Ever heard a gospel presentation that went something like this:
“We are sinners and our sin separates us from God. But Jesus died on the cross and rose again so we could be forgiven. If you ask him to save you, He will. Would you like to pray and ask Him to come into your life?”
Most of us probably have. We have probably even said those things. I know I have. While there is not anything wrong with those statements in a stand alone sense, in a gospel presentation they are incomplete.
“What?!” you may ask.
“But they mention that sin is what separates us from God!”
“They mention forgiveness!”
“They mention Jesus dying on the cross and rising again!”
“They even asked them to pray!”
“What’s the problem?!”
I have one word for you.
Without this word, the gospel message falls flat – in fact, it is downright wrong.
So what does propitiation mean?
Propitiation is a sacrifice that takes away wrath. More specifically, a substitute payment made in the place of, or on behalf of, another that satisfies the debt they owe, thus satisfying justice and reconciling them to the one to whom payment was due.
So why does propitiation matter? Why isn’t it enough to just say that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins so we could go to heaven?
“Aren’t you being nit-picky?” you may ask.
Yes, but we should be.
Yes, our sin separates us from God. But why?
Yes, Jesus died on the cross and rose again. But what does that do for me?
Yes, He can forgive us of our sin. But how??
Why does all of this matter? How does that save me?
If you leave this part out of your gospel presentation, you’re not truly presenting the gospel.
In his letter to the Roman believers, Paul writes, “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 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” (Romans 3:23-25).
Similarly, the apostle John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
God is the just and holy judge of the whole universe. He made us and gave us His laws to follow for our good. When we disobey those laws (that’s called sin), we are violating a holy God’s perfect justice system, and therefore deserve to be punished.
That’s what any good judge in any courtroom would do. Justice must be satisfied. A payment must be made.
The Bible makes it clear that what we deserve, or earn, for our sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). We would be left in a literal and eternal hell, never being able to satisfy our sin debt.
When Jesus died on the cross, he took the place that we deserved to be: crucified as a criminal against a holy God. On our behalf, he made the payment to God that our sins required.
Jesus paid the blood sacrifice that bought our forgiveness. He gave his life to pardon us from the death penalty we deserved.
He rose again to secure us resurrection life.
His atoning sacrifice appeased the Father’s wrath against our sin and reconciled us to the just judge of the universe. Jesus made the way into heaven open for us if by God’s grace we have faith in Christ as our propitiation.
So propitiation matters.
Without it, we either have . . .
- a God who is not just or good because he would have to ignore his own laws and turn a blind eye to sin in order to let people into heaven, OR
- no hope of heaven because there would have been no actual payment for our sins.
Our faith would be in vain.
A gospel presentation without propitiation leads people up to the cross of Christ and leaves them there confused. We need the message about the death and resurrection of Christ to tell us WHY it should matter to us and HOW it applies to us. We need propitiation for the gospel for it to mean anything.
Otherwise, all we have is the Son of God hanging on a piece of wood and a bunch of religious words.
Christ is our Savior. But only if he is our propitiation.