Here is an amazing thing…
If you want to understand the depth and character of God’s love look to Jesus.
In fact consider how the Holy Spirit of God conveyed the depth and character of his and the Father’s and the Son’s love as he moved the Apostle of God, John, to write…
“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. 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.”
The first sentence is 1 John 4:9. The second, 4:10. Now notice that word in verse ten: “propitiation.” Just getting it past the lips is difficult for some. Getting its drift can prove just as difficult. However, it demands our attention. So…
While the above translation (English Standard Version) used “propitiation,” other translations variously translate the original as:
- atoning sacrifice (New International Version, New English Translation);
- expiation (Revised Standard Version).
The Message went so far as to render it like this:
- “he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”
a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
What does all this mean? Well, let’s take a look at some Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions:
- propitiate: to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of; to appease
- propitiation: the act of propitiating; something that propitiates; specifically an atoning sacrifice
Seriously? Ok, ok, let’s not give up:
- sacrifice: an act of offering something precious
- atone: reconciliation; to supply satisfaction for; to expiate; to make amends
- atoning sacrifice (not Merriam-Webster): something very precious offered to reconcile, expiate, make amends
That’s a little better, but not quite there yet. We should also get a little more familiar with the word “expiate.” Merriam-Webster was of no help, so how about Dictionary.com:
- expiate: to atone for; make amends or reparation
That also helped, but they had to go and toss in the word “reparation.” So, let’s go back to Merriam-Webster to look it up real fast:
- reparation: a repairing or keeping in repair; the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction
Finally, we’re getting there. Putting this all together, we might say, when in 1 John 4:10, the Holy Spirit led the Apostle John to write that God, “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” this is what he had in mind: Since God is righteous and just, the violation of his will through our sin needed to be repaired. We could never accomplish such a thing, so he did it for us through the life and death of Jesus Christ. In fact, it was Jesus giving his life on the cross that made amends for our sins and satisfied the righteous and just judgment of God. And what was that judgment? Just this: sin should forever separate us from him!
Now notice two more important things. First, God did not need to be reconciled. We did. He was not the offender. We were. Second, our faith and belief in Christ is not the propitiation. He is the propitiation. It’s simply not possible that we could ever satisfy, expiate, make amends for, or atone for our sins. Only God could cover such a twisted transgression. Whew! I am so thankful for his grace, love, and mercy.
Wait! You might be thinking, “You only used English definitions. Wasn’t the New Testament penned in Greek?” And, yes, you would be right. So are the above conclusions supported by understanding the historical and grammatical contexts. Well, this is what you can find regarding “propitiation” in Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words: Hilasmos (ίλασμος), the original Greek)…”word is used in the NT of Christ Himself as ‘the propitiation,’ in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10, signifying that He Himself, through the expiatory sacrifice of His death, is the personal means by whom God shows mercy to the sinner who believes on Christ as the One thus provided.”
For those in the know, Vine’s is not accepted as the best Greek tool, but it’s serviceable and it’s accessible for all Bible students—novice and expert alike.
If we ended here the statement at the beginning of this essay would be proven: “Here is an amazing thing.” However, we’re not done…because God was not done. Let’s see how the Holy Spirit finished his thought as he continued to move the Apostle John to write…
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
In 1 John 4:11 that is exactly what followed 4:9 and 10. Now hang on. This is an incredible comparison. We just saw the incredible depth of God’s love and now we are being directed to love one another. So what will our love look like? I think the answer is simple if we follow the logic:
“If you want to understand the depth and character of God’s love look to Jesus.”
If you want to understand the depth and character of Christian love look at a Christian?
If you want to understand the depth and character of Christian love look to Jesus.
And, even more incredible, the Apostle John was inspired to write this with the intention of saying “this is the natural expression of what it means to be born of God and to know God.” A few verses earlier he wrote, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God“ (1 John 4:6,7).
Man. This makes me ask myself some questions.
What if doing what is best for another means covering their fault?
- At great expense to me, am I willing to cover those faults?
- At great expense to me, am I willing to lay down my rights for others?
What if doing what is best for another means not covering their fault?
- Am I willing to suffer the tension and discomfort loving confrontation may bring?
- Am I willing to “lose face” or suffer other potential loss that loving confrontation may bring?
What if I’m really serious about becoming more like Jesus (I mean, come on, I believe this is true)?
- Does my love for others ever rise to propitiatory heights?
- Does my love for others ever offer any semblance of atonement?
It’s like Arsenio Hall used to say, “Some things that make you go hmmm.” But I want so much more than “Hmmm.” I pray always to love like this kind of love. How about you?