Monday, March 27, 2006

Expiation, Propitiation, Forgiveness and Justice Part 3

In this post, I want to deal with how I believe that a propitiatory sacrifice has practical ramifications for the believer. If you just read the word 'propitiatory' and thought, "Huh?", then you need to go back and read the other two posts. Either that or grab a dictionary and try to keep up.

Let's begin by pointing out the obvious and move on from there. If Jesus' death was a propitiation, then it means that God was angry with sin. If God is holy and without sin, then it is possible for one to be angry over sin and yet not sin through this anger. Is this difficult for a human being? Yes. Is it impossible? No, I don't think so. Anger is deadly and destructive if we do not learn how to deal with it properly, and it can certainly cause us to sin. But I believe that understanding Christ as a propitiation helps to cool the fires of anger through faith. Here is what I mean.

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Christians and non-Christians. The previous group has been atoned for; the latter group has not. Pretend for a moment (do you need to pretend?) that a Christian has sinned against you and you are angry. How do you deal with this? Do you simply "swallow" your anger and act like it didn't happen? Do you simply "forgive" and act like it didn't happen? If you forgive, on what grounds do you do so?

I have often heard people counsel others to simply "let it go". As if you can make sinful actions and their consequences disappear in a puff of smoke. Forgiveness does not work that way. To feel that injustice should be corrected and that sin should be punished is not an impulse that we should discourage. We are right to feel this way. Instead, we need to learn that forgiveness flows from the cross of Christ.

Let's begin with Paul. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." Here we see that if a brother sins against us, we are to forgive him as God in Christ forgave us. If Christ's death worked as a propitiation for our sin, then it worked as a propitiation for theirs as well. This means that justice has been fully satisfied for the person who sinned against you in Jesus Christ. It means that God saw how this brother treated you, He was angry about it, and He punished Christ for the sake of your brother for the very sin that angers you. Forgiveness now becomes a faith issue for you. Do you believe that Jesus Christ really suffered for the sins of the elect of God? Do you believe that He fully and totally satisified all the requirements of justice on the cross? Do you truly feel that is both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus"? (Romans 3:26).

Because we are fallen, we do not even know what proper punishment and justice should look like. Every parent has struggled to meet out the proper rebuke against a disobedient child. If we cannot fully understand how to behave properly against such smaller matters, how will we be certain that justice is met towards someone who has sinned against us in a larger way? Through faith in Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice, I believe that God has fully satisfied any longing for justice I may have against my brother. I believe that He will deal with my brother appropriately. This gives me freedom from my anger.

For example, let's say a brother from the Church asks me to loan him $5000. He promises that he will pay me back in six months when things work out. Though it is a burden to me, I give the brother the money. Six months go by, and I know that the brother is rolling in the dough now, but he refuses to repay. I'm angry and rightfully so. However, I believe that if he is a Christian that Jesus Christ has paid the brother's sin debt.

Now you say, "Okay, this guy doesn't sound like a real Christian. What then?" Because I believe that Jesus Christ only paid for the sins of Christians, then I believe that justice will be met against those who sin against me in hell. Hell is a place where sin such as theft will be paid for in full. If Jesus Christ did not bear it on the cross, it will be paid for in hell. Justice will be served. Vengeance is the Lord's; He will repay (Deut. 32:35).

In the end, I am satisfied that no crime goes unpunished. God is just, and He sees everything. He will balance the accounts at the end. I do not have to worry myself with it for one moment. This does not exclude confronting sinful behavior or asking for my money back. I just do not have to pursue such things out of vengful or spiteful motives. I do it in order to seek reconciliation and for the sake of the sinner. The cross of Jesus Christ frees me from sin and from worry about retribution for sin. And that is freeing indeed.


Even So... said...

Good stuff.

What does forgiveness look like, though? What about those who knowingly take advantage of our "HAVE TO" style of forgiveness (notwithstanding Luke 17:3-4)?

Regarding forgiveness and Christians, have you considered this (or something like it)?

Lets say you and I are roofers, and we own a roofing company. One of the members of our small church desperately needs a job, and tells us what a great roofer he is. He is known by us to be a "great guy", and a true Christian, as far as we can tell.

Well, we give him a job. Lo and behold, he is a terrible roofer, he messes up several jobs for us in just a weeks time, and we now doubt if he even had any roofing experience in the first place.

He comes to us and says "sorry, I really needed this job, but I can't do it. But you HAVE to forgive me, right?"

Of course we forgive him. But the question is, would we now say "okay, we forgive you, now you can go right back and get on that roof, we love you."

No, we wouldn't. That would be stupid.

What would we say, then?

Perhaps something like, "yes we HAVE to forgive you, but that doesn't mean that we have to let you keep on ruining our business. Tell you what; go and get some training, get a license, do an apprenticeship with another roofer, and then, maybe, we will TALK to you about coming back to work for us again." "Of course we love you, but we can't let you roof anymore."

Is this forgiving but not forgetting? Is this wise? Where is the line: Luke 17, 70 x 7, what?

Ah, it is what we mean by forgiveness that comes into play here, and what those who know just enough of the Bible to try and justify their bad behavior will use to wear someone out with.

Food for thought. I have used this "roofer" example a few times with people who feel guilty about having to stop someone from using them, not in the "go the extra mile" way, but in the "their in the fold and I don't want to do the wrong thing" way, if that makes sense.

What say you?

Even So...

Even So... said...

Just to make it more clear: would you loan that guy another $5000, if he hasn't paid the first $5000 back?

Sojourner said...

Even So,

Thanks for commenting! I think that this question goes back to what I said about the idea of forgiveness equalling just "letting it go." I do not mean to say that we should 'forget' in terms of us not remembering, but rather we are able to get past sins committed against us because we have faith that the cross takes care of them. It is the idea of "The Lord judge between you and me."

As for the roofers and the money, I would certainly fire the roofer, and I certainly would not reloan more money. Two reasons: One, it prevents the sinning party from continuing in sin against me, that is, the longer the roofer works the more he offends. Secondly, it would not be good stewardship of what God has entrusted to me.

On the $5,000 loan, that also depends upon my financial situation. If I can afford to give away $5,000, then I would give it again. (To some people $5,000 may be like $50). My rule of thumb is to never loan more money than I can afford to give away.

Even So... said...

Right on. Just thought I would check to see if we were on the same page. By the way, nice look to the site, I know next to nothing about html, etc. yet, and I sure can't afford to hire Challies to help me(ha ha!). Maybe that is why I am an insignificant microbe (plus the fact that all my posts are sermons, etc.)

Grace and peace to you

Even So...