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The Practical Implications of Particular Redemption

volume 19, number 10, March 5, 2020

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me. . . I lay down my life for the sheep.” -John 10:14,15

If I did not believe the doctrines of election and particular redemption were true then I would get out of the ministry in a New York minute. After all, the Scripture makes clear in numerous places that the work of regeneration, justification, and sanctification; the work of transforming individuals, families, communities, and nations is impossible. The wicked are estranged from the womb. They go astray from birth. They have venom like a serpent, like a deaf cobra (Psalm 58:3,4). The heart of unregenerate man is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). None understand. None seek for God. Their feet are swift to shed innocent blood. They have no fear of God (Romans 3:10ff). Unregenerate man is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). So the work of bringing people to faith in our adulterous and sinful generation is impossible, for there are none who arouse themselves to take hold of God and God has justly delivered all unbelievers into the power of their own iniquities (Isaiah 64:7). All unregenerate people are violent aggressors and blasphemers (1 Timothy 1:13). 

As a Biblical example, take the prophet Jonah, living around 750 B.C. The geo-political situation was dire at the time. The nation of Assyria with its powerful King Sennacherib was a constant threat to the nations of Israel and Judah. The Assyrians would overrun Israel in only a few short years (722 B.C.) and they were known for their brutality when conquering their enemies. Their official war records straightforwardly reported how their captives fared when the Assyrian fury was unleashed. The Assyrians decapitated many. For others they severed hands, feet, ears, and noses. Their favorite trick was skinning their enemies alive and hanging their skins on the city wall. They were pagan people who worshiped Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Her equivalent in Greek mythology was Aphrodite. Ishtar supposedly guarded the temple prostitutes and gross sexual perversion of every kind was practiced in the name of their false religion.

Their capital city was Nineveh, located on the east bank of the Tigris River, near modern day Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was prosperous and very large, around sixty miles wide (a three days walk, Jonah 3:3). Jonah tells us that around 120,000 people lived there, which was quite large for the time. Nineveh was a sophisticated city. Some believe the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was there.

Jonah, a prophet of Yahweh, was directed by God to leave the security of his Jewish homeland and travel northeastwardly to Nineveh and preach to them. Jonah, however, could not, would not do it. Why? Because he hated these vile, perverse, wicked, pagan, sexually immoral, godless people. Instead Jonah fled by ship in the opposite direction to Tarshish, northwest of Israel. You know the story. God provoked a storm which threatened to sink the ship and drown everyone on board. When Jonah finally was exposed by lot, he told the sailors that the only remedy for appeasing the Holy One was to cast him overboard where he was swallowed by a great fish. Afterward, Yahweh gave Jonah a second chance and he went and delivered to the people of Nineveh a warning of impending and just wrath, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” (Jonah 3:4). This preached word of doom and judgment gripped the hearts and minds of the Ninevites and they all repented. Yahweh withdrew His promised fury and Yahweh declared that He would not destroy the Ninevites. 

How did this happen? It was a sovereign, gracious work of God. God elects His people unto salvation before the foundation of the world. This is indisputable if one honestly looks at the Scriptures (John 6:37,39, Romans 8:29, 9:6-18, Ephesians 1:4-5). This gracious work of electing grace is consummated in the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary’s cross. The question many ask is, “For whom did Christ die, His elect or the whole world?” Jesus Himself gives us the answer in John 10, saying that He knows His sheep and they know Him. They hear His voice and they follow Him. Furthermore Jesus says that He laid down His life for His sheep. Also see Matthew 1:21 for further verification of this fact. But wait, doesn’t 1 John 2:2 say that His death is the propitiation for not only our sins but also for those of the whole world? Yes it does, but remember John is writing first of all to those of his day who were facing a gnostic heresy. John is reminding those who were hearing him that they were in Christ and that they were “under the blood” of Christ’s propitiating death. The term “the whole world” refers to all the people for whom Christ gave His life outside their immediate context.

You see, we have three possibilities here. The first is universal redemption, meaning that Jesus died for all and that everyone will eventually be saved. We know this is not true because Jesus speaks of the many on the broad road which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13,14). Another option is potential redemption, that all people are potentially redeemed but it is left up to them to “decide” for Christ and if they do so, then they are redeemed. But surely you will agree that numerous Scriptures (many of them cited above) prove it is quite impossible for anyone to choose to come Christ, to go from death to life, slavery to freedom, by their own volition. The only other option is particular redemption, what some call “limited atonement”. This means that Jesus’ death on the cross actually accomplishes something very powerful. His blood works effectually to save, to wash away the filth of our sin, to buy us back from the slavery of sin, death, Satan, and hell. 

Okay, so what? What difference does this make in ministry? First, particular redemption gives us confidence in the pursuit of personal holiness. Christ’s blood is efficacious. It works. It cleanses. It sanctifies. Only those who are born again are redeemed and thus washed in the blood of Jesus. This means that the true believer has the desire and capacity to overcome sin and grow in gospel holiness. Particular redemption removes the hyphen and modifier to the word Christian. If we are new creatures in Christ, if we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, if we are washed in the blood of the lamb, then we are in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come. Therefore, there is no such thing as a Gay-Christian, a Porn-Christian, a Racist-Christian, a Lustful-Christian. Those who place a modifier and hyphen before the word Christian are either unregenerate or failing to live in the victory that is for all who are in Christ (1 Cor.15:57, 2 Cor.2:14). 

Secondly, particular redemption promotes confidence in the pursuit of personal ministry. God has His elect. The Lord Jesus died for them, giving up His life for His sheep. The Holy Spirit applies this electing, redeeming grace in due time on all those for whom Christ died. It is certain. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). 

So be encouraged messenger of the good news. The sheep of Christ are out there somewhere. There may not be many in our day in the western world, but there are some. Go forth, no matter what the barrenness of the times suggests, and expect God to bless your labors.

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