The New Testament in Three Words
Propitiation by Substitution
(excerpt from message by John Piper)
In his great mercy, God himself stepped into history in the person of his Son and took on a human nature so that he could endure for us his own wrath and bring us to himself in everlasting joy. What a wildly glorious gospel.
The world has never conceived of such a thing that God is angry at them, and has taken on human flesh to intercept his anger so it doesn’t land on anybody who is in Jesus. That’s off-the-charts glorious. You just have to believe all the reality behind it. It doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have the worldview that I just described from the first point.
“Nothing makes God look better than when he is my supreme treasure.”
Now, where do I see that in Romans? Romans 8:32 says that God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” God had an eternal Son, the exact representation of the Father, and he takes on human flesh, becomes a man, and gives up his Son in death. And then consider Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If you walk out of here and you say that we only talked about wrath, then I would say that you just don’t know what the love of God is unless you know the magnitude of his wrath. You don’t know what the love of God is. The world talks about the love of God, but they don’t have a clue what the love of God is. This is the love of God: while we were still wrath-deserving sinners, Christ the Son of God, sent by God in love, died for us. He bore God’s wrath for us — bore our guilt; took our sin.
What happened when Jesus died? What happened when the Son of God died? Romans 8:3: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
Paul had to say likeness of sinful flesh because he said sinful and Jesus committed no sin. But he looked like he was just like us. He was just like us in every way but sin — and he was clothed as divinity. Can you paraphrase that text? Jesus took on flesh. He took on flesh and God condemned sin in that flesh. Whose flesh? Jesus, the Son of God’s, flesh. Whose sin? He had none. How can you condemn sin in the flesh of Jesus when he had none? Our sin.
J.I. Packer sums up the whole New Testament with propitiation by substitution. He considers that the whole message. Propitiation, meaning condemnation from God, deserved by sinners, lands on a substitute. This is unspeakable love: God substituting himself in his Son to bear our condemnation, his wrath. He condemned sin in the flesh — our sin.
Or look at Romans 3:25: “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation.” That’s a removal of wrath, an absorber of wrath by his blood, his death. “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” You may have a worldly, naïve view of God that says he can just let sin go, that he can just sweep sin under the rug of the universe. No, he can’t — with his character of holiness and righteousness. Every sin will be punished either on the cross or in hell. No sin goes unpunished.
So, in the work of Christ, everything is accomplished for sinners to be justified and God’s wrath to be satisfied, which is why we sing that God’s wrath was satisfied on the cross when Jesus died. Romans 5:9 puts wrath and the work of Christ together: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
“This is unspeakable love: God substituting himself in his Son to bear our condemnation.”
That’s end-time wrath. And I’ll tell you, there are times, even after being a Christian for well over sixty years, it scares me to death. And I have to fight for faith that I’m saved. I wake up in the morning and I feel vulnerable. I feel inadequate. I feel guilty. I have to preach the gospel to myself. It’s like the devil specializes in morning arrows. It’s a terrible thing, the wrath of God, and you will need the covering of the cross till the day you die.
So, there is no wrath and no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). And the final effect of this message or this great work of God in Christ on the cross is that God is glorified in our everlasting joy in his glory. I’m thinking of Romans 5:2: “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
So, the joy that we have in this life of suffering is a joy in the hope of being satisfied perfectly in the glory of God forever. He saved us for that. The reason I’m a Christian Hedonist is that I think the two great longings of the universe are satisfied this way — God’s and mine. I want to be happy forever. I don’t want to suffer forever. I’m just normal. I don’t want to suffer forever. I want to be happy. And God wants to be glorified forever. That’s his top priority.
And he has ordained a way that, through Christ, a sinner like me can glorify him by being satisfied in him. God himself becomes my satisfaction. He becomes my joy. And nothing makes him look better than when he is my supreme treasure.