In practically all other religions of the world acts, duties, and sacrifices are offered to garner favor with a higher power. This appeasement brings us to another church word related to salvation, “propitiation.” One Greek Lexicon states that In Greek-Roman literature, a propitiatory sacrifice serves as an instrument for regaining the goodwill of a deity (BDAG). In other words, the worshipper placates the deity, thereby gaining favor in some way. Either warding off their anger or being rewarded with their favor. In Christianity, propitiation is still present but in a completely different way.
For many in the Western world, this idea of placating gods seems antiquated and archaic. The residue of ancient superstitions. Yet many still practice it to curry favor from those more powerful through various gifts and personal sacrifices. Sometimes propitiation is seen through the lens of karma and its nebulous unmerciful system of punishment and rewards. So, while the word itself has fallen out of disuse, its actions have not.
In the Christian faith, propitiation is completely upended. John wrote, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9–11, NASB95) Instead of demanding propitiation, God provided it on our behalf through Jesus.
That God loves us and sent Jesus who became the way, the truth, and the life for all that would follow is amazing grace. God knew that we could never appease the wrath due to us because of our sin fueled choices. (see Romans 5:9) We deserved wrath and judgment, but God gave us mercy, grace, and love – but not without a terrible cost. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7–8, NASB95)
This one act of Jesus covers all who would accept it. It is offered to all, but not all will accept it. But the propitiatory act of Jesus is more than just turning away God’s wrath. It is a demonstration of God’s grace and righteousness. (Roman 3:21-26) No one can do enough good or make enough sacrifices to earn God’s forgiveness and favor. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3–4, NASB95)
The Prophet Micah asked, “With what shall I come to the Lord And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6–7, NASB95) What does the Lord want? The answer is in the next verse. “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NASB95) In other words, it is as if God says “Follow me. Do as I have done for others. Not to earn my favor but to demonstrate the love and grace you have received.”
Yes, the doorway of Salvation is opened through the grace of God’s propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. The cross covers us with His righteousness and turns away God’s wrath. But it also strongly encourages those who stand in that grace to demonstrate it to others.