1 JOHN – SERIES: NR 3
Scripture: 1 John 2: 1 – 2
Theme: Called to be holy
The Apostle John is not writing this letter to his biological children. With “my dear children” he is referring to his children in the one true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! They are the members of the church of Christ to whom he is writing. Fellow Christ-believers, therefore. And he is writing – on the one hand – with the authority of a father to his children, but also – on the other hand – with the authority of an apostle. And it comes to us exactly like that – even though we are 2000 years removed from each other. This morning we hear a voice coming to us with the authority of a father and the authority of the apostle of the Lord Jesus.
From that which was said in chapter 1 about the reality of sin-and-forgiveness in the life of a Christian and also the fact that no Christ-believer is without sin, people can easily say that the Apostle condones sin. That is okay.
People could read chapter one and say: “but if all Christians can still commit sin and God forgives, why then such a hard struggle against sin? Because whatever we do, we shall still sin against the majesty of the living God! So, why be so concerned? If God forgives, then the deliverance is guaranteed.”
Yet, significantly, John himself does not reach such a conclusion. It sounds logical to argue that way, yes, but it is Biblically incorrect. One can see the opposite with Jesus himself – by the way.
Look at the Master’s relationship with sinners. Tax-collectors, prostitutes, etc. Indeed He came in contact with them. He was called the friend of sinners. But never did He condone their sins. To the woman caught in adultery, He said: “I do not condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11).
He was not a friend of sinners in such a way that He was full of insight about their sin and wrapped everyone in a soft blanket of “the love of Jesus for everyone just as you are” and “who are we to judge”. Oh no, His dealings with sinners led to a new life and repentance and deliverance from the sin.
And John, the apostle, does not uphold a theology that differs from the Lord Jesus. It is the same. He clearly states it in 2:1-2.
He clearly says: “I am writing this to you so that you will NOT sin.”
Yes, the person who is gloriously reborn by the Holy Spirit, is not under the rule of sin any longer, that is 100% true, look at Romans 6, but the sinful nature is yet present.
John is confronting the Christ-believers with the reality of their immanent sinfulness. But he also confronts them with the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the fact that He – as the absolute perfect Righteous One – is the Christian’s mediator with the Father. And THAT should cause the sinner not to treat sin lightly and never be frivolous about it – for example – say something like: “Lord you know me. I cannot help what I am. But you understand me and enfold me in your love, sin and all.” A true Christian can never pray that. Not if he/she understands the sacrifice of Christ on the cross – and what it cost Him to deliver sinners.
Instead of condoning the sins of Christians, the Apostle comes with exactly the opposite appeal in verses 1-2. He is calling all the followers of Jesus Christ to be holy. A life truly set apart for the Lord and His cause. Holiness means to be set apart.
Does holiness mean that the Christians have reached a point of complete sinlessness and perfection? No. To be soul, spirit, and body set apart for the Lord means to – while you joyfully cling to your righteousness in Christ – hate your sin and flee to Him with it for continuous purification and also experience deliverance.
It is for example, not impossible to live in victory over sinful thoughts. Yes, temptation shall come and go, and you can indeed stumble, but the saved person can rule over it by hating it and look to Jesus for deliverance. He is our Mediator with the Father. Can His mediation fail? Impossible. Now, why can I not build upon that and turn my back upon everything that grieves the Holy Spirit? Of course, I can. I MAY! And His power is 1000 times greater than mine!
The appeal to a holy life in verses 1-2 are based upon two great certainties:
1 > God’s promise to forgive the sin in the already-saved person’s life (already looked at in chapter 1)
2 > The work is already done by the Lord Jesus and the work He is still doing
Based on these two certainties, the Apostle John comes and makes an appeal to all Christians for a holy lifestyle.
NUMBER ONE: THE PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS (verse 1)
What does the word THIS refer to at the beginning of the sentence? I write THIS to you so that you will not sin.
Logically, the THIS refers back to that which he said in chapter 1. In the original, there weren’t any chapter breaks. Everything was written continuously.
But, to what specifically in chapter 1 does THIS refer back to? It may refer back to everything that was said. But yet, we must not forget, that in that chapter there was a central theme/statement/truth, namely that GOD IS LIGHT, but particularly also the previous verse that said in 1:9 that if the Christian confesses his/her sins, that God will forgive. Therefore: God is without sin, the Christian is not. But as the Christian walk with his/her sin in the light and confess it, God’s forgiveness and restoration is a fact. God is light and continuous purification and forgiveness are a certainty.
That is what John is writing to the churches so that they must not sin (2:1).
The question is: How can the certainty of God’s forgiveness lead to holiness (not sinning)? Is that then not exactly the opposite? Will the Christian not sin exactly because he knows that God forgives?
That is the logical deduction, but wrong. Not only does the entire Scripture contradict that, but the child of God’s own experience also contradicts it. The knowledge of such great love and knowledge of undeserved forgiveness which cost the life of the Saviour in addition to the love in the heart of the Christian for the Lord, the new reborn nature, is the reason that the believer certainly does not want to sin. The person who confesses that he/she knows the Lord, but who treats sin lightly, certainly does not know Him!
Forgiveness and purification – which you already have ahead of time – have a sanctifying effect on the Christian.
A thoroughly-saved Christian man once married a devoted Christian lady. His life before he became a Christian, was not very good. He was truly a slave to sin. He was so afraid that those sins could flare up again and that he would sin against his wife. Therefore he told her everything that happened in his past.
She answered him as follows:
“John, I want you to understand one thing very well. I know the Word of God and I know the workings of Satan. I also know that you are a truly saved man, but I also know that inside of you the old sinful nature is still hiding and that the devil will want to find a connection with it. He will do everything to put temptation in your way. The day may come – may God prevent it – that you will give in to it. Then the enemy will make you believe that all is lost and that you have messed up everything and that you may as well continue to live in sin and that you must not tell me about it because I will be hurt by it. But I want you to know that this is your home and this is where you belong. I want you to know that – as far as I am concerned – there is forgiveness for whatever evil may come into your life.”
Upon which John exclaimed: “If there is ANYTHING that will always keep me faithful to you, it is THAT.”
That is exactly what 1 John 2:1 teaches. God’s promise of restoration and purification and forgiveness He sets BEFOREHAND as a given. And He does that so that we would not sin. Such love is without limit and above our understanding. We shall never understand it. And it affects us. We want to live a life of holiness and to His glory – always and in all circumstances.
NUMBER TWO: THE WORK JESUS HAS DONE AND IS STILL DOING (verses 1-2)
Despite the glorious promise mentioned above, it often happens that devoted Christians do fail and stumble and fall and sin. Look at the b-part of verse 1: But IF anybody does sin. The ANYBODY is Christians. Therefore it can happen, and indeed does happen!
What then in that case?
Answer: Then the Christian come to his/her Father with remorse and confession and live in forgiveness – because we may come to the Father at any time through the completed work on the cross of the Lord Jesus! And this is exactly how the child of God lives in holiness. Living in holiness does not mean to be sinless-perfect, but to take refuge in the atonement of your sin, and that is Jesus Christ the Lord. The completed work of the Lord Jesus is the reason and basis of it all. It has nothing to do with emotions and feelings. You can feel like a stone and still be forgiven – only because Jesus’s blood on the cross was so successful. It has nothing to do with us, but everything with Him!
The Apostle puts the solid basis upon which we build as follows: He says we have Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, as our Mediator with the Father (verse 1). It is work that He is STILL doing.
Mediator means someone who speaks in your defense. An advocate, therefore. The Greek puts it in the passive: Someone who is called to stand alongside you and help you. And that “someone“ is exactly who the Lord Jesus is. His work with His people was not completed when He rose from the grave. He carries everyone who belongs to Him in His heart.
One sees it when the Lord was still on earth. In Luke 22:32 He is promising Peter that He will pray for him that his faith may not fail.
And in Luke 12:8 He declares that whoever acknowledges Him before men, He shall acknowledge before His Father. He intercedes for us, says Romans 8:34.
Of course, we cannot compare the term MEDIATOR with an advocate in a present-day court of law. An advocate defends the client’s case based on any merit the client may have.
But in 1 John 2 there is no question of any merit on the side of the Christian who has sinned. All merit is on the side of the Mediator! He intercedes for you based on HIS merit before God the Father! And His merit always succeeds! Consequent!
Look, verse 1 says He is the RIGHTEOUS ONE! He owns all the merit that is acceptable to the Father and that makes the sinner acceptable before God! His entire character reflects the absence of any injustice. In Him, there is no wrong. He is JUST in every way. That is what/who He is. And He is that for the sake of the Christian who confesses sin. Never does He seek His interest. He seeks the interests of the child of God who confess sins. And He is righteous in every way.
THAT is the solid ground upon which the child of the Lord builds when he/she go to the Father with confession of sin and strives towards a life of holiness in lifestyle, thoughts, behavior, speech, etc.
But there is also a solid basis upon which we build and that is the WORK WHICH CHRIST HAS DONE (past tense): see verse 2. When I – was saved person come to the Father with confession of sin, I do not only build upon that which Christ is doing at present – namely that He is my Mediator. I also build on the fact that Christ himself is the atonement for my sins. It is an atonement that He completed successfully on the cross and therefore He IS the atonement here and now! He – who is here with me now – embodies the atonement!
The Greek word that is translated here with “atonement“, is the word hilasmos = an atonement sacrifice that appeases God’s wrath and predisposes Him in favour of the transgressor.
Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice God the Father himself provided to appease God the Father’s wrath and vengeance. In Christ’s sacrificial death, the Father is now favourably disposed towards the person who is in Christ. And take note: God himself provided it. It is not the man who is trying to do something to appease God’s wrath, as sometimes claimed in pagan religions! No, God himself satisfies His wrath so that His love can embrace and completely deliver the sinner. God himself opened the way along which a sinner may approach Him. And the way is Christ Jesus’s blood on the cross.
That is what gives the Christian the freedom to approach God with sin. To know that your Mediator does not plead your innocence. No, He acknowledges your guilt, but He offers His substituting sacrifice as the reason/ground/basis for your deliverance! You come to the Father with freedom, because Christ’s atonement sacrifice is the solid ground under your feet. What a glorious message!
Add to that the fact that Jesus is not only the atonement for our sins but also the sins of the whole world – verse 2b. For Jews and Non-Jews/nations who would also become part of US and is spread all over the world.
The notion of “the whole world” is not meant that every person is reconciled with God through Jesus because that would be at variance with the rest of the Scriptures which does not teach that all people are reconciled.
That can also not mean that Jesus is a potential atonement for every person in the world – dependent upon who would come to faith in Him – because that should also be at variance against the rest of the Scriptures which does not teach that cross-atonement is merely something potential. The atonement is a finished, completed atonement-sacrifice. It is not “activated” by man’s faith-confidence.
The notion “whole world” means therefore exactly what it says: the whole earth. Because all over the whole earth there are (and there shall be) those who will become part of US – people who – like John and his readers – will begin to trust and hope in Christ as Saviour – and to THEM He is indeed the atonement for their sins! As Revelation 5:9 says: “You were slain, and with your blood, you purchased men for God FROM every tribe and language and nation”. The whole world is the territory from which Christ’s blood redeems His saved people. All those who would ever come to faith!
If the Lord Jesus has done all that for us – and all true believers all over the earth – how will it not encourage us to a life of complete surrender and devotion and the pursuit of a holy lifestyle?
Translated by Marthie Wilson