“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was
to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”
(Romans 3:21-26).

OK, you might not agree with this title. After all, the prevailing thought of our culture (and Rob Bell) is that God’s love trumps His justice. Truly there is a divine paradox here but we are talking about God. It’s not as if He can’t have both the attributes of love and wrath in equal measure. Jesus Himself was said to be, in a similar sense, both completely full of grace and truth (John 1:17). I would suggest that the attributes of love and wrath are not contradictory (to the human mind, maybe) nor one takes precedence over the other – especially given the incomprehensible nature of an infinite being that entails what the very idea of “God” means. Furthermore, I would actually suggest they compliment each other in perfect harmony. Let me explain.

God is holy. He must punish sin. This is His justice and is a demonstration of His love for Himself and His righteous standard. God is angry with us because of our sin (see Ephesians 2:3, John 3:36, Romans 2:5, 8). God’s wrath is not just the natural fallout from sin but is His determined disposition diametrically opposed to unrighteousness. Scripture portrays Him as angry with us because of sin (Romans. 1:18-32). God’s wrath is personal. His anger is not some impersonal force that works itself naturally like “bad karma.”  The curse on the human race is purposeful and judicial. Our sin and disobedience is an offense to a holy and righteous God. Because of His faithfulness to Himself, justice must be served. God punishes sin and His wrath against it must be appeased.

Enter the doctrine of propitiation (a word excluded from many modern translations as “too theological”). Propitiation means to appease or avert divine wrath. And how is God’s anger pacified (a synonym for propitiation)?  By the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus takes upon himself the sin of His people and experiences the punishment that we so rightly deserve (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 1 Peter 1:18-21, 2:21-25). This was all foreshadowed in the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and those various sacrifices gained their efficacy from Christ’s own death (see Hebrews 9:11-10:18). New Testament passages that show that the appeasement of God’s anger toward sin was accomplished through the propitiation provided in Christ (God’s wrath against sin being poured out on Him and not us) include: Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1-2, 4:10.

In other words, sin is serious and forgiveness is costly. God is angry and can’t just “wink” at our sins without offending his holiness, righteousness, and justice. Sin must be atoned for. Sin is atoned for by means of God’s son, Jesus Christ, taking our place and bearing the punishment for our sins and thereby averting/appeasing God’s wrath. Our salvation was obtained at the costly price of our dear Savior and Lord’s life! Jesus was cursed for us. Jesus provided our justification. We are justified by union with Christ by grace through faith. Here we are reminded of the lengths to which God will go to rescue us from his own holy wrath. He did this by putting his Son in our place so that he could be both just (consistent with his own holy nature) and also the justifier of the ungodly. We see that only in the cross of Christ have we been rescued from the condemnation we deserve because of sin. Jesus’ sacrificial provision is our own justification as we trust in Him by faith.

Now this may seem like a bunch of theological mumbo jumbo; much of which was “borrowed” from this excellent resource – http://reformedforum.org/ctc21/.
So let me try to make this idea of God demonstrating His love through His wrath as clear as possible. Simply think of Calvary. There God poured out His anger against sin on His blameless Son for us. Can you think of any more loving act?  No, it is not, as some heretics have suggested, cosmic child abuse. At the cross God’s justice was satisfied and we were justified base upon His infinitely loving grace. God showed His love for us by satisfying His own justice, appeasing His wrath in the person of Jesus and not us. What love! Unfathomable, agape love that is demonstrated by God’s propitiation of His wrath for Himself and His chosen.

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