Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Beauty of Particular Redemption

My favorite single verse in the bible is II Corinthians 5:21. In my opinion, it gives the best single verse description of the gospel in all of scripture. Here it is in several different translations:

ESV - "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

KJV - "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

NASB - "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

NKJV - "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

YLT - "for him who did not know sin, in our behalf He did make sin, that we may become the righteousness of God in him" (Young's Literal Translation, 1862/1898; although it is quite wooden, I have included Young's translation because it provides us with the closest translation of the original Greek.)

When we read this beautiful verse, we clearly see the wonder of the "great exchange". We read of God the Father making God the Son to be sin on our behalf, so that we would become the very righteousness of God in Christ. The amount of profound information in this one verse is staggering.

One often overlooked aspect of this verse is its support of the doctrine of Particular Redemption, what is sometimes referred to as Limited Atonement. This doctrine states that when Christ died, He died for the sins of the elect (all Christians of all time) only. This is to be contrasted with the doctrine of General Atonement, which states that Christ died for the sins of all mankind.

Two little words in Greek in II Corinthians 5:21 support the doctrine of Particular Redemption. Those two words are translated "for our sake" (ESV), "for us" (KJV, NKJV), "on our behalf" (NASB), and "in our behalf" (YLT). A straightforward reading of the text makes it clear that God the Father caused God the Son to be sin for us. In other words, God did this on behalf of certain people - us.

Who, then, is the "us" in II Corinthians 5:21? We can easily find the answer to this in Paul's greeting at the beginning of the letter. In II Corinthians 1:1, Paul writes, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, and Timotheus the brother, to the assembly of God that is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia" (YLT).

Paul was writing not only to the church in the city of Corinth, but also to all the saints in the region of Achaia. When Paul writes the word "saints," he is referring to Christians. The key here is that Paul is only writing to Christian people.

Since Paul was only writing to Christians, the "us" in II Corinthians 5:21 must mean that Jesus was made to be sin for Christians. Therefore, He died for the sins of the elect. If Paul had wanted to say that Jesus had died for the sins of the entire human race, he could have written something like,"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for all individuals." However, Paul did not write that. The apostle makes it clear here that Jesus died for the sins of the elect only.

There is a significant beauty to the doctrine of Particular Redemption. Since Jesus died only for the sins of the elect, then His payment on the cross is an actual atonement. This is because it is effective in paying the price for the sins of the elect. None of the elect are failed to be saved. This ought to give us great peace.

If Jesus' death had been for the sins of all individuals, then His payment would not have been an actual atonement; it would only have been a potential atonement. This is because we all know that not all individuals are saved. In this doctrine (General Atonement) Christ's death must be accompanied by something else for salvation to be achieved. It depends on man's choice of God. Therefore, in this view man's choice of God logically has to be added to Christ's death in order for salvation to be achieved. In the end, this ends up being a "grace plus works" view of salvation.

The biblical view of salvation is "grace alone." Christ's death on the cross by itself is enough to save. Please do not misunderstand me. A person is only saved after he repents of sin and believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What I am stressing in this post is that all of the work of salvation is the work of God. The doctrine of Particular Atonement supports this.

In the end, the reason I hold to Particular Atonement is because it is biblical. I hold to all of the Doctrines of Grace because they are biblical.

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2 comments:

Jason Fisher said...

Well, I have never heard it put quite that way. Although I have always held to unlimited atonement, I have recently been exposed to the idea of limited atonement and it is becoming more and more clear to me.

Thanks for the post
Jason

Eric said...

Jason,

Thanks for your comment.

This is an issue I struggled with for quite some time. However, it seems to me that the large balance of the biblical evidence supports particular redemption (limited atonement).

I will also say that there have been folks much wiser than I (such as John Wesley) on the other side of the issue. Therefore, I do not want to be arrogant about my position.