Limited Atonement and the Unity of Purpose

These thoughts arose out of discussing the Covenant of Redemption with a good friend, who can be read here.

Out of all the things we Calvinists believe, the doctrine of “limited atonement” quite possibly comes under the heaviest opposition. What this doctrine teaches, by its most basic definition, is that Christ died for the Church. The “limit” therefore is in terms of the purpose and scope of Christ’s atoning work. Jesus did not die to offer the potential of salvation to all. He died to save specific men.

Jesus explains this doctrine clearly in the Gospel of John chapter 10. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (verses 14-15). The sheep here aren’t all men, for Jesus goes on several verses later to tell the unbelieving Pharisees that they are not His sheep (verse 26). The only conclusion is that Christ did not lay down His life for those Pharisees. They were not His sheep.

What struck me recently about this doctrine, however, is the unified nature of the Godhead in the salvation of sinners. Particularly John 10:27-30:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (ESV, emphasis mine)

Often John 10:30 (“I and the Father are one”) is quoted to demonstrate the deity of Christ; His equality with the Father ontologically, or in His being. While that is true, Christ is fully God and equal with the Father in His God-ness, I don’t think that is the primary meaning of what Christ is saying here. The context is all about the mission Christ is on in the world. It’s about Christ’s duty to save those people whom the Father gave Him, by fulfilling the task (think: laying down His life) that the Father gave Him. Based upon this bedrock, Christ’s sheep can be confident that the Son will protect them until they attain everlasting life—after all, it is the purpose of the Father that He do so. Christ therefore says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is obedient to His Father’s will, so much so that they will the same thing.

The Father gave a people to the Son. Paul writes in Ephesians 1 that the Father “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (verse 4). The Father chose a people, according to the good pleasure of His will. Christ went to the cross in order to redeem those people. The Father and the Son are acting together on the same mission, with the same purpose. These people, those whom the Father chose and for whom Christ died, are called out by the Holy Spirit, through the Word. The Holy Spirit, acting in unison with the Father and the Son, applies the work of redemption to God’s elect. There is full unity in the Godhead here—the Triune God saves sinners completely.

Be encouraged by this, Christian. Be assured in the faith. After all, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” The purpose of the Father and the Son is the holiness and perseverance of the elect. God is for you. He is saving His people, cleansing His people, and persevering His people in the Word.

 

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