12 February 2014


This is a reflection piece I wrote for my current doctrine class.

My understanding of the gospel has always included propitiation.  Having grown up Presbyterian, the holy wrath of God has always held great sway over my theology and has skirted around nearly ever sermon. Yet, it has always been balanced with the great and wonderful idea of propitiation laid out in Romans 3:23-25 which declares that

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 propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

Propitiation has always been the one great act that freed my soul from the crush and horror of my sinful nature. D. M. Lloyd Jones explores this idea in his work Romans [1]. He declares Romans 3:25 to be one of the most important verses in scripture because it fleshes out the method of salvation and why it had to happen the way it did. He goes on to explicate the publicity in which Christ died and the message that His life and death project out to the world. Yet, as I read further, I was hit by not only the depth of importance carried by the doctrine of propitiation, but also the breadth of time that it covers and the intentionality of each day’s salvation.

This expansion of my understanding was triggered by the assigned reading of J.I. Packer’s book In My Place Condemned He Stood. In the chapter entitled “The Heart of the Gospel,” Packer details the doctrine of propitiation, showing how Christ is not only a one time propitiation for our sins, but also how He is making propitiation for us in this very moment in the presence of the Father. The verse which Packer used to introduce this idea is 1 John 2:1b-2:

“…we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

The phrase that leapt out at me from this verse is “we have.” It rings in the present tense and, despite Paul writing centuries ago, we can still grasp hold of the significance of his word choice. Christ has not yet returned and we continue on in the almost-but-not-yet. Such present tense means that not only did Christ become our propitiation, but that He continues to be active in that role. Packer, later in the chapter referenced above, lists “action” as a driving force in Christ’s life. It is the same in the doctrine of propitiation.

            Anthony Carter adds to the discussion as he laments how infrequency Christians talk about propitiation on a daily basis when it is in fact the foundation of our faith [2]. He grapples heavily with the wrath of God and the importance of our understanding it in order to better understand His Holiness. Yet, it is that very wrath which opens to us a fuller understanding of what it means to be atoned for–to have someone actively choose to be our propitiation.

Christ is not simply sitting on his laurels, passively watching his work save humanity and secure eternity for His children; He is speaking and living on our behalf day after day, ushering us into salvation one by one by stripping us of our sin and wrapping us in His own perfection.

[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. M. Romans: An Exposition of Chapters 3.20-4.25 Atonement and Justification. “Propitiation.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976. 65-80. Print.
[2] Carter, Anthony J. Blood Work. “Propitiation by the Blood.” Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2013. 23-31. Print.

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