Justification is very important for all Christian to understand. It is important because it is the doctrine of how one becomes just before a holy God. I like the definition that Bible.org gives when Lehman Strauss writes:
“Justification is a legal term which changes the believing sinner’s standing before God.”
This need for right standing before God is echoed all throughout Scripture. Job is one example of an Old Testament character that asks a question about a right standing before God in Job 9:2 when he asks:
But how can a man be in the right before God? -ESV
God answered that question in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice was complete and for a specific group of people. This concept is known as “limited atonement” by Calvinists. Now, when I say limited atonement and Calvinism many people have many different reactions. Some may be turned off or angered but I urge you to look past the emotions of the words and investigate Scripture with me. I think that limited atonement and justification is fully understood by one Greek word known as hilasterion. In English this is propitiation.
If you search the ESV, “propitiation” occurs four times. The verses propitiation occurs in are: Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, and 4:10. I will engage with one in this post and another in the next.
First, lets look at Romans 3:25 which says:
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.
This is a wonderful verse that sums up what justification is. What I want to highlight though is the word “hilasterion” (propitiation). Lets define propitiation. Bible.org defines it when John F. Walvoord writes:
“Propitiation is the biblical doctrine embodying the concept that the death of Christ fully satisfied the demands of a righteous God in respect to judgment upon the sinner.”
When we grasp propitiation’s definition Rom. 3:25 holds an even greater meaning. Jesus put forward a sacrifice that satisfied the insurmountable gap that separated us from God. That insurmountable gap was created by sin. Our standing with God is that of disdain and disgust because he views people as they are…sinful. Jesus’ sacrifice changed all that. By definition if Christ’s death actually secured a righteous standing before God that means that it is pointed or directed to a specific people. If it isn’t then Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice never accomplishes its aim because many people refuse to turn to God in faith. This is known as limited atonement. Jesus’ sacrifice was for a specific group of people that are propitiated by his sacrifice through faith. Notice though how Paul underscores Jesus’ sacrifice when he says, “This was to show God’s righteousness.”
God’s righteousness was fully shown in this sacrifice. God made a way for people to cross the insurmountable gap. He gave Jesus up as a sacrifice to give a specific people right standing before God. This shows God’s righteousness and kindness towards humanity. God knew that nobody could ever be holy because their bodies and souls are under control of sin. With God’s knowledge of humanities sinful nature Jesus’ perfect and beautiful sacrifice shows that God is righteous, holy, and amazingly merciful.
In the next article we will dive into how propitiation shows God’s love in 1 John 4:10.