Why is Jesus the only propitiator?

Here’s a little thought. How come someone other than Jesus can’t die for my sins? Why can’t my dad? Why can’t Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius? How come I can’t die for my sister’s sins? What’s so exclusive to Jesus that only He can die for our sins?

Why? Because if I die for anyone’s sins, I can only die for my sins, because I am only getting what I deserve. I can’t die for someone else’s justice. I die for my own justice. This is what happens to everyone that isn’t a believer – they die for their own sins. It’s like a criminal saying he will go to jail in his buddy’s place. If he goes to jail, he goes to jail for himself. Jesus is the only one who had no sins, and to whom justice does not stand against. He can say, I’ll go to jail for him, and he might, because He isn’t sentenced Himself.

Posted in Blog.


  1. If Jesus died for the sins of all sinners, but not all sinners are forgiven and given grace, then the death of Jesus is not a propitiation for anyone. If the wrath abides on a person for whom Christ died, then Christ’s death did not take away the Trinity’s wrath for a sinner. This would reduce Christ’s death to something less than and other than a propitiation.

    Forde, Where Christ Meets God, p37–Christ was not doing anything in his death but dying. He was not paying God.

    Forde, p 42–The rescue cannot take the form of a transaction in which God supposedly is paid for something. God cannot buy Himself off.

    So Forde, rejecting a definite atonement which is substitution and satisfaction makes the “cross” only something God does now to put us to death, or to put the old Adam to death

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for the comment, I love dialog!

    It seems to me that you may be splitting hairs. He died as a public demonstration of God’s wrath against sin. No one else can die for someone else’s sins because if they die, they die for their own sins, not someone else’s sins. It’s a simple point. You’re trying to make me out to be saying that Jesus was “paying off” God in His death, but He was satisfying wrath, the demand of justice by the law, but that’s not really what I’m saying at all. I have much more about justice and wrath and the love of God and the nature of the propitiation here:


    Romans 3:24-25 says:

    24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith

    God displayed Jesus publicly as a propitiation through faith. That means, I must believe for the propitiation to apply. We obtain our introduction by faith into this grace, Romans 5:2. Don’t launch into the kneejerk calvinist thing about faith is given by God e.g. Ephesians 2:8. I already agree with that I’m saying faith is necessary for this, I’m not discussing its genesis.

  3. He died as a public demonstration of God’s wrath against sin.

    mark: but was this a “governmental display” to make something possible? Or were the sins of specific sinners imputed by God to Christ? You are trying to say the first and to deny the second. You may talk about imputation, but either you are saying that a. Christ died for all the sins of all sinners or b. that none of the sins of any sinners was imputed by God to Christ before they believed the gospel. And that is not true.

    jim: It’s a simple point. You’re trying to make me out to be saying that Jesus was “paying off” God in His death, but He was satisfying wrath, the demand of justice by the law, but that’s not really what I’m saying at all.

    mark: for somebody who likes to dialog, you seem to quick to assume what I am trying to say, wanting to say. I said what I said. I don’t deny that God pays off God in Christ’s death. If you think about that in the right way, that is a very good way of putting it. See Carson’s essay in the Glory of the Atonement volume. But I agree that we are not saying the same thing. You are denying real strict and just substitution and satisfaction. All you have is a governmental display that makes possible some other things which may or may not happen.

    God displayed Jesus publicly as a propitiation through faith. That means, I must believe for the propitiation to apply. We obtain our introduction by faith into this grace, Romans 5:2.

    mark: You have done a knee jerk reaction to anybody who teaches definite atonement only for the elect, as if to say that none of us recognize what the Bible says about the need for true faith in the true gospel if they are to be justified. But you know that many of us do teach the need for faith. Do you think it’s inconsistent for those who teach that Christ only died for the sheep to teach the need for faith? In John 10, Christ told people that they did not believe because they were not his sheep. He did not say that there was no need for faith. But Christ did say that the lack of faith was because they were not sheep. Christ did say that He died for the Sheep. And If you say, well that doesn’t mean He didn’t die for others, then you have just emptied out the meaning of “died for the sheep”. If Christ died for others, why don’t they believe?

    jim: Don’t launch into the kneejerk calvinist thing about faith is given by God e.g. Ephesians 2:8. I already agree with that I’m saying faith is necessary for this, I’m not discussing its genesis

    mark: It is you who kneejerk react. Is this the only text you know for faith being a gift of God.? check out II Peter 1:1. The key thing to see is that faith is not only a gift of grace, but it’s something purchased by Christ to give to the sheep. “obtained a faith by the righteousness of our God and Saviur Jesus Christ.” As John 10 says, you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Ephesians 4:8 quoting Psalm 68–When Christ ascended on high he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to men..

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the remarks. Just to clarify, I am actually saying that jesus was satisfying the wrathful demands of justice in His death. This of course doesn’t mean that He was “paying off” God, I’ve never really heard of that idea before.

      I’m not really sure how I’m denying just substitution and satisfaction. I’m not denying it, I just honestly flat out don’t understand what you’re talking about. I’m not proud of it.

      As far as faith being a gift of God, I actually agree with it, whether it is this verse or the others. I certainly appreciate the input!

      Grace and peace my learned friend!

  4. Many today teach that the only “atonement” which really matters is the “faith which applies” Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, they teach that Christ died for some who will perish.

    It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

    The difference between the “faith to apply” folks and those who teach that many do not believe because they are not Christ’s sheep (John 10) is NOT about the need of the Spirit’s work or faith in the gospel. Even though at the end of the day, we have different gospels (objects of faith), we do not disagree about justification being through faith. Neither side teaches eternal justification, or justification apart from faith, even though the “faith to apply” folks claim that this makes the rest of us inconsistent.

    We do NOT teach that the elect are free from condemnation before being “baptized into Christ”. Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, John Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are placed into that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

    But those who accuse us of thinking there is no need for faith claim that it is not logical for us to teach such a need for faith. If the substitution has already been made, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.

    But we do NOT teach justification apart from faith. Neither do we teach that faith is a mere recognition that we were already justified.

    What is it that those who make the accusations are teaching about the atonement? Some like the Torrances think that saying that Christ died only for the elect leads to denying the need for faith. Some like Andrew Fuller agree that Christ only died to gain faith for the elect, but they make this purchase of faith to be the only thing that is limited about God’s intention in the atonement.

    The “faith to apply” folks do not want to teach that Christ’s substitution under God’s wrath was limited only to the sins of the elect. They can rightly say they teach “limited atonement” but they do not think that the propitiation is limited.

    The “faith to apply” folks do teach that the atonement is unlimited in its ability to condemn everybody. (Andrew Fuller himself regarded the transfer of the sins of the elect to Christ as figurative and as not legally possible.) But they all teach that the atonement is unlimited in its proclamation of God’s offer to love everybody. But despite that general love, and general propitiation, some of them add that Christ’s death did not purchase faith for everybody.

    Those who teach “faith applies” are confusing “regeneration” and the work of the Spirit with the atonement and imputation. But Romans 6 never tells us that “regeneration” places the elect into Christ’s death. Romans 6 never tells us that it’s the work of the Spirit that puts the elect into Christ’s death.

    “Substitution” and “regeneration” are not the same thing. Substitution has to do with “all died” (II Cor 5:15) when this means that Christ alone died for the elect, without the elect being there, so that His death legally counts for them to take God’s wrath away from them.

    The “faith to apply” folks claim that we who teach substitution only for the elect should agree that the elect can go free before they are converted and believe the gospel. They want to put us in that box, so they can then deny that the death of Christ is the effective and just difference between saved and lost. Thus they accuse—if no efficacy to set free before faith and without faith, then no legal efficacy by itself.

    The “faith to apply” folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in propitiation, not in Christ’s bearing the sins of the elect, but in the efficacy of “faith applying”.

    And we would could answer back: what do you need the death for, if the real thing is the new birth and the indwelling? And it’s a good question, but I am sure that they think the incarnation (if not the death) is a necessary prelude to “faith applying”.

    But this is their argument: you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by “faith applying”. Only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice. But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the sins of sinners.

    How can they say that Christ’s death for sinners is not enough payment for the sins of these other sinners? Listen carefully to their answer: “Baptism into Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death the death of the sinner”. Unless we want to say that Christ’s death is legally effective without faith, then they tell us that something after Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death legally effective.

    I hope you think that through. Unless we want to go the way of those who teach eternal justification (or justification of all the elect at the time of the death and resurrection of Christ), we must agree that many of the elect (all those born after Christ’s death) for whom Christ died are nevertheless born in their sins, under the sentence of death. Of course we would stipulate that God’s justice demands that they will not die in that unjustified state.

    But how can we explain that temporary legal condemnation when we are also teaching a substitution by Christ for their specific sins? It depends on what the Bible means about “being placed into Christ”.

    The “faith applies” folks think placed into Christ means “Christ in us”. But the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is not imputation.Not indwelling but imputation is taught in Romans 6.

    God the Father’s legal imputing of Christ’s death to the elect places them into Christ. No, the word “imputing” is not in Romans 6. But neither is the word “Spirit” or the words “regeneration” or “indwelling”. But the meaning of Romans 6 is God’s imputing.

    I Cor 1:30— because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

  5. Even though merit is not a biblical word, and it’s hard to remove the traces of Roman penitential “spiritual capitalism”, I do agree with folks who talk about Christ’s merits. I wouldn’t say merit, but I would say “obtained by a work”, with that work being the work of the cross.

    1. I say this to show that salvation is not only by grace but also by justice. Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift by as his due. The salvation of the elect (with all its blessings) is due to Christ because of His death. It is not grace from the Triune God to give Christ the salvation of His people.

    This does not mean we can say without qualification that the elect are entitled to salvation. Salvation is by grace to the elect. But this salvation is by justice, not only to the Son, but also to the nature and character of the triune God. This is important, and it is something which I did not know when I was a lost five point Calvinist for 20 years. We need to avoid a nominalism in which God is only sovereign and not to be measured by justice, as to His character or actions. God is both just and justifier of the ungodly.

    So the death of Jesus was not merely one way (among many) God could have saved the elect. Calvin seemed to think that God could have saved by grace apart from the death but only sovereignly chose to do so. John Owen agreed at first , but then changed his mind. See also Abraham Booth, Justice Essential to the Divine Character. Now you can say that Owen and Booth denied God’s sovereignty to have the option of saving apart from Christ’s death. But God cannot lie. And God cannot save sinners apart from the death of Son.

    When Christ died, after Christ died, God cannot in justice not save all those for whom Christ died. This is not about the infinity of Christ’s person (both divine and human that He is). This is not only about paying for imputed sins by death. This is also about obtaining something by a work. And this is what “merits” is getting to. Not only to get off from God’s wrath, but also that Christ has earned by work future blessings for the elect (access, adoption, resurrection!!!!).

    I just don’t call this “merit”. And I don’t make “the ground” (I just say “the reason” ) the vicarious law-keeping. I think Christ’s death pays for sins and pre-pays for sins and pre-earns for all the other blessings. If this is “spiritual capitalism”, so be it!

    But it is justice and counting is involved. 1. The death was offered only for the elect and will count only for the elect. 2. But the death did not count for the elect all at one time. it is imputed by God (not by the sinner, not by the church) to individuals one at a time, both before and after the death. This kind of “impetration” (see John Owen in Death of Death) best fits the evidence which says that the elect are both loved and also born under the wrath of God. It fits the evidence that Abraham was not simply overlooked by justified before the death.

    The soundbite that “Abraham was saved 2000 years ago when I was” is more misleading than helpful. Christ obtained by His work of death the justification He imputed to Abraham years before He died. Christ by measure by justice by work obtained for the last ungodly elect sinner who will ever be justified that yet future verdict and declaration.

    I like to focus on the nature of the connection between Christ’s death and justification. One thing I learned at conversion is that God is justified in justifying. Not only that God is sovereignly gracious to us. But that God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ dies to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.

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