Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Propitiation and Grace

There is a story that offers an imperfect, yet beautiful, illustration of the idea of propitiation. I do not know where the story originated but I know that it is a true story. I was told the story by a minister just this morning. It has incited in my mind questions that probe into the mystery of propitiation as well as substitutionary atonement. Here is my retelling of the story: 
     There was a seminary student who was going to school in the south side of Chicago. It is known to this day to be an area that is unsafe, full of destitute families, and prone to immorality. 
But this young man was in college and found himself in need of a job. After diligent searching, the best opportunity he found was the duty of driving a bus for the public transportation department. 
He drove along the same route everyday, and everyday, four young black men would get on his bus. These men were known to be active in a local gang and were a threat to public safety. Nevertheless, the thugs would get on his bus but refuse to pay the bus fee, exploiting the kind spirit of the student. 
One day, the student reported the incident to a local police officer. The next day, the officer boarded the bus and forced the thugs to pay the bus fee. As the bus left the bus stop, the thugs attacked the student, striking him in the head, and they beat him until he was unconscious. 
The student woke up much later in a vacant lot, alone and near death. After some time in the hospital, the student pressed charges against the four thugs. The court found the men guilty, and the judged announced their sentence. 
Before the judge completed the sentencing, the student asked if he could approach the bench. The student requested that he be able to serve the sentence for the men who assaulted him. The judge and audience were aghast at the request. Never had the plaintiff taken the punishment for the defendant, consequently, there was no law that forbade it. 
     The student explained that he wanted to demonstrate how Christ acted on his behalf, that Christ bore the furious wrath of God that we justly deserve. But in God’s perfect grace and mercy, He sent His Son in the likeness of human flesh to become the curse for us.
The request was granted and the student served time in jail. From this man’s actions, three of the four thugs came to know Christ, not to mention that his testimony has helped countless people better understand the message of Christ on the cross. 
In my own life, I can more clearly see how I am like the thugs in the story. I have assaulted Christ with my sin. I have insulted His holiness and His sovereignty. 
Because of my sin, I deserve nothing but wrath, condemnation, and estrangement from the presence of God. But God, in His overwhelming grace, has saved me, by delivering the punishment that I deserved to His innocent Son. Through Christ, I am positionally righteous before a holy and just God. 
We often demand justice. We shouldn’t. If justice is always served, then no one would be saved because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You will not be happy if you actually get what you deserve. Ask for GRACE. Grace is unmerited favor. It is getting something you do not deserve. Nothing you do can ever earn it. We know that a man is saved by grace, through faith, not by works, but it is the gift of God, so that no one may boast before God. No one can stand before God, justified by his own righteousness, for our righteous acts are as filthy rags because they are tainted by sin. 
Never assume grace. God doesn’t have to be gracious. This is reflected in the story. The student certainly did not have to serve the sentence of the criminals, but he did because of his love for God and His people. I’m sure the criminals did not expect for the student to act in such graciousness, but when the gift of grace is realized, they were glad to accept it. So also, we should humbly accept God’s extension of grace to us through faith in His Son and His finished work on the cross. 
Recommended reading: The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul

1 comment:

  1. You are one of the guys that will always scandalize Grace Garrett, it's a great thing. This is a good story. Thank you for sharing it. Justice, a foolish wish. I'm praying for you that God will continue to use you as a tool. And might I colloquially add, one of the sharpest in the shed.