misrepresents the plain and simple sense of Scripture. There seem to be both near (resulting in ultimate salvation) and far (resulting in ultimate condemnation) aspects to Christ’s sacrifice. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the remote aspect of Christ’s atonement, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). The reason that all men are raised from the dead is because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-47), and therefore no one goes to hell for what Adam did, but rather for their own deeds. All are raised, some are raised to life, and others to death, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:13).
One of the major arguments against the sacrifice of Christ being made for all is that double payment is illogical. That Christ paid for the sins of the world, and then people go to hell and pay for their own sins just does not make sense to some. John Owen, in his classic treatment of Christ’s death states, “a second payment of a debt once paid, or a requiring of it, is not answerable to the justice which God demonstrated in setting forth Christ to be a propitiation for our sins.” But again, just because something seems illogical should not cause us to dismiss it, but rather, we should accept or reject a doctrine based on Scripture alone. Jesus did not think it illogical for there to be double payment, for in his parable about the unforgiving servant, the king forgives the man’s debt, but when the slave fails to forgive his fellow slave, the king un-forgives the debt and makes the man pay for it himself in the torture chambers. Even though Owen cites this passage in his discussion on the matter, he still believes that Christ cannot die for someone’s sin and then that person go to hell to pay for that sin for which Christ died.
In the Old Testament, when atonement was made for the nation of Israel, it was sacrificed, but the sacrifice itself did not save anyone, rather it made provision for salvation through faith. Salvation through faith is the key to understand the nature of Christ’s atonement and its universality. For while Christ died for the world, while he made propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), it is only applied by faith. Without faith no one experiences the near aspects of the atonement. Christ is the object of faith, without his death there is no salvation, but without faith, one cannot be saved (Gal. 3:11). Sacrifice alone saves no one, but rather it is one aspect of the whole working of the Godhead to save the elect. Christ knew his own, he intimately knew on the cross all those who would believe, but the nature of his sacrifice was a provision for the whole world, not for the elect alone.
It is with this understanding of Christ’s atonement that passages such as Hebrews 10:29 make sense, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” For if there was no provision, no one would trample it under foot. But now, because Christ made provision for all mankind, it makes sense that they would fall under greater condemnation that those under the law of Moses, for the Law and the provision to salvation was given to the Jews only, but now in Christ, provision is to all, without distinction. Therefore, those who reject Christ will be under severer punishment than those who never heard the Gospel. This aligns with the statements Jesus made about Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum’s greater punishment, for they were given greater revelation (Matt. 11:21-24) and therefore were condemned for their unbelief.
So, the answer to the question of for whom did Christ die, is everyone. Therefore in sharing the Gospel, Christians should feel confident in telling those who do not believe that Christ died for them, that they might live and not perish, but have everlasting life. Christ dying for the world does not mean all are saved, but rather, as the call for repentance is universal, so is the provision for salvation. But only those who are chosen by God will believe, for man does not seek after God on his own accord, but must be reborn – it is all of God, there is no room for boasting. But there is room for condemnation, for no one will go to hell because there was no provision made for them, but rather those who go to hell will go because they did not believe. It is fitting to end with Peter’s words, showing that personalizing the call to salvation is biblical: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39).
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, New ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 394.
 Jay Edward Adams, Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1986), 70.
 John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. X. (New York, NY: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 159.
 John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise in Which the Whole Controversy About Universal Redemption Is Fully Discussed (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959), 161.
 Ibid., 154.
Adams, Jay Edward. Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1986.
Barrick, William. The Extent of the Perfect Sacrifice of Christ. Sun Valley, CA: GBI Publishing, 2002.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. New ed. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996.
Chang, Andrew D. “Second Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement.” Bibliotheca Sacra 142, no. 565 (March 1985): 52-63.
Demarest, Bruce A. The Cross and Salvation. Foundations of evangelical theology. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1997.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.
Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise in Which the Whole Controversy About Universal Redemption Is Fully Discussed. London : The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959.
Owen, John. The Works of John Owen. Vol. 10. New York, NY: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851.