by Jeremy Walker/
Read all the posts published to date in this 16-part series on the essential truths of the Christian faith.
HOW IS SALVATION ACCOMPLISHED? — PART 2
The Lord tells us that, as the good Shepherd, he lays down his life “for the sheep.” There is particularity in this redemption. There is something definite in its intent and accomplishment. We are back to the question of God’s purpose, design, and result.
If Christ died for all the sins of all men, then all must be saved. Clearly that is neither taught in the Scriptures nor seen in the world. If Christ died for some sins of all men then all are damned, and once again both revelation and experience forbid such a conclusion. We are left with only one other possibility: that Christ Jesus died for all the sins of some people. But who are they? He tells us: his sheep.
The same truth of a defined and purposeful saving intent is found throughout the Bible, revealed incidentally even when not stated explicitly. For example, Paul tells the married men in Ephesus to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Woven into his instruction is the implicit assumption that Christ did not die for all men but for “the church,” for whom specifically he gave himself. Or again, there is Peter’s language to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1–2). These are the ones of pure faith, born of incorruptible seed, of whom it may be said that Christ “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Again, there was a definite and directed intention in the sufferings and death of our Lord: he bore our sins.
Here the sweet logic of Scripture helps us, for we find and are assured that the extent of Christ’s atoning work is identical with its divine intent. Its effect is entirely coordinate with the Father’s choice: speaking of his sheep, the Lord says, “My Father…has given them to Me” (John 10:29 NKJV). Salvation is accomplished in perfect accordance with God’s design. The Son further expresses this confidence when he prays to the Father, recorded in John 17:
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.…I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;…Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”(John 17:1–11 NKJV, John 17: 20 NKJV, John 17:24–26 NKJV)
If Christ died for everyone, then he has failed spectacularly. If Christ died for no one in particular, then not only do we introduce a conflict into the Trinity (consider John 6:35–40) but we deny the Father his glory and the Son his reward.
But Christ died for his people, and he secured their salvation by his death. His church is elect from before time, is gathered together in time, and will be glorified with him at the end of time. That number cannot be added to or subtracted from: Christ has saved each and every one of his sheep by laying down his life for them.
Some will complain at this. “You are limiting the atonement! Where is the grace and the glory of God in that?” Well, every one of us limits the atonement, either in its breadth (its extent) or its depth (its effect). Christ’s atonement is either universal (for all) or effectual (for some). It cannot be both, and there is neither grace nor glory in a salvation that does not save! Salvation is not limited in some narrow or shallow sense! It is definite! It is not for a scant few. It is for a great many! “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NKJV; see also Matthew 20:28 NKJV); “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28 NKJV); “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28 NKJV).
How many? Countless! Christ’s redeemed ones are a multitude beyond numbering, gathered in from every part of his world: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9 NKJV).
Men and women are all, by nature, dead in their trespasses and sins. All would remain so, utterly and entirely lost, unless God in sovereign mercy chose some for salvation. Having chosen them, God has in Christ redeemed them, securing a complete salvation for every single one of his people. Not one of all his elect has been excluded, overlooked, or unaccounted for.
Let us wonder. This is a matter of wonder, that the love of God should extend to this. Who would have dared to dream that sinners should be redeemed by the death of the only Son of God? “When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10 NKJV). It is the very demonstration and definition of love: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10 NKJV).
Redemption could be accomplished at no lower price. This was its inescapable cost, and divine love paid the price.
Let us praise. But it is also a cause for praise because it is accomplished. God has done it! There is nothing lacking in it. He has done it in a way that honors his justice and exalts his mercy. Salvation is secured in a way that both displays his grace and secures his glory. All the divine perfections are most magnified in this great work. If you would know God, you will see him shining most clearly and most brightly in the gloom of Golgotha.
Let us give thanks. It is a reason for thanksgiving. It was provided for sinners. We are the recipients of this mercy. If you are a Christian, you are the beneficiary of God’s saving intention and labor. It is now being applied to you in all its saving fullness. It belongs to you in its entirety and all its phases and expressions, past, present, and future, earthly and heavenly, temporally and eternally. All that is included in it is yours, and must be yours, and cannot fail to be yours, and time would fail us to tell out the wonders of redeeming grace stored up for the saints in Christ Jesus!
Let us be confident. It gives us great confidence because all is settled. Nothing is lacking in our salvation, either in the quality of the redemption or the extent of its application by divine design. Christ’s death saves his people perfectly, entirely, utterly, and surely. Nothing needs to be made up, for nothing is lacking. No one needs to add to it, and no one and nothing can damage, destroy, or defeat it.
Let us serve. It moves us to service. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NKJV). We no longer belong to ourselves, but the life we now live we live to him who loved us and gave his life for us. That act of sacrifice revealed a love “so amazing, so divine” that it “demands my soul, my life, my all.”i It robs us of all excuses and strips us of all carelessness. It makes us ask,
How can I, Lord, withhold life’s brightest hour
From Thee, or gathered gold, or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from Thee
When Thou hast given Thine own dear self for me?ii
If the love of God in Christ does not capture and enrapture our hearts then we should dwell upon it humbly and prayerfully until it begins to move us.
Let us witness. It imposes on the saints a measure of responsibility. We have the privilege of declaring the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord, calling sinners to repent of their sins and to believe in him. On any other basis than the finished and definite work of Christ, the preaching of the gospel is a fool’s errand. This is true whether or not we acknowledge it to be so! With this reality to rest on, we have an answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:31 NKJV). If Christ died for all, there would be no point in preaching; if Christ’s death were ineffective, there would be no point in offering salvation; if Christ died for no one in particular, we have no prospect of success. But if Christ died to save his people from their sins, if the Shepherd laid down his life to secure the life of his sheep, then we have a reason to go to sinners, and something to say when we reach them!
Let us be encouraged. Finally, it affords to every broken heart sweet encouragement. Sinners like us can come to a perfect Savior to obtain a complete and effectual salvation. If you go to Christ, he will not turn you away: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37 NKJV). Christ assures us in the strongest terms that “this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40 NKJV; see also v 47). Everything that the penitent sinner needs is in Christ Jesus. Whoever turns to him in faith will be delivered from sin, with all its guilt and punishment and power, saved with God’s so-great salvation, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God.
Part 9 of a 16-part series drawn from Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, by Jeremy Walker.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, England, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has written several books and has blogged at Reformation21 and The Wanderer.
i From the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts.
ii From the hymn, “I Lift My Heart to Thee, Saviour Divine” by Charles E. Mudie.