Entire denominations of Christianity have formed over disagreements about this topic. Does God preselect everyone’s final destination, allowing only the elect into heaven? Is the decision that results in eternity in heaven or Hell entirely up to each individual? Does God really choose who goes to heaven or does He just know what we will ultimately choose? If you believe that Christ died for everyone and it is the decision of man whether to go to heaven or Hell, then you must be Arminian. If you believe that Christ died only for those who would be saved (the elect), then you must be a Calvinist. I don’t think the distinction is that clear though.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is enough to save all people. No one needs anything more to be saved. Although this sounds like Universalism, there’s more to it. Just because His sacrifice is enough to save everyone, does not mean that it is applied to everyone. We must choose to receive the payment for our sins through the cross to be saved. That is where the heresy of Christian Universalism and Arminian perspective within orthodoxy differ. Jesus Christ died for all as the all-sufficient sacrifice to pay for all sins, making it possible for the people of God (the elect) to be with Him in heaven. It sounds a bit weird, but it’s as if we choose within our own free will to be a part of God’s elect, whom He predestined to be saved.
This hybrid of the Arminian and Calvinist perspectives is known as unlimited limited atonement. Some people call it modified Calvinism and believe that it closer represents what John Calvin actually believed. I would tend to agree with this assumption due to the fact that John Calvin died when Joseph Arminias was around four years old. The five points of Calvinism, often referred to as TULIP, were written as a response to the Arminian Remonstrance (wikipedia).
John 3:16 says that “God loved the world”, not “God loved His chosen people.” This, among other verses, brings me to the belief that Christ died for every sin of every person. I’ve referenced Mark Driscoll’s book, Doctrine, a few times on this blog because of the clarity it has brought me on subjects like this. In his chapter regarding the cross of Christ, he looks at Colossians 1:18-20 where The Bible says that “Jesus’ death reconciles “all things” to God.” While this sounds like a defense of Universalism, Driscoll goes deeper:
There is a genuine open door for savation for anyone who believes in Jesus, and this makes the rejection of Jesus completely inexcusable… God will overcome all rebellion through Jesus’ blood. In this sense, all those in hell will stand reconciled to God but not in a saving way… In hell unrepentant and unforgiven sinners are no longer rebels, and their sinful disregard for God has been crushed and ended.
Even the sins of those in hell were paid for to the cross, but the refusal to accept Christ as the one who became sin so that we would become the righteousness of God is the reason they are not a part of God’s elect in heaven.