22 April 2021
One would expect every believer to appreciate the basic and central theme of atonement; however, it is surprising but true that not too few believers fail to appreciate accurately the meaning of atonement and they are still ‘confused’ about the details of the central theme and meaning. This results in unwholesome outworking and living out of the Christian life, causing at times lop-sided and inaccurate applications of the truths taught in this subject.
The death of Christ as a sacrifice is a central concept in atonement; what is very important is to note that Christ is both the victim and the priest who offers the sacrifice. What is perhaps not so clearly understood is the term ‘propitiation.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8-10). Propitiation simply denotes the appeasement of the wrath of God over sin. There were theologians who claim that there is no such as God’s anger and wrath occasioned by human sin; they would agree to the term ‘expiation’ – an action that denoted the covering, putting away, rubbing out of sin that it no longer remains a barrier to fellowship between God and man. But propitiation denotes all that expiation means and more – the pacificying of the wrath of God as well (Rom. 1:18, 2:1-16, 3:9; Heb. 10:30).
“The doctrine of the propitiation is precisely this that God loved the objects of HIs wrath so much that He gave HIs own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of this wrath. It was Christ’s so to deal with the wrath that the loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God’s good pleasure” (John Murrary, The Atonement).
Propitiation was made by the death of Christ; what quenched God’s wrath and so redeemed us from death was the shedding of His blood in death. The Apostle Paul always points to the death of Jesus as the atoning event, and explains the atonement in terms of representative substitution – the innocent taking the place of the guilty, in the name and for the sake of the guilty, under the ‘axe of God’s judicial retribution (Gal. 3:13).
Through Jesus’ death, God was reconciling the world to Himself – not counting men’s sins against them but causing them in Christ to become the righteousness of God.
Propitiation demonstrates God’s righteousness. God set forth His Son to propitiate His own wrath to demonstrate His justice so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:25-26). Paul’s communication is that the public spectacle of propitiation, at the cross, was a public manifestation, not merely of justifying mercy on God’s part, but of righteousness and justice as the basis of justifying mercy.
It is not that propitiation changed a wrathful God into a loving God; the love that prompted God to send His Son was always there (1 John 4:10).
Jesus was not compelled by the Father to lay down His life. He did so voluntarily, and thus pleased the Father. The Father and the Son are one, and thus the work of Jesus Christ in giving of His life also involved the Father. God is both the judge and the person paying the penalty. It is as if the judge, in a courtroom analogy, passes sentence upon the defendant, then removes his robes and goes off to serve the sentence in the defendant’s place.
God would not have gone so far as to put His precious Son to death if it had not been absolutely necessary, We are totally unable to meet our need for salvation. Recognising this, it should instil in us a deep sense of gratefulness and worship. The triune God knew there was no other way of salvation and in God’s love, mercy, and grace, the three Persons in the godhead agreed unanimously before the creation of the world to put the plan of redemption and salvation into action.
God is righteous, so much so that sacrifice for sin had to be provided; He is loving, so much so that He provided the sacrifice Himself. We must therefore not take lightly the salvation which we have. We must not take sin lightly too, as sin evokes the wrath of God and our forgiveness and salvation cost God the ultimate sacrifice.
In our outworking as Christians, let us always remember the great cost and price paid for us by God and let us love Him in return and emulate His giving character.