Implications of Definitive Atonement

May 01, 2017

by Jonathan Gibson

The doctrine of definite atonement states that in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of His sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. In a nutshell: the death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone, and not only was it intended to do so, but it actually achieved it as well. Jesus will be true to His name: “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The doctrine is theologically rich, but it is also immensely practical, especially in relation to the church.

Two pictures in the New Testament dramatize Christ’s love for the church. There is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and the Bridegroom who sacrifices Himself for His bride (John 10:15; Eph. 5:23–25). The first picture has implications for Christian pastors; the second has implications for Christian people.


First, definite atonement intensifies the care of a pastor for his people because it reminds the pastor that it was for this particular group of people that Christ died. In Acts 20:28, Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders to pay careful attention to the flock of God and to care for the church of God, “which he obtained with his own blood.” The relative clause is, in a way, unnecessary in the flow of Paul’s speech. Its presence, however, adds poignancy to the exhortation: pastors are to protect and care for the church because God purchased her with His own blood. As Richard Baxter wrote to pastors:

Oh, then, let us hear these arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless; “Did I die for these souls, and will you not look after them? Were they worth my blood, and they are not worth your labor? . . . How small is your condescension and labor compared to mine!”

When pastors look out on their congregations each Sunday, remembering that they are the purchase of Christ’s blood, it creates and deepens a most tender affection for them. . . .

. . . .continue reading at Ligonier.

Jonathan Gibson

Dr. Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at WTS.

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