No Easy Task

“The Significance of the Second Goat”, “Why John 3:16 is So Important”, The Heart of the Gospel: We Need them All” “Two Very Important Words”                           

The four previous posts have all been about propitiation. 


“Do you understand this [propitiation]?  If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian Gospel.  No version of this message goes deeper than that which declares man’s root problem before God to be his sin, which evokes wrath, and God’s basic provision for man to be propitiation, which out of wrath brings peace” [J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 189].

Many gospel studies do not get to the point where there is an explanation of the idea that God saves man through allowing Himself to be Killed. 

But that is what happened, in the very heart of the Christian Gospel

Do we dwell enough on the meaning of Paul’s explanation of this in Romans 3:25-26?  “God presented Him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood.  He did this to demonstrate justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.  He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

If we did dwell on Romans 3, we might focus on a key word in this scripture: justice.  Ordinary human conceptions of justice mean a world where everything works out right for those who deserve it.  For those who don’t deserve it [people who do wrong] there are problems; serious punishments.  In Psalm 82:3 it says “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”  In Isaiah 1:17 the prophet says “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.”  There is some sense of justice in the Old Testament.

Certainly in Genesis, God was so upset about man’s behavior that he flooded the earth, destroying sinful man.  This was a public way of showing that God will not allow man’s lawlessness to continue unabated.  But what about since the flood?  Did that episode change man or has man continued in his sinful ways?

You know the answer to that question. 

Man has continued his sinful ways.

Where is the justice?  Are we getting what we deserve?  Packer writes “God had not reacted to their [man’s] impenitence and irreligion and lawlessness by public acts of adverse providence” [Packer, 188].  Instead He has shown “kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” [Acts, 14: 17].  We have continued on in our disregard for God’s commandments, Packer saying “People since the flood have been no better than their forebears were before the flood.”

Where is eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, that supposed “golden rule” of justice?  In Exodus we find “If men who are fighting strike a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, but there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband demands and as the court allows.  But if a serious injury results, then you must require a life for a life—eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, and stripe for stripe.”  In this specific circumstance the “golden rule” occurs but does it expand to all mankind, in all cases of injustice or does it apply to men injuring a pregnant woman in a fight.  In Matthew 5:38-42 in the New Testament, Jesus repudiates the notion of eye for an eye justice. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I tell you, do not resist an evil person: if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  There is no “eye for an eye” strictly regarding retribution and/or justice.  That concept came from Hammurabi’s Code [from the Mesopotamian Empire]. 

Nevertheless, N.T. Wright writes about Christianity and justice.  He feels that it is an innate need in the Christian to “put the world to rights.”  “The Christian faith endorses the passion for justice which every human being knows, the longing to see things put to rights” [Wright, 12, Simply Christian]. 

What if God had that attitude toward us, He wants to put us “to rights”?

We would be in trouble again [another flood?].

So what is God up to?  Is he rewarding us sinners for the bad that we do?  Packer thinks the “passing over” of sins [ref. “forbearance” in Romans 3: 25-26] is not really forgiveness, it is a postponement of judgement.  “If …humans do evil and the Judge of all the earth continues to do them good, can He be as concerned about morality and godliness, the distinction between right and wrong in the lives of His creatures, as He formerly appeared to be, and as perfect justice would seem to require?  Indeed, if He allows sinners to continue unpunished, does He not Himself come short of perfection in His office as judge of the world?” [188].

Here is the heart of the Gospel…

Our sins have been punished.  Justice has been meted out.  Retribution has happened.  It has happened to Jesus, standing in our place.  The gospel says that our Creator has become our redeemer, a much different approach than the flood.  Jesus has shielded us from God’s retribution by becoming our substitute.  He took the stripes that we deserved on His own back.  He died the death that we deserve.

The question is still there…why did He do this?

The answer may be found in man’s desire for a relationship with God and God’s desire for a relationship with man.  If God wants to have a relationship with man and He found a way to have that through His son’s propitiation.  Most of what is wrong in the world today is man sinning against other men.  Most of what is wrong today in man’s relation with God is man sinning against God.  N.T. Wright comments that “relationship” is part of the way we were meant to be fully human.  We need to have a relationship with God.  “We do indeed know that we are made for relationships and that we find relationships difficult….One of the central themes of the Christian story is the claim that the paradox of laughter and tears, woven as it is deep in the heart of the human experience, is woven also deep into the heart of God” [Wright, 38].

When a believer understands propitiation, he or she can put the whole Bible in perspective. Packer compares the believer’s grasp of propitiation as “standing on the top of Mount Snowdon in Wales, you can see the whole of Snowdonia spread out around you, and you have a wider view than you can get from any other point in the area” [191].  With knowledge of propitiation, you can see the Bible from a position “to take the measure of vital matters which cannot be properly grasped in any other terms.”

My fifth post on propitiation…


We are trying to wrap our minds around the very heart of the Christian gospel, trying to take the measure of vital matters which cannot be grasped in any other terms.

No easy task…

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