Lord Byron knew that finding just the right word is often so very important in communication; the more sensitive the topic the more important the word choice. If you are writing a business contract or crafting a treaty between countries, words matter. If you are writing a letter to your spouse or your kids, you look for the right word to express with crystal clarity and precise connotation exactly how you feel toward them and what you desire for them.
The Apostle Paul was a wordsmith, an inspired one at that, who provides a variety of theological connoted terms that are vitally important as he seeks to convey exactly what God has revealed concerning our salvific status.
In the book of Romans, Paul utilizes three key terms that are essential in understanding and appreciating what we have in Christ. In chapter 3 verses 24 and 25 Paul says, “…being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”
Notice the term “justified.” It is modified by the phrase “a gift by His grace.” The gift and the grace, which is a gift in itself, is the foundation for our justification. The word for Justified is from the word group of dikaioo (δικαιοω) and can be translated “justified” or “righteous.” It is also the term that is used in Acts 13:39 where Paul declares that we are “freed” from the law–“justified”–“everyone who believes.” That is a Freedom unlike anything anyone has ever experienced. Freed from the penalty of sin and no longer destined to Hell but to Heaven. That is why Paul also declares in Romans 1:16 that he is “not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for Salvation.” It is for all who believe.
This reason is captured in the two following words. First, we are “redeemed.” Redemption has to do with being bought out of the slave market and in this case the slave market of sin. The concept of being redeemed, from the term λυτρον and used in the form of απολυτρον, describes a picture of our enslavement to sin both at the temporal level and the eternal level. It impacts our horizontal relationship with man but more importantly our eternal and spiritual relationship with the Lord. But because of Christ we are redeemed when we believe. How does that happen? It is because of the final terms that Paul pens in Romans 3:25. It is the power of Propitiation (ἱλαστήριον). The Holy Spirit through Paul selects a term that has been debated for many years concerning its theological meaning and its importance. It is the English term often translated propitiation but can also be understood as expiation. Many translations use the term “atoning sacrifice” to render its meaning. This is because it is clearly tied to the OT and the Day of Atonement and the sacrifice that was offered “Yom Kipper.” This was done on the mercy seat. Paul seems to be saying that Christ is the mercy seat where man and God could meet and in fact Christ is the sacrifice that makes the meeting possible.
The age old question asked by Job three times (Job 4:17, 9:2,25:4) “How can a man be right with God?” finds its divine answer articulated by Paul as he declared that our redemption by Christ’s propitiation makes us righteous before God.
Until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, PhD
Grace Theology Press