Particular Atonement

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

- John 10:11–18

For the past week we have been looking at the atonement of Jesus. We have seen that the Atonement was made to satisfy God’s justice through the substitutionary death of Christ. We have also looked at the lengths to which God has gone in order to ransom His Bride from slavery by taking on the curse of the Cross.

Today we conclude our brief study of the Atonement by asking the question: “For whom did Christ die?” Space prevents a thorough consideration of this hotly debated question, so we will only be able to discuss it briefly here.

Unless you are a universalist, you must agree that the Atonement is limited in some sense. It is clear from experience and the testimony of Scripture that not everybody is saved. Some people never receive the benefits of the Atonement and are cut off from God’s mercy forever.

But what limits the extent of the Atonement? Is it God or is it man? Is the efficacy of the Atonement dependent on humanity’s response, or is it dependent on God’s plan and purpose? The most pertinent question is: What exactly was God’s intent in the Atonement?

Arminians say that God’s intent in the Atonement was to make atonement for everyone. But this salvation is only a potential reality. It depends on a “free will” decision from man to claim this atonement for himself. In this view, the work of Christ saves everybody potentially but nobody in actuality. And regrettably, Arminians, if they want to preserve “free will,” must also believe that the Atonement has the potential to save no one. “Free will” must also mean that it is possible that no one will believe.

However, the Bible tells us that Christ did not go to the cross for only a potential atonement. We are told that Christ would see His sacrifice and be satisfied knowing that it will really save some (Isa. 53:11). We are told that Christ came to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

That is why Reformed theology insists on a particular atonement. God’s plan was not to give a probability that some would be saved; rather, His plan was to guarantee that those whom He has chosen would be saved. When Christ died, He died for the sins of His people. He laid His life down only for His sheep (John 10:11). In doing so, He guaranteed their salvation. He ensured that the Holy Spirit would move His people to trust in Christ. He really accomplished the salvation of the elect.

Coram Deo

The death of Christ is sufficient to save everyone God intended to save. But that is not the main point; rather, the point is that the power of the Atonement accomplishes redemption for those whom God chose. And if you are a child of God, you can be assured that you are one for whom the Messiah made real atonement.

Passages for Further Study

Isa. 10:20–22a
John 6:37–39; 17:9
Acts 20:28
Eph. 1:3–5

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