Oh great, one of those crazy words! 1
2 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–ESV)
Telling a guilt-ridden Christian of Jesus is helpful, but can only go so far. It is like saying the solution for the swamp in Washington, D.C. is Jesus. It is a correct answer in one sense, but so vague it is hollow and feels like a sham-answer. I find myself saying, “True,” but asking, “What does that mean?”
The conscientious and loving John back-fills the confidence he is building in Jesus by heading off to the cement blocks of doctrine. “Jesus is the answer,” gives the first inklings of peace and restoration. The sun comes out from behind their self-blaming clouds, but the clouds still come and go.
John offers additional help to drive away these fears by placing a word on the table which may make us recoil a little: propitiation. I will set two more words on the table: expiation and atonement. Each of these is a bit dated in our 21st Century, but an understanding of their meaning can be a cinderblock in the building of faith.
Look first at the easiest of these three words: atonement. That word means to be at one with God. Jesus made amends, providing expiation, for the wrong things we have done. Those two words out of the way let us now pick up the third. Propitiation takes the relationship between an offended God and us much further by layering on the concept of anger removal.
With the word propitiation, John says, “God is not like that. He forgives and keeps no anger over the sin you committed.” Most people are not familiar with this as forgive and forget is an overused and under-practiced phrase. Sometimes an offended party will grant forgiveness. It less frequent for the offended party to truly forget the transgression. If a person gets to the point of forgiveness with another, all too commonly the misdeed becomes a rock thrown in other arguments.
So John is saying, “Hey, don’t sin, but when you do don’t get so mired down in self-incrimination that you lose crucial things. God gave thorough forgiveness, and he is so over it. You need to be too.” See how doctrine, words like propitiation, need to be thought out? Understood? Applied? By taking these steps, the guilt-ridden Christian can move toward confident living. Recall the beginning of this lesson that said John’s gospel gets us over the threshold into God’s house and this epistle makes us at home there. This is how it is done. This is how God cleans up your swamp.
“What if there is not enough forgiveness?”
The worried Christian frets many things. They may wonder if there is enough forgiveness to go around. John doesn’t attack them for lack of faith but lays another helpful brick. When Jesus died on the cross, he made amends for all sins. There is no first-come, first-served with God. The blood of Jesus does not run out but is more than sufficient for the forgiveness of all the world’s people, past, present, and future.
The point is like God saying through John, “Live abundantly in my house. Tell others about it too. This good news will never run out!”