Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Expiation, Propitiation: Forgiveness and Justice Part 2

I tried to leave you a cliffhanger in the first part of this post, but Jeremy came along with his spoiler and ruined everything. Actually, I am quite glad that he did. He made some very important points regarding hilasmos; he encouraged me by reading and interacting with the post, and he humbly rejected the title of genius. What a great guy. I have him linked over on the sidebar as Doxoblogy; it would be edifying for you to go and check him out. (By the way, I have no idea why the sidebar went wonky with the new links. I have spent far too much time trying to fix it already, and I can't figure it out. It shouldn't be doing that, but it is.)

The Doxoblogist is absolutely correct when he appeals to context to judge the meaning of the word hilasmos as to whether it means propitiation or expiation. You may find similar uses of hilasmos and the verbal form of the word, hilaskomai in 1 John 4:10 and Hebrews 2:17. Check the context of those passages, and you can decide for yourself if propitiation is the proper understanding.

An even more fundamental question to this debate is whether or not God is angry at sinners. (Somebody call Jonathan Edwards!) When Jesus suffered on the cross, was He merely trying to expunge sin, or was He also removing God's wrath upon sin committing humans as well? I believe that the latter is the case, and I believe that this concept of God's wrath being satisfied is essential for Christians to grasp with regards to our own anger issues over sinful behavior.

First off, we have to figure out if Jesus was angry at sinners. Let's turn to a few verses and see what we can deduce:

Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." (Mark 3:4-5)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:15)

For the sake of brevity, I will stop at these few verses. In the first verse, we see Jesus angered at the sinfulness of those testing Him. Do you suppose that He was only angry at the sin, but not at the sinner? I am persuaded that such thoughts are misguided. Sin is not a seperate entity that posseses a man. It is conjured up by the man himself. It is a bit like saying, "I am not angry at the abortion doctor. I am angry that abortions are happening!" John the Baptist seemed certain that the wrath of God would be poured out onto the Pharisees and Saducees. Do you believe that they themselves are only collateral damage, doomed to be swept away when God punished 'sins'? Or, are they and their sinful hearts the very target of His wrath? Finally, do you believe that Jesus was happy with the scribes when He delivered His discourse in Matthew 23, or do you think He was angry when He called them "Sons of Hell"?

There are several problems and questions I have with the idea of a mere expiation of guilt:

(1) What is the purpose of hell? Is it to punish sinners or to punish the seperate thing called sin? How can we seperate the two? Should we?
(2) Are Christians supposed to be angry about sin? Can they be angry with sinners?
(3) Is all anger against others a sinful response?

Dealing briefly with the first, I have often heard this statement: "Love the sinner; hate the sin." You have probably heard it as well, but I want to tell go on record that I believe this statement is confusing and not very helpful. It creates a sort of false dichotomy that is altogether unhelpful. Let me phrase it like this, "Don't be angry at the abortion doctor; be angry about the abortion." Or how about, "Don't be angry at the pornographer; be angry at the pornography." This is ridiculous, is not? Are you going to go scold the magazine rack at your local gas station? Will you go to the pornographer and say, "Listen, when I protest against pornography, I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to your sin." You wouldn't. At least, you shouldn't.

This leads us to God's anger against sin. Sin is birthed in the hearts of men (cf. James 1:15). God is as angry against an unrepentant sinful man as He is angry at Satan. Both will pay in the same lake of fire for their sinfulness and blasphemy against all that is precious.

Now if all that I am arguing for is true, imagine the ways in which this affects your world:

(1) It affects the purpose of criminal punishment.
(2) It affects how you react when you hear of an injustice.
(3) It affects how you punish your children for sinning.
(4) It affects how you understand the sinner in yourself and in your neighbor.
(5) It affects what Jesus endured on the cross on your behalf.

Going back to the "Love the sinner; hate the sin" saying, let me be clear in saying that I do not believe it to be altogether untrue. But be real for a minute. If you come up to an artist and say, "I hate your work. It is flat, boring, and it doesn't say anything at all. I think that it is so abhorrent in fact, that you should be punished if you don't stop making it. But, I want you to know that I love you as an artist, okay?" So, in what way do I love the sinner? I love him for the potential of who he could be or who he will be in Jesus Christ.

Here is the bottom line: If someone's sin has not been propitiated, then God is still very angry at that person. He is not angry at their sin but not at them; they are the locus of His wrath. The only reason God is not angry at the believer is because Jesus Christ offered Himself as a propitiatory sacrifice on our behalf.

I'll wait for some response on this before I move on to dealing with Christian anger and how a propitiatory sacrifice is the only thing that can help us truly forgive.


ColinM said...

"God loves the sinner, but hates the sin"

I heard it all the time. Then heard, "Yeah, but God doesn't send the sin to hell, but the sinner."

It is incomprehensible to me how utterly awesome the punishment on Christ must have been to assuage the wrath of God. I mean, to satisfy His justice for the sins committed against him. What is more amazing to me is that one sin is such a crime against God that the same price would have to have been paid on the cross. How Holy is God that one sin merits eternal hell?

Jeremy Weaver said...

I think this is the theological context in which we should interpret the statement, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated".

I liked this post. You talked favorably about one of my most favoritist people in the whole wide world.

Josh Buice said...

In the context of Romans 1:18 - you see that God not only hates sin, but He pours out His wrath upon those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness" or those who suppress the truth of the gospel!

God pours out His wrath upon those who reject Christ - and this is evidenced in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man was not saying that his sin was in torment - but rather - "he" was in torment.

If God had not graciously saved us (the elect) - we would all be under His wrath and deserving of His vengeance.

In the context of Jacob and Esau (Malachi 1) – the issue is not that Esau was condemned, but the marvelous point was that God actually chose Jacob! Neither Jacob nor Esau deserved to be chosen by God for His wonderful affection. Therefore, the point is – all of humanity deserves the eternal wrath of God.

For the glory of God!

Josh Buice

Josh Buice said...


Regarding your links bar ---- look under the link "Steve Camp" to see if there is a broken tag that would cause the problem. I think that is the area of the problem.

Just trying to help out......

Josh Buice

pappy said...


I really like the content of your blog, but don't like you as a blogger. Is that fair? I know it's kinda backwards, shounds good.