I John: Expiation and Propitiation.

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.” (I John 4:10)

The Apostle John uses another example for God’s love. With the phase “in this is love” John is saying that here is another way in which we may understand God’s self-sacrificial love of the will.

John says that God’s love is not based on our love of God. God’s love is not His response due to our love for Him. Rather, God loved us even when we did not love Him (Romans 5:8-10). With His love in view, He sent His Son, with a particular purpose and a particular message. That message and purpose was that Jesus Christ would be the propitiation for our sins.

As with I John 2:1-2, which we examined in June of this year, the Apostle John reminds his readers of God’s ministry of propitiation. This is my favorite word in the Scriptures. It is often joined with another word: expiation. What do these two words mean and what do they have to do with us and our relationship with God and with the person and work of Jesus Christ?

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, Let’s think about what these words mean, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.”

We observe that the same Greek word (ἱλασμὸν; hilasmon) is often translated by both the English words: expiation and propitiation. However, there is a slight distinction in the words. Expiation is the “act” that results in the change of God’s disposition toward sinners. Expiation is what Christ did on the cross, and the “result” of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.

Dr. Sproul states that, “When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment.”

In speaking of Jesus Christ’s ministry of expiation and propitiation, the writer of Hebrews explains it this way. 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers 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. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

Dr. Sproul concludes by saying, “Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.”

Thank you Lord that through the person and work of Jesus Christ, I am no longer under your righteous wrath. Rather, I am now your adopted child. Hallelujah! \

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!  





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