Again, we must insist that when Jesus died on the cross, he made an actual atonement for the actual sin of actual sinners.
Paul asserted that all believers are destined to obtain eternal salvation from the wrath of God. This salvation is accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ:For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. —1 Thessalonians 5:9–10
The extent of the atonement is defined here as reaching all believers. The Lord Jesus Christ, Paul wrote, “died for us.” This first-person plural pronoun is used once in verse 9 and again in verse 10. The first use defines the purpose of the salvation Christ provides. He saves “us” (all believers) from God Himself, specifically from His wrath. Paul then stated that those who are chosen to be saved (v. 9) are the same people for whom Christ died (v. 10). Jesus Christ died to redeem all who are “destined,” or chosen, to obtain salvation from God’s wrath. All for whom Christ died—the elect—“obtain salvation” (v. 9) and “live together with Him” (v. 10).
Regarding the definite nature of the atonement, Boice writes, “Jesus did not come merely to make salvation possible, but actually to save His people. He did not come to make redemption possible; He died to redeem His people. He did not come to make propitiation possible; He turned aside God’s wrath for each of His elect people forever. He did not come to make reconciliation between God and man possible; He actually reconciled to God those whom the Father had given Him. He did not come merely to make atonement for sins possible, but actually to atone for sinners. . . . Christ’s work on the cross was not a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, but a real and definite salvation for God’s own chosen people. A redemption that does not redeem, a propitiation that does not propitiate, a reconciliation that does not reconcile, and an atonement that does not atone cannot help anybody. But a redemption that redeems, a propitiation that propitiates, a reconciliation that reconciles, and an atonement that atones reveal a most amazing grace on God’s part and draw us to rest in Him and in His completed work, rather than our own.”
—Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 435.