Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jesus Christ, Our Propitiation

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

As we continue our study of First John we come to what is arguably the most important word in the entire Bible after the name of Jesus; in 1 John 2:2 we are told that He (Jesus Christ) is the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation is somewhat difficult to define because there is so much more meaning here than anything we can express with mere words. Webster's Dictionary defines the word propitiate as: "to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of : appease, conciliate" and propitiation then as "the act of propitiating: something that propitiates: an atoning sacrifice." This is what the word means, but in the life of the Christian this definition does not adequately express what it means that Jesus is our propitiation.

In order to get a glimpse of what this word really means for us we need to first see clearly our condition before God apart from the propitiatory work of Jesus. We read in Romans that all have sinned and fall sort of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but have we really ever stopped to think what that really means? In Paul's letter to the Ephesians he wrote:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
What we see in these verses is that apart from Christ we are dead, we are under God's wrath, we are called sons of disobedience, and if we follow this all the way to chapter 5 Paul actually tells us that the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6). Once again we see that we have a dilemma; we are under the wrath of God and we have absolutely no way to appease that wrath. We need someone who can reconcile us to God and move us from being under His wrath to a position of favor - that is propitiation. When John writes that He is the propitiation for our sins what he is telling us is that Jesus has acted on our behalf and appeased the wrath of God that we were due because of our sin. And how did Jesus do this? I really like the way the NASB translates this verse because it tells us that "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins..." In other words, Jesus' death on the cross was the atoning sacrifice that God required to pay the penalty for our sins; Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, took our sin on Himself and took the wrath of his Father in our place and in return He gives us His righteousness so that we can have favor with God. Here are just a few verses that illustrate this point:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
And Finally:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
As you can see, this is a very important doctrine, and I have only scratched the surface of all that this implies in the life of the believer. We could study this for the rest of time (maybe even eternity) and never exhaust or fully understand what it means that Jesus is Himself our propitiation.

John then finishes verse 2 by saying that Jesus is not just the propitiation for our sins but also for the sins of the world. This can be a very controversial verse and some have used it to teach a universal salvation meaning that because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world the whole world must be saved. But that cannot be what this verse means because this would contradict other passages that clearly teach that salvation is given only to those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ. So what does this phrase mean then?

I think that what John is telling us here is not that the whole world will be saved by the work of Christ on the cross, but that the work of Christ on the cross is sufficient to save the whole world. Let me put it another way; Jesus died for our sins as our propitiation, and His death is sufficient to pay the price for every sin that every person who ever lived ever has or ever will commit. However, in order to appropriate that payment to the account of the individual sinner it is the responsibility of each sinner to repent and turn to God for salvation. Or to put it yet another way, Jesus' death is the complete and perfect sacrifice and nothing else is needed or can be added to it, it perfectly covers every sin - we just need to accept it by faith, repent of our sins, and turn to God. When we do this there is a propitiation for all of our sins, and not ours only, it is also available to all who believe.
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