References: I John 2:1-2; Rom. 5
Without knowing the statistics, I’m guessing the word satisfaction is used most often to indicate fulfillment or pleasure resulting from an expectation met. For example, “I am satisfied with the amount of rain we received.” Another use of the word gives a sense of fulfillment of an obligation to a debt owed. “I satisfied the credit card company with the payment made.”
If you think of either of these with respect to God, it poses a problem. In the first example, it suggests that before satisfaction, I had an unfulfilled need.
Here’s the problem: does God in some way need something? Does He have a lack, and it is met when the satisfaction is provided? Of course not. God certainly does not have any lack; He has no needs that must be met.
Whatever anyone does in his relationship with God, it does not meet some shortcoming, or unfulfillment on the part of God, as if God were better off because I entered into a relationship with Him. God does not need us to do something for Him. He has absolute fulfillment in Himself.
There are demands from God which we are obligated to fulfill, but in doing so, we do not add to God in any way. So we want to be careful how we understand the phrase in the catechism declaring Jesus, with His precious blood, “has fully satisfied for all my sins.”
Certainly God is not like a small child, jealous because someone received something, only satisfied if they also receive it. He is not petty. Christ’s atonement is not an appeasement for a God who needs to be placated so He won’t be so angry. It is not even a means of making up for some wrong done.
Some of these concepts are involved in the idea of a “satisfaction” for God, but we need to be very careful here. This occasion demands precision in word and understanding.
What exactly are we confessing with these words in the creed? Let us examine this concept carefully. Again, we are focusing on the words from Heidelberg Q&A #1: Jesus Christ “has fully satisfied for all my sins.”
The concept of satisfaction
As we move forward in considering the answer to our need for comfort, we get at the heart of the concept of redemption. We have talked about belonging to Jesus and the associated benefits. But at the core of redemption lies the notion of a price which has been paid. The payment is the precious blood of the Savior.
Christ’s dedication is so much more than setting an example of selflessness when he gave of himself for us. The giving of himself, the sacrifice of His life, the shed blood–was a payment, a payment which you and I owed to God.
Payment for what? What kind of a God would ask for blood? Part of this we find very repulsive. To think God would require the payment of blood, the life of anyone, is a concept that we might ascribe to the worst kind of creature. We see that going on in our world in very nasty sorts of situations today.
Many people would totally reject the notion that a loving God would require payment in blood.
A legal term: remedy for failure to meet requirements
So what do we mean when we confess that Jesus, with His precious blood, has “satisfied for all my sins”?
In I John 2:2 it says, “he is the propitiation for our sins.” There is another big word with a precise, important meaning. It is literally that of satisfaction.
Propitiation is frequently a legal term. It has particular meaning in civil law, referring to the requirement of payment when there is a violation. The concept presents an obligation, and the problem which exists when it is not met.
Permit me to use a favorite illustration. All my catechism class students are familiar with it. When you violate the laws of the road by speeding, you get a ticket, because you violated the law. When that happens, there is a difficulty between you and the civil authority: you are at odds with each other. Dealing with the issue depends on the seriousness of the violation. But there is a problem. Many people in our nation today have totally forgotten that reality, because there is no respect for authority.
But note: in this illustration, you can do something about the broken relationship. In the case of speeding, you pay the fine. When you pay the fine and the civil authority receives the check, they declare, “You are now okay again; the relationship is restored.”
The state is satisfied. Not in the sense of “Well, fine, it’s okay now.” Rather, you owed because you violated its requirement. When you paid, you entered back into the state’s good graces.
So consider this: the requirement to the state has been satisfied. The next time you are on the road and you see a patrol car, you do not need to be concerned because the state is satisfied, unless you are speeding again.
Blog post content taken from a sermon series delivered by Dr. Maynard Koerner, President and Professor of Ministerial Studies at Heidelberg Theological Seminary.