The Elect Will Believe the Gospel: Christ “Actually Atoned” for the Elect, but Christ Never Died for Anybody Who Never Believes the Gospel
The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also entitles the elect to conversion.
Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. Christ bought both the forgiveness of sins and the legal application of the legal satisfaction God made in Christ that God needed to forgive and continue to be just and holy.
What does the “legal application” of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that God imputes that the value of Christ’s work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. God does not only impute Christ’s status as justified to the elect. God imputes the legal record of Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law to the elect.
Before the cross, during Old Testament times, God imputed that legal record of Christ’s satisfaction to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the “merits” of Christ’s legal satisfaction to some of the elect.
So there is a difference between Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law and God’s imputation of that satisfaction to the elect for whom that satisfaction was made. For example, Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the elect with Christ when they are justified.
The application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and then legally imputed as their inheritance) includes the conversion by the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit which immediately follows the imputation to an individual elect sinner.
Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
Here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and
conversion immediately follow the imputation. Romans 8:10–”but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
Because the legal record of Christ’s work (the righteousness) is imputed, the next immediate result will be life, not only legal life but also the life the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted.
At once after the elect are in Christ (not only by election but by imputation), Christ is also in the elect. Christ indwells the elect by the Holy Spirit.
As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
We need to be careful about explaining that Christ “actually atoned” for the elect alone and not “potentially” for everybody. We need to be careful because Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. All the elect will believe the gospel.
The elect will believe the gospel, as soon as the actual atonement is imputed to them. “Actual atonement” does not mean that the atonement is justification. The very real legal record of the very actual atonement is not imputed to all the elect at one time. Even though the sin of Adam is imputed to all humans, that imputation is not at one time. And even though Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel, the propitiation Christ made for each elect person is not legally imputed until immediately before their conversion.
No elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows. In our thinking and preaching, we need to take into account the time between Christ’s actual work of reconciliation and God’s legal imputation of that reconciliation which the elect receive. Romans 5:11 and 17 teach us that the elect receive not only by faith but first of all by imputation.
Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the legal application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.