1 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
I absolutely love this week’s passage. It shows us so much of Christ’s heart for us and introduces us to some unique aspects of His character. It also shows us John’s heart for his original audience and, I hope, it shows a bit of mine for you.
Remember that the passage that we look at each week comes out of the larger whole of 1 John. So far, we have seen that what John writes in this letter flows out of his personal experience and testimony with Jesus (1:1-4). We have also seen that, to “walk in the light” (1:7), we must repent consistently of our sin and trust in Christ – that how we see and talk about our sin matters (1:5-10). And it is the seriousness of our sin that brings us into today’s verses.
John starts this paragraph with “my little children” (2:1). This shows that he cares about them. The fact that he calls them that in this paragraph shows that what he is talking to them about is serious. It reflects how parents talk to their children in times of extreme danger or importance. Speaking from experience, I find that when my children are terrified that I remind them to “listen to Daddy” and my tone is the same as it was when I spoke to them as infants cradled in my arms. John is talking to his spiritual children about sin.
In fact, he expands his purpose for writing to include “so [they/we] may not sin” (2:1). I want to clarify that this does not point to personal, human perfection. It is unattainable on earth. This is not a cop out; it is merely the truth. It is in our nature to sin and our sin nature continually wages war against the Spirit of God in us (Romans 6:23, 7:15-20; Galatians 5:16-17). But even though this is true, we have to be careful in how we talk about sin. Knowing that we will always struggle with sin does not give us an excuse to sin (Galatians 5:1). Sometimes, even knowing that there is forgiveness to be had can tempt us to sin more and more (Romans 6:1-2).
Just as John showed us in last week’s passage, we must have an appropriate view of sin. If we deny our sinfulness, we are liars who have no part in Christ (1:8). But, if we confess our sins to him in repentance and faith in Christ, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). I do not know about you, but I struggle with the reality of my sin. I long for the day when I will see Jesus face-to-face and no longer struggle with sin. But I would be a fool to think that I had arrived at perfection before I kneel before perfection Himself in glory.
So, how does the reality of my continued sin fit with John’s purpose of writing “that [I] may not sin”? John acknowledges the reality of sin in verse 2: “But if anyone does sin”.
The picture that we see unfold in verse 2 is that of a courtroom. Our sin deserves death and hell (Romans 6:23, Revelation 21:8), and we are very clearly guilty (Romans 3:10, 23). As we saw last week, to plead innocent would be a lie and show that we are not in Christ (1:8). To plead guilty would be the truth. And, standing before the righteous Judge (Psalm 50:6, 75:7; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10), we would be as aware of our sins as Isaiah was when he stood in the presence of God:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Isaiah 6:5
As in any criminal trial, there is a prosecutor – an accuser. His name is Satan (which literally translates as “the accuser”). Revelation 12:10 describes him as “the accuser of our brothers” and actively accusing them “day and night before our God”. He will have plenty of evidence against us – all we have said and done. And, if we are honest, we know we are guilty of everything he accuses us of and that we have sinned against God (Psalm 51:4). In fact, if we look in the Word, we know that God already knows everything (and so much more, including our thoughts, desires, and motivations) that Satan brings before the court (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Do you yet grasp the gravity of our situation? Surely you know how this works. We have seen enough courtroom dramas to know when a prosecutor has nailed the proverbial coffin shut with evidence. Yet this is exactly where John begins: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1).
The word advocate is used only a handful of times in the New Testament, and most of those times it is translated as Helper or Comforter and refers to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 16:17). It paints the picture of one who shows up on behalf of another. In the case of the Holy Spirit, it refers to Jesus leaving His Spirit with His people once He ascended back into heaven. In the case of our advocate, Jesus Himself appears on our behalf – defense attorney, key witness, evidence, and Divine plea bargain.
Let me be clear that this is the point where our earthly legal dramas fail to picture what is going on here. Much of what we see on television (and assume happens often in the real-world) centers around someone “getting off” instead of being found guilty. As I said earlier, we are most assuredly guilty. Again, I remind you that everything the accuser says about us is true – all the evidence is genuine. The sin is ours, and we willfully committed each sin.
Our advocate is “Jesus Christ the righteous”. Were He to try to get the charges merely thrown out, He would not be righteous. There is “a record of debt” and “legal demands” that come with our sin (Colossians 2:14). The Judge cannot allow the debt to remain unpaid. But every penny – every good deed – that we have ever been capable of is not a drop in the bucket compared to the sin debt we owe.
Our accuser no doubt delights in this. What prosecutor could keep from delighting in a sure win? Yet our advocate steps forward and enters Himself into evidence. He is not just advocate but also propitiation (2:2).
Please, do not let the size of these words intimidate you. They are not fancy, academic words. They are Bible words that are important to our understanding of what Christ has done for us. The word propitiation means a sacrifice that trades wrath for favor, anger for gladness, Christ’s sinlessness for the punishment our sin deserves (Isaiah 53:5).
As our propitiation, Jesus covers our sin and shame. He decides to fully bear our punishment and gives us the favor He has as the Son of God, so, now, when the Judge looks out, He does not see our sin but His Son. How does Jesus do this? He does it “by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by “set[ting] it aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). He – the sinless Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) – took on our sin so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Rather than judgment, we find mercy. Instead of being condemned, we find grace. Since the Judge sees a son in the place of a sinner, we gain eternal life rather than the death sentence we deserve. And the accuser’s cries go unheard like those of a bug meeting the heel of a boot (Genesis 3:15). And we can rejoice that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
What do we do with this freedom?
We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments (2:3-4). We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us (Matthew 11:29).
We see the love that He showed us through His death and resurrection (Romans 5:8) show up in our own lives (2:5). We love Him because He loves us (4:19). And we show that love to others for the same reason (4:11, Matthew 22:38-39).
We reflect His Light and Life (2:6) like the moon does the sun – a pale reflection but pointing to Him, nevertheless. And, hopefully, just as the moon pulls the tides toward it, people will be drawn to our Savior because they see Him in us.
I do not have to ask if you are struggling with sin. But I ask that when you do, you run to the advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Now, that is good news!