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THE FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST
1 John 4:10 - ...He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Ephesians 1:7 - In Him we have redemption through His blood....
2 Corinthians 5:18 - Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.
The finished work of Christ is an area of doctrine that is often misunderstood or only partially understood by many Christians. Formally, this subject comes in the category of soteriology, that is, what the Scripture teaches about salvation. The Bible teaches that the salvation of mankind from the consequences of sin is both free and costly at the same time. On the one hand, salvation is a free gift to anyone who entrusts himself by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. But on the other hand, salvation is very costly because it required the sacrificial death of the Son of God. It is this aspect of salvation that is referred to as the finished work of Christ. (See John 19:30.) It is not the miraculous birth of Christ or the perfect life of Christ that is chiefly in view in this phrase. The finished work of Christ refers primarily to His death on the cross. That is where the judgment of God against our sin was endured by Christ, who became our substitute in order to become our Saviour. Jesus was not our Saviour until He suffered and died for our sins on the cross.
The New Testament uses three key words to describe the finished work of Christ: propitiation, redemption and reconciliation. Try writing a definition of these words to see if you thoroughly understand what the Bible teaches about the finished work of Christ. Not that easy, right?! Well, let's start with propitiation. Here are some references in the New Testament where this word is used: Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10. The word "propitiation" comes from a Greek (the original language of the New Testament) word which basically means "to satisfy wrath by sacrifice". The ancient pagan Greeks used this word when they spoke of appeasing their gods or doing something to obtain the favour of the gods. However, these ideas are not found in the Bible. God is not a blood-thirsty god who needs to be appeased! The idea of placating a vengeful god is totally foreign to Scripture. The Bible teaches that God is love and desires to have fellowship with man. But God is also holy and righteous. Therefore He cannot just smile and sweep sin under the rug and say, "Boys will be boys!" In fact, the Bible teaches that God has wrath and that this wrath is directed against sin. (See Romans 1:18.) And the righteous laws of God in this moral universe which He has created demand that the "penalty of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Before God's mercy can be extended to man, something must be done to remove the blockade of sin as well as satisfy the righteous claims of God's wrath against sin.
Man, of course, is helpless at this point. The problem cannot become the solution! And there is nothing that man can do by himself to win the favour of God. Here again the pagan idea of doing something religious to gain the favour of the gods is not even hinted at in the New Testament. God already favours man, as John 3:16 clearly states. But the question of God's wrath and judgment against sin must be settled and the barrier of man's sin taken away before the free benefits of salvation can be offered to man. This is precisely where Christ is the propitiation for our sins. Because He sacrificially took and suffered the righteous judgment of God against sin, Christ not only died to take away man's sin, but He thus satisfied or propitiated God's wrath against sin.
Redemption is another aspect of the finished work of Christ. Read the following New Testament Scriptures which have to do with redemption: Galatians 3:13 and 4:5, Ephesians 1:7, Titus 2:4, 1 Peter 1:18-19 and 2 Peter 2:1. There are several Greek words which are translated "redeem". In New Testament times these words were used particularly in reference to slavery. Together these words give us the concept of redemption. To redeem means "to buy out of, and remove from, the market in order to set at liberty." In the context of salvation, redemption refers to the work of Christ in setting us free from the bondage of slavery to sin with all its awful connections and consequences.
In redemption not only have we been bought back and set free from the slave-market of sin, but we have been placed as sons in the family of God. This is certainly a step further than emancipation. The word "adoption", by the way, in Galatians 4:5, does not refer to adoption as we know it today, but rather to the Roman adoption ceremony of those days. In this official family action a true son was recognized as having all the rights and privileges and dignity of a son who had come of age. As redeemed sinners, this is our present position in God's family. What grace!
Although we did not pay silver or gold (1 Peter 1:18), we must remember that the cost of our redemption was high. The ransom price was the precious blood of Christ. There is no teaching in the Scriptures that the ransom was paid to Satan, as some have suggested. This notion is pushing the background of the slave-market too far. The ransom price was simply what the righteous government of God demanded for our release from the effects of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Have you ever thanked the Lord for the ransom price He was willing to pay out for you?
Reconciliation completes the three-fold view of the finished work of Christ. Propitiation, which deals with the wrath of God, is the "God-ward" aspect of the work. Redemption is concerned with our enslavement and entrapment by sin, and is thus the "sin-ward" aspect of Christ's work. Now reconciliation is the "man-ward" aspect of the finished work of Christ because it directly relates to our fellowship with God. The word "reconciliation" is used in Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 and Colossians 1:20-22. The basic meaning of the word "reconcile", as determined from the Greek language, is "to change completely". In reference to salvation, reconciliation is the act by which God brings man into a completely changed relationship with Himself--from enmity and hostility and alienation to friendship and harmony and fellowship. Notice that reconciliation is a one-way act of God toward man and does not involve the idea of mutual concession between God and man. There is no He-gives-a-little-and-we-give-a-little, as in a marriage reconciliation. Remember that God does not need to change His attitude towards us or meet us halfway. We are the guilty party--unloving, self-willed and hostile. (See Colossians 1:21.) We need to be changed completely, not God.
A wonderful illustration of reconciliation is seen in our Lord's story of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32. When the son repents and acknowledges his guilt to the father, he is brought back into a happy and harmonious state of fellowship with the father. He is not just forgiven and allowed back on the property--he is welcomed back into the family with open arms and celebration! Praise God for His yellow ribbons!
The finished work of Christ is universal in its scope. Look closely at 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 5:19 and you will see that Christ's death was sufficient to take care of all the sins of the whole world--unlimited in its coverage and provision. But that does not mean that everyone has salvation. The finished work of Christ is only efficacious or effectual for those who believe. Think of the GI Bill as an illustration. "Unlimited" government funds were available so that all persons under the Bill could get a college education at government expense. But payments were only effective for those who signed up and went to school. Sufficient and provisional for all, but only effectual for some!
A greater appreciation for the finished work of Christ will result as we come to a fuller understanding of propitiation, redemption and reconciliation. And what blessing for the growing Christian to first realize, and then rest in the finished work of Christ!