☩ Atonement only… what about Propitiation?

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

IN SOME INSTANCES moving along with the times is good, but where should the Church draw the line within cultural shifts? Should secular society dictate – directly or indirectly – how the Church communicates; should the Church remain firm in her traditional stand in doctrine or make it palatable so as not to offend?

The pure Gospel in its purest essence will inevitably offend a secular society because humanity is naturally at enmity with God; outside of Christ we are enemies of God. The Gospel should never be blunted in order to reach a lost society as medicine should never be stripped of its potency to treat the root cause of illnesses. To water down or downplay words to appease society by presenting a ‘more’ attractive gospel will only deal with humanity’s symptoms, not its root cause. The root cause of humanity’s problem is not sins or committing wrong per se. Scripture is emphatically clear that man’s problem is sin, that humanity’s nature is opposed to God; the heart of every man and woman is naturally predisposed (as a result of Adam’s fall – Romans 5) to hating God.

The very heart of what the Cross of Christ really means will initially offend (mainly our pride as we are prone to thinking we are not that bad as the Scriptures state), will wound and bring every person to accountability, but where the wound is first made there is inevitable true healing to follow.

I noticed that the modern Bible translation: CSB (Christian Standard Bible replacing the Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB]) is conforming to gender-inclusive language. The Bible includes all gender but rightly refers to man as being the head: man first then woman. Not that woman is less than man, but this is God’s order of creation. This is still an ongoing contention especially within a continuing uprising of feminism that has well and truly found its way comfortably in the church. The Bible, being the inspired Word of God, has been guarded through the work of the Holy Spirit in ensuring we understand the way and method of salvation. Christ chose men as apostles, not that He was confined to the customs of the day; God’s order of creation was implicated through Christ’s messianic ministry even though there is no distinction between Jew, Gentle, male or female; we all come to God the Father only through Christ in the same way. This is how we are to interpret the meaning of that well known passage.

That laid aside, I want to take up a more serious issue with the CSB translation. What about the word propitiation that the CSB has replaced with the words “the atoning sacrifice”? I’ll move onto this further on, but I want to mention another concern (ongoing and more prevalent today) that links to this.

Many within modern evangelicalism completely disregard the Law in the Old Testament, mistaken by thinking how condemning it is – and it is condemning to every man and woman outside of Christ- “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). Lamentably Biblical doctrine is still on the downward spiral; so many have disregard for it, either through a distaste of how a particular church, group or individual has presented it, but without sound doctrine – which is the very buttress or pillar of the Church – we cannot be taught aright and therefore remain dark in our understanding. “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet” as David rightly proclaimed.

Oftentimes I’ve heard believers say, “All I’m interested in with the Scriptures are the words of Christ”, but how on earth are we to understand what and why He spoke the words He uttered if we fail to understand why He came among us? What’s the background of Christ’s advent of coming as Messiah; what is the diagnosis of humanity? Without first understanding the conditions how are we to know the remedy or the solution? The Old Testament reveals that and although God is shown to be so Holy and unapproachable without a mediator, it’s pages reveal God’s grace and mercy – the promise of a coming Redeemer – a covenantal God Who has never broken His promises foretold as far back as Genesis 3:15. If we fail to recognise God’s love – alongside His wrath against sin – in the Old Testament, then we are not reading it through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. If the Old Testament is dry, dull, full of doom and gloom, why then did David, among other Psalmists, say, “I delight in Your law; I delight to do Your will”? It’s a travesty that the Old Testament is seen in such ways that is indissolubly linked to the New Testament; they are inseparable; we cannot see the one without the other.

Many will disregard the Old Testament as irrelevant. Both the Old and New Testament is one book in essence. The New Testament is latent in the Old and the Old is potent in the New; Christ is latent in the Old and potent in the New. We cannot understand Christ’s ministry – at all – until we realise why He had to come and the Old Testament clarifies that. Everything, more or less, foreshadows Christ in the Old. The OT reveals how holy God is and highlights the necessity of a coming Redeemer Who fulfilled the requirements for God and us. “The background of God’s love is holiness”, Oswald Chambers said and we cannot explore the depths of God’s love without the background of God’s wrath against sin, otherwise we have purchased a cheap, poor mimicking version of it. The both go hand in hand, otherwise it’s comparable to tearing numerous chapters out of a book; we’re not going to obtain the full picture. We’re to understand and proclaim the whole counsel of God not just a part that suits our likings.

The Law is to bring us to the feet of Christ Who fulfilled the law, and without the Law sin is not seen for what it really is – exceedingly vile. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The greatest power next to God is sin.” Humanity cannot fulfil the Law; only Christ fulfilled it and the laws of God are now inscribed on our hearts as new creations in Christ; Christ’s perfect fulfilment of the Law is now credited to us; His Law is fulfilled within us by the Holy Spirit through regeneration.

The Law of God is to bring us to the end of ourselves in that we cannot fulfil it because of the greatness of our sin. The Ten commandments were given for us to fulfil (obey) and the Beatitudes are an exposition of those commandments which, when rightly read and understood, brings us to despair as we realise how powerless we are to fulfil the essence of the Law, but here comes hope – “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit – (sorely lacking in righteousness)… Blessed are those who mourn (over the condition of their hearts)… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. What is this? It is none other than the succession of the work of the Holy Spirit writing the very laws of God on our heart; our old nature being replaced with a new one – the very nature of God. Ezekiel 36 and 37 is the meaning of what it is to be born again – the heart of stone being replaced with a heart of flesh; dry bones being made alive again where it is humanly impossible for humanity to revive itself from being dead in sin. “What is impossible to man is possible to God” (John 3).

Without the Law of God doing its work within our hearts we cannot understand the Great Hope and consolation of the Gospel and neither can we understand and taste the love of God unless we understand the wrath of God. As well as humanity being opposed to God, God is also opposed to humanity – humanity in its sinful condition.

The cross of Christ is essential for humanity’s reconciliation with God, for God can never forgive a person except through the propitiation of Christ. This word propitiation is imperative and its implication carries such enormous weight that it cannot be replaced with just the words “the atoning sacrifice” which the CSB states. As some may see this contention as being pedantic, in essence a serious error is being made in removing the word propitiation where the cross of Christ is being downplayed. Modern society is becoming lazier in the midst of a booming technological era where Google does all its thinking for us and even such ‘knowledge’ is questionable. Rather than advancing in our so-called sophisticated culture, our minds are put to less frequent use; we don’t want to learn; we abhor stretching our minds; we want the easy way where no work is entailed. Our minds are incredible vehicles when put to serious use and are surprisingly more absorbent than we realise. So, learning and understanding such words as propitiation is essential to understanding the depths of what the death of Christ really implies. Let us be definite, specific and clarified in our terminologies to really bring out the meanings of essential foundational doctrine.

So what does the word propitiation really mean? R.C. Sproul stated:

“When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.

Expiation and Propitiation

Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.

In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God’s being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won’t come into your country and mow you down. That’s an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.

The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God’s disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.

Christ’s Work Was an Act of Placation

Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God’s wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.

What Is Salvation?

Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody’s plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That’s biblical language, and it’s really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he’s saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.

When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt. 5:22); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41). Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.”

Sound Biblical doctrine ought never to be looked upon as purely theoretical, as something dry, irrelevant or boring. Quite the opposite; having doctrine as the foundation and pillar of the Church will lead us on to knowing God, loving God, worshipping Him aright and therefore reaching a lost world with the One and Only True Hope within us – Christ, the Hope of Glory.


Posted on January 2, 2020, in ♠ Political Arena and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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