The Reformed Doctrine of Definite Redemption

by Mike Ratliff

17 Καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ νύμφη λέγουσιν· ἔρχου. καὶ ὁ ἀκούων εἰπάτω· ἔρχου. καὶ ὁ διψῶν ἐρχέσθω, ὁ θέλων λαβέτω ὕδωρ ζωῆς δωρεάν. (Revelation 22:17 NA28)

17 And the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And the one hearing let him say, “Come.” And the one thirsting let him come; let the one desiring take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The Reformed Doctrine of Definite Redemption is also called “The Doctrine of Particular Redemption” and, historically, “The Doctrine of Limited Atonement.” This doctrine speaks about the intention of the triune God in the death of Jesus Christ. Without questioning the infinite worth of Christ’s sacrifice or genuiness of God’s sincere invitation to all who hear the gospel (Revelation 22:17 above), this doctrine states that Christ in dying intended to accomplish exactly what he did accomplish, that is, to take away the sins of God’s elect, and to ensure that they would all be brought to faith through regeneration and preserved through faith for glory. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not intend to die in this efficacious sense for everyone. The proof of that, as Sacred Scripture and experience unite to teach us, is revealed very clearly in the fact that not all are saved. 

On the other hand, those who decry what I just stated couldn’t do so without revealing that they are either actual or hypothetical Universalists. Those who say that Christ died for all without exception and because of that, all without exception will be saved are teaching actual universalism. This cannot be supported biblically without declaring the Bible to be irrelevant, uninspired, or not the Word of God at all, which is what so many Liberal theologians end up doing since God’s Word most certainly does not support this heresy in any way, shape or form since it does talk a great deal in the New Testament about judgment and Hell.

On the other hand, there is another form of this that states Christ died for all, but that his death has no saving effect without an added faith and repentance not foreseen in his death. In other words, he died for the general purpose of making salvation possible, but the salvation of particular individuals was not included in his death. This is hypothetical universalism.

Sacred Scripture knows nothing of either of those false doctrines. It teaches Definite Redemption which states that Christ’s death was infinite in value, was offered to save only those who were known beforehand. Sacred Scripture nowhere teaches that all will be saved thereby ruling out actual universalism.

The doctrines of Definite Redemption and Hypothetical Universalism do not differ about how many will be saved, but about the purpose for which Christ died. Sacred Scripture addresses this question. The New Testament teaches that God chose for salvation a great number of the fallen race and sent Christ into the world to save them (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; 11:51, 52; Romans 8:28-39; Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Peter 1:20). Our Lord Jesus Christ is said to have died for a particular people with the clear implication that his death secured their salvation (John 10:15-18, 27-29; Romans 5:8-10; 8:32; Galatians 2:20; 3:13, 14; 4:4, 5; 1 John 4:9, 10; Revelation 1:4-6; 5:9, 10).

Before he died, our Lord prayed for those the Father had given him, and not for the world (John 17:9, 20). His prayer lifted up those for whom he was going die, and he promised them that he would not fail to save them. Such passages present the ideas of definite atonement. We see this all through the Old Testament as well with its emphasis on the election of grace.

The free offer of the gospel, and the commandment to preach the good news everywhere is not inconsistent with the teaching that Christ died for his elect. All who come to Christ will find mercy (John 6:35, 47-51, 54-57; Romans 1:16; 10:8-13). The gospel offers Jesus Christ, who knows his sheep. He died for them. He calls them by name, and they hear him. This is the gospel that he commanded his disciples to preach in al the world in order to save sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “The Reformed Doctrine of Definite Redemption

  1. If Christ died for all people, either hell is not a place of wrath poured out on sins (because people there had their sins paid for by the One Whose death satisfied the Father’s wrath and wouldn’t pay again) or the blood of Christ is not truly sufficient to save anyone or does not satisfy the Father’s wrath (as not everyone gets saved). Both of these consequences of that perspective contradict clear teachings in Scripture. Therefore, we can strenuously teach and believe that when Jesus says He gave His life for His sheep (John 10:11) and He gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25) He meant exactly that!


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