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Lowell Brueckner

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The Superb Language of the Cross


Pardon, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, regeneration… we are not entering some kind of deep theological study here, reserved for the intellectuals. These are biblical words, given to the common believer in the Bible, therefore we are compelled to know about them. If we ignore them and refuse to teach them, because they are unfamiliar to the common man, then we are averting the full counsel of God.

I say this, because there are people, who seem to think that there is virtue in ignorance and they glory in it. The Bible extols the value of wisdom and even a cursory study of the Proverbs should convince us of its worth: “Does not wisdom call and understanding lift up her voice?... ‘To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O naïve ones, understand prudence; and O fools, understand wisdom… Wisdom is better than jewels… Riches and honor are with me… The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old… When He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight’…” (Pr. 8:1,4,11,18,22,29,30). This only scratches the surface of the doctrine of wisdom taught from the beginning to the end of Scripture. In a parable, Jesus commended five wise virgins and condemned five foolish ones (Mt. 25:1-12).

It is true that God often starts with Galilean fishermen, who were termed, “uneducated and untrained men” (Ac. 4:13). As the proverb suggests – “O naïve ones, understand prudence; and O fools, understand wisdom”. Paul added that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Co. 1:27). He does this throughout the history of the church. However, He clothes such people with supernatural, godly wisdom, by means of the Holy Spirit of truth and biblical revelation. Paul continues, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature” (1Co. 2:6). Again and again, he expresses that the believer should not be ignorant of things (Ro.11:25; 1 Co.10:1; 12:1; 2Co.2:11; 1 Th. 4:13), as does Peter (2 Pt. 3:8). Can anyone argue against the wisdom, with which Peter and John spoke in the book of Acts or the wonderful wisdom written in their epistles? I have known some of these giants in the faith, who might stumble over grammar and punctuation, but hold superb understanding of the deep doctrines of the Bible.

The Bible uses uncommon terms, because common language cannot explain the extraordinary accomplishments of the cross of Christ. They are more examples of the need to separate the holy from the profane, even in the use of language. Some modern translations break down the walls of godliness in an attempt to make the unique thoughts of God easily understood by the man on the street. He cannot understand them, whether he be an intellectual or an ignoramus, because divine intervention into the human mind is essential, in order that heavenly language can reach into the heart.

Certain words are given to show us the unsearchable riches of Christ. We need to be careful not to succumb to academic laziness and therefore rob ourselves and others, who we might be able to teach: “For the Spirit searches (for you and in you) all things, even the depths of God… so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Co. 2:10,12-14). God has set before us a spiritual treasure house of untold value. Let us partake of this altar, of which no outsider can taste.

We face another problem in our day and that is a redefinition of terms. In modern religion, even in evangelical circles, words have taken on different meanings from those, by which they were understood in the past. Over the course of time, evangelical understanding has shifted away from the original intention of the inspired writers. Stemming from perverse thinking and leading towards apostasy, modern books and sermons seem to say one thing, but actually mean something totally different, when referring to salvation, faith, grace and forgiveness. We must turn from modern will and way and “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16). It has happened again, as in Israel of old, “but they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” and the prophet further expounds, “My people have forgotten Me… and they have stumbled from their ways, from the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths…” (18:15).

Forgiveness, pardon and remission of sins
These three words are synonyms and the first one, at least, is not difficult for us, due to its familiarity. However, God’s forgiveness must only be understood within the context of these two additional terms. Forgiveness is conditional and it is not ever given without full satisfaction of righteousness and judgment that makes the remission of sins possible. God does not begin by simply overlooking our sins and proclaiming forgiveness. He does not say, “Let’s just forget about your past, wipe it from our minds, and start over.” Never! The perfect righteousness of God demands that every infraction of His law - every deed, word, thought and motive that in the slightest manner breaks His statutes and decrees – must pay the full penalty, demanded by His justice. No sin has been, can be, or will be pardoned without its corresponding punishment having been carried out.

I might add that we certainly have no obligation to forgive others sins committed against God, unless His conditions have been met. Are we more merciful that He? Can we forgive what He has not forgiven? Forgiveness is granted only to the penitent.

If that is not true, then the ministry of John the Baptist was totally unnecessary. He came to prepare a way for the Lord into the hearts of men. The Kingdom of God, which comes without observation and makes its throne in the human heart, was at hand, but no one could enter that Kingdom without repentance. So John demanded that a generation of vipers bring fruit in keeping with repentance. He spoke of an axe being laid to the root of the trees, cutting and throwing all that is not good fruit into the fire. He spoke of a winnowing fork that will thoroughly clear the floor, gathering the wheat into the barn and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt. 4:2-12).

There is such a thing as false forgiveness. God delivered Ben-hadad into the hands of King Ahab of Israel for destruction. However, when his great armies were routed by Israel and Ben-hadad fled, his servants gave him this “good news”: “We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings” (1 Kg. 20:31). They had still the reputation of being merciful, even though they had forsaken the God of mercy. And sure enough, when his servants came to Ahab, begging for his life, he said, “He is my brother.” When Ben-hadad came to him, “He took him up into the chariot” and “made a covenant with him and let him go.” The Lord was not at all pleased with this action and sent his prophet with this word: “Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life…” (vs. 32-43).

We are more familiar with the story of King Saul and how he spared the Amalekite king. The king was brought happily before Samuel, thinking that he had been forgiven. But Samuel “hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord…” (1 Sam. 15:33). This same Saul, who forgave King Agag, massacred 85 priests of God at Nob, and in their city killed men, women, children and infants, along with the oxen, donkeys and sheep (1 Sam. 22:18-19).

Only a couple years ago, the media gave a lot of coverage to the Amish, when their little school was invaded by a gunman and several little lives were taken. The world wondered at a people, who were willing to forgive the murderer of their children, and certainly such a human attitude is worthy of great admiration. However, the Amish are cultists, who know and teach nothing of the new birth. They have no gospel, which gives full assurance of salvation by grace, but hang onto their faithfulness to religious traditions and obedience to elders for salvation. These people, willing to forgive a murderer, have many times cast out from their number anyone who has come to saving faith in the finished work of Christ and has been genuinely born again. How can we hold this story before us as an example of godly forgiveness?

For a number of years, I have closely followed reports of an off-shoot of a Mormon sect with perhaps 10,000 members that still practices polygamy in the western United States, as well as in Canada. Recently their prophet was condemned to life imprisonment for the rape of under-aged girls, as young as 12-years-old, whom he had taken into “spiritual marriage”. He has about 50 wives. To me, the amazing part of the story is their teaching about forgiveness. I heard it in a recording from the lips of the prophet himself. The women, especially, are taught in all circumstances to forgive and maintain a “sweet spirit”… The rape of their daughters, the torture of their sons, in the name of discipline, and the excommunication of teenage boys, who might be competition for the older men, is to be forgiven and to be met with a “sweet spirit”. Is their any room for admiration for such a deceptive concept of forgiveness? None at all. We are talking about something diabolical that allows evil men to dominate and abuse weak victims!

God’s forgiveness is directly related to and only possible through the cross of Jesus Christ. Here are the comments of Albert Barnes, concerning it: “It is universally true that sin never has been, and never will be forgiven, except in connection with, and in virtue of the shedding of blood. It is on this principle that the plan of salvation by the atonement is based, and on this that God in fact bestows pardon upon people. There is not the slightest evidence that any man has ever been pardoned except through the blood shed for the remission of sins. The infidel who rejects the atonement has no evidence that his sins are pardoned; the man who lives in the neglect of the gospel, though he has abundant evidence that he is a sinner, furnishes none that his sins are forgiven; and the Mussulman and the pagan can point to no proof that their sins are blotted out. It remains to be demonstrated that one single member of the human family has ever had the slightest evidence of pardoned sin, except through the blood of expiation. In the divine arrangement there is no principle better established than this, that all sin which is forgiven is remitted through the blood of the atonement; a principle which has never been departed from hitherto, and which never will be.”

Because Jesus paid the full penalty demanded by divine justice, for that reason and that reason alone, we can be forgiven by a holy and righteous God. He took the punishment for us and our sin has been wiped from heaven’s record. A pardon has been issued for those of us who sat on God’s death row, condemned to a sure and eternal damnation. Our sins are remitted through the substitutionary death of the Son and nothing stands against us anymore. There is no need for the Christian to face judgment to decide the issue of eternal bliss or eternal suffering. Christ stood condemned for us and “therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) That judgment is passed. If it is not so, then there is no gospel to proclaim, for that is the heart of the gospel.

At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus commanded His disciples, “that repentance for forgiveness (KJV - remission) of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations…” (Lk. 24:47). On our part, we personally come into His forgiveness, through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of our sin and that “kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). We repent of our sins, including our pride and deceitfulness, and we turn from ourselves, yielding our lives to Christ. From that state, we are led to faith that comes from hearing - being given ears to hear the word of Christ. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Matthew Henry made this comment on preaching the remission of sins: “The great gospel privilege of the remission of sins must be proposed to all, and assured to all that repent, and believe the gospel. ‘Go, tell a guilty world, that stands convicted and condemned at God's bar, that an act of indemnity has passed the royal assent, which all that repent and believe shall have the benefit of, and not only be pardoned, but preferred by. Tell them that there is hope concerning them.’”

Redemption is a word less commonly used in daily language, so let us begin with some definitions: The verb redeem in Greek is agorazo and, in a very general sense, it simply means "to buy" and it is used that way in the New Testament, when someone did a common act of purchase. However, more specifically, when the prefix “ex” was added – exagorazo – it denoted "to buy out", especially of purchasing a slave with a view to his freedom. There is one other Greek verb, which is translated to redeem and that is lutroo. It means, "to release on receipt of ransom". In this case, a ransom price has been paid and received and the captive has been set free.

That verb has two noun forms and one of them, lutron, simply means a ransom. The other is lutrosis. This one must be translated redemption. In Hebrews 9:12, it states, “He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (lutrosis).” That speaks of the redemptive work of Christ, which brought us deliverance from the guilt and power of sin through His death. The last noun is apolutrois and that is defined “ransom in full, that is riddance, (specifically) Christian salvation, deliverance, redemption”. None of these definitions make me a classical Greek expert; it only means that I have a Greek dictionary, just like some of you have. You can see these meanings for yourselves.

Once these definitions are understood, it is easy to see how they are used in the context of the New Testament. We can begin to appreciate our predicament outside of Christ, in which we were slaves to sin, the world and the devil. We were their captives, serving their will, cruelly abused by their dominance over our lives and our will, without a hope of being set free by any effort on our part or by any human means whatsoever.

Because there was no other way, Jesus went to the cross to give his life a ransom for us. It was a ransom price paid, in order that we might be free. The price for our sins was death and He died, paying the debt that we could not pay. To be redeemed is to be delivered and set free. The chains have been torn from our souls. We are no longer the slaves of sin and our ego, compelled day and night to perform for them to our own misery and destruction. We are no longer taken by the powerful current of the world to serve its cruel and corrupt system, only to be destroyed with it in the end. We have been freed from the devil’s claws and snatched from his vehicle that drove us towards eternal damnation. He will drive on to the Lake of Fire and we will experience Heaven. Jesus bought us out (redeemed us) from this three-fold slavery.

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Heb 9:12) Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment: “The entrance of our Redeemer, once for all, into the heavenly holiest place, secures eternal redemption to us; whereas the Jewish high priest’s entrance was repeated year by year, and the effect temporary and partial.” Albert Barnes adds: “The redemption which the Lord Jesus effected for his people is eternal. It will continue forever. It is not a temporary deliverance leaving the redeemed in danger of falling into sin and ruin, but it makes salvation secure, and in its effects extends through eternity. Who can estimate the extent of that love which purchased for us such a redemption? Who can be sufficiently grateful that he is thus redeemed? The doctrine in this verse is, that the blood of Christ is the means of redemption, or atones for sin. In the following verses the apostle shows that it not only makes atonement for sin, but that it is the means of sanctifying or purifying the soul.”

Think upon these things, child of God, until the riches of the redemption of Christ’s cross enrapture your soul. Learn to revel in them and value them more than life itself. We are contemplating established truth; why not glory in it? It is forever settled in heaven; why not live its reality upon earth? It is in the Bible; why not know and understand it?

Redemption also relates to Christ coming for us, when it will be full and complete. Then none will question or doubt it. We know in part, but then it will be face to face knowledge. Shadowy areas will be bathed in glowing, eternal light. All trials of faith will be left behind and all that is cloudy or hidden will be swallowed by glorious, living reality.

“All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Co.5:18). No verse of scripture could serve our purpose better, I think, than this one, which states the reconciliatory work of God towards us, as well as our work or ministry of bringing men into a state of reconciliation with God.

In our study of a biblical word, it is always a good idea to go to a dictionary to find the general, common use of the word, and then to a Bible dictionary to find, what I like to call, the gospel sense of the word. Even though we first look for the secular meaning of the word, it is better to go to a Greek dictionary, because there may be a difference between that original term and its English translation. Once we have found that meaning, we must remain faithful to it and take care not to change it for another. Besides this, the original language often has more than one word, which is translated the same way into English. So, we have to be sure to see, which Greek word is used in the text that we are studying. We should also notice both the noun and verb forms of the term.

However, we also know that the gospel is spiritual and therefore in the Kingdom of God these terms take on a meaning, which goes beyond what is understood naturally. That is, the natural translation is true, but the word holds far more value and importance, when it is used by the Holy Spirit to define spiritual things. Here we need much help from God to be able to extract, not only the meaning of the word, but the riches that are expressed by it, the action that God has taken and the state into which it brings us. In our present study, the action which God has taken is to reconcile us and the state, into which we have been brought, is that of reconciliation with God.

In the text above, the Greek word used is katallasso in both its verb and noun forms. It is a word that has to do with relationships. It assumes that a relationship has been damaged or destroyed and therefore effective action must be taken to restore it. A change must be effected in order to transform a hostile relationship into a friendly one.

Diallasso is another Greek word meaning to reconcile, but this word is never used in reference to our relationship with God. The reason is because this word means mutual concession after mutual hostility. It means that both parties must change their attitude towards one another, assuming that both are at fault in their hostility. In the case of God and man, it is not so. We are the ones who must change; God never changes. He is never at fault and never needs to make concessions.

Therefore, something must be done, not by fallen man, but for him. As always, we find ourselves helpless to initiate any action in God’s direction. If we think we can, we are deceived and know nothing of the height, depth and strength of sin’s wall of separation. Warren Wiersbe states: “ ‘Religion’ is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.” And Adam Clarke affirms: “It is only by the grace and Spirit of Christ that the proud, fierce, and diabolic nature of men can be changed and reconciled to God.”

We need a representative before almighty God, a mediator, who will take our hand and put it into God’s. We need someone to deal with the guilt of man, the cause of the separation that has distanced him far beyond what can be measured in miles, kilometers, or even light years. The alienation is infinite and potentially eternal, and its cause is far greater than something that man can repair. The enmity is deep, penetrating to the unfathomable depths of his nature. He possesses a traitorous rebellion, which knows no equal, by which we can compare it, in the annals of human relationships.
“Dark was the stain that we cannot hide,
What can avail to wash it away?”

On the subject of reconciliation, Albert Barnes has some especially good things to say: “Man was alienated from God. He had no love for Him. He disliked His government and laws. He was unwilling to be restrained. He sought his own pleasure. He was proud, vain, self-confident. He was not pleased with the character of God, or with his claims, or his plans. And in like manner, God was displeased with the pride, the sensuality, the rebellion, the haughtiness of man. He was displeased that His Law had been violated, and that man had cast off his government. Now reconciliation could take place only when these causes of alienation should be laid aside, and when God and man should be brought to harmony; when man should lay aside his love of sin, and should be pardoned, and when, therefore, God could consistently treat him as a friend. The Greek word used here (καταλλάσσω katallasso)… in the New Testament means to change one person toward another; that is, to reconcile to anyone. It conveys the idea of producing a change so that one who is alienated should be brought to friendship. Of course, all the change which takes place must be on the part of man, for God will not change, and the purpose of the plan of reconciliation is to effect such a change in man as to make him in fact reconciled to God, and at agreement with him. There were indeed obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God, but they did not arise from any unwillingness to be reconciled; from any reluctance to treat his creature as his friend; but they arose from the fact that man had sinned, and that God was just; that such is the perfection of God that He cannot treat the good and evil alike; and that, therefore, if He should treat man as His friend, it was necessary that in some proper way He should maintain the honor of His Law, and show His hatred of sin, and should secure the conversion and future obedience of the offender.”

“All this God proposed to secure by the atonement made by the Redeemer, rendering it consistent for him to exercise the benevolence of his nature, and to pardon the offender. But God is not changed. The plan of reconciliation has made no change in his character. It has not made him a different being from what he was before. There is often a mistake on this subject; and people seem to suppose that God was originally stern, and unmerciful, and inexorable, and that he has been made mild and forgiving by the atonement. But it is not so. No change has been made in God; none needed to be made; none could be made. He was always mild, and merciful, and good; and the gift of a Saviour and the plan of reconciliation is just an expression of his original willingness to pardon.”

The entire plan was initiated by a loving God, unwilling to let His creatures perish in eternal darkness. He sent His Son to cover the distance of separation, when “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn.1:14). He and he alone did the work of reconciliation in its entirety, tearing down the wall of sin between man and God. He took that corrupted, rebellious nature of man and nailed it to His cross. He replaced it with a new nature, formed after His own, possessing all the beauty of heavenly attributes, and put it within man. He took those hands, once stained by sin, and secured it in the holy hand of His Father. Now man could enjoy his Creator, revel in His presence, and rejoice in His lordship. He was reconciled to God.

The love of Christ compels him to no longer live for himself, but to accomplish God’s purposes on the earth. He is given the ministry of reconciliation, reaching out to a world as lost as he once was. He will not accept their state of darkness and alienation from God, but takes on the task of proclaiming repentance and remission of sins to all nations. He cannot accustom himself to the sound of Christ-less feet on the road to damnation:
“Without one hope or ray of light,
With future dark as endless night,
They’re passing to their doom,
They’re passing to their doom.”

The Greek term, propitiation, is used in three forms in the New Testament – hilaskomai, hilasmos, and hilasteerion. In the last section, we studied what Christ did for us to reconcile us to God. The point was made very clearly that God did not need to be reconciled to us, so Christ worked the change in us to bring us to God. However, in propitiation we see that something is done for God in order that He can be merciful to us.

The Greeks used the verb, hilaskomai, as something that they must do “to appease the gods and make them propitious (merciful)”, and this is the mentality evident in all heathendom. The pagan fears the gods and will stop at nothing to quell their anger. Unfortunately, he never achieves it and so he lives his lifetime under a slavish fear.

In the Holy of Holies part of the Hebrew tabernacle, and later their temple, lay the Ark of the Covenant. The two stones, upon which the Ten Commandments were written, were inside the ark and there was not an Israelite, who had not broken them and thereby offended their Holy God. The top lid of the ark, with two cherubim overshadowing it, was called the Mercy Seat, but literally, it was called in the Greek Septuagint, the Propitiation (hilasteerion) Seat. Outside the tabernacle or temple, an animal was sacrificed in a violent, bloody death. Then his blood was brought into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled seven times upon the Propitiation Seat. The transgressions of the people were literally covered by the blood-sprinkled lid and in this way God could be propitious to the Israelites.

The tax collector, who prayed in the temple at the same time as a Pharisee, could not look heavenward, beat his breast with his fists and exclaimed, “God be propitious (literally) to me, the sinner!” (Lk 18:13) It seems to me that he heard the Pharisee claiming that he certainly was not a sinner like he, the publican. Therefore, he prayed, “God, I admit it. I’m that sinner, he’s talking about! Please God, don’t be angry with me! I need you to deal with me in mercy or there is no hope for me!” God has found a way to justify that kind of grieving, repentant sinner.

There are various places in the Old Testament, where a propitious act was performed to appease an angry God. On one occasion, the people grumbled because of God’s judgment upon Korah and 250 leaders in Israel (Num. 16:41-49). God’s wrath was kindled and He warned Moses, “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Moses and Aaron fell to their faces and Moses exclaimed, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun!” The account continues stating that “Aaron took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700.”

There was a time when the Israelite men committed fornication, which turned to idolatry, with the women of Moab. God instructed Moses to execute the leaders of Israel and besides that a plague broke out, by which 24,000 eventually died. Then one of the Israelite leaders blatantly, before Moses and all the congregation, brought a Midianite woman into his tent. Phinehas, the priest saw them and “took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through… So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked.” As a result, God said, “Phinehas… has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them…” (Num. 25:1-11).

Then, when Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land, “Achan… took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.” They lost a battle because of it and 36 soldiers died. Then, “All Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger” (Josh. Chapter 7).

In 1 John 2:2, it states that Jesus Christ, “He Himself is the propitiation (hilasmos) for our sins”. It means that Christ is an expiator, an atoning victim. He has so dealt with sin, removing the guilt and remitting the sin, that God has turned from His wrath and can now show mercy on the believing sinner.

Paul explains more fully in Romans 3:25, why Christ became the propitiation: “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness…” By the death of Christ on the cross, God made a public demonstration of His righteousness. It shows all of mankind that He will not tolerate sin, but will violently punish it to the death, and Christ paid dearly as the atoning victim. The offended God poured out His wrath on His Son. In this verse we see clearly that God willed and brought about Jesus’ death. Through it, God was propitiated and his holy, righteous character was vindicated. Peter confirms it in Acts 2:23: “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross…” and in 3:18, Peter adds, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.”
One of the prophets, who announced the sufferings of Christ was Isaiah, who made it very clear that God Himself was behind His sacrificial death: “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him… The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief…” (Is. 53:6, 10).

Read these words of John Wesley: “Whom God hath set forth - Before angels and men. A propitiation - To appease an offended God. But if, as some teach, God never was offended, there was no need of this propitiation. And, if so, Christ died in vain. To declare his righteousness - To demonstrate not only his clemency, but his justice; even that vindictive justice whose essential character and principal office is, to punish sin.”Albert Barnes: “The proper meaning of the word (propitiation) is that of appeasing, turning away anger, rendering propitious or favorable. The idea is, that there is anger or wrath, or that something has been done to offend, and that it is needful to turn away that wrath, or to appease.”

We conclude this section with 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, he who believes upon Him is, by God's own judgment upon His Son, delivered from the wrath that he so justly deserves and he comes into the covenant of grace. We now see that not only does God demonstrate His righteousness through the cross, but His wonderful, all-surpassing love. This is passionate love of the very highest order. Nothing on earth compares to it and, in fact, the world recoils against it in disgust and rebellion.

I want you to read now a very important observation, made by Warren Wiersbe (with some emphasis of my own): “Christian love is a special kind of love. 1 John 4:10 may be translated: ‘In this way is seen the TRUE love.’ There is a FALSE love, and that kind of love, God must reject. Love that is born out of the very essence of God must be spiritual and holy, because ‘God is spirit’ and ‘God is light’. This true love is ‘poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (Rom.5:5, NASB). We must understand ‘he that loveth not knoweth not God’ (1Jn 4:8) IN THIS LIGHT. Certainly many unsaved people love their families and even sacrifice for them. And no doubt many of these same people have some kind of intellectual understanding of God. What, then, do they lack? They lack a personal experience of God. To paraphrase 1John 4:8, ‘The person who does not have this divine kind of love has never entered into a personal, experiential knowledge of God. What he knows is in his head, but it has never gotten into his heart’… True theology (the study of God) is not a dry, impractical course in doctrine — it is an exciting day-by-day experience that makes us Christ-like!”

Perhaps the most important verse in the last section was Romans 3:25 and now that our subject is justification, we look to the previous verse: “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” In verse 25, as we already saw, Paul speaks of the public display of God’s righteousness on the cross and he repeats it in verse 26. In the same verse, he gives us the purpose that God had in mind, in willing the sacrificial death of His Son; that is, to show that He is righteous or just, and yet to justify the offender: “So that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The Greek word for justification is dikaiosis and its definition is very simply acquittal – to be declared not guilty. The verb form is dikaioo - to render just or innocent. Imagine the accused person before the bar of justice. He has been brought up for trial and the evidence has been heaped against him. The moment of truth has come. He stands to hear the decision of the court, thinking that in a few seconds, his freedom could be taken away and years of imprisonment could await him. Then, he hears the pronouncement of those wonderful, two words – not guilty! He walks out of the courtroom a free man.

Earth’s halls of justice have never held the drama that is displayed in the case of every sinner, who is charged before God’s judgment seat, for it is not a payment of a fine or the question of a number of years of incarceration that is at stake. He is accused of high treason against the Ruler of the universe and the resulting death of His Son, for were it not for his crimes, the Son of God would not have had to go to the cross. The penalty is eternal punishment in the torments of a hell that has no exits. There will be no hope of any relief forever. To seal his doom, there is no question of his guilt and the sure conviction of his guiltiness shakes his poor soul.

The wonder of it all is that the very God, whom he has offended, has designed a plan whereby he may be freed. It is this great work of justification that we are now contemplating, in which God continues to be perfectly righteous and yet the sinner can be acquitted. Never has there ever been so massive a problem confronting the human race and never has there been a solution so superb. It involved the incarnation of the eternal Son and His earthly life ended on a rugged cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. In a few excruciating hours of torment, he achieved the unachievable and three days later, arose to seal our justification, which was accomplished by the cross.

The propitiation was complete. God’s righteousness was safe and His anger was appeased and now He can show mercy. Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of justification, a dikaioma (Greek, meaning an ordinance, a declaration, a concrete expression of righteousness), declaring the believer in His work not guilty. It is legal and official. God is entirely satisfied and so should that one be, who places faith in Him. He can rest with God in that work. The publican, who cried, “God be propitious of me the sinner” went to his house justified, because of this work. He was freely justified by a gift of grace. The genuine remorse for his sin was evident and from his heart he called upon God. There was nothing left for him to do. So it was for the thief on the cross.

An understanding of the word for righteousness used in Romans 3 is very important. The Greek noun is dikaiosune and it does not refer to an attribute of God, but the plan of God to declare man righteous, which comes from and does not compromise the righteous character of God. The word means justification.

Once again, I look for some help from Albert Barnes in bringing this all-important matter before you. I want to be sure that you capture this great truth: “He secured the proper honor to his character as a lover of his Law, a hater of sin, and a just God. He has shown that if sinners do not avail themselves of the offer of pardon by Jesus Christ, they must experience in their own souls forever the pains which this substitute for sinners endured in behalf of people on the cross. Thus, no principle of justice has been abandoned; no threatening has been modified; no claim of his Law has been let down; no disposition has been evinced to do injustice to the universe by suffering the guilty to escape. He is, in all this great transaction, a just moral governor, as just to his Law, to himself, to his Son, to the universe, when he pardons, as he is when he sends the incorrigible sinner down to hell. A full compensation, an equivalent, has been provided by the sufferings of the Saviour in the sinner’s stead, and the sinner may be pardoned.”

“This is the uniqueness and the wonder of the gospel. Even while pardoning, and treating the ill-deserving as if they were innocent, he can retain his pure and holy character. His admitting them to friendship and heaven does not show that he approves their past conduct and character, for he showed how much he hated even their sins by giving his Son to a shameful death for them. He shows no less regard to his law in pardoning than in punishing. This is the grand, glorious, special feature of the gospel plan of salvation.”

Here is a short synopsis of Paul’s teaching in this supremely important portion of anointed scripture: God’s plan of justification has been shown openly through the gospel, comes by faith in Jesus Christ and is for all those who believe – who trust in His person and base their stand in faith firmly upon His work. They receive it without any merit or worthiness on their part, but as a gift of God’s grace. This is possible because of the redemptive work (the price paid to free from sin and its evil consequences) of Christ Jesus, who had to take upon Himself the guilt and punishment that belonged to them, thereby appeasing the wrath of God and satisfying his righteousness. This means of justification is now in effect and God remains perfectly righteous, and yet acquits the guilty sinner. He is declared not guilty because he has placed his trust in Christ!


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