INTRODUCTION – The false “gospel” of our age depicts God as showing love and mercy by the non-enforcement of His laws. By contrast, the God of the Bible acts in uncompromising justiceeven when He is gracious to the sinner who is loaded with guilt. The Scriptural doctrine of the atonement describes Christ’s work upon Calvary as that of a penal substitute. One may accurately say, “God only forgives what He pays for.” Therefore, even in acts of grace, God’s justice holiness, and righteousness are vindicated, demonstrated and preserved.
BY THE SACRIFICE OF HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, GOD TURNS HIS OWN WRATH AWAY FROM ALL THOSE WHO WILL BELIEVE
Propitiation is the turning away of wrath by an offering. In the NT this idea is conveyed by the use of hilaskomai (Heb. 2:17), hilasterion (Rom. 3:25), and hilasmos (1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10).
The words of the hilaskomai group do not denote simple forgiveness or cancellation of sin, but that forgiveness or cancellation of sin that includes the turning away of God’s wrath.
God’s holy response to man’s sin is divine wrath. The whole of the opening argument of the book of Romans is that Jew and Gentile alike are sinners who have come under the wrath of God.
When Paul addresses salvation in the book of Romans, he thinks of Christ’s death as propitiation(Rom. 3:25), the means of removing the divine wrath. The paradox of the OT is repeated in the NT that God Himself provides the means of removing His own wrath.
GOD’S LAW IS THE GREAT REVEALER OF HUMAN SIN AND THE DIVINE WRATH IT DESERVES
Romans 3:19,20 – The Law reveals the righteous character of God. The Law sets forth the penalty and wages of transgressing God’s Law. The Law shows sinners the power of sin over their lives (every natural person is in abject bondage to sin). The Law removes every excuse, alibi, covering and rationalization for sin.
To become “accountable” to God is to face divine judgment that is absolutely thorough and invincible.
God will judge the thoughts, deeds, words, and intents of the heart by His Law (i.e. thou shalt not covet).
Application – No wonder people despise God’s offer of mercy in Christ. It is because they do not respect His justice. Those who have never come to believe in God as Judge have not yet believed upon Christ for salvation. The doctrine of propitiation makes it clear that belief in God as Judge is a necessary part of belief in Christ as Savior. The God of heaven is a just judge. There would be no mercy for sinners if it were not for the satisfaction of justice for sinners by the death of Christ the Mediator.
Apathetic stone-hearted sinners need the application of the Law to break up the hard pavement of heart. Only pulverized heart soil is able to receive the good seed of the gospel with joy. Such radical humbling is necessary. Depraved man must be taught that he can have no part in his own salvation. The Law is that teacher that exasperates the sinner, showing him that efforts to gain salvation by law-keeping are futile and hopeless (Gal. 3:23,24). Man can contribute nothing, he can only receive (Romans 10:2-4).
THE GOSPEL DECLARES THAT THE ONLY GROUND OF ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD IS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH
Romans 3:21,22 – “But now” introduces God’s plan of mercy to sinners. The glorious reign of God’s grace originated within God’s own divine government. The atoning power of Christ’s sacrifice is sanctioned by the eternal counsels of the Godhead.
The glory of the gospel is that the offended Lawgiver Himself who is our Judge gave His own beloved Son in our place. The gospel promises that sinners may have right-standing before God by faith. Christ provides a righteousness perfectly acceptable to God. God has taken salvation into His own hands.
Application – The cross is intended to disarm the natural man. The cross strikes at all the weapons men use to keep distance from God.
Note the arguments people cast up in their minds in order to stay estranged from God (fear, dread, guilt, severity of their sin, hatred of the Lord as Master, speculations about who God is, doubt God could love them).
In the gospel, we behold God’s own Son bleeding, paying so that sinners might go free, released from their guilt and condemnation. The sinner’s excuses are removed. It is only the avowed enemy of God who rejects the terms of peace and chooses to remain alienated from gospel mercy.
JUSTIFICATION IS THE GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE TO THE BELIEVING SINNER
Romans 3:23,24 – The justified sinner receives right-standing before God as a gift of God’s grace. Justification is a legal judicial action of God that takes place before the tribunal of God. It involves the removal of our guilt, the divine penalty having fallen completely upon Christ our perfect Substitute.
Justification is not only the removal of guilt, it is also the crediting of Christ’s righteousness to the account of the believer. Christ’s moral perfection is imputed to the believer. Because of that imputing or crediting, God is able to declare the believer righteous in His sight.
THE CROSS IS THE VINDICATION OF GOD’S JUSTICE
Romans 3:25,26 – The public display of the crucified Christ 2000 years ago was a mighty demonstration of God’s justice. God was declaring by His Son’s cross that He is completely just when He justifies and forgives believing sinners.
God can forgive believing sinners freely without compromise to His justice and righteousness. There is no forgiveness without the satisfaction of God’s justice. In fact, there is no basis for a single drop of mercy from God for our ruined race apart from the propitiation.
The great object of propitiation is to save the justice of God in pardoning sinners.
The great result of propitiation is that believing sinners are saved from the wrath of God.
Application – Propitiation rightly understood is to realize that you cannot make God kindly disposed toward you. You cannot soften up God by personal reformation.
The only appeasement of God’s wrath and anger toward our sin has been provided by the divinely provided Substitute who is the only propitiation for sins. The “work of God” is that you believe in Him whom He has sent (John 6:29). God is infinitely satisfied with what Christ has done on our behalf. There is labor involved in believing that! (Heb. 4:1,11).
Though our race is ruined by sin, we came from the hand of a holy and just God. We can never have lasting happiness until we have truth, pardon and holiness. These are in the propitiation of our Savior’s cross. In that propitiation alone is the answer to our fear, guilt and misery.
God has intended that His Son’s cross be the only way that peace is brought to the conscience of man. Propitiation is the only way a person can be rightly adjusted eternally to the attributes and perfections of the Godhead so as to live with God forever.
The love of the Father is shown in that He “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). The purpose of Christ’s becoming “a merciful and faithful high priest” was “to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).