Minutes With Messiah Logo

Against Sin

by Tim O'Hearn

Regrets can be dangerous. A person starts thinking about his past, and especially about past sins, and he can become overwhelmed with remorse. Everyone has sinned against themselves or someone else sufficiently to bring on a major depression if those sins are dwelt upon. Then if one considers that all those sins are also against God, one could wonder if there is any hope at all.

Regret can be a good thing, if it prompts action. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) An awareness of sin is necessary before one can seek forgiveness. It is less valuable if instead of repentance it works apathy. An acute awareness of sin in some people has an opposite effect to that desired by God. They become so overwhelmed with remorse that they feel that even God cannot forgive them.

God is in the sin business. He asks us to deposit our sins with him and then go on as if we had not sinned. He wants to take our sins so that we need not have any regrets. In that connection the Bible uses at least the following five words to describe what God does to or for our sin.

Propitiation

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

This is not a word we use very often. It is not a word we use at all in normal conversation. It is one ofJesus serves as a better Cohen Gadol because he did not have to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. those church words that have meaning only if you had it explained to you once upon a time. So here is the explanation.

To propitiate is to gain or regain the favor or good will of another. There may be a good reason we don’t use this word often. It is actually a mistranslation, or at best a weak translation. The Greek word translated propitiation three times actually carries the idea of a covering. In Hebrews 9:5 it is used to refer to the “mercy seat” that covered the Ark of the Covenant. Thus it is a translation of the Hebrew word from which we get kippah (the head covering that is, in Yiddish, a yarmulke) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement or Day of Covering, which falls on September 18 in 2010). When used in this sense, John (and Paul and the writer of Hebrews) is saying that Jesus is the place where our sins are brought to God so that we might regain his favor. In another sense he is a covering for our sins.

On Yom Kippur the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) would kill the sin offering for himself, and sprinkle some of the blood on the kipporah above the Ark in the Holy of Holies. Then he would do the same for the sins of all the Jewish people. The sins of the people which had been committed against God were covered. (Those committed against other people were not forgiven if the individual had not sought forgiveness from the person against whom they sinned.) The people were restored to God for another year.

But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:11-14)

Jesus serves as a better Cohen Gadol because he did not have to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. Furthermore, he made one offering for all time, and sat down by God’s throne. He does not have to repeat the offering every year.

Remission

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. (Romans 3:25)

This passage uses both propitiation and remission in one sentence. It is, in fact, the only passage to use this particular Greek word translated remission. There are a number of other passages that use a similar word which is also translated remission.

To remit is to lay aside or cancel something (debts, sins, jail sentences). The Greek word used in the passage from Romans above means to pass over or disregard. Thus God may choose not to forgive sin, but to ignore it altogether. He treats it as if it never happened.

The other word translated remission carries the idea that the penalty of sin is set aside; we are pardoned. God has acknowledged our sin and pronounced sentence upon us. Jesus comes before God and asks that he grant a full and unconditional pardon, and God complies. That is what Peter said happens when we are immersed. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) At the time of immersion God grants the pardon for our sins, which enables us to rise from the grave to live a new life (Romans 6).

Redemption

Remission is not the same as redemption. The former is a setting aside of a sentence. No payment is made, no penalty imposed. Redemption, on the other hand, does involve a payment. Redemption is liberation obtained by the payment of a ransom.

In 1932 a baby was kidnapped from a home in Hopewell, New Jersey. Near the window through which the kidnapper had come lay a note demanding a $50,000 ransom. Charles Lindberg was able to pay that ransom, but the child was later found dead, possibly from being accidentally dropped during the kidnapping. The “Crime of the Century” is possibly the most famous case in which a ransom payment was made in cash. (Some of that money later led to the arrest, trial, and execution of Bruno Hauptmann.)

Since that time countless books, movies, and television shows have involved a request for payment of ransom. Generally the police in those stories advise the recipient of the request not to pay it because, as in the Lindberg kidnapping, they may not get their relative back alive. And there is the difference between our ransom and those. Jesus shed his blood as a ransom payment for sin. God ensures that we will be returned alive. In fact, without the payment of the ransom death was certain; with the payment of the ransom life is assured.

Another well-known example of redemption can be found in records of the American slave trade. The opportunity for a slave to obtain freedom was rare. Wealthy Quakers, Methodists, and some others would attend slave auctions for the sole purpose of buying slaves and granting them their freedom. (This practice was soon banned in the south.) Rather than buying his own freedom, which was usually impossible, the slave was unexpectedly granted liberty. Imagine the joy of such a one! And this is exactly what Jesus did for us.

Our ransom was paid. We have been redeemed! And yet so many Christians say that as if it were no big deal. You were a slave to sin. Now you have been bought out of slavery. We should be shouting it from the rooftops, not mumbling it into our pillows.

Atonement

While the word atonement is used frequently in the Old Testament (with the same meaning as propitiation, as previously discussed) it only appears once in the New Testament, and has a totally different meaning. “We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” (Rom 5:11) In this case it does not mean a covering of sins. The word in the Greek carries the idea of an even exchange between moneychangers.

This brings forth a different aspect of the death of Jesus. He paid our ransom, but it was not a random number. What he paid was the exact equivalent of all the sins of man forgiven throughout history. Nobody got cheated in the deal. There is no sin left that has not beenJesus shed his blood as a ransom payment for sin. God ensures that we will be returned alive. paid for. There is no forgiveness that goes unspent. Did Jesus have to die? Yes. Did he die unnecessarily? Never. God measured out the exact coinage in exchange for mankind’s sin.

Forgiveness

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Eph 1:7)

Paul associates redemption with forgiveness of sins. We think we know what forgiveness is, but do we? We usually think of forgiveness as granting a pardon (remission). That may be involved in forgiveness, but forgiveness is more than just dropping the penalty for sin. Sometimes the word is used to translate some of these other ideas (remission, redemption, propitiation). In some cases it is used to translate a word that means more than just dropping the sins. It means throwing them far away. If you just drop something, it is still nearby. You can retrieve it any time you choose. If you throw it away it is difficult or impossible to retrieve. That is what God does with our sins. He throws them far away so that he won’t pick them up again. Unfortunately, sometimes we keep copies of our sins, and just drop them at our feet. Then when we get angry with someone else or down on ourselves, we pick them back up again. Sometimes we even try to show them to God. His response would be that he threw that away long ago, and we probably should do the same. We need to stop cluttering our lives with junk that God threw away.