INTRODUCTION – When describing the atonement, the Scriptures consistently use the language of efficaciousness. By efficacious is meant that Christ’s work on Calvary produced the effect desired by God. Christ did not lay His life down for a reward that was indefinite (Is. 53:10-12).
The promise was made to Christ of eternal life to His own before the world began (Titus 1:1-3; 2 Tim. 1:9). Had the success of His work been dependent upon the ungoverned will of man, none would have accepted salvation. Had the security of salvation been dependent upon fickle and faithless minds, none would have uniformly held fast so as not to be finally cast out. BUT, Christ did not descend from heaven and pour out His soul unto death on an uncertain enterprise. NO, He had the promise BEFORE He left the Father’s bosom that He was entitled to a certain reward for His great work.
Application – One of the goals of studying sovereign grace is a deeper appreciation of the glory of God in the matter of your salvation. Those who know God are characterized by pressing on to know Him better (Hos. 6:3). Those who know God have great thoughts of God (Amos 4:13; 5:8,9).
Therefore when we study and explore the nature of the atonement, we stand in awe at the sovereignty of God’s grace towards us. We marvel that God should take us from defiled dust to immortal glory. As a result, we increasingly magnify the Lord for so complete and great a salvation. The success and certainty of God’s redemptive plan is anchored in His eternal wisdom. Scripture indicates that prior to the cross, this eternal wisdom was a MYSTERY, predestinedbefore the ages to our glory! (1 Cor. 2:6,7).
SCRIPTURAL TERMS EMPLOYED TO DESCRIBE ASPECTS OF CHRIST’S ATONEMENT
SACRIFICE – An offering by which the sinner is sanctified and made perfect in God’s sight (1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 10:14; 13:12).
PROPITIATION – An atoning sacrifice that turns God’s wrath away from the sinner and makes him an object of favor (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 4:10).
RECONCILIATION – The removal of enmity and hostility whereby the believing sinner is brought into the bonds of everlasting friendship with God (Rom. 5:10;
2 Cor. 5:18; Heb. 2:17).
REDEMPTION – The giving of Christ’s life as a ransom purchases sinners out of bondage for God (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rev. 5:9;
THE WORK OF CHRIST IN THESE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE ATONEMENT ARISES FROM THE SINNER’S NEED.
The need for SACRIFICE arises from the guilt of our sins and the condemnation that our transgression of God’s Law deserves.
The need for PROPITIATION is created by our being under the wrath of God (our liability to eternal condemnation under God’s settled anger).
The need for RECONCILIATION arises from our alienation from God (holy indignation on God’s side and enmity on our side).
The need for REDEMPTION is born of our bondage to sin, our bondage to Satan and our bondage to God’s justice system (we were bound in custody, awaiting punishment).
All four of the above terms used of Christ’s work in the Bible have a background in the common language patterns of the day. The Apostles did not come up with terminology that required a new dictionary in order to understand. Salvation terms employed by the Apostles had a place in the vernacular of everyday life. For example, redemption is a term taken from commercial transactions, propitiation is from the practice of religion, and justification is a term taken from the law courts.
THE QUESTION, “WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT?” IS ANSWERED IN GREAT MEASURE BY AN EXPLANATION OF THE CONCEPT OF REDEMPTION.
The term, redemption, is a commercial term. It was the language used in commerce. It means tobuy back or to buy out. Remember, in the ancient world, much of the commerce had to do with the buying and selling of slaves. When used in the context of a slave market, the term takes on the particular connotation that it has in Christian theology. Thus, in the doctrine of salvation,redemption means to buy out of slavery or to set the slave free from sin by the paying of a price.
A great illustration of redemption out of slavery is found in the book of Hosea. Hosea’s wife ran away, she was unfaithful and she sank down in the social strata of that day’s society until she was eventually sold on an auction block in the city of Samaria. God sent Hosea to buy back his wife. Hosea 3:1-5 records the details of Hosea’s redemption of his wife. Hosea was the highest bidder. The acceptance of Hosea’s bid ended the bidding. The auctioneer declared, “Sold to Hosea.”
The prophet Hosea then says to his wife, “Now you shall abide with me many days, you shall not be for another man, you must be faithful to me. You must not play the part of a prostitute and so also I will be true for you.”
This is a vivid picture of redemption. This is exactly what happens to us in salvation. We are the adulterous slave sold on the auction block of sin. The world bids for us (with its many kinds of currency) to keep us in its bonds.
Some people sell their souls for sensual pleasure, some for power, others for fame, respectability and wealth, others for manmade religion.
The Lord Jesus enters the slave market of sin and says in effect, “I bid the infinite price of my blood.” God the Father is an auctioneer in this illustration. He brings the gavel down and says, “Sold to my only begotten Son for the price of His blood!”
This is why Peter can say, “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold (from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers), but with the precious blood, as if of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).
Application - What kind of redemption would it be if the death of Christ only made redemption possible? What kind of redemption would it be if Christ’s work on Calvary allowed the majority of those for whom He died to perish in a state of bondage to sin, to Satan and to divine justice?
It is worth noting that even in contemporary examples of release by payment of a price (i.e. bail bonds), freedom is secured by a payment. The payment is not a potential or hypothetical redemption, when the bail is paid, the incarcerated party is taken out of his cell.
WHEN THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF REDEMPTION, IT SPEAKS OF IT AS A TRUIMPHANT ACCOMPLISHMENT.
That triumphant note is as follows. Though the cost of our release is beyond calculation, Scripture proclaims Christ as having obtained the ransom price for the release of His people (Titus 2:14; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 5:9). The very nature of Christ’s mission is to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life (Matt. 1:21).
A redemption that secures salvation guarantees that not one for whom it was intended can be lost. When speaking of those given Him by the Father, Jesus said that it was God’s will, “that of all He has given Me I lose nothing” (John 6:38-40).
The Bible treats the death of Christ as a price paid to make us His own. By redemption, God in Christ acquired the Church (Acts 20:28). The purpose of His death is to form those He ransoms into one body (John 10:16; 17:21).
Because of the efficacy of the payment, redemption is regarded as synonymous with freedom, liberty and emancipation. Freedom constitutes the redemption. Redemption is deliverance by the payment of a price or acquisition by the payment of a price.
Application – When one follows the theme of redemption through the biblical texts, it is not possible to universalize or generalize the atonement and stay true to the meaning of redemption. To conceive of an unlimited redemption radically alters the meaning of atonement if it applies to those who finally perish.
A universal redemption that lacks efficacy does no more for us than for Judas, Herod or Pilate.
THE O.T. CONCEPT OF KINSMAN REDEEMER PROVIDES A VIVID PICTURE OF CHRIST THE REDEEMER (Deut. 25:5-10; Ruth 3:1, 9-13; 4:1-11, 14).
The kinsman redeemer was to be a close relative in order to redeem. Christ took on our human nature (became related to us) in order to redeem us (Heb. 2:14-18)
The kinsman redeemer was to be free of debt in order to perform the work of redemption. Christ was sinless, He was free to redeem. He had no sinful liability in the sight of God’s holy Law (1 Pet. 3:18).
The kinsman redeemer was to have the necessary price in order to redeem. Scripture indicates that the price our Savior paid was the infinite price of His own blood (1 Pet. 1:18, 19).
The kinsman redeemer was to do his redemptive work in a totally voluntary fashion. He could not be coerced to do it. So also, our Redeemer voluntarily laid His life down for us. No one took His life from Him (John 10:17,18; Phil. 2:5-8).
HOW DOES A DEFINITE ATONEMENT AFFECT OUR PREACHING?
A definite atonement gives us the confidence to boldly preach the accomplishments of the cross. We proclaim a cross that is mighty to save because its accomplishments are certain. Too often one hears a watered-down version of the gospel that places all the emphasis upon the sinner’s response and little upon the victory of the cross. These diluted offers sound something like the following, “God will do this if you’ll do that.”
When Scripture describes the nature of Christ’s cross work, it presents it as a triumphant accomplishment. Redemption, reconciliation and propitiation are said to have happened when Christ died. Death was abolished there (Acts 2:24; 2 Tim. 1:10). Jews and Gentiles were made one at the cross (Eph. 2:14-16).
When speaking of triumph of Christ’s death, these blessings were as good as accomplished there. The power of Christ’s death is such that it will certainly produce salvation in those for whom it is offered. Victory is inherent in our proclamation of the gospel.
Application – The doctrine of particular redemption is not merely an academic or a mental exercise. The discovery of whether or not one has an eternal interest in Christ’s blood is the most important question a person will ever face. “You must learn whether Christ died for you. If He didn’t die for your sins, then you will suffer and die for them forever” (Ferguson, A Price for a People, p. 115).
The GOOD NEWS is that God has NOT told you to sit and wonder whether Christ died for you. He has NOT told you to try to search out whether or not you are one of God’s elect. What He has said is go to His Son, the friend of sinners. Look to the Person and work of Christ. God has commanded you to turn from your sin and to trust in Jesus Christ to make you right with God. He beckons sinners to lay down their arms (repent). He calls for you to turn to God through Christ (believe).
Those who refuse to come to God through Christ in faith and repentance cannot say that Christ died for them. Those who obstinately refuse to come will receive no benefit from the death of Christ even if He had died for a million worlds like ours. On the other hand, if any man or woman will turn from love of sin and cast their entire soul’s welfare upon Christ’s mercy, He will receive them (John 6:37). That person may be sure that they are one of those for whom Christ died.
The gospel command is “be reconciled to God.” “Taste of the Lord, see that He is good.”
God has declared His disposition toward the world. Sinners do not have to stay in a state of alienation from God. They are commanded to enter into the relation of favor and peace established by the reconciling work of Christ.
An effectual redemption does not bar the door to the seeking sinner, rather the opposite is true. An effectual redemption invests the free offer of the gospel with richness and power. It proclaims to the seeking sinner that deliverance has been secured by an all-sufficient and suitable Savior who is most worthy of trust and obedience.
HOW DOES A DEFINITE ATONEMENT AFFECT OUR WORSHIP AND DEVOTION TO CHRIST?
The very nature of Christ’s mission is to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life. Therefore, the cross is efficacious to produce a pure BRIDE, a bride already known and loved by Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ’s particular love for His bride is also evinced in His all wise and loving discipline of her (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19). Therefore the Christian has every right and duty to glory in Christ’s particular love.
The believer reasons as follows, “He specifically set His love upon me from all eternity. Hethought of me, His heart love for me motivated the atonement. The joy set before Him of being with me forever moved Him to endure the cross (Heb. 12:2). In eternity, He thought upon me, 2000 years ago He bought me, in time He sought me and made me His own.”
Knowledge of completed salvation is of special comfort to God’s people. It was the heartbeat of the Apostle Paul’s faith (Gal. 2:20). Paul rejoiced that his life was bound up in Christ and His work. The Apostle viewed the atonement in a most personal way and so should we. Our life, our purpose, our hope, our future and our destiny are all wrapped up in Christ. Our security, comfort, praise, love and devotion are by union with Christ. We celebrate the oneness He has with His people.
Definite atonement has ramifications for our sanctification. Our understanding of predestination does not mean that we treat God’s sovereign decree as a feather pillow. Paul’s holy logic corrects any such notion. The Word says that the reason that you are not your own is because, “you were bought with a price”(1 Cor. 6:19,20).
Those whom Christ has redeemed cannot claim ownership of their bodies! They belong to Christ and their bodies must be used for the Lord, for His glory. Those who died with Christ are to daily present the members of their body to Christ as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:12-19; 8:12-14). The redeemed sinner is made glorious through surrender to Christ.
A designed atonement takes man’s pride to the very lowest point. Man has no part in completing this atonement or in making it effectual. Christ, by His doing, has taken us from hostile rebel to beloved spouse destined for His marriage supper. There is deep humility involved in our consent to be loved by the Son of God for no good reason, but for His own good pleasure. It is humbling to consent to love that we do not control or merit in the slightest. All our eligibility for divine love rests in Christ.