In the past two posts, we have looked at the Universal aspects of Christ’s death on the cross for humanity, viz. its propitiatory and gift-giving aspects. Though today’s post on the particular aspect of his death will likely be the last on the subject, this is not to say that Christ’s work is even limited to these three aspects. We could, for example, look at how Christ’s death is the source of eschatological regeneration for the whole Creation as is seen in Romans 8:19-22. The work of Christ is clearly bigger than men and extends beyond them, but it finds its greatest glory and declaration in the redemption of the elect.
As I noted in the introduction, when we speak of Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement, we are not placing a value on the death of Christ but intention. In other words, Christ’s death is not limited because of the nature of his sacrifice, but it is limited in its design and its redemptive application. This is to say that when Christ died on the cross that there was a particular people that he was redeeming and buying out of bondage to be the sons of God.
This idea of Christ’s decisive and particular work of redemption is seen throughout Scripture and is tied intimately to the nature of his Coming. It is for this reason the Angel declares before Christ’s birth when he speaks to Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). And the Prophet Isaiah declares concerning the work of Christ:
He poured out his soul to death
…and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
…and makes intercession for the transgressors (v. 53:12).
These declarations and numerous others demonstrate that Christ died to save sinners not to possibly save sinners.
Indeed this is main thrust of the doctrine of Particular Redemption, viz. that when Christ died on the cross he accomplished the salvation of his people. Most Christians today do not believe this concerning the death of Christ. They instead believe in a “Christ meets you half-way” doctrine of salvation. No, they will not use these exact words, but they will mean precisely that. Their belief manifests itself in such sayings as, “Christ died for your sins, but you must exercise your faith to receive his gift of salvation for which he has paid.” The emphasis is on the word exercise. Though the above sentence sounds orthodox, it subtly makes faith a work. It says in essence, “Christ has done his part on the cross; you must do your part and believe.”
This is not to say at all that Scripture does not declare to sinners, “Believe and repent,” but it is to say that we have misunderstood the source of our faith. We, in our ignorance, think that our faith is our own doing and then form doctrines on the Gospel and atonement according to our misconceptions rather than go to Scripture and learn from it. For Scripture declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), and elsewhere, “For the righteousness of God has been revealed from faith for faith; [namely], the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for those who have faith” (Rom. 1:17; 3:22, translation mine). Furthermore, the Apostle declares in his letter to the Hebrews that Christ is the “Author and Finisher of our faith” (v. 12:2).
Scripture declares elsewhere that our state is so dire and severe that we have no ability to believe in the Gospel on our own accord. We are said to be blind to the glory of God, deaf to the Gospel call, and dead in our trespasses, and there is nothing in us that would cause us to believe in the Gospel on our own accord. The Apostle writes:
If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor. 4:3, 4, 6).
Here the Apostle declares that our salvation and our faith is as much a work of God as was the calling forth of light by the power of his Word at Creation’s beginning.
This is all to say that faith is a fruit of the Spirit rather than a work by which we receive the benefits of Christ’s work. In actuality the reverse is true, viz. Christ’s work on the cross is what afforded the Spirit the power for regeneration that opened our eyes to the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that caused us to cry out, “I believe!”
Since faith is not the means by which we meet God half-way for our salvation, Christ’s death was not a mere opportunity for all who would simply believe to come and receive the potential saving power of the work of Christ. For faith is not simple, it is impossible without God’s prevenient work. God must be the Initiator and the Accomplisher of our salvation and our faith. Thus the Lord declares to Isaiah concerning his preaching of the Gospel, “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (vv 6:9, 10). For this reason also the Lord declared to Jeremiah that he would preach to an obstinate Israel and to Jonah that he would preach to a repentant Nineveh.
On the other hand, faith is simple in a way. After being born again by the will of the Spirit, the act of faith is as natural and simple to the child of God as crying is to a baby at his birth.
Our misconception of the source of our faith has also manifested itself in our practices. Instead of believing that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, we believe that it is a simple decision that anyone can make, just like deciding to make a sandwich for lunch instead of going out to eat. Therefore, instead of finding those who boldly preach the Gospel and its demands, we find those who use their cunning and the wisdom of men to trick people into praying a prayer for salvation. But, I digress.
Coming back to Christ’s work on the cross, we must look at the intentions and goals of his work. Did Christ intend to bear the guilt and eternal consequences of every person who had ever lived, even those to whom he did not grant the gift of faith? If you say that he did, there will be some serious questions come Judgment Day. Scripture clearly declares that all men outside of Christ will be judged and damned according to their deeds, but if Christ died for those deeds, why then are they being condemned? You might say, “They are condemned because they must believe that Christ bore their sins in order for Christ to have born their sins.” But then, are you not making faith a work? Are you not making yourself your savior rather than Jesus Christ?
We are taught in Scripture that imputation does not happen by choice but by headship. In Romans 5 we are taught by the Apostle that humanity has had two heads—Adam and the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Through the first Adam all men, having him as their father, were imputed his deed of disobedience and were thereby condemned (hence the necessity of the virgin birth, but I digress again). Jesus Christ came into the world as a second head, one who imputed to us who are in him his righteousness. The Apostle writes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (v. 5:17).
Faith as a gift and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness both point to the doctrine of election, which by its nature demands a particular redemption, for God, having ordained the Fall of Adam before the foundation of the world and the subsequent need of a Redeemer, predestined some for glory and some for condemnation. God’s predestination of those who are vessels for glory and his forbearance of sins is based totally in the work of Christ, for we who are saved were not merely chosen before the foundation of the world, but we were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. The Apostle writes:
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:4-10).
All these are good and glorious things that God grants to his children through the special and particular work of Christ on their behalf.
You might ask, “Even if this is true, what is the practical benefit of this doctrine? For those who are in Christ, this doctrine has great benefit. First, it helps us understand the ways of God and his purposes in Creation. Second, it encourages us to preach the Gospel with great boldness knowing that God will save his people from their sins. Thirdly and most importantly, it will cause us to glorify God more for his particular and unmerited mercy toward us. Through our election and redemption and our witnessing the wicked’s condemnation, God will make known to us, his vessels of mercy, the riches of his glory and grace (cf. Rom. 9:23).
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
…or who has been his counselor?”
Or who has given a gift to him
…that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:33-36).