Eric wrote about the problem of free will, and that as we have seen can bring about some spirited debate.  Don while commenting mentioned numerous scriptures in his defense of the Arminian point of view on election and foreknowledge.

One verse that Don brought up is commonly used in defense of the Arminian point of view can be found in 1 John.

He is the propitiation of our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world, (1 John 2:2, ESV).

Propitiation is a word pregnant with meaning.  Some scholars do not like that word because it brings up the wrath of God and in their view makes God look like a bully.  The Greek word rendered propitiation in the ESV (and NASB) and rendered “atoning sacrifice” in the NIV is hilasmos.  It is used only one other time in the New Testament in this same epistle.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins, (1 John 4:10, ESV).

This same word can be found in the Septuagint (Greek translation of OT from 3rd Century B.C.) in Ezekiel rendered from the Hebrew word for “sin offering.”

And on the day that he goes into the Holy Place, into the inner court, to minister in the Holy Place, he shall offer his sin offering, declares the Lord GOD, (Ezekiel 44:27, ESV).

Here the priest who himself was a sinful human being was to offer a sacrifice in order that he could be in the presence of a righteous God.  This picture of the priest should help us to see what Jesus did for us.  Jesus offered Himself on the cross.  His doing this is the means by which sin can be forgiven, and God’s wrath can be turned to mercy.

Propitiation also includes the idea of turning away the wrath of God from the sinner to the substitute.  That is why we say the Christ’s death on the cross was vicarious or we talk of a penal substitutionary atonement.  So Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is a propitiation.  It was successful in  appeasing the wrath of God.

God has provided the means by which we sinful people can be forgiven and welcomed into His presence.  We can be sure that we have been accepted by Him and that He no longer holds anything against us.  That means was Christ’s death on the cross.  Jesus paid the penalty due to us because of our sin, and on the cross, God’s justice and mercy were both satisfied.

British pastor and Bible teacher David Jackman in The Message of John’s Letters said:

The glory of the gospel is that we have an advocate who pleads for mercy on the ground of his own righteous action when he died the death that we deserve to die.  Once the penalty has been paid, there cannot be any further demand for the sinner to be punished.  God has himself met our debt.  He came in person to do so.  The cross is not the Father punishing an innocent third party, the Son, for our sins.  It is God taking to himself, in the person of the Son, all the punishment that his wrath justly demands, quenching its sword, satisfying its penalty and thus atoning for our sins.

What do we do with the rest of 1 John 2:2 that says, “and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  What does that mean?  Jackman asks, “Does this mean that Christ has propitiated God by expiating the sins of every human being who has lived or will live?”

This would mean that all enmity has been removed between God and man.  Some would claim a universal salvation.  Evangelism would be pointless.  That isn’t the case because it would contradict the rest of John’s epistle when he warns against “anti-christs” and false teachers.

In 1 John 2:2 he is distinguishing here between the Church (“ours”) and the world.  This indicates that he is talking about those who at present are outside of Christ.  This is the world for whom Christ died.  The world from which every follower of Christ came from.  So Christ’s death on the cross which was sufficient to wipe out our sins is sufficient to do the same to anybody else.

But as we can see Christ’s atonement is limited in some form or fashion or we would have universalism.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason explains:

When you pay a bill, is the bill still owed?  No.  In other words, when the payment is made for a bill, the debt is canceled, right?  In the same way, when a sin is actually paid for, atoned for, then the sin bill is no longer owed, is it? There is forgiveness of the debt, and with forgiveness, salvation.

Therefore, everyone whose sins have been atoned for, their sins have been paid for.  And everyone whose sins have been paid for is forgiven.  And everyone who is forgiven is going to Heaven. 

Therefore, everyone whose sin has been atoned for is going to Heaven.

So if only the atoned for go to Heaven then atonement must be limited in some sense or else universalism is true, every human being goes to Heaven.  So every Christian but universalists believe atonement is limited.

But how is the atonement limited?

The atonement is not limited in its potential because Jesus was not just man, but also God, and the sacrifice of the God/man was adequate to pay for all sin for all time.

The atonement is limited in its application.  The atonement is applied only to those who God intends it to be applied to, those who have satisfied the right condition:  faith in Christ.

Sinners’ condemnation is secured, determined beforehand because the nature of our will is bent toward sin.  God does not intend the payment (atonement) to be made for everybody (in which case everybody would be saved—universalism).  Instead, God intends that the payment (atonement) to be limited to those who fulfill the conditions for receiving it—faith in Christ?

Therefore, the atonement is limited.

I would think that both sides can agree with this.   Those who know Christ can be thankful that their sin has been atoned for and they can experience forgiveness of sin and look forward to spending eternity with Him.

12 comments
  1. I may be not remembering this correctly but doesn’t atonement indicate a covering over? If so then I think that it is an inadequate word because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin (i.e. washes sin away not covers it over). What do you think Shane?

  2. I may be not remembering this correctly but doesn’t atonement indicate a covering over? If so then I think that it is an inadequate word because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin (i.e. washes sin away not covers it over). What do you think Shane?

  3. A quick answer – actually no. More than that an expiation of sin – removal.

    The as far “as the east is from the west” type of removal.

    You are thinking of the verse I believe that says (don’t have the reference handy) “without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin.”

  4. A quick answer – actually no. More than that an expiation of sin – removal.

    The as far “as the east is from the west” type of removal.

    You are thinking of the verse I believe that says (don’t have the reference handy) “without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin.”

  5. Not sure that we are on the same page Shane. I did a quick check and I am not sure that atonement is really a NT (i.e. Greek) word.

    katallagh (kat-al-lag-ay’) is translated reconciliation the four time sit is mentioned in the NASV … the KJV translates it atonement once and reconiliation/reconciling the other 3 times it is mentioned.

    ..but maybe I am not connecting with what you are saying?

  6. Not sure that we are on the same page Shane. I did a quick check and I am not sure that atonement is really a NT (i.e. Greek) word.

    katallagh (kat-al-lag-ay’) is translated reconciliation the four time sit is mentioned in the NASV … the KJV translates it atonement once and reconiliation/reconciling the other 3 times it is mentioned.

    ..but maybe I am not connecting with what you are saying?

  7. You are right we are discussing two different Greek words, the Greek word that relates to the OT description of atonement is rendered propitiation.

    I think we are on the same page, just different paragraphs, LOL.

  8. You are right we are discussing two different Greek words, the Greek word that relates to the OT description of atonement is rendered propitiation.

    I think we are on the same page, just different paragraphs, LOL.

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