Five Theological Words Your Students Should Know Before They Graduate

I have written before about the importance of teaching theology to your students. Moral lessons only stick if the students can understand the theological ‘why’ to their actions. We should teach our students biblical theology not to inflate their heads with big words. We teach students theology because the more we study about who God is and how he works, the greater our affections for him will be.

Biblical words are good. Instead of using analogies and illustrations, I try to teach my students the vocabulary the Bible uses or the vocabulary Biblical ideas mean. It makes preaching a lot easier in the long run when you can use one word to convey the thought you are trying to give. Before my students graduate I hope they learn and love the following five words. I hope they learn more than these words but if they get these down, they are on a good path.

Propitiation: God’s wrath is satisfied in the death of Christ.

Bible Verse: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ESV)

Why this word: When you say you are saved, you have to ask yourself, “What am I saved from?” Common answers from students will be anything from sin or ourselves to Satan or Hell. Though they aren’t wrong, God has rescued us from the Devil and our own sinfulness, the ultimate thing we are saved from is God himself. God is holy and must punish sin. Romans 1:18 tell us that, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” John 3:36 tells us that those who put not trust in Christ for their salvation  that ” the wrath of God remains on him.” Propitiation informs us that when Christ was on the cross he was taking the full cup of God’s wrath. This is why verses like Romans 5:9 is so encouraging: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

Bonus: Now when your students sing ‘In Christ Alone’ and they say the line, “‘Til on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied” they know what that is, is propitiation.

Expiation: taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement.

Bible Verse: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

Why this word: In Leviticus 16 it talks about the Day of Atonement. In this ceremony there would be two goats. One goat would be sacrificed and the other goal would be sent out into the wilderness. The latter goat is called a scapegoat. This goat running into the wilderness represents the sins of the people being carried away from them. In the New Testament we see the crucifixion as the ultimate Day of Atonement. Christ took our sin from us. It was nailed to the cross with Jesus. Because Christ paid our debt, we are no longer guilty of sin and no longer deserving of God’s wrath. No longer does God see us as enemies but as friends. No longer are we “following the prince and power of the air.” We are now following God. No longer are we “children of wrath.” We are children of God. When God sees us, he sees Christ righteousness. When students understand that, they understand that God is not remembering our sin anymore. He doesn’t hold our past against us. He sees Christ saving work on the cross and accepts us.

Justification: To be declared righteous and made right with God. 

Bible Verse: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 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 by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)

Why this Word: We are declared righteous and are justified in a moment at salvation. Justification doesn’t make us righteous but rather declares us righteous. Because of Christ work on the cross and his righteous life. When we put our faith in Jesus, by grace, we are declared justified because of the perfect work and life of Christ. Justification helps us remember that it isn’t our works that save us. We couldn’t justify ourselves. I love what Ephesians 2:8-9 say: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So the very faith to believe is given to us by Christ. In other words, God gets all the glory, even in our salvation. God declares us justified because of Christ, therefore we can have access to the Father and worship and glorify him with our lives.

Sanctification: The ongoing work in the believer of God conforming us into the image of his son.

Bible Verse: And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, ESV)

Why this word: Sanctification is the process of becoming Holy. It is a process of conforming in to the image of Christ. We are called to be holy in 1 Peter 1:15-16. We also know that we still live in the presence of sin and can still fail to be holy. God declared us holy though while we are still sinners because of the work of Christ. However, we are becoming holy as we grow in Christ. As we study God’s word, be in fellowship with other believers, and follow Christ, we gradually look more and more like Jesus. Sanctification is a process. Some move faster along than others. The promise we all have is that when we are in glory, the process is over and we are fully glorified, which is what we will talk about next. Students should understand this word because they learn that though they are called to be holy and separate from this world, it is God who works in and through them. This process takes time, a lifetime in fact. However, the good news is that all Christians will be fully sanctified when Christ returns.

Glorification: This is the future and final act by God when he removes all sin from believers and transforms our mortal bodies into eternal bodies that live forever in perfection.

Bible Verse: So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, ESV)

Why this word: This is the day we are all looking forward to. When all sin and death is gone and we will never feel pain or cry another tear. Glorification is the promise that when the years on this earth of suffering and persecution is over, we will stand before God with new bodies that never perish and the guarantee of a life not effected by sin. A life wear children don’t get cancer or people can hurt you because of their sin. Where I may or may not have a 6-pack. Romans 8:18 demonstrates why this word is so great for us. When we think of ourselves in the glorified state, we look at the present sufferings and we realize we can’t even compare it to what life will be like then. Students must learn this work because glorification gives us hope. It helps us put our suffering and the effects of sin in this world in perspective. This life will be hard, but life in eternity when we are glorified will be amazing! This is good news!

There are other words I could add to this list: Adoption, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and I would even throw in the idea of Election as a key theme and idea that students should learn. What are some key theological ideas and phrases you hope your students know before they graduate? 


    • Robert. If they are not teaching students those words that place is not a youth group. Those words should be implied. If a youth group isn't already teaching those words all those kids should run far far away from that "church".
      • What is implied is that you assume a definition of all of those things (God, Jesus, etc.) in your definitions above without actually defining those things. Who is God? For that matter /what/ is God? Whether for better or worse, your students will walk away with a lack of real theological integrity and stamina in the real world (e.g. in evangelism, preaching, thinking, etc.). I would rather teach my student to faithfully interrogate their own faith, Scripture, reason, and tradition rather than a narrow definition of Romans 8 (ESV, of course).
        • Let me try again. Teaching who is God, Jesus, etc. is fundamental. That should be done early and often in your ministry. If they don't know who God or Christ is, then you are right, there is no real world stamina to be had. I am not sure what you mean by my "narrow definition" of Romans 8 but my goal is teach students theology along side the basics so that it will strengthen their faith as well as increase their worship for God. Also, I would be fine with the NASB as well.
  1. Good list. Doing these things requires hard work (preparation, reading, praying, etc.), but that's what we're supposed to do.
  2. Are you actually advocating teaching the word and it's definition? I agree with "justification" and "sanctification" because it is consistent biblical language. I'd be fine with "glorification", but I think the whole topic of the end can cause lots of confusion. But, I don't think that "propitiation" and "expiation" should be bothered with. The ideas? Absolutely, but to use a purely theological language, which we don't find in scripture, feels like over kill to me.
    • I'm interested in knowing why propitiation and expiation shouldn't be bothered with. Why do you think that, Joel?

Leave a Reply

Main Menu