My little children, 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 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:1-6
The first time I read the word “propitiation”, I reverted back to a bad habit I learned from some sort of test prep in elementary school: I didn’t know it, so I skipped it, hoping to get by without actually having to open another tab (ugh, so much work) to look it up.
I wasn’t able to get by, and so to save you the extra four seconds, I did look it up for us.
“Propipiate” is the verb here, and the simplest definition is from Google: “to win or regain favor of.” To propitiate something is to bring the good name, the good favor back.
Jesus being the propitiation made him the public advocate, the “how” that changed our appearance in God’s eyes. God never changed, and maybe when we became believers nothing on the outside immediately changed about us, either. This is the crazy, miracle-making part of the Gospel. The only thing that changed was the way God sees us. Before, he saw us as sinners, after, he sees us as children.
I love the way Matthew Easton says it in his Bible Dictionary: “The propitiation does not procure his love or make him loving; it only renders it consistent for him to excise his love towards sinners.”
Or, once again, God’s character didn’t change, and we didn’t suddenly get better: Jesus dying on the cross gave God rose colored lenses (La Vie En Rose? Anyone?) when he looks at us; the most beautiful, holy glasses we could ever imagine wearing.
When we know this, when we understand this, only then comes the part where we are changed.
John tells us in the next verse that while we couldn't change ourselves, believing this news does change us. He says that we will know that we know him, we will know that we understand even a smidgen of his love if we keep his commandments. Here John goes again with his evidence, with his proof. If you are wondering if somebody loves the Father, he says, then see if they keep his commandments. John even claims that we should regard people who claim that they know him but don’t keep his commandments as liars.
So, we are starting to understand: If we believe, we keep God’s commands. It sounds so simple and beautiful to me, until I remember who I am- someone who doesn’t always keep God’s commandments.
John says that he writes so that we won’t sin, and yet, he knows that we will. He knows who we are, and what we do, because we are all humans, and we all will fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).
I can't explain this without thinking about my marriage. Last January, my husband Paul and I had our one year anniversary. I love him more than words can ever describe, and I know that he loves me, too. No matter what I do, I know that Paul will forgive me, that he will stick around forever. And of course, even with that assurance, there’s no part of me that wants to hurt him. I get a pit in my stomach, a slightly nauseous feeling when I know I’ve wronged him.
But with God, even when I know I am sinning, the truth is that I hardly ever get that nauseous feeling, and maybe it's not okay for me to feel the weight of my sin more when it's against my husband than when it's against my God.
I think that when John talks about us keeping his commandments, he means more than just going through the motions. He is talking about something more than just saying “I’m sorry” when we did something wrong, halfheartedly throwing a prayer His direction. I think John means something deeper, something potentially closer to the pit-in-the-stomach-nausea feeling:
I think he wants us to want to follow His commandments, to deeply desire to follow them.
I pray that today as we go about our days, God’s love for us, and the drastic change of his view of us would sink deeper in our hearts. I hope that we take this new knowledge and use it to ask God to strengthen our desire to follow his commandments.