First, the saving work of God is indivisible. Paul presents God’s saving work on a temporal canvas that runs from eternity past to eternity future. It consists in four distinct moments of salvation: redemption predestined, when God chose us before the foundation of the world (vv. 4–5); redemption accomplished, when Christ redeemed us by His blood (v. 7); redemption applied, when God sealed His Word in our hearts by His Spirit (v. 13); and redemption consummated, when we will possess our future inheritance endowed to us by the Spirit (v. 14). These four moments of God’s saving work are indivisible; that is, they are distinct but inseparable moments of God’s one act of salvation. This means that Christ’s definite atonement (redemption accomplished) can never be separated from God’s eternal decree (redemption predestined) or God’s sanctifying work by His Spirit (redemption applied), which is connected to our glorification on the last day (redemption consummated).
Second, the indivisible saving work of God is Trinitarian. In this passage, Paul refers to each member of the Trinity and Their respective roles in the work of salvation. The Father elects and predestines us (vv. 4–5); the Son redeems us by His blood, providing forgiveness for our sins (v. 7); and the Spirit seals God’s Word in our hearts (v. 13) while also serving as a guarantee of our future inheritance (vv. 13–14). All three persons of the Trinity work together to accomplish the one act of salvation from eternity past to eternity future. Thus, when it comes to the intent of Christ’s atonement, the persons of the Trinity are not at cross-purposes but rather work together in harmony to accomplish salvation.
Third, the indivisible, Trinitarian saving work of God is accomplished in Christ. Several times in this paragraph, Paul uses the prepositional phrase “in Christ” or “in him.” The phraseology speaks of the believer’s union with Christ, which traverses the four moments of salvation: we were chosen “in him” before the foundation of the world (v. 4; redemption predestined); “in him” we have redemption through His blood (v. 7; redemption accomplished); “in him” we were sealed with the Holy Spirit (v. 13; redemption applied); “in him” we have obtained a future inheritance (v. 11; redemption consummated). Thus, there is no moment of our salvation that does not come within the sphere of union with Christ. This guarantees that while the moments of redemption are distinct, they are inseparable.
Its Pastoral Impetus
Two pastoral stimuli arise from the biblically based and theologically synthesized doctrine of definite atonement. First, despite protestations to the contrary, definite atonement does not rob the believer of personal assurance; rather, it grounds it. When Jesus died on the cross, we were on His mind. As Martin Luther commented, “The sweetness of the gospel is found in the personal pronouns: ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).” Second, contrary to what some people argue, definite atonement does not sever the nerve supply to evangelism and mission; rather, it supplies it. If it is true that Christ died for all people without distinction—that He atoned for all kinds of people: rich, poor, male, female, Asian, African, European, etc.—as the Reformed faith has always maintained, then mission becomes an exciting and rewarding endeavor. Since Christ has definitively ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, some from each of these will certainly believe the gospel (Rev. 5:9). Definite atonement, therefore, is not a hindrance to evangelism and mission; if anything, it is an impetus.