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What does it mean that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)?

Jesus is the propitiation for our sins

In teaching about the nature of God’s love (1 John 4:7–12), the apostle John explains that God’s divine love forms the basis of Christian love. The believer’s love is unique in that its source is God Himself (verse 7). If we don’t have love for others, then we don’t know God (verse 8). Love, then, is a litmus test of our faith. And because true love is expressed through actions, John states, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10, HCSB).

The ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us is this: He sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. Earlier, John stated, “He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, HCSB).

Propitiation is a word we rarely hear these days. To better understand its meaning, we must look to the past. Many ancient religions, and some still today, include the concept of pacifying an angry God or gods. Polytheists, especially, believed that their deities were volatile and unpredictable beings who, if angered, would dole out punishment. To escape their wrath, worshipers offered sacrifices to their gods to appease their anger. This practice was known as “propitiation.”

The Bible applies this exact term only with a slight twist. God is not moody and unpredictable; He is immutable, unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). He is also righteous and just (Psalm 7:11; Romans 1:18). Concerning human sin, God does indeed experience anger and demand a sacrifice (Leviticus 16:30; 19:22; Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 2:1–3). But God’s anger toward sin is not an irrational, out-of-control emotion like human anger. Instead, it is the firmly established opposition of His holy character and divine nature toward sin and all that is evil.

Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 2:12). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 5:12; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:56). God instituted the Old Testament system of sacrifice as the means of atoning for (or paying the penalty for) sin. This system was all about propitiation, but it was only temporary and pointed toward a better solution to the problem of sin (Hebrews 8:6).

A more complete understanding of atonement for sin comes to light in the New Testament, where the word propitiation centers on the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Christ’s sacrifice holds the power to cancel the penalty for sin, turn away God’s anger toward sin, and avert God’s wrath once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). God, in His incredible, indescribable love for us, gave the one and only sacrifice capable of paying the price for our sins.

Forms of the Greek term hilasmos, translated as “propitiation,” emerge in many significant New Testament passages. The author of Hebrews explains that Jesus had to be made fully human “in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17, ESV). In many newer Bible translations, the word for propitiation may be rendered as “atonement,” “sacrifice for sin,” “sacrifice of atonement,” or “atoning sacrifice.” In Romans 3:25, the apostle Paul maintains that God presented Jesus as a “propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (ESV), a “sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith,” (NIV), or “the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (NLT).

God’s amazing love is the motivation for propitiation (Psalm 85:2–3; 103:8–12; Micah 7:18–19; Romans 5:6–8; 2 Corinthians 5:19). Instead of worshipers attempting to mollify an angry God, the God of all mercy and grace presented us with a Savior as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16; Hebrews 9:11–14; 1 Peter 1:18–19). The Father’s demonstration of love through Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, by which we are restored to a peaceful relationship with God (Romans 5:1, 10; Colossians 1:19–20; Ephesians 2:13–17).

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What does it mean that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)?
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This page last updated: March 28, 2024