What is Propitiation? A definition and meaning in the Bible

Propitiation. Maybe this is the first time you’ve heard this word. Maybe you’ve heard it a number of times, but don’t know what it means. It’s certainly not a word I understood for a long time, and really, I’m still coming to fully understand the depth of this concept.

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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

— 1 John 2:1-6 (ESV)

Why do I write? In part, I write for my own spiritual benefit and reflection. In part, I write because it is the means of my mental processing. But, more than anything, I write so that people might be encouraged in their faith. In the words of the apostle, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”

Yet, my desire for you, my fellow reader is that you are not discouraged by this challenging goal—to be sinless—but that you might know the truth in our battle against sin. Jesus Christ, the righteous, is our advocate, our propitiation…

A definition of propitiation

Propitiation: win or regain the favour of (a god, spirit, or person) by doing something that pleases them1

The dictionary defines propitiation as an act to gain favour with the divine or a person. In terms of religion, this might look like a sacrifice, a prayer, or some form of ritual. In terms of human relationships, this might be an apology, a gift, a favour, and the like.

However, the Christian understanding of propitiation doesn’t complete fit with this. There is NOTHING anyone can do to regain the favour of God. Zip. Zilch. Nudda. Nothing. The only way to restore favour in our relationship with God is death (Romans 6:23). There is another way, except it has nothing to do with what we do.

The meaning of propitiation

“He [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins…”

So what does this mean for the Christian? What does this mean for people? How does this change how we live?

Jesus Christ took it upon Himself to win and regain the favour of God on our behalf. Nothing short of death would do so, so that’s exactly what He did. He gave His life and died for us, so that everyone might be restored in our relationship with God.

By this amazing act of grace, He opened the door for relationship with God to be completely restored. However, like any entryway, its purpose is not fully met until people walk through it. So the question stands, have you walked through the door opened by Jesus?

He did what was impossible for you and I. He continues to advocate on our behalf, and He invites us to enter into a full and restored relationship with God. Do not delay, do not wait, if you have doubts, ask!

The result of propitiation

There is no reason for us to fear the penalty of sin. Jesus is our advocate and propitiation. He has done it all. We are free from the bondage of sin. While we’ll still struggle with it, we are free from its chains. Praise God!

The apostle John continues to write abourt the result of Jesus’ act of propitiation. In restoring us with God, we can know Him. We can be assured that we are with God, both now and eternally. We are also then to keep God’s commandments (we’ll look at what John means next week, read ahead—1 John 2:7-11 (ESV)).


  1. Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2010.