"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
Most of those words and concepts can be easily understood. "Herein is love, not that we loved God" - Real love is not that we say we love God. There is a greater love. "But that He loved us" - Real love is that God loved us. His is true, pure, actual love.
Up to this point, it is clear. God's love is real, unmotivated by anything in return, because we can never repay Him. That much is easy to grasp.
But then we get to a word with which we are unfamiliar: propitiation. That's not a word we use every day. Or every week. Or month. Or... year. Maybe you've never seen it before.
Propitiation. It's pronounced "Pro-PISH-ee-ay-shun." What does it mean? Webster's Dictionary defines it as "the act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person."
It means that someone is angry with you, and you do something to curry their favor and turn their anger. Like when your dog goes into your neighbor's yard and digs big holes, and you go to fix the yard and bring them two zucchini loaves of bread.
But what does it mean in this verse? First, it means that God is angry with us. We don't hear much about wrath in today's versions of God, but the Bible shows God as having righteous anger.
About what is God angry? Sin! Our big sins, our little sins, our hidden sins, our open sins. God is not sad when we sin, but He is angry when we lie, steal, gossip, lust, and worry. He hates that we are covetous, ungrateful, idolatrous, and selfish.
Second, it means that there is a way to appease, or turn God's wrath. God can be "propitiated." How? Not through doing good works, being religious, helping your fellow man, or getting baptized.
God's wrath can never be satisfied by our good works, but there was one good work that sated God's anger. What was it? 1 John 4:10 tells us: "He sent His Son."
The Bible tells us that Jesus went to the cross to take all of God's anger for my sin upon Himself. Jesus bore the wrath of God so that He could turn His wrath from us.
How can we receive God's favor instead of His wrath? Only through His Son. Trust Christ alone as your Savior, and God will be angry with you no longer.