Getting Saved: Christ's Blood For Christ's Bride
Of all the doctrines of the Reformed tradition, this is the one that I find is most rejected, and I understand why. The doctrine I'm talking about is Particular Redemption (also called limited atonement or definite atonement). This doctrine, at first glance, seems to oppose some scriptures, namely John 3:16, Hebrews 2:9, John 1:29, Romans 11:32, 1 John 2:2. All of these verses can be interpreted to say that Christ's blood on the cross covered all sin that has ever been committed. Christ and His work on the cross is sufficient for all sin, there is enough power in the blood of Christ to save all, yet the blood is not applied to all. How do we know this? What scripture points to this and, ultimately, straightens out the seeming contradiction?
Christ as the Good Shepherd
“Truly I tell you, anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus gave them this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them…11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. 13 This happens because he is a hired hand and doesn’t care about the sheep..14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 But I have other sheep that are not from this sheep pen; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
This passage in John clearly shows Christ, as the Good Shepherd, lays down his life for his flock and protects his flock. There is one shepherd for one flock. No shepherd would go out of his way to sacrifice time, let alone his life, for those that are not his. If there is one true church that follows one true God, then only that flock will be protected from eternal harm. It is that one flock that is anointed by their shepherd.
A proper understanding of Christ as the shepherd and believers as his flock teaches union with Christ. In Christ, believers are now co-heirs receiving the full blessing and benefit of gifts given to the Son. Sheep would be put into what is like a community flock, watched overnight by a shepherd. Then in the morning, when the new day dawns, the true shepherd comes forth, calls out his sheep and they come, not all sheep but his sheep. When Christ returns he will call out his people, his voice resounding through all of Earth, all people hearing it but only his people coming forward. It is he, the good shepherd, that will lead his sheep out of this temporary residence into the presence of the Father. He is the shepherd that knows his sheep by name, and they know him.
Christ as the Perfect Priest
John 17:6, 9
6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from the world. They were yours, you gave them to me, and they have kept your word…9 “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they are yours.”
While this verse initially focuses on the disciples, it is then extended to all of those who will believe (v20). This intercessory prayer is Christ coming forth in his priestly manner to intercede for the elect of God. His particular noting that these prayers are for “those given to him” set apart the life and end of the Christian. HE asks that they will be saved, joined, and protected from Satan; he prays to ask that the benefits of salvation be given to the elect. As he only prays for some to receive blessings, we have to reconcile that Christ is only asking for a portion to be blessed and joined with him, as these blessings come to us only through union in Christ.
Christ as the Better Husband
Ephesians 5:25, Acts 20:28
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Christ gave himself for the church. That is how much he loves us, till death. But if atonement was universal and general then Christ would have given himself for all, not just his bride. Through all of scripture, God has promised that a remnant will be brought out of exile. This doesn't apply to the Old Testament only, but it applies to us. The Lord has loved a remnant, his church, and will bring them home. He will love them, purify them, let them take part in his blessings. Christ loves his people as a husband does his wife.
Assessing And Refuting Universal Atonement
Universal atonement, or the idea that Christ died for all people regardless of their salvation status, presents many issues to the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ (this might be confused with Universalism being that Christ died for all regardless of faith, meanwhile the term Universal Atonement is that Christ died for all). One major issue, and arguably the most addressed, is that if Christ died for all then he did not actually accomplish salvation but instead provided a possibility of it. In this view, Christ’s death and resurrection is not “the most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin” (Canon of Dort), it is limited in its efficiency. How so? If Christ were to die for all of humanity, so that everyone has the ability to be saved then why is not everyone saved? Why have people rejected the gospel call (man's preaching and sharing of the gospel to the lost)? If Christ were to die for all people then surely this glory would be more than enough to bring all to him? Not according to the view of Universal Atonement. As John Piper says, “they deny that the blood of Jesus secured the promises of the new covenant; namely, that God would take out of his people the unbelieving heart of stone, put in a new, believing heart of flesh, and cause them to walk in God’s ways.”
Think of it as a bridge going across a canyon (this is not my own illustration, many before have used this and many after will continue to). If both Definite Atonement and Universal Atonement were bridges, they would be very different. The Bridge of Definite Atonement would be a narrow one, less being able to cross but nonetheless, it connects the other side, it is stable and secure. If you are guided to this bridge, you are sure to cross successfully. As for the Bridge of Universal Atonement, it is a wide bridge, many seeing it and many walking on it, but ultimately it isn’t connected to the other side, in fact, it is only half complete. If you want to cross then you have to find some way to finish the journey.
Why Does it Matter?
Why does this doctrine even matter? Why should this be at the forefront of our minds? I want to offer here a few applications/implications this will have on your life as you walk in Christ.
1. There is full satisfaction of sin
Your sin is fully paid for in the death of Christ. That’s right, it's all covered by the blood of Christ. Definite Atonement relieves man of works-based salvation. If it was universal and conditional (being that all are able and man at some point chooses), the offer of salvation does not accomplish and award saving grace. Believer, you have nothing to bring
2. Be comforted that Christ loves you, as his bride, intimately.
How would it feel to know that the love that Christ has for you is also the same love that he feels to those who are not a part of his people? Understand that with the doctrine presented here you are loved and cared for in a way that is set apart. Yes, Christ does love the world. He loves the Earth, the plants, the animals, and even those who sin, but as, and only as, his creation. The believer is set apart and is loved as an heir, as a bride, as someone who is loved in a covenantal way. We are his, he will make us perfect, we are set in his heart.
3. This encourages and spurs the believer into evangelism and missions.
Many think of this doctrine as something that hinders and prohibits evangelism. They say, “well, what's the point? If he only died for some and they are elect, then what is the point?” The guarantee of the elect's salvation does not negate your responsibility. We are simply the tool that is used to save. What a relief! We are not the one who saves but we are simply the messenger bringing the word. If every tribe, tongue, and nation is to be redeemed, then we are to go forth and share boldly. Some might reject the “general” gospel call that we preach, but if God wills it they will not reject his salvific call.
p.s. - I don’t write this to provoke people or to be harsh. This is not a cold and hard doctrine, but one full of love. One full of mercy and grace.
p.p.s.s – I want to add that the frequent usage of the phrase “the world” or “all” doesn’t necessarily mean all people. The original word can also mean “of every kind” which notes to the people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. "World" will often relate to the fact that the saving grace of Christ is not limited to social status, nationality, race, gender, or age.
Other scripture: John 6:44, Ephesians 2:1-6, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 1:4-6, Ephesians 1:11, John 10:14-15, Ephesians 5:25, Mark 10:45, Matthew 1:21, Revelation 5:9