My high school grammar teacher would be pleased that I possess such an infatuation for them--especially when it comes to defending the great doctrinal truth of substitutionary atonement. You see, did Christ really die in the place of real people--releasing them from the sentence of death? Did He face God's wrath in their stead? All conservative theologians would answer a definite and resounding yes!
Yet their enthusiasm for this same doctrine mysteriously wanes when the subject of limited atonement arises. Their "unlimited" view of the atonement (read: unlimited in hypothetical scope, limited in actual efficiency) borders on denying the real substitutionary death of Christ if, as they say, Christ died as a substitute for all people--even those currently facing God's unsatisfied wrath in hell.
When pressed for the reasoning behind their universal view, many "unlimited" proponents use the "well-show-me-a-verse-that-always-limits-the-atonement-ONLY-to-the elect" argument. This, of course, is nothing more than a not-so-well crafted deflection tactic--a tactic that would require them to renounce their view of a pretribulational rapture (most unlimited, universal atonement proponents would be pretribulationalists). Just as there is not a single verse that limits the atonement only to the elect, there is not a single verse that specifically states Christ's second coming will occur in stages, and that the rapture will occur before a seven-year tribulation period. Yet, they will defend their rapture position with great fervor and vehemency--while deriding your "limited atonement" as a purely (il)logical argument that lacks sufficient scriptural support.
This is where pronouns become huge--especially first-person plural pronouns like "we" and "us" and "our." As you remember from Language Arts class, first-person plural pronouns speak of a specific group--and are to be distinguished from third-person plural pronouns like "you (all)" and "they". Recognizing the specific intent of these oft-overlooked pronouns will make the doctrine of particular redemption come alive--especially when considered within their specific context.
For example, I was taught that Isaiah 53:6 was indisputable proof of an unlimited atonement ... and at first-glance, I would agree: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." After all, all means all all the time, right? No. In this text, the all is a qualified all. Isaiah is not stating that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of all people--including those in hell. He is saying that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of us all. Us. There it is. First-person plural. All of us. Not all in an unqualified sense, but all in a qualified, first-personal plural sense. All in a specific, limited, group sense. For a much more detailed treatment of the entire Isaiah 53 passage in regards to particular redemption, see THIS.
So this past Sunday I preached from Romans 5:1-11 on the subject of "Don't Waste Your Suffering." Never before had I seen the relationship between our justification and the purpose for our sufferings (to awaken within us a desire for glory through producing endurance, proven character, and hope).
But that wasn't all I had missed from the passage; I had missed those first-person plural pronouns I had become so infatuated with in Isaiah 53. And then it hit me--like a proverbial ton of theological bricks: those who had paved the "Romans Road" must have embraced the same particular redemption I embrace. There it was. In black and white on the page before me. I could spend the next two-hundred and fifty words explaining it to you, but I'm quite sure you are capable of picking up on the first-person plural pronouns (especially verse 8)--and their relationship to justification and Christ's death.
So here is the Apostle Paul in God's own words (first-person plural pronouns are in bold for effect ... not because I think you can't identify them!):
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Praise God for first-person plural pronouns. Because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, we have peace with God ... access to God ... and the hope of God. We are recipients of God's love (through the Spirit), and are spared God's wrath. We, who were His enemies, are not killed, but spared through Christ's life.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
And smack-dab in the middle of this great text on the blessings of justification is a telling statement on Christ's death: "But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."