The Vocabulary of Grace

Written by Heather Zempel | October 27, 2010 | Romans 1 - 4

Good grief. I am not qualified to write devotional material from the book of Romans. A summary of Paul’s theology, it is one of the richest and complex books of the New Testament, and it’s influence in historical and systematic theology is unparalleled. It’s the book from which Augustine developed his theology of original sin and Luther made his personal discovery of justification by faith and Calvin derived the doctrine of predestination. It’s the book that sparked the Protestant Reformation.

In looking at the first four chapters of Romans alone, we see a treasure chest of good stuff. Justification by faith. An argument for apologetics and general revelation of God as demonstrated through creation. The relationship between law, faith and grace. We could hang out here for weeks and never come to a full understanding of God’s grace or a heart full enough of worship and gratitude for it.

Let me focus on Romans 3:23-25, “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 in faith.”

A few reflections. We have all sinned. And if you think for a moment that you are okay because you haven’t done anything that bad…consider where we derive the word “sin.” In the original Greek, the word is hamartia which means to “miss the mark.” I think we can all agree that we have missed the mark from time to time. Especially when the mark is God’s perfect holiness and glory.

Next, we see we are justified by grace as a gift. Justified means we are put in right standing with God. Grace means we have been given something we don’t deserve. Gift means that we should express our gratitude daily for God’s outrageous outpouring of grace on our lives.

Then we get the word redemption. That means “to buy back.” We see the story of redemption in the tumultuous lives of Hosea and Gomer, the inspiring love story of Boaz and Ruth, and the surprising provision of the ram in the thicket to replace Isaac on Abraham’s altar. The cross buys us back from sin, slavery, and death.

Then, we get this word “propitiation.” Whew. Here’s where most of us glaze over, right? But if we can learn the vocabulary to order a drink at Starbucks, I would argue we can learn the vocabulary of God’s grace. Propitiation is defined by one theologian as “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath towards us into favor.” Propitiation is first seen in the Garden of Eden, when sacrifice occurred to cover nakedness. We see propitiation on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus when a goat was slaughtered and a goat was voted off the island as a scapegoat for sin. We see it most fully on the cross. Propitiation should be one of the most exciting words in the Bible for us because it’s the way we are restored to relationship with God. God’s wrath turns into favor. That is amazing and miraculous. God’s wrath nailed Jesus to the cross, and that should drive us to our knees in worship.

Take some time today to thank God for his gift of redemption and outpouring of grace and miracle of propitiation. In fact, every time you order that iced single vente, 7 pump peppermint, caramel sauce top and bottom, light ice, no whip, mocha…thank Jesus for the vocabulary of grace.