Loving God with our Minds through Theological Study
The Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, MO, houses the largest collection of mosaic art in the entire world. Its intricate glass pieces line vaulted ceilings and vast archways, creating portraits that depict entire stories. Only when one views the 41 million tesserae pieces from the perspective of their place can you understand the whole picture. Understanding what Jesus did for us on the cross is a lot like looking at a mosaic. It includes different “pieces” that reveal a magnificent picture of God’s mercy and kindness.
Propitiation points us to why Christ’s death on the cross was so necessary. To propitiate means that you make someone propitious or favorable. It means that someone’s anger has been satisfied or appeased. Because of God’s justice, we earned His wrath when we sinned against and offended Him. When Jesus became our propitiation on the cross, he satisfied God’s righteous wrath against us as our Substitute. This idea makes some people uncomfortable. How can God be both wrathful and loving at the same time? Some claim the word means something more like a cancellation of our sin-debt, a taking away of sin. But while Jesus is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), propitiation has a different meaning. In Hebrews 9:5, it’s translated as the “mercy-seat,” an image from the Old Testament Holy of Holies where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled to pay for the people’s sins. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, God required a blood payment for sin in order to satisfy His righteous anger against it (Lev 16; Is 53). While the attributes of God’s wrath and God’s love may seem to clash to our spiritual ears, they were in perfect harmony in Jesus’ death on the cross. Because of propitiation, God satisfied His own anger against us in a way that also protected us from it – by taking the punishment Himself. See Romans 3:23-25.
Redemption is a marketplace or commercial term. It focuses on the change in our spiritual condition as a result of the cross. Apart from Christ, we have a debt we cannot pay back to God and we are slaves to our own sin nature. But redemption changes all of that. When Christ redeemed us, He became our ransom payment to buy us out of spiritual debt and slavery (See Mark 10:45). In order to be redeemed, we needed a Redeemer. In Old Testament law, a redeemer could purchase back land that a family member had to sell to pay a debt. He could also purchase a family member out of indentured servitude (i.e. slavery). A Redeemer had to be related to or like the one who needed redemption, have the ability to redeem, and have the desire to redeem. The fact that Jesus redeemed us means that we have been purchased out of slavery to sin and death and that sin no longer has a rightful claim on our lives. We belong to a new Master. Because of redemption, we have been bought back from sin and set free from its bondage. We are redeemed from sin and redeemed for a purpose. See Ephesians 1:7.
Justification is a legal term and describes our new status before God. It is a one-time, once-forever event that can never be repeated, changed, or taken away, regardless of what we do. When God justifies us in Christ, He makes a legal declaration and pronounces us as righteous. God’s isn’t ignoring our sin. Just the opposite, in fact. He’s regarding it as already judged in Christ. This is why Martin Luther described the Christian as someone who is both righteous and a sinner. While we have personally broken God’s law, God transfers our record of disobedience to Christ and Christ’s records of righteousness to us. All of your sin – past, present, and future – has been placed on Jesus. And He has dealt with it fully, finally, and forever. This reassures our hearts when we feel like we’re beyond God’s forgiveness. Because of justification, the full payment has already been made for the one who believes and we are no longer condemned. See Romans 3:28, 4:1-5, 5:1 and Galatians 2:16, 3:11, 3:24.)
Reconciliation just might be the most precious word to describe what Jesus has done for us. It describes our new relationship to the Father. Because of reconciliation, there is no longer anything between God and us that could create distance or keep us apart. Before Christ, we were separated from God because of our sin. In fact, Ephesians 2 says that we made ourselves God’s enemies – we were hostile towards Him. But the Father took the initiative to reconcile us to Himself (Eph 1:3-4). By judging all of our sin in Christ, God can legally, righteously, and freely adopt us as His own children (Rom 8:16, Eph 1:5). We who broke God’s law have been restored, because Jesus bridged the gap that alienated us from Him. Now, we belong to the Father. Because of reconciliation, we now have peace with God and a restored relationship with Him. See Colossians 1:21-22.
The result of all of this is Union with Christ through forgiveness. Forgiveness means to wipe out or cancel a debt so that it’s no longer held against us. All that separated us from God has been taken away.
- Read Psalm 32 and 51 and thank God for His love and mercy.
- Which of these “pieces” of salvation stood out to you? Why?
- Who needs to hear this message of forgiveness?
Marcella was a 4th-century Christian who devoted her life to study. She was so intellectual and had such command over doctrine that the Church Father, Jerome, sent young pastors to learn from her theological expertise.