I am currently enjoying John R. Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ, as an eBook on my Nexus 7. I’m going slowly, savoring Christ on every page, even going back a few chapters to re-read them before moving on. In this post I want to share about four aspects of our salvation that are so huge that the Bible gives us long, jaw-breaking words to describe them. The ideas are not new; the book just explains in a way that made them so rich and God so praiseworthy. I’ve been able to add these new reasons to my stable of ways to praise of God. I’m confident that you will too. The four words are propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation. Let’s take them in turn, in my own words.
The Scriptures tell us that God is angry with the wicked every day (Psa. 7:11). Ever since the Fall, He has been the recipient of man’s rebellion, wickedness, rejection, idolatry, and mockery. (If directed toward me, I can see how that would upset me!)
But another verse is also true: “God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). He was angry with a sinful people, but loved them enough to do something to appease His anger. What man (you and me) should do but could not do, God in love did through the offering of His Son; He found a way to appease His anger. This is what propitiation is about.
When Christ came, it was the first time in ages since God found a man who loved Him perfectly, obeyed Him wholeheartedly, and so perfectly expressed His will and person that all who looked on Christ would know exactly the type of person God the Father was.
Man had offended God and should make it right, but can’t due to sin. Finally, with Christ comes a Man who makes it right.
So perfect and acceptable was Christ’s life, so holy and good and rich, so yielded to His will as to even die on the cross, it was a sweet aroma that satisfied God, propitiating His anger.
It’s like the stage director who is angry over the inept actors he has to work with, but works with them patiently because that’s all he has. Then a superb actor comes into the production and is so good that he steals the director’s heart. It more than makes up for the failings of the others, and the director’s mood is immeasurably improved, and he treats the rest of the cast more gently.
This is a poor parallel of mine, to be sure, but what does this say to you who feel that God is continually mad at you? That God’s anger is always quick to flare up over your every failure? Yet His anger is melted away. We are grateful to the new star and mood change he has performed in our director. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, if you are continuing in sin, you may still feel His pressure as the Spirit works with you to turn you back to faith and obedience.
We have been helpless slaves of sin, and in this manner did not have free will to serve God. We have been slaves of “the strong man,” Satan, but Jesus paid the ransom, the redemption price, to buy us off the slave auction block for Himself. We are now free to serve Him.
No, God did not pay the ransom to Satan — God does not owe Satan anything.
Day by day the old master tries to woo us back. After our failures he tells us we are no good to God, so give up. He plays up our strong feelings of worthlessness or depression to convince us to turn to the broad way that leads to death. He reminds us of the pleasures of sin that we enjoyed — why can’t we return to it? After all, God will forgive anyway. Or he strokes our inflated egos and urges us on ahead of God’s timetable.
The truth Jesus wants us to know is that we are set free from sin. Our old slavemaster is powerless to truly harm us. We are safe in the arms of Jesus. We no longer need to follow those urges that have wrecked our mind, addictions that have damaged our body, and habits that have sapped our will. Now in Christ we may overcome any sinful state. We may break every destructive part of our lifestyle.
If we go by our feelings and experience, we’ll never be free. But where we apply faith to the message that Christ has set us free, we are released of the bondage. (Please note that a head knowledge of God will not free you, only a real relationship with God.)
In India, young elephants are chained fast to sturdy stumps with strong chains so they cannot get free. When they no longer struggle but accept that the chain is stronger than they, their training is complete, and they are effectively “chained” with a simple rope. A huge elephant is held fast by a rope it could break as easily as walking away, but it remembers its past experiences and stays put.
We are really free. Our chains are mere dust and smoke. Jesus has made us His servants, and gives us power to serve Him. The victory over sin is perfect and complete. The only victory yet to overcome is death. We shall die, but even death has no sting, for we shall rise again.
Ever do a trade that was in your favor — big time? Ever trade your baseball card worth $1 for a card worth $1 million? (I know you haven’t.) Or switched from a penny stock which earned you $1 in a year to a stock which returned $1 million in a day? (I know you haven’t.) With justification, we get the most outrageous switch ever: God takes on your sinfulness and in return imputes His own righteousness to you. Best trade I ever made in my life – and I didn’t even work for it.
We show our ignorance of this doctrine of justification by faith when we bargain with God. “I promise I’ll go to church every Sunday for a year if you get me a parking space.”
Or when we try to look better before God by our works. “Why don’t You bless me more? Look at all that I’ve done for you!”
Or we try to make up for our shortcomings or sin by working harder. “Lord, I know I blew it before, but look, I’ve made up for it now, right?”
Justification by faith means that God has given us a status of being righteous before Him. (It doesn’t mean that automatically all our words, thoughts, and actions are righteous.) It means that we live our lives from the standpoint that God already counts us righteous; we don’t do as the Pharisee does and try to impress God with our works. We don’t measure our worth by our skills or conduct or accomplishments. God isn’t impressed by them; after all, His works are greater than yours, yes?
We no longer have to punish ourselves for failing. We confess we were wrong and get back on our feet immediately. No more long periods of self-imposed penalties until our conscience has been cleared. We operate from the position of already having God’s righteousness. We did not earn it then and we can’t earn it now. It is justification by faith.
We are “justified”: “Just if I’d never done it.” The slate of the past has been wiped clear and destroyed. We have a new past: God’s righteous one.
We still have a personal righteousness to be trained in; that is according to our efforts. That is the righteousness that will be rewarded at the judgment seat. We will be judged according to our works, not His gift.
His gift of righteousness allows us to live life with God from a position of love and gratitude. We’re not worried about God holding a club over us, ready to strike us down with every failure.
My sinfulness for His righteousness. What a trade! I’ll take it. Won’t you?
Sin had separated us from God. We humbled ourselves to admit our fault and the blood of Jesus cleansed us of all sin. We have been brought back into a loving, accepted, communion with Him. This is the picture of reconciliation.
I know of two women who were estranged from each other because one had a grudge against the other. That grudge held until they both died. They never got to enjoy one another’s company the way the rest of us did.
We must be careful not to minimize reconciliation. We were not a little wrong when God brought us back; we are total enemies. We were on opposite sides. And we were on the wrong side.
God is never in the wrong. If we find there is a problem with our relationship with God — if God seems far off — you can be sure that God does not need to make it right. He is light, and in Him in no darkness at all. The issue is always on our side.
By faith and humility we can enjoy our reconciliation at all times. God is not at war with us. He is now a Father who cares for His children. He is the father who runs to welcome back the prodigal, good-for-nothing son who had wasted his life. Forgiveness is full and complete. Our shameful history is erased and does not come back to His mind.
Add these four themes to your praise time. I did.