The Ground Of Salvation Established
There are so many misconceptions concerning the Gospel truths of ELECTION and DEFINITE ATONEMENT fostered mostly by man’s own natural and sinful prejudices of these truths as he perceives them to be, not as they are revealed in the Scriptures. These prejudices have been reinforced by the enemies of the Gospel and, in some cases, even by supposed friends of the Gospel due to wrong teaching concerning the real issues of Gospel truth. The main issues of election and definite atonement are GOSPEL ISSUES and are vital to the salvation of sinners. They are not simply matters of theological debate and higher knowledge. They have to do with God’s sovereignty in salvation and His way of saving sinners by grace through Christ according to His will and promise.
The main issue is this:
UPON WHAT GROUND WILL A HOLY AND JUST GOD SAVE TOTALLY DEPRAVED SINNERS AND RECEIVE THEM INTO HIS FELLOWSHIP?
WHAT ACTUALLY REMOVES GOD’S WRATH FROM AND GAINS HIS ETERNAL FAVOR FOR SINNERS?
These questions must be settled as all Biblical issues should be. We must consider them in light of the following questions:
(1) What glorifies God in His redemptive character as both a just God and a Saviour?
(2) What exalts Christ and gives Him the preeminence as Mediator, Substitute, and Lord?
(3) What excludes all grounds for boasting in redeemed sinners?
(4) What establishes the hearts of God’s people with grace so as to motivate them in obedience, love, and godliness with no legal notions or motives?
These doctrines of sovereign grace, when applied by the Holy Spirit in giving a sinner spiritual life and bringing that sinner to faith in Christ and true repentance, accomplishes all of this in converted sinners mind and heart. This is when God is glorified in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). The doctrines of sovereign grace show HOW GOD CAN BE JUST TO JUSTIFY THE UNGODLY. They identify God and His Christ whom He sent to save a people, and they reveal a redemption accomplished by Christ unto which all without exception are called to in the free offer of the Gospel. THESE TRUTHS DO NOT SHUT ANY SINNER OUT OF HEAVEN! The doctrine of TOTAL DEPRAVITY reveals our sin and spiritual poverty so that we might seek the only remedy in Christ. The doctrine of ELECTION is the blessed fact that God the Father, before the foundation of the world, chose a particular number of condemned sinners out of Adam’s fallen race, and that He conditioned all of their salvation upon God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This union with Christ is the heart of election. We know that if God had not chosen some, none would have chosen God because, by nature, we are self-righteous and choose our own way, not God’s (Romans 3:10-12).
Now we come to the blessed Gospel doctrine of definite atonement. It sometimes called particular redemption, effectual or limited atonement. It can be defined as follows —
The blessed fact that Christ alone, the One representing the many (all whom He represented), completely satisfied their debt to law and justice by His obedience unto death, and obtained for them all spiritual blessings in His Person, to be communicated to their persons in time.
I. THE MAIN ISSUE OF CHRIST’S ATONEMENT.
A. In the atonement, God the Son became incarnate in order to do EVERYTHING NECESSARY to SATISFY all the conditions required for the eternal salvation of all those whom God elected, given to Christ, whom He represented (Galatians 4:4-6; Hebrews 9:12-14; 10:10,14). The word atonement means satisfaction for wrong doing. It means redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation which is perfect satisfaction to God’s law and justice and complete fulfillment of that was required to redeem and to reconcile those who are justly under the wrath of God. The atonement made by Christ on behalf of God’s elect, His sheep (John 10:11), has to do with the bloody sacrifice of His sinless humanity upon the altar of His infinite Deity which is the culmination of His whole work of redemption, and, which included His obedience unto death. This atonement is Christ’s entire satisfaction of God’s law and justice on behalf of God’s elect, to redeem them and provide for them everything necessary to remove God’s wrath from them and bring them into God’s free favor eternally.
The importance of atonement was made clear in the Old Testament when God, immediately after the fall of Adam, promised to send the Messiah (Genesis 3:15), and when He instituted and established the blood sacrifice (Genesis 3:21) to picture and typify how sinners could be justified before Him on the ground of the blood of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was further emphasized when God established the Mosaic Covenant with nation Israel. The central part of that covenant was the priesthood, the altar, and the animal sacrifices, all which typified the atonement to be made by the coming Messiah for spiritual Israel. Notice that in all these types and pictures there was never any notion of a universal or indefinite atonement made for all men without exception and appropriated or put into effect by a condition or conditions sinners would or could meet. The atonement was always particular and definite for the persons intended as represented by the high priest. The notion of universal atonement or redemption is a deception of Satan that appeals to the self-righteousness and religious pride of sinners who seek salvation based in some way upon their own works.
B. Atonement and Righteousness (Romans 1:16-17 and 5:9). The main issue of the atonement is both its NATURE and its SCOPE or EXTENT. The question is not “Did Christ die for sinners?” or not even, “Was He a Substitute for sinners?”. Most will agree that Christ did die and that He died as a Substitute for sinners. The main question of the atonement is this:
DOES THE ATONEMENT (SATISFACTION) WHICH CHRIST MADE DEMAND THE JUSTIFICATION AND ETERNAL LIFE OF ALL FOR WHOM HE DIED, ACCORDING TO STRICT LAW AND INFLEXIBLE JUSTICE, OR DOES IT NOT?
Did Christ die to assure the salvation of all of God’s elect without fail, or did He die to make salvation possible for all without exception upon their meeting certain conditions?
Your answer to this question reveals your knowledge of the Gospel, and it reveals what you really think of Christ. Consider the following:
1. Christ’s atonement, His accomplishment of redemption, and the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel are one and the same thing. Christ’s atonement, His obedience unto death, is the actual culmination of His establishment of that infinite, unchangeable righteousness which is the only ground of salvation and the only basis upon God can be both a just God and a Savior. All the following terms: Christ’s precious blood, His cross, His death, Christ crucified, the body of His flesh through death, and the blood of His cross, are all equivalent terms describing particulars contained in the actual establishment of that righteousness whereby God is glorified in the salvation of sinners. Each equivalent term reveals to our hearts different particulars concerning that one satisfaction to both law and justice which magnifies the perfections of God’s redemptive character actively engaged in our salvation by Christ alone.
2. Romans 5:18a — The sin of Adam did not make the condemnation of all those whom He represented merely possible. It was the ground of their actual condemnation. Romans 5:18b — Even so, the righteousness, or the atonement, of Christ did not make the salvation of all those whom He represented merely possible. It is the only ground of their salvation, and His righteousness demands justification and life for all whom Christ represented, for whom He lived and died. The perfections of God’s nature demand that He do right. God must justify the righteous. The question is how can a sinner become righteous in God’s sight. The only answer is by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness which was worked out and established in the atonement He by Himself made for us. Any other way is a way of works salvation no matter how cleverly it is disguised. Christ’s righteousness imputed is the only ground of a sinner’s justification before God. Man’s righteousness in any form is totally excluded from any part of the ground or cause of saving sinners, keeping them saved, or even recommending sinners unto God. Therefore, we are commanded in God’s word not to expect any blessing from God based on anything else.
3. The only way we can even remotely measure the infinite worth of the atonement, the blood and righteousness of Christ, is as we see how it accomplishes and demands the redemption and salvation of ALL for whom He died. This is the substance and touchstone of saving faith. As long as we believe that even one sinner for whom Christ died could possibly perish eternally, the greatest value we can have of His Person and His substitutionary atoning death is as a pedestal upon which we can boast of some condition, no matter how small, we have met or have been enabled to meet.
All sinners without exception are not only encouraged to seek salvation based on Christ’s imputed righteousness alone, but also we are forbidden to seek justification and life based on anything else, no matter how noble it may seem. Romans 5:17 — Those who are sinners in themselves, who freely receive by imputation and by God-given faith the gift of righteousness, righteousness that we have no part in producing (the righteousness of ONE (Romans 5:18b)) shall reign in life. It is here that we begin to see the good news of the Gospel of salvation conditioned on a suitable, God-appointed Substitute. For in the Lord Jesus Christ God has provided what His holiness demands. This is the essence of the covenant of grace. God the Father chose a multitude of guilty sinners out of Adam’s fallen race and conditioned all of their salvation upon His beloved Son, who would in time become incarnate in order to be obedient unto death to satisfy law and justice on their behalf.
C. Conversion, true faith, repentance, and perseverance are all inseparable effects and results of Christ’s atonement (His righteousness established). THE REDEEMED MUST GO FREE (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 2:14; Philippians 1:29; Romans 8:32; Isaiah 53:11,12; 1 Peter 1:21; Romans 1:5; 5:21). Anything less makes the atonement merely a general amnesty that, in and of itself, is worthless to save anyone. Grace reigns unto eternal life and all that eternal life includes based on, and as a direct effect of, righteousness wrought out by Christ as the Surety of His sheep. Sinners are converted as a direct effect of their having been redeemed (Jeremiah 31:11,12; Isaiah 35:10; 53:11; John 6:37; Isaiah 54:13,14; John 6:45). There is an inseparable, absolute connection between Christ’s death and the effectual application of salvation to each and everyone of God’s elect. Christ’s death is not only directly relates to but actually demands the effectual application of salvation to all for whom He died. Based on Christ’s atonement, His sheep derive as direct effects of His atonement:
1. Pardon and forgiveness of sin (Romans 4:6,7; Ephesians 1:7; 4:32; Acts 26:18);
2. Justification and freedom from condemnation (Romans 5:19; 10:4; John 3:16, 19; 5:25; Romans 8:1);
3. Reconciliation (Romans 5:9,10; 2 Corinthians 5:21);
4. Peace with God (Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:21);
5. Adoption and all its privileges (John 1:12; Galatians 4:4-5);
6. Right and title to the whole inheritance of grace and glory (Acts 26:18; Romans 8:17; Hebrews 13:20);
7. Eternal life (Romans 6:23; 8:30).
None of these great blessings are conditioned on sinners. Our whole salvation, including the work of the Holy Spirit in us (all spiritual graces and fruity) are the fruit and effect of Christ’s righteousness alone (Ephesians 1:3). In this way God is glorified in salvation, Christ has all the pre-eminence in salvation, and sinners are left with no room to boast in salvation (Galatians 6:14).
II. THE ATONEMENT AND THE GOSPEL.
A. A famous Calvinist preacher once said, “All Christians hold that Christ died to redeem, but all Christians do not teach the same redemption. We differ as to the nature of atonement, and as to the design of redemption.”
He could as well have said all Christians do not preach and believe the same Gospel; that some believe salvation conditioned on the sinner (works) and others believe salvation conditioned on the Christ alone (grace).
This is one who claims to know and believe the Gospel, but who does not see the saving value of it. If we see the atonement as merely a doctrine on which “Christians” may or may not agree, we have missed the central issues of God’s glory in salvation. Consider how severely God dealt with Israel under the Old Covenant when they perverted, compromised, or neglected the atonement.
How much more severely will God deal with sinners who pervert, compromise, or neglect the atonement of Christ wherein His chief glory resides?
The atonement of Christ and His righteousness are one and the same thing. The Gospel is the revelation of Christ and His righteousness which demands the justification and eternal life of every sinner for whom He died. We must, then, see that to preach the Gospel is to preach a definite, effectual atonement for sinners. To say that Christ’s death makes salvation possible for all without exception upon their meeting some condition is as foreign to the true Gospel and to the grace of God as it would be to say openly that salvation is by works. The Gospel reveals that the whole ground of any sinner’s acceptance before God is the atonement accomplished by Christ as He established a righteousness which SATISFIES God’s law and justice on behalf of God’s elect.
All for whom Christ died MUST be justified in time. They must have eternal life, or His death, His atonement, His righteousness has no value at all in and of itself. Universal atonement denies the Gospel and therefore denies salvation by grace. It reduces God’s salvation to works religion. It makes the atonement, the righteousness of Christ, of no real value at all in and of itself. Any attempt to apply the death of Christ to all without exception is the attempt of proud religionists to make salvation conditioned on the sinner in direct opposition to God’s Gospel, His promise of salvation conditioned on Christ alone.
This is something that Calvinists and all who claim to believe the doctrines of grace should consider. It is an issue that many, if not most, want to avoid. Any sinner who believes in a universal atonement cannot have the right ground of salvation. They, of necessity, must rely on something other than the blood of Christ and His righteousness alone to make the ultimate difference between saved and lost, heaven and hell. This is deadly, and it does no one any spiritual or eternal good to ignore this issue or deny it. The problem is that too many so-called “Calvinists” want to insist on their being saved while they themselves believed and promoted a universal atonement. They want to speak peace to themselves and to others while either ignorant of or not submitted to the righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel. God’s Word does not support them (Romans 10:1-4; 2 John 9-11). Many have admitted that universal atonement is heresy, anti-Gospel, and even another Gospel, but insist that they themselves and others were and are saved while believing and promoting such God-dishonoring, Christ-denying, sinner-exalting doctrines. God’s Word will not support them either (Galatians 1:6-9). We must tell sinners the truth and pray that God will bring them to a saving knowledge of Christ and Him crucified.
B. What about the free offer of the Gospel? AGAIN, THESE TRUTHS DO NOT SHUT ANY SINNER OUT OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. THESE TRUTHS DO NOT KEEP SINNERS CONDEMNED. God promises to save the very chief of sinners based solely upon the atonement, the imputed righteousness of Christ. God forbids every sinner to seek justification and life based on anything else. It is this righteousness, this atonement, wrought out by Christ, that regenerated sinners receive by God-given faith (Romans 10:10). God commissions His preachers to preach His Gospel wherein this righteousness is revealed to all sinners without exception who hear it. God’s preachers beseech lost sinners to be reconciled unto God on the ground of that righteousness, the atonement. God’s elect in each successive generation will hear and believe the Gospel. They will be saved based on that righteousness alone. They will be regenerated and converted by the Spirit of God in sovereign grace and power (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
God commands and encourages all sinners to receive Christ and His righteousness freely and be saved. He commands all to repent and be ashamed of the fact that we were ever so self-righteous and religiously proud as to seek any hope of salvation based on anything else. No man has any Scriptural warrant to tell all men indiscriminately that God loves them and Christ died for them. Again, that would be the equivalent of telling all without exception that their salvation is sure and certain even if they do not believe the Gospel. Our warrant is to tell all without exception that God saves sinners for Christ’s sake alone; i.e., based solely upon His righteousness alone, and that ANY sinner who comes for salvation on this ground shall be saved.
The sure and certain salvation of God’s elect does not remove anyone’s responsibility. It is the greatest encouragement for all sinners to seek salvation God’s way in Christ, based on His righteousness alone, and forsake their own way which is sure and certain eternal death and damnation. God is faithful and just to save sinners conditioned on Christ alone, based on His righteousness alone. God has revealed that if sinners attempt to be justified based on anything else, they will perish in their sins. God’s secret counsels concerning who is elect and who is not, concerning who Christ died for and who He did not die for, is His business. Our responsibility is God’s REVEALED will by way of commandment, and God commands all without exception to be reconciled to Him based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. God reveals that this is honoring and glorifying to Him, exalting to Christ, and that nothing else will do.
What is it that keeps sinners from believing God’s Gospel? (John 3:19) — The fact that God chose a people and conditioned all of their salvation upon Christ, and the fact that Christ met all those conditions by His obedience unto death and secured for them all grace here and all glory hereafter, does not keep any sinner from believing the truth and being saved. The absolute certainty of salvation taken from a consideration of God’s character, Christ’s Person and atonement is the strongest encouragement and warrant for all without exception to trust that God is just and faithful to save any sinner based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Self-righteousness, self-love, and religious pride keep sinners from believing God’s Gospel, and sinners are fully responsible for their unbelief. Many say, “But you must believe.” THIS IS TRUE. YOU MUST BELIEVE GOD’S GOSPEL. YOU MUST BELIEVE THAT ALL OF SALVATION IS CONDITIONED ON CHRIST ALONE, AND THAT HE BY HIMSELF FULFILLED ALL THOSE CONDITIONS AND SECURED YOUR SALVATION IN FULL.