Some may argue that spending time on this doctrinal controversy is a waste of time, but the doctrine of particular redemption is worth talking about because it gets to the heart of the gospel. Should we say “Christ died so that sinners might come to him?” Or, “Christ died for sinners”? There’s a big difference. Did Christ’s work on the cross make it possible for sinners to come to God? Or did Christ’s work on the cross actually reconcile sinners to God? In other words, does the death of Jesus Christ make us saveable only or does it make us saved? If the atonement is not particularly and only for the sheep, then either we have universalism – Christ died in everyone’s place and therefore everyone is saved – or we have something less than full substitution. If Jesus died for every person on the planet, then we no longer mean that He died in place of sinners, taking upon Himself our shame, our sins, and our rebellion so that we have the death of death in the death of Christ. Rather, we mean that when Jesus died He made it possible to come to Him if we will do our part and come to Him. But this is only half of the gospel. Certainly, we need to come to Christ in faith. But faith is not the last work that finally makes us saved. Faith is trusting that Jesus has in fact died in our place and bore the curse for us – effectually, particularly, and perfectly.
Reformed people talk of “limited” atonement not because they have an interest in limiting the power of the cross, but in order to safeguard the central affirmation for the gospel that Christ is a Redeemer who really redeems. “We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ,” Spurgeon observes, “because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved.” But, Spurgeon argues, it is the view of the atonement that says no one in particular was saved at the cross that actually limits Christ’s death. “We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved.”
I belabor this point not to belittle Armenian brothers and sisters but to give Jesus Christ His full glory. Christ does not come to us merely saying, “I’ve done My part. I laid down My life for everyone because I have saving love for everyone in the whole world. Now, if you would only believe and come to me, I can save you.” Instead He says to us, “I was pierced for your transgressions. I was crushed for your iniquities. I have purchased with My blood people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (see Isa. 53:5; Rev. 5:9). I Myself bore your sins and assuredly live for righteousness. For My wounds did not merely make healing available. They healed you (see 1 Peter 2:24).
“Amazing love!” a great Armenian once wrote. “How can it be that You, my Lord, should die for me?!” Praise be to our Good Shepherd who didn’t just make our salvation possible but sustained the anger of God in body and soul, shouldered the curse, and laid down His life for the sheep.
~ Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot