I remember someone once telling me in confidence, "It was easier when I was an Arminian." She meant that being a Christian and, specifically, resting in Jesus, was easier before she became Reformed, not that she was some staunch "Arminian" beforehand, or even knew the difference. Things were just simpler. There were less gridlines to hop through and less qualifications. The thing is, I understand what she meant because I have often felt exactly the same way.
There is always the whole issue of election. "How do I know if I am elect? What if I'm not elect?" This is common but the remedy is fairly straightfoward: "You aren't asked if you are elect or not. Believe in Jesus. Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved. God promises." Those who are more theologically-minded might notice that this is an appeal to the revealed will of God. We call the person to take their eyes off God's will of decree, which doesn't reveal things like a list of all the elect, and put them on God's revealed will, which contains His declarations, commands, promises, invitations, etc.
When it comes to the doctrine of limited atonement, as it is commonly known today (just pick up virtually any one of those TULIP booklets), the problem is a little deeper. Jesus died for the elect and the elect only. He bore their sins, only. Any relation to broader humanity is merely found in incidental aspescts, perhaps such as common grace (which, if you notice, is often spoken of in terms of providence but not an intention to save). But then the personal questions arise. "How can I know if Jesus died for me?" or more importantly, "How can I rest in the cross of Christ if I don't know that He died for me? It seems like I need to know that I am elect, first." I think they have a point. This has been my struggle for over six years. The problem is that this issue is not as easily resolved as the previous one.
Why? It is because the common conception of limited atonement really leaves no room (justly) for the revealed will of God. You can't just appeal to the revealed will because, well, there really is no general, revealed aspect to Christ's death, when it comes right down to it. You have to use vague and abstract language, such as "Jesus died for sinners" (which is construed as code-language for "Jesus died for the elect").
The problem is further compounded by the fact that this limited atonement puts an obstruction in the way of the Gospel, when consistently considered. Let me explain. We all know that when one hears the Gospel, it is impossible for them to repent and believe in Christ crucified. The reason is moral, however. It is impossible because the sinner is morally unable -he is unwilling. God comes in, for the elect, and quickens them, opening their eyes, so that they see and embrace Christ. And for the sinner who rejects Jesus Christ crucified, in the Gospel, he is simply left or hardened in his unwillingness.
But with this limited atonement, now the sinner who rejects Christ crucified has not only a moral impossibility but a natural or situational one. It is not only morally impossible for him to be saved. It is naturally impossible, for there is no provision for him. This results in at least two further problems.
First, it causes one to wonder how it can be blameworthy for a man to reject the Gospel. How can be he guilty of doing anything wrong for rejecting something which was not provided for him, in any sense, to begin with? With this, how can it be the responsibility of all men who hear the Gospel to repent and believe?
Second, and more relating to the personal issue at the beginning of this article, it undermines the warrant or foundation one has upon which to believe. It undermines faith. Faith, which we commonly say "receives," cannot receive what it doesn't perceive is there to be received. With this limited atonement, how can the sinner know there is something for them to receive? Does God zap him with some special knowledge ("psst... you are elect") which is not contained in the Gospel? I reject that. If the sinner does not perceive there is something "for him" in some sense, then he will not be able to receive it, trust in it, rest upon it, etc.
With this limited atonement, what Jesus did was only done for some, and who it was for is not revealed to us nor to the sinner who hears the Gospel. Thus, again we find that there is something greater than the sinner's own moral obstacle. Now there is an undermining of the Gospel-grounds to believe. This is what this person, at the beginning, was struggling with, and this is what I have struggled with for years.
It is only recently that I have started to study, research, and find some very different opinions on the extent and nature of the atonement within the Reformed tradition. Do you remember Calvin's wonderful definition of saving faith as a "firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us...?" He could not say that with this view of limited atonement, unless he believed in God zapping us to grant us special extra-Biblical or extra-revelatory knowledge, not found in the Gospel (such as "this is for you, Tim, you are elect"). Calvin didn't believe that, though. His view of faith was based on the fact that he believed the Gospel message, itself, stated that God is well-disposed toward us and that Christ is very truly "for us," as humans, as sinners. He affirmed a special decree to save, certainly, but he also affirmed a true desire for the salvation of men (as sinners, not as elect or reprobate) found in the revealed will of God. Most importantly, for Calvin, there very much was a "revealed" side to Christ's death.
I think we need to guard that "revealed side" and capture it, somehow. The reason is not merely academic. It is personal as well as pastoral. I confess I have not figured it out, and I may never come to exhaustive conclusions, but I am working to see what the Scriptures say in a new light. Did Jesus die for the elect particularly? That much is clear. Do I think that is all we can say about the death of Christ? I think it is far from it. There must be more.
Some try to resolve this issue of limited atonement and the Gospel by way of claiming a paradox (in addition to the paradox of the dual aspects to God's will). That is possible. I think it is a great paradox, if it is one and not a bald contradiction. To me, there are two possibilities: either this limited atonement doesn't say all there is to say about the death of Jesus as it relates to men, or this limited atonement is just plain wrong and needs reworking. We see both solutions elaborated, historically, within the Reformed tradition. For more on this, I suggest reading men like Calvin, Pareus, Fuller, Boston, Dabney, and Charles Hodge. I have a long way to go on this, but to me it seems eminently important.