You might think that I fellowship at a church that is all out for the gospel, and that has no issues with theology, like that. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth, and yesterday pointed that out theologically to me. I sat through a sermon that said very little about sin, which I will admit can happen to me as well, because it is a basic gospel consideration that can be disregarded in the preaching of more advanced topics. We still try to define it in basic terms. Yesterday, we heard a little about “propitiation,” or the atonement that Christ performed for all those that will ever turn to Him in repentance and faith. When I speak about it, I put it in terms that are easy to understand. It is the actual paying of the debt, in this case over sin, that is owed to the Creator, God Himself. Christ lived a perfect and righteous life, and then gave it up as a payment for all of the sins of the world on the cross. He was the only one who could, and since He was willing to do so, He did!
Something that is often spoken of at the same time (but not always) is Expiation, the actual making clean of the sinner before God. The two are separate items on any given agenda, even though you really can’t have one without the other where Christianity is concerned. Jesus atoned for our sin-debt, and then made us righteous before God by exchanging His righteous life for the mess we call lives. We see this reflected around the New Testament, especially in the Pauline letters, for example:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.Galatians 2:20, NASB95
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB95
Sadly, it was the weakest definition I’ve heard on the subject of propitiation in a long time, a little confused with expiation. Of course you know I couldn’t just leave that alone, so I privately approached the speaker about the definition (and had another brother who understands these things with me), and asked very simply if they understood the definition of the word. The reply was a little fuzzy, so I defined it for them. They quickly agreed, and then tried to fall back on the idea that this was a dictionary definition. [As an aside, you all know I’m a professional editor, right? I mean, I have trouble with my own writing, everyone does, but I have a HUGE vocabulary and know all the definitions also, no matter how clumsy my fingers get, or how much I stick to simple speech.] I decided to let it go, but not before I gently suggested they check a theological lexicon when trying to define words dealing with Christianity. I prefer Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine, and if you have heard any of our bible studies, you already know that.
Brethren, we need to be precise when we are dealing with the Word of God. It is a demanding task, and is a lot of hard work, but Paul put it this way to Timothy at the end of his own ministry:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.2 Timothy 2:15