Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What about propitiation, forgiveness, and appropriation?

Nicodemus’ question
In John 3, Nicodemus asked Jesus about how one can enter the Kingdom of God, and Jesus replied him, saying “no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

I have expounded on what was meant by being born of water, and being born of the Spirit, in my article, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Just as a recap, post-Jesus’ death and resurrection, both events, born of water and born of the Spirit happen at one go/one sitting, and it is when one gives his life over to Jesus (upon his salvation/born again/conversion).

Briefly, at conversion, 2 events take place: one is born of water, and one is born of the Spirit. To be born of water is referring to the cleansing work of the blood of Jesus upon the person. The blood of Christ cleanses the person of all his unrighteousness resulted from sins; the result is that a) the original righteousness of God given to Man (Adam), lost by Adam in the Fall of Man, in the Garden of Eden, gets restored or re-established back to the person, and b) all unrighteousness from the person’s own sins are also cleansed of him.

To be born of the Spirit is referring to the quickening of the spirit of man with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the adoption of the spirit of that man as son of God by the Holy Spirit.

No explicit mention of propitiation, and forgiveness
However, in the answer given by Jesus, in response to Nicodemus' question, Jesus only stated that one must be born of water, and born of the Spirit (John 3:5), and did NOT elaborate on issues of propitiation, and forgiveness by God, except to say to Nicodemus who was already puzzled by Jesus’ saying of the need to be born again, the following words, in John 3:14-15:

14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

This leaves me to say, it must be implied in the birthing of a man by water and by the Spirit, that God has forgiven the man who has come to acknowledge Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour. One may say, “But it is in the Sinner’s Prayer”, but the Sinner’s Prayer is a prayer coined by men, subsequently. The Sinner’s Prayer may have, and should have, elements of the person asking the Lord to forgive him of all his sins, and to acknowledge that the Lord will be the Lord of his life, but still it does not tell what actually will transpire in this appropriation by the reciting of the Sinner’s Prayer.

Appropriation, in brief
What is appropriation in the first place? Appropriation is the act of making something ours. To understand appropriation, and why appropriation is needed, in this context, we need to look at what Jesus did on the Cross. A good text from Scripture is 1 John 2:1-2. And I want to use the New King James Version (NKJV) because it still retains the word, “propitiation” in the text.

1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 NKJV)

Propitiation, in general
With the above, we will now tackle all the 3 words, propitiation, appropriation, and forgiveness, starting with propitiation. I must, firstly, say that there are various schools of thoughts on what is comprised in propitiation or “atonement”. Atonement is the NIV equivalent of propitiation. Just for information sake, I put down as well, the NIV version of the 1 John 2:1-2:

1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:1-2 NIV)

Now, I shan’t go, in any elaborate fashion, into the various shades of thoughts concerning propitiation or atonement, but I will point out the essence of my preferred interpretation of what is meant by “Jesus is the propitiation for our sins”.

Essentially, propitiation means to satisfy the demand of justice. There are those who argue on the words of demand or justice, including such preferences: moral demand, legal demand or penal demand, moral justice, legal justice, divine justice. Even the word, “to satisfy” is being argued, whether it should be “to appease”, “to pay for the penalty required”, “to ransom” or “to make good”, etc.

The general idea should be that Jesus became the satisfaction for what was required, and that which was required was resulted from the consequence of our sins. When a satisfaction is achieved or received, it means whatever the matter, it is now alright. In theological term we now say you are justified (with atonement, you are justified). If you can understand up to here, you are fine; although I am going to give my more precise take on what is meant by Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, next.

Propitiation, more precisely
Firstly, we must understand we are talking about God. I believe the understanding should be along the following lines: The very nature of God is holiness, or the number one nature-attribute of God is holiness. For those wanting to get a clear picture of why I hold this view, you can read my separate article, “Way of Holiness – the way of the Lord”, in which I showed where it showed in Scripture that holiness is the most fundamental attribute of God.

God being Holiness, necessarily, demands holiness, righteousness, and justice. In a manner of speaking, it is in Him, He can’t help it; there can be no lies, no evil, no wickedness, no unrighteousness, no un-holiness, no darkness, no sin, in God. Such things just do NOT go with God. There has to be judgment, righteous judgment with God. I would NOT follow an unrighteous God, would you? If there is no righteous judgment, what we get is chaos! Our God is a God of order, a God of peace, NOT chaos.

Unrighteousness must separate from righteousness, they cannot be together any more than 2 like-pole ends of 2 magnets are pushed together; the weaker magnet will be pushed away. Sin brings on unrighteousness, and so, sin causes the separation. Satan, formerly Lucifer, an arch-angel, sinned, and he had to separate from God (you can read of this in Eze 28 - dual contexts text); NOT only that, the righteous judgment of God already meted out (NOT fully carried out) the punishment required (for Satan) - be put far away from Holiness (God), in the burning lake of fire in Hell. In other words, Holiness demanded satisfaction. The satisfaction required is NOT for angels or men to decide, Holiness Himself decides {added 16/08/2010: Jude, in Jude 1:6, stated that for angels who disobeyed God, God has kept them in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day}.

If such (be thrown into the burning lake of fire of Hell) was the punishment required, then when men sin, and brought on unrighteousness, such is also to be the punishment for men. And so, when Adam sinned, he brought on unrighteousness unto men, in other words, he lost the righteousness of God which God put into men. And his punishment was the same, death, 2nd death – to go to where Satan was scheduled to go, the burning lake of fire of Hell. This is how I view the need for propitiation, the need to satisfy the demand of justice, it is being due to the very nature of God, Holiness.

Ransom, not to Satan
Yes, Bible has references containing the word “ransom”, giving the suggestion that Jesus was/is the ransom, but I personally think that, it is NOT the right interpretation to say that Jesus was/is the ransom to satisfy Satan. Yes, God is getting you and I back, so that we will NOT be counted {reckoned} with Satan, for Satan is destined for Hell. It is for that reason of NOT wanting us to be counted with Satan, and NOT that God is being held ransom by Satan, that Jesus died for us. Ransom, in context, should be referring to “that which is needed to appease the demand of Holiness, NOT Satan, so that when Holiness is satisfied, it no longer requires a man to go to Hell.

Curse, brought on by Satan
I have elsewhere referred to the penalty tied to God’s commandment for Adam NOT to eat of the fruit from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil as a curse. It is a curse because it is a consequence of NOT keeping a law (a commandment is a law), but it is also a curse because there was a precedent set, and set by Satan, and Satan was and is bent on pulling men along with him to Hell.

John 10:10 says that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy; that is the expressed wish of Satan, to bring harm/calamity/misfortune to men, and that is the definition of a curse.  Why would God want to pay tribute or ransom to Satan?! Obviously, NOT. When we say that Jesus became the “curse” for us, it is because there was a precedent set by Satan, and the same had to be meted out (for men when they sin), and Jesus had become, of His own will, that satisfaction which was required by righteous judgment which was first meted out to Satan, and which had become the precedent for men.  Put in simple layman terms, Jesus took on the "misfortune" (curse), in our place.

Propitiation AVAILABLE for all men, the whole world
Now back to 1 John 2:1-2; in verse 2, it is said that Jesus Himself is the propitiation for sins, NOT just for ours (believers) but also for the whole world. What does it mean? It means Jesus’ death, the giving of His life and the shedding of blood is good satisfaction for what is demanded by righteous judgment of Holiness, due to all the sins of every man of the world.

Does it then mean every man is no longer destined to Hell? There are people who think that is correct, based on their assumption that the very nature of God is love. The problem with that is that the very nature or most fundamental nature or the number one nature-attribute of God is NOT love, but holiness. Love side of God would say, “Yes”, but if the holiness of God cannot agree to it, and so, a conflict, holiness prevails. (Such was the scenario, I believe, concerning The Flood recorded for us in the Old Testament where only Noah and his family were the only ones spared to re-populate the earth).

Appropriation must come into the picture
If it does NOT mean everyone is saved from Hell, then what does it mean? Verse 2 should be taken to mean that Jesus has already done all that is required; he has made Himself available as the satisfaction of what is demanded by righteous judgment; He is good for all sins, and for everyone, but one must claim it, make it his. In other words, you have to appropriate it.

You have to recognize what Jesus did, He did NOT die for His own sin, He was without sin, He died for men’s sins; He died so that He can be satisfaction of what is demanded by righteousness, so that with satisfaction, you and I need NOT go to Hell for unrighteousness from sins. Jesus has done it and intended it as a free gift for all men, but you have to know what He did, and appropriate it, i.e. make it yours, meaning Jesus satisfies for you. The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 1:16b – it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” That settles the connection between propitiation and appropriation.

Now, for forgiveness
Ok, where and how does forgiveness comes in, or what about the claim, "I only hear people talk about forgiveness, nothing of such propitiation, etc, etc"? The answer is that forgiveness and propitiation have everything to do with one another.

Forgiveness and propitiation – an illustration
When one is forgiven, what does it mean? Let us look at a simple illustration: I wear a new $500.00 branded white shirt, and you spilled a bottle of blue ink you are holding, over my shirt. And I yell, “That is a brand new $500.00 shirt!” You then apologise, and say that it was accidental.

If I insist, and you pay me $500.00, have you received forgiveness? No, you paid for your mistake or action, and I got my $500.00 as satisfaction.

Now, let say, you then walk over to your manager, my son, and told him that you cannot afford to pay me, and my son then yells from his room, “Dad, I will pay for him. Just come in and take it.” He (my son) then turns to you and say, “Just be more careful, the next time.” I yell back, “Son, ok.” Have you received forgiveness?

You did NOT pay for the mistake you made; I let you off without you paying for it. Did I get my $500.00 as satisfaction? Yes, my son paid for it. Everyone knows I am the boss of the company, and my son gets his money from me, so did you or did you NOT receive forgiveness?

The fact is that on the account of the payment by my son, you do NOT have to pay; you can look at it from one angle or another, but the fact is fact, my son paid so that you do NOT have to pay. My son’s payment has been your propitiation, and I consider I have forgiven you, and honestly, you did NOT pay for your mistake or action, you have received forgiveness from me. We receive forgiveness for our sins from God because the Son has been the propitiation for our sins.

Appropriation of propitiation, forgiveness, born of water, and of the Spirit, all rolled into one
Now we return to issue of appropriation again; do we appropriate only one time or should we appropriate whenever there is a need?

Some people are of the view that a person can only appropriate one time, and need only to appropriate one time. When is this one time? It is the time you decide to give your life to Jesus or upon your salvation or born again or conversion (they all mean the same thing). Yes, at this time, you are indeed appropriating the propitiation of Jesus for all your sins. For you, for the first time, the Son yells, “Abba Father, I pay for him. He should no longer be counted {reckoned} with Satan, for Satan is destined to Hell” This, I call as our Primary Appropriation; and the justification resulted from it, our Primary Justification.

NOT only that, Jesus says, “I NOT only pay for him, I am cleansing him now of all unrighteousness, from the Original Sin of Adam, and from all the sins he has committed THUS FAR. When I finish cleansing him, he will be righteous all over again, just like Adam was before he fell. Abba, you will be able to fellowship with him, like you previously did with Adam.” You are no longer destined for Hell (Jesus has satisfied that), and therefore, you are no more a sinner, you have become born of water (Jesus has cleansed you).

The moment you are born of water, you are forgiven by God because Jesus has applied Himself as the propitiation for all your sins, as explained in the above paragraph, at your appropriation. The Holiness, God, gives up all claims connected with your offense. In fact, God remembers no more (counts it no more), your offense.

Not only that, God puts His Holy Spirit in you, who quickens your spirit, and adopts your spirit to be a son of God, and in this way you become born of the Spirit.

So you see, the propitiation of Jesus for your sins and the forgiveness of God for you, are had, in your being born of the water. The cleansing by the blood of Jesus removes the unrighteousness and restores or re-establishes righteousness of God in you. Your being born of the Spirit makes you a son of God. These, I believe, are what happen at your appropriation at born again.

Is there other times of appropriation? We will look at this, separately, in another article to come.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord Jesus, may every man appropriates your propitiation for his sins, and come into salvation, be born again – be born of water, and be born of the Spirit. Amen.

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