1 John 4:9-10
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 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.
In the middle of writing about how Christians are to demonstrate their faith by showing love for one another, John points out to believers how God has loved them. God has not merely loved us with kindness or by overlooking our faults. No, God has loved us by sending Jesus so we could live. God has loved us by, as we see in verse 10, making Christ our propitiation.
Propitiation is not a word that we use daily. It’s a big word, and maybe kind of scary—after all, it is 5 syllables. But, if you will get to know that word, you will have a much clearer understanding of the love of God shown you in the gospel.
The word propitiation literally means to appease the anger of a deity through means of a sacrifice in order that the deity may look upon you with favor. In this definition, three things are happening:
· God is rightly angry [wrathful] toward us for our sin against him.
· God receives the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ as an atoning offering for our sin. That sacrifice covers our sin and satisfies God’s anger toward us so that God no longer has wrath toward us because of our sin.
· God now not only has let go of anger toward us, but he actually looks upon us with great affection, love, and kindness. Where there once was wrath, there is now only love. God may now be propitious toward us, meaning that he may now be loving and kind to us.
We must see all three of the above in order to see the truth of the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection. Were God not genuinely wrathful toward us because of our sin, God would not be truly as righteous and holy as he is depicted in Scripture. God shows us time and time again that he hates sin. He declares before us that we, in our sinful state, were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). And were this not the case, it simply makes no sense for god to have sent Jesus to die on our behalf.
Second, if we miss the fact that an atoning sacrifice is what covers our sin and satisfies God’s wrath, we miss the significance of the cross. Jesus shed his blood in order to pay the price for our sin. Jesus took upon himself the anger, the wrath, the righteous fury of God for the evils that we have done and for the good that we have failed to do. Missing this point makes the cross confusing. If this is not what happened on the cross, exactly what transaction took place? Why did it have to be the Son of God who died for sin if not because only the Son of God could fully pay for the sins of many others?
Finally, we need the third aspect of propitiation above in order to understand the greatness of the love of God. Not only is God’s anger averted, but it is replaced with his overwhelming love. Where before we stood in judgment, now we find ourselves totally forgiven, totally welcomed, totally made into children of God (cf. John 1:12). Where before we were marked by sin, we are now seen by God as bearing his very own righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). And now, the one thing we know about our lives is that, if we are in Christ, and if Christ is truly raised from the dead, God is no longer angry toward us because of our sin. God has fully satisfied that anger by pouring it out on Christ. Now God can look at us with perfect love, because he has spent all the anger he had for our sin.
For those who dislike the concept of propitiation because they do not like the concept of God having anger or the concept of God pouring his wrath out on his innocent Son in our place, let us remember that this was the plan of the triune God from before creation. God did this on purpose. He shaped creation for this. Jesus took the wrath of God in one afternoon, and then he cried out “It is finished!” Jesus did not remain under God’s wrath for our sin for eternity. Jesus finished the wrath of God for our sin when he died. He did not go and suffer in hell after his death (remember, Jesus told the thief that he would join him today in paradise). Instead, Jesus finished God’s infinite wrath for our sins while on the cross and with his perfect death. But Jesus also rose from the grave. He proved that the wrath of God was satisfied. He proved that he does not live under the wrath of God, but now is glorified as the Son of God who Redeems God’s people by his blood. He is forever glorified as the Lamb who was slain to purchase people for God from every nation of the world (cf. Revelation 5:9-ff).
Yes, propitiation is a big word, but it contains a giant concept. We earned God’s fury for our sin. Jesus died to pay the price for our sin. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God no longer has fury for us, but only fatherly love. This is the gospel. It is a gorgeous concept. And we all will be stronger in our faith if we understand and praise God for it.
So, have you gotten under the propitiation of Jesus? What Jesus did is not automatically applied to your life without any response on your part. The Bible is clear that only those who express faith in Jesus and who are willing to turn from their sins are under the grace of Christ. You only have the effects of propitiation if you have looked to Jesus, believed in his sacrifice and resurrection as your only hope, decided you want to follow him and not your own whims, and asked him to have mercy on you. This gift is available for any person in the world who will believe in Jesus and turn from his or her sin. This gift is available for you if you will believe. Why not get under the grace of Christ today if you have not done so before now?