INTRODUCTION: This devotional series is based on J.I. Packer’s classic work, Knowing God. There is no greater quest, no more important activity, nothing that should be a higher priority than getting to know God. Too many Christians know about God without making their time with him personal. These devotionals are designed to challenge you to ask questions of yourself, bring these questions before God, make you think, and transform your relationship with God. My prayer is that your study will overflow in emotion, in touching your heart, in connecting with God, and sharing your relationship with others. The book consists of 22 Chapters, thus this series last 22 days. Dig in!
Reflections on Chapter 18: The Heart of the Gospel
The heart of the gospel is described in several well-known verses:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
God made him who had no sin to be sin [or “a sin offering”] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
Theologians often use the term “propitiation” (translated “atonement” in the NIV), which means “the act of appeasing or making well-disposed a deity, thus incurring divine favor or avoiding divine retribution.” [Wikipedia] In pagan religion this involved offering a sacrifice for sins in exchange for the god’s blessing. Since most of the teaching of the Bible contradicts paganism, you might expect this concept of appeasing through sacrifice to be absent from scripture. Instead, it is central to the Old Testament sacrificial system of atonement and at the heart of the gospel. As Wikipedia quotes Packer himself to explain the distinction, “In paganism, man propitiates his gods, and religion becomes a form of commercialism and, indeed, of bribery. In Christianity, however, God propitiates his wrath by his own action. He set forth Jesus Christ... to be the propitiation of our sins.”
Four New Testament verses use this term:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. (Rom 3:25)
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17)
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10)
Why is it important to understand the meaning of propitiation? Our salvation is not logical, it is an act of love. Mere logic would have resulted in justice, and we needed mercy. Simply put, propitiation has a wider definition than atonement. Propitiation includes the concept of quenching God’s wrath and atoning for our sins. As we studied God’s wrath, we found that it is not capricious – our sin offends God in his very nature, his holiness, and sin separates us from the holy one. Though we were “by nature objects of wrath… God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive again even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved!” (Eph 2:3-6) Consider how the gospel so clearly illustrates God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense (GRACE) for our benefit:
1. The Gospel is not Justice
Justice demanded that all sinners be punished for their sins. God chose grace over justice in the gospel.
2. The Gospel Demonstrates God’s Love
Propitiation is the work of God Himself. God is an initiator. God loved us (“the objects of wrath”) so much that he sent his son.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:9)
3. The Gospel Required a Sacrifice
Propitiation was made by the death of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ death, God reconciled us to himself. He had to die to take our place = representative substitution. The gospel fulfilled the OT sacrificial system.
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Heb 9:22)
4. The Gospel Manifests God’s Righteousness
God showed patience with those in the OT and forgave them despite the fact that the sacrifices could not remove their sin. Through the gospel, Jesus’ death satisfies God’s justice, demonstrates his righteousness, and provides us with a way to be reconciled.
In his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:25b-26)
Propitiation illustrates God’s mighty acts in the gospel:
· Redemption – he saved us from our sin
· Reconciliation – he re-established a relationship with us
· Self-sacrifice – he demonstrated agape (self-less) love
· Sin-bearing – he forgave us by taking the punishment for our sin
· Blood shedding – he became human, to pay the price required for our sin