Discipleship Vocab: Propitiation

If you want to understand a culture, you’ll probably have to know the language.

I discovered this very quickly while pursuing my Puerto Rican wife. For months I would walk into rooms where I would hear clusters of incomprehensible syllables – often including my name – and then bursts of laughter. They’re talking about me. As you might imagine, learning Spanish was an exercise in rational self-interest. And it paid off.

It was a happy day when I started to understand what they meant.

I have a lot of new friends who have just begun their faith journey with Jesus, and I’ve asked our tribe to read through 1 John this week. Today we hit chapter 2 and there is one verse in particular I want us thinking about. The Bible uses a word here to describe what Jesus has done, and I know it sounds like a foreign language, but it’s too important to miss. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

Propitiation. It’s a great word.

Because the word is so difficult to understand some translations of the Bible use another phrase to clarify (e.g. atoning sacrifice). But it’s too wonderful to skip, because if you want to understand the culture of heaven, you’ll want to add this to your vocabulary.

What does it mean? A dictionary will tell you that to propitiate means “to appease” or “to pacify” the wrath of an offended party. This gets us going in the right direction, because the Bible makes it clear that our sin awakens wrath and judgment against us. But propitiation goes deeper than that. The amazing news is that the cross of Jesus has not just taken care of most of the wrath and judgment that is against us; it has exhausted it.

It is finished.

Jesus paid it all.

Once and for all.

This isn’t like doing chores. You spend hours cleaning the kitchen, picking up, or doing the laundry, only to come back later to another mess to clean. It never ends. You feel like you never catch up.

So many Christians see their moral messes in the same way. Jesus cleaned up all my garbage and let me off the hook for wrecking the house. As long as I keep my life perfectly clean, I’ll be in good shape. But if Father comes home and sees the house trashed again, I’m back on the hook and the wrath of God is coming. This is why you need to speak the language of Jesus. The wrath for all your sin – past, present, and future – is exhausted. This is why you have to learn the amazing message of 1 John. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 2:1

Because sometimes when I’m suffering I’m tempted to ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” But propitiation means I’m not getting what I deserve; Jesus got what I deserve. It’s not like Jesus made a 90% down payment and now I spend my life paying off the balance. Propitiation means it is nothing but religious pride to try to pay the penalty that His blood has already paid for us. We are free.

And it was a happy day when I started to understand what that meant.

Now I’m living my life trying to speak the language and experience the culture of this new reality.

Chew on that.


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