The atonement Christ made in his conquering of sin and death is effective only for God's elect people. The power of Christ's death and resurrection is not itself limited, but is intended for his particular people. In no way is his death effective for all men, dependent on their acceptance or rejection of the benefits of his death. (Romans 8, Romans 9, Ephesians 3:18-19)
Limited Atonement is part of the Five Points of Calvinism and is represented by the letter L in the word TULIP:
Read more about the distinctive Reformed view of limited atonement in this excerpt from the fourth chapter of Saved by Grace by Ronald Cammenga and Ronald Hanko.
The doctrine of limited atonement is the third of the Five Points of Calvinism and is represented by the letter L in the word TULIP, the word we use to help us remember the five points and their order.
This doctrine has been given other names. It is sometimes spoken of as the doctrine of "particular atonement," "particular redemption," or "definite redemption," for reasons that we will see later...
Whenever we speak of the atonement, we are using one of the words that the Bible itself uses to describe the benefits of Christ's death. The word, at least in the Old Testament, means "a covering" and reminds us that Christ's death provides a covering for our sins before God. The English word refers to the fact that through the death of Christ, God's people are "reconciled" or "at one" with Him. The death of Christ, in other words, is "at-one-ment." The Bible, of course, uses many other words to describe the death of Christ and its benefits, words such as "ransom," "reconciliation," "propitiation," "satisfaction," and "redemption." All of these words differ somewhat in meaning, but they have this in common: they indicate that Christ's death is our salvation...
When we add the word "limited," we are answering the question, "For whom did Christ die?" Did He die for every single person who ever has lived and ever will live, or did He die only for some people?
The doctrine of limited atonement teaches that Christ died only for some persons, a "limited" number of persons. Those who teach this doctrine would agree that the "limitation" on the atonement is election. In other words, Christ died only for the elect, and it is only the elect who benefit from Christ's death.
Some clarification is needed here, for most of those who believe in an unlimited or universal atonement do not believe that everyone benefits from the death of Christ in the sense that everyone is finally saved. They believe that Christ died for every person and that salvation is made available to everyone through the death of Christ, but that some only (those who believe) benefit fully from Christ's death.
On the other hand, those who believe in limited atonement do not teach that the power and value of Christ's death are in any way limited. The only thing limited is the number of those for whom Christ died, and the limitation is not due to any defect in the work or death of Christ, but to God's sovereign decree to save some and not others. For this reason, many who teach and believe in limited atonement prefer to speak of "particular atonement" rather than "limited atonement," since the word "particular" much more accurately describes what they believe, that is, that Christ died only for particular persons and not for all people. The word "particular" also leaves no doubt about what exactly is limited.