The Salvation of Sinners: A Love Triangle

Series: Easter's Gospel

by Carroll Wynne April 16, 2014

During the weeks leading up to Easter our pastoral staff will tackle theological topics related to the resurrection in a series we're calling "Easter's Gospel."

One of the greatest joys of the Lenten season is thinking about Christ and the great salvation he has won for us. The dizzying rise of Joseph from prisoner to prime minister of  the greatest nation on earth must have taken his breath away, much as our ascent from being gutter-snipes to children of the Almighty God  might seem beyond belief…but it is the truth. 

Three shining truisms emerge from the salvation Christ won when he rescued us from sin and death: redemption, propitiation, and justification—all found in Romans 3:24-25. Framed as a part of our “alien” righteousness (provided by Christ and therefore outside of ourselves), Dr. Boice illustrated their meanings and truths through his “salvation triangle”[1]. Here is his description:

Imagine a triangle with one of its three sides on the bottom. Imagine further that the three points of the triangle represent (1) God the Father (the point at the top of the triangle), (2) the Lord Jesus Christ (the point on the bottom and to the left), and (3) ourselves (the point on the bottom and to the right). …The line at the bottom stands for “redemption.” It links the Lord Jesus Christ and mankind, because it describes what Jesus does in relation to his people. He redeems them. He purchases them at the price of his own shed blood. Because this describes what Jesus does for us, and not what we do, turn that bottom line into an arrow pointing from Jesus to us. He is the subject of the action. We are the objects.

The line on the left, connecting the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, stands for “propitiation.” It is there because propitiation describes what the Lord Jesus Christ did for us in relationship to his Father. As we saw when we studied that word, it is not ourselves that need to be propitiated. It is God. His wrath against sin needs to be turned aside. Moreover, we are unable to make propitiation. The work is beyond us. God himself must make propitiation, and this is what he does in Christ. Jesus, who is God, turns God’s wrath aside. This line can also be turned into an arrow too—an arrow pointing from Jesus to the Father. As in the former case, Jesus is the subject of this action, but here the Father is the object.

The final line of the salvation triangle connects God the Father with ourselves, and this (as we anticipate) represents “justification.” This arrow points toward us, for God is the subject of the action—he justifies us—and we are the object—we are justified.

This diagram tells us a great deal about how God saves fallen men and women. As you picture it in your mind, you will see that two of these actions (redemption and propitiation) issue from the Lord Jesus Christ. This indicates that he is the one who has achieved our salvation. It is his work. We are the recipients of two actions (redemption and justification). We contribute nothing to salvation. “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9 b). God the Father is the recipient of one action (propitiation) and the author of one action (justification). This makes clear that it is on the basis of Christ’s work of propitiation that we are justified. It is because Jesus paid the price of our salvation by dying in our place that God can justify the ungodly—as we will see.

The point I am making here, however, is that these three works are inextricably bound together. It is not possible to have even a single one without the others.

From the legal forensic term justification, to the marketplace with redemption (for a chilling and graphic example of this reality, read Hosea 3), to the religious intercourse of propitiation, the facets of our Christ’s grace dazzle our souls with each facet we see.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Justification by Faith, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991–), 381–382.

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