I’ve asked that question of professing believers many times and received a variety of answers. But the responses all usually have one thing in common: They hinge on something the sinner did—I raised my hand. I walked an aisle. I prayed a prayer. I signed a card. I, I, I. Frankly, it’s even more disturbing how little is said of what Christ has done in these conversations. Because Scripture repeatedly reminds us that all the doing of the gospel involves the actions of the Lord Jesus Christ: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The key word in Scripture encapsulating Christ’s redemptive work is propitiation (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). Paul Washer describes it as “the most important word in the Bible” and yet he also laments that “most people don’t know it.”
Why is that? Part of the reason is probably because propitiation sounds like the kind of word that only scholars and theologians might use. But just because we struggle to say it—or spell it—doesn’t mean we can’t understand it. And we need to understand propitiation if we are to grasp the only means by which sinners can come to salvation.
In his sermon “The Sacrifice That Satisfied,” John MacArthur clearly explains the nature and necessity of Christ’s propitiating work on the cross. Preaching from 1 John 2:2, he unpacks the profound meaning, critical nature, and staggering implications of propitiation.
God determined what sacrifice would propitiate Him. God determined what sacrifice would satisfy, placate and appease Him. And God determined that it would be the sacrifice of One who is perfect, and therefore He was limited to one Person in the entire universe—one who would become a man and die for man and vindicate God’s justice: His Son. And so it pleased God to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10) because God is not only angry and vengeful over sin, He is also merciful, gracious, and forgiving. Here is the principle of substitution. God demanded to be satisfied and God determined that the death of His Son would be that satisfaction. The death of Christ was the satisfaction of divine justice.
Christ’s propitiation is the reason that God can pardon sinners without violating His perfect justice. We need to grasp that precious biblical truth if we are to properly esteem Christ, effectively proclaim the gospel, and understand our own conversion. All Christians need to understand the real meaning of the cross and its implications for us—and our mission field. And John’s message clearly explains those realities.
Click here to listen to “The Sacrifice That Satisfied.”
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