Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The Calvinist reasons that if God reconciled “the world” to Himself, then the world would be saved, and the result would be Universalism, and since we know that Universalism isn’t true, we know that a different view of “the world” must be in focus, namely, that this is referring to the world of ‘those who would be saved,’ namely, God’s elect people. However, this passage isn’t saying that the world is already reconciled. The message is this: “…be reconciled,” as we have been reconciled. As we are, you also can be. Repent and receive Him today. That’s a simple message, but a message which the Calvinist seems to entangle, in order to force Scripture to mesh with Calvinism.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians states: “Paul says (in view of what he just said in verse 19), ‘...we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’ This makes it rather plain that the reconciliation is provisional and conditional since it still remains for sinners to ‘be reconciled’ to God through faith. This is nonsense if the elect were ‘already’ reconciled at the cross (in an unconditional, non-provisional sense). ‘We were reconciled...be ye reconciled’ forces the conclusion of provisional and conditional reconciliation being described by Paul.” (SEA, emphasis mine)
Add the fact that Paul’s pleading for reconciliation includes the mention that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,” which speaks powerfully for an Unlimited Atonement, rather than a Limited Atonement, when you consider for whose behalf the atonement was made. It does appear that the context is speaking of “the world,” and unless Calvinists wish to object to the meaning of the world here, we do seem to have a powerful argument for an atonement that is universal in scope, though only effective for eternal life, when we believe in Christ, as per John 3:16.
Colossians 1:19-20 states: “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
John Calvin writes: “Hence, we conclude that, though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (II Cor 5:18) God reconciles the world to Himself, reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.149, emphasis mine)
That sounds like the 4-Point Calvinist view. While I agree with John Calvin that the atonement is unlimited in scope, I disagree that the benefits are for a predetermined, secretly elect group. Instead, I contend that the benefit is peculiar to believers (though, if you define the New Testament elect as exclusively believers, then I would agree that the benefit of the atonement is peculiar to the elect).
When the lost hears your voice in the preaching of the Gospel, with their ears, they may hear your voice, but as Christ’s ambassadors, in their heart, they feel Jesus knocking, that is, making His “appeal through us.” (v.20) That’s how the Gospel is supernatural, “living and active.” (Hebrews 4:12)