Securing Our Faith, I
“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9).- John 17:9
We come now to particular redemption, otherwise known as limited, or definite, atonement. This doctrine has been hotly debated in church history, and so we will expand upon Dr. R.C. Sproul’s discussion of it in The Cross of Christ using his book What Is Reformed Theology?
Biblical soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) is often summarized in the acrostic TULIP. Total depravity (T) tells us all men are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1) and cannot find life apart from the sovereign work of the Spirit (John 3:8). Having chosen to save some out of fallen humanity (Unconditional election; Rom. 9:18; Eph 1:1–14), the Father sent His Son to atone for the sin of His people alone (Limited atonement; John 10:11). Christ’s death on behalf of the elect ensures that God’s irresistible grace (I) will convert all those chosen for salvation (John 5:21). Perseverance of the saints (P) is the end of this plan — no one can snatch a believer out of the Lord’s hand (John 10:27–28).
Many people have trouble accepting limited atonement because it seems to limit the merit of Christ’s death. Therefore, many use the phrase “particular redemption” for the same idea. Whichever term is adopted, theologians throughout history have said that this doctrine teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice is meritorious enough to cover every sin ever committed. His death is sufficient to atone for all, and nothing can add to its value.
At the same time, particular redemption tells us Christ’s work on the cross is efficient only for the elect. In other words, the benefits of the atonement come only to God’s chosen people. Jesus’ death is effectual only for the salvation of His sheep.
While it is important to keep these ideas in mind, limited atonement really emphasizes the intent of God in the death of Christ. Simply put, the Lord planned and intended the death of His Son to pay for the sins of His people alone. This idea may be alarming at first, but consider today’s passage where Jesus makes a clear distinction between those God has given Him and those who are not His own. In this prayer, Christ prays only for His people (John 17:9), and as the Great Shepherd, He lays down life for His sheep (John 10:11).
God designed the atonement to pay only for the sins of the elect. This is an incredible proposition to many in the evangelical world. However, when we look at the Lord’s determination to save His people throughout the course of history, the idea is easier to accept. Take time to meditate on the passages selected for further study below and consider how they emphasize God’s intent to save only His people. Thank Him for His purposeful redemption.
Passages for Further Study