The Language of Love
Last week’s article mentioned 1 John 4:10: “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.”
‘Propitiation’ is not a common word in the world in which we live today. It’s one of those words we might hear from time to time in an old hymn or Bible reading but that’s about all. And yet it is a wonderful word. It is like a facet of a diamond that reveals something of the light of God’s love to us. And there are other words that fall into the same category.
God is light (1 John 1:5) and light by its very nature will not live with darkness, indeed light will extinguish darkness. God’s holiness burns against all that is unholy. This is bad news for sinful men and women such as us. But the good news is that God is also love. And in his love he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We might say that Christ propitiated God in that he turned his righteous anger away from us by standing in our place. Propitiation then has the idea of appeasing a holy God for sins committed. Christ’s atoning sacrifice satisfied God’s just anger at our sins, this is propitiation.
This may seem very primitive to people with no real concept of holiness or glory. But for those who have met with God it is truly wonderful. Consider the response of Isaiah (Isa 6:5) or John (Rev 1:17) to the glory of the Lord’s presence. In his righteousness God cannot and will not ignore sin, and yet in his love -in his Son- he took the punishment for our wrongdoing.
Expiation is another of these old gospel words. It focuses on the impact of Christ’s sacrifice on the sins themselves. They are washed away “as far as the east is from the west” and we, therefore, are washed clean in him. The prefix ‘ex’ means ‘out’ or ‘away’ in Greek. Our sins have been taken out and thrown away, never to be dredged up again.
“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within.
Upward I look and see him there, who made an end of all my sin.”
What a joy this doctrine should be for those who struggle to forgive themselves for sins committed long ago. Also for those who feel unclean having been sinned against- victims of abuse are often left feeling impure, suffering for the sins of others. If you are in Christ Jesus, you are fully and forever clean and pure in the eyes of God!
Both propitiation and expiation are pictured in the sin offering commanded by God in Leviticus 16. One goat was sacrificed ‘for the LORD’, its blood a powerful picture of the seriousness of sin. The high priest would then press both hands onto the head of the other goat, the ‘scapegoat’, and confess the sins of Israel. The scapegoat would be sent into the wilderness symbolically carrying with it the sins of the people. RC Sproul says:
“The sin offering, then, offered the Apostles a profound understanding of the death of Christ. While the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Heb 10:4), the blood of Jesus the God-man, shed on the cross and applied by the Spirit to those who trust in Him, cleanses sinners from their sins. The thorns pressed onto His brow, an image of humanity’s cursed estate (Gen 3:18) were but a token of His bearing the weight of His people’s guilt on His head, further demonstrating that He endured our fiery judgement to provide us with true expiation.”
It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we find propitiation (a sufficient sacrificial sin offering) and expiation (the washing away of our sins.)
Praise the God of all creation;
Praise the Father’s boundless love;
Praise the Lamb, our expiation,
Priest and King enthroned above;
Praise the Fountain of salvation,
Him by whom our spirits live;
To the One Jehovah give!