The Heart of the Gospel:
Propitiation and Romans 3:24-26 - Part I
by Ed Vasicek
Many people find Christianity repulsive because of its major tenet: God the Father sent His Son to be punished for our sins.
Jonathan Edwards preached the concept of an angry God (burning with rage and on the verge of releasing His wrath) without shame or reservation. His fiery sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is often used as an example of what some claim to be a distorted view of God.
But, when measured by the Scriptures, Edwards was right. Although most modern theologians prefer to emphasize God's love while denying (or deemphasizing) His rage at the sinner, the Bible demands we embrace both perspectives: The Holy God Who is raging with anger is also the loving and compassionate God Who loves sinners.
This meeting of God's mercy and justice are mentioned repeatedly in the Scriptures (Psalm 85:9-11), but these concepts meld together most clearly in Romans 3:24-26: "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. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (ESV)
Bursting with meaning, these three little verses explain the heart of the Gospel like no other. The key focus is upon the concept of propitiation, which we will define in the second article.
Today we will limit ourselves to verse 24 and examine two benefits made possible because of Jesus' propitiation: Justification and Redemption. We will then note that they come to us on the basis of grace. Let's look at these three terms.
Justification (in Paul's usage) is the legal act in which God declares us "not guilty" and "holy." This is not based on our behavior; God justifies us when we are ungodly. A chapter away, in Romans 4:4-5, Paul discusses Abraham's justification. We read, "And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness."
Because God justifies the ungodly, this justification occurs when we are converted and born-again. The term "ungodly" is never used of a true New Testament believer. Although we still sin (and some of our behavior may be ungodly), the term refers to our unregenerate condition. We are ungodly and a moment later--when we exercise saving faith--we find ourselves justified!
The idea that justification occurs at death when we have lived a godly life is contrary to Paul's usage here. No, we are justified at the point of conversion. God does not justify the godly (the converted), but the ungodly. Once justified, the ungodly become the godly and evidence that justification by our works.
Every major New Testament teaching has its basis in the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore The New Testament can only be fully comprehended against the backdrop of the Old.
Whereas Abraham is an Old Testament example of justification by faith, Zechariah 3 paints the picture of what justification looks like. Justification is receiving a clean status before God with, in this case, the pre-incarnate Christ acting as our defense attorney to maintain that status!
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?"
Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by. (Zechariah 3:1-7, ESV).
On to our second term, redemption. The Old Testament is filled with redemption imagery. The ethic of redeeming family land is a key element in the Book of Ruth. Even Ruth is redeemed from widowhood and childlessness. A number of Torah ordinances involve redemption of property and people. Although the Levites replaced all Israel's firstborn sons when it came to Tabernacle service, those firstborn sons were "redeemed" when the redemption money (ransom) was paid. (Numbers 3:48). Redemption is the payment of a price to obtain another's freedom or to restore what was lost. Jesus' death "bought us back'" from our lost condition and its consequences.
When Jesus died on the cross, the Greek New Testament says He shouted out, "Tetelesthai," which is usually translated, "It is finished," The Greek Perfect Tense indicates something has happened in the past and carries a current result.
Kenneth Wuest translates this phrase as, "It has been finished and stands complete." The word "Tetelesthai" commonly meant "paid in full." The redemption Christ provided (through propitiation) benefits us with a favorable status before God. We can say, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).
Justification and redemption (provided by propitiation) come to us freely by God's grace, our third term. The best way to understand what Paul means by "grace" is to look at how Paul uses the word. In Romans 11:6, he contrasts grace to something we do; we need perform no act to justify or redeem ourselves. Grace and works are opposites.
In Romans 6:23, God freely offers us eternal life as a gift (charisma) by His grace (charis) not as a wage. We cannot earn, deserve, or achieve it. We receive God's grace when we believe (Romans 5:1, 10:9-10). Since faith is an attitude and not a work, and since God even gives us the faith to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9), salvation is truly "by grace." Grace is God's generosity and favor, and exists apart from anything we do.
In our immediate context (Romans 3:27), Paul asks, "Where is boasting? It is excluded."
If we understand grace, Paul's conclusion is obvious! The only thing we contribute toward our salvation is the sin from which God saves us.
Although salvation is free to us, it is not cheap. Another paid our sin bill. Next month, we will see that this redemption was made legally possible because Jesus' death propitiated God's justice.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA