Last Sunday we considered the biblical concept of Jesus’ substitutionary death as a propitiatory sacrifice, a propitiation, that satisfied the holy wrath of God that stood against sinners.
John Stott explains it like this, “According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin, and died our death. Thus God himself gave himself to save us from himself.”
Now you might have stumbled over that last sentence. God himself gave himself to save us from himself? How can that be right? Why do we need to be saved from God? Aren’t we saved from our sins?
Yes, we are — but not first and foremost. Think about it. If God were not holy, then there is no reason why he could not (and would not) overlook at least some of your sins. We do it all the time. Your friends are far from perfect, but nonetheless you frequently show them mercy.
But the difference between you and God is that you’re not Him. You’re not holy as he is holy. And because he is holy, to overlook or downplay the seriousness of sin would be a violation of his perfect character. That means God’s own holiness constrains him to punish all sin and not overlook the slightest.
So the implication is this: Before God could forgive our sins (ie. the expiation of sins), he had to satisfy his own wrath and justice against our sins (ie. the propitiation of himself). Therefore, Jesus’ atonement was primarily directed towards God and permanently affected a change in God’s stance towards sinners, securing God’s immutable favor towards those who believe.
The fact is that believers will continue to sin even after our conversion. So in a sense, we need to be “saved” from our sins on a daily basis. But we have the assurance that we’re saved once-for-all — the moment we first believe in Jesus as our penal substitute. Because from that moment on, God only looks upon us with mercy and favor. His wrath and justice are completely satisfied towards us in Christ. That, my friends, is our hope and confidence even as we continue to fight our sinful flesh. That is the good news of the gospel!