Category Archives: 1 John

Christ the Advocate – 1 John 2:1-2

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

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.” 1 John 1:8-2:2

Last time we reviewed the passage of Scripture from 1 John 1:8-10 included above.  This time, we will look at how the verses from 2:1-2 connect with our previous passage.  Remember that John has just laid down a test for us, one of recognition and confession of sin.  We looked at what it means for a person to deny sin, namely self-deception and calling God a liar.  We also dissected 1 John 1:9 to better understand how God’s character is linked to His actions for believers who confess their sins, namely in the forgiveness and cleansing from sins.

John begins verse 1 by addressing his readers as “little children.”  This is the first occurrence of several instances where he uses this compassionate term.  Like a father with his children John has a way of encouraging and assuring while also offering exhortation and warning.  He clearly speaks the truth in love as a loving Father would for his children.  After all, John has assumed the position of elder in these churches and he’s likely the oldest and remaining survivor of Jesus’ disciples.  Needless to say he has a spiritual as well as physical maturity.  With this address to his readers, it’s almost as if he jumped out in chapter 1 with a quick blow to the Gnostic influences of the Church and here settles into the message of his letter.  He does this by pointing out the first, of several, reasons for writing his epistle.  The first is an exhortation to holiness, “so that you may not sin”.

In the previous 3 verses John has just delivered a test of assurance for his believers: recognize your sin and confess it.  As we previously mentioned, he ties this into Christ’s atonement (from vs. 1:5 and in vs. 1:9) and links this to the character and actions of God (vs. 1:9).  After reading the end of chapter 1, you can almost hear people clamoring with the same response that the Apostle Paul expected in his letter to the Romans, “Hooray!  We can sin all we want and as long as we confess it to God, He has to forgive it!”  To which Paul responded “By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2 John’s response comes by way of giving reason for his letter, “so that you may not sin”.  This is a purposeful statement by John, not just mere sentiment.  He’s instructing them in a path of godliness and holiness and will soon outline for them (and us) the Christian’s incompatibility with sin.  It’s important to understand that John has not given his readers a pass to sin, quite the opposite, but watch the amazing direction that He takes next.  “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  This is a hope filled statement from John.  Imagine the churches reading this for the first time and you can almost hear the gasps and sighs of relief.  A gasp at vs. 1:8, a sigh at vs. 1:9, gasp again at vs. 1:10 and holding it in to the middle of vs. 2:1, when a divine truth is revealed through the little powerful conjunction that the ESV renders, “but”.  In a practical application of John’s letter the phrase “but if”, could nearly be replaced by “when” anyone does sin, because of the given certainty of the action.  In fact, as we will see, the very nature of Christ’s advocacy implies that believers will indeed sin.

We can best picture Christ’s role as Advocate in terms of a divine defense attorney.  Perhaps in the courtroom setting we would see God the Father as the Supreme Judge, Christ as Defense attorney, Satan as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), and 1 by 1 persons are brought before the Judge.  Will you stand before the Judge and represent yourself?  Or will you entreat yourself to the Divine Advocate?  That is the eternal question dear reader.  Only insane, depraved people would dare stand before a holy God and plead their own case.  Yet it does not have to be that way.  The evidence is stacked against everyone: sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:1-3), guilty not merely on the basis of imputed sin (Romans 5:12-19), but on the basis of rebellion against God in breaking everyone of His righteous, holy commandments (Romans 3:10).  The Accuser standing in prosecution pointing out every vile detail, when Christ the Advocate stands in and lays His body of evidence down before the Judge on behalf of all those who have repented and placed their faith in Him.  Puritan Thomas Watson adds, “Christ by his intercession answers all bills of indictment brought in against the elect. Do what they can, sin, and then Satan, accuses believers to God, and conscience accuses them to themselves; but Christ, by his intercession, answers all these accusations.”1   It’s as if Satan would say, “See what sin he’s committed!”  And the Judge replies, “Yes, but see what my Son has done!  See His nail-scarred hands and pierced side!”  And the verdict is handed down for the believer, “Not guilty, on the basis of Jesus Christ.”  What glorious news dear Christian!

Before we move from this passage, there are two details that John has provided for us in this passage, as it relates to the Advocacy of Jesus Christ.  The first we find at the end of 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous”.  Certainly tied up in the name of Jesus Christ is his deity, Sonship, Lordship, and Messiahship, but look at what John adds, “the righteous.”  It is a sad fact that so many evangelical churches neglect the importance of a statement such as this and as a result, many Christians fail to understand its significance.  Just as important as Christ’s death on the cross, which all orthodox believers would agree on, was His perfectly sinless, holy, righteous life.  If the single focus of Christ’s work was His death, then certainly He could’ve come as a man and died on the cross that very same day.  But there was greater purpose.  Christ had to be born as a man, live as a man, do what man could not, namely obey the law of God, suffer as a man, and die as a man all the while His divine nature was joined together with His human nature (100%/100%).  The Apostle John points out to us that Christ’s advocacy is secured on the basis of His righteousness.  Not only that, but had Jesus merely offered forgiveness of sins and a pardon of the guilty, it would simply bring the guilty party from debt to balance.  There would still be no basis upon which to grant eternal life in the presence of Almighty God.  Thus Christ’s righteousness was needed for the believer.  This is what theologians refer to as the “Great Transaction”.  Man, guilty in his sins, has his sins “imputed”, judicially speaking credited, to the “account” of Christ, for which He takes the punishment due them, namely the wrath of God (1 Cor. 5:21; Romans 3:24-25).  The other side of the transaction involves the righteousness of Christ being imputed to believers (Romans 5:19).  The righteousness of Christ cannot be overstated.  John includes it because it is His character and he once again links character with action, as we see in vs. 2:2.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  The word propitiation completes the link that John creates and is our second detail that provides the basis for Christ’s advocacy.  Propitiation is a word that has massive implications.  One in which we will look at in greater later, but for now, we will summarize by pointing out that in Christ’s death on the cross He was the One making the sacrifice and also THE Sacrifice.  It is on this basis that His advocacy took effect.  With the inclusion of Christ as the One making the sacrifice and the One being sacrificed, we can draw upon deeper meaning into His advocacy, namely His Office of High Priest (see Hebrews).

Now the question you might ask after hearing this is, “If all of our sins were forgiven, why do we need an Advocate?”  We need an Advocate because we cannot stand on our own righteousness because we have none and for that reason God always looks at believers through Christ, the Advocate. His legal brief as defense attorney is His righteousness and His propitiation (altogether His atonement).  Because of the holiness of God, He cannot look upon sinful man as forgiven and cleansed from unrighteousness except through His Son Jesus.  As Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, “I need such a representative in the presence of God because of the holiness and the absolute righteousness and justice of God.  That is the way, and the only way, whereby any one of us can ever come into fellowship with God or can ever be maintained in that glorious fellowship.”2  Simply put, His advocacy on our behalf is eternal, as “He always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25) and this should give all believers immense  assurance.

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 2:1-2:2):

  1. Review Hebrews, specifically chapters 6-10 which focus on the High Priestly role of Jesus and the offer of His sacrifice.
  2. Read Leviticus 16.  What parallels, if any, can  you draw between the Old Testament ‘Day of Atonement’ and the passages from Hebrews?
  3. If you previously looked up the definition for propitiation, what two significant actions from Leviticus 16 are foreshadows of Christ’s propitiation?

 

Resources:

  1. Thomas Watson Body of Divinity
  2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Life in Christ Studies in 1 John

Test 2 – Recognition of Sin 1 John 1:8-10

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10

We’ve been working our way through a study of 1 John on this blog as a way to make additional usage of the notes and expositions I’ve used in teaching this book of the Bible.  The previous 3 posts are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.  In this post, we come to the Apostle John’s 2nd test, again a moral or ethical test, though this time on the recognition of sin.  As we discussed in the intro to 1 John, the likely heresy of the age that John was confronting was a form of Gnosticism.  It has been suggested that those who seceded from the churches in Asia Minor were Gnostics and had come to believe that the “trivial” or everyday sins of the people no longer effected them, in essence they believed they were capable of being without these sins.  It’s to this erroneous notion that John directs his second test, a recognition of sin.

John begins this section by confronting the belief that a person can attain sinless perfection.  Gnostic beliefs, while varied and numerous, included a warped and unbiblical view of good and evil.  Fundamentally, they had a flawed view of believer’s sanctification, so some began to withdraw themselves from society in order to help promote a higher level of sanctification, perhaps living more of an ascetic lifestyle.  Others took the opposite approach believing it didn’t really matter how one lived, resulting in loose or lacking moral values.1 Still, others believed “to have reached such an advanced stage in spiritual experience that they were ‘beyond good and evil.’ They maintained that they had no sin, not in the sense that they had attained moral perfection but in the sense that what might be sin for people at a less mature stage of inner development was no longer sin for the completely ‘spiritual’ man. For him ethical distinctions had ceased to be relevant” 2  It’s likely this latter group are those that John is addressing as he states, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  John again presents the negative aspect of his test and adds a stinging indictment that those who claim to have no sin are self-deceptive and lack the truth.  In verse 10, John reemphasizes his argument by adding “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  As though saying those who deny their sinfulness practice self-deception and lack truth wasn’t harsh enough, he goes on to say that by doing so they actually are calling God a liar and they possess not His word.  Boiling that test down, those who say they have no sin lie not only to themselves, but call God a liar and are not His children.  God’s word clearly states the sinfulness of man (see Romans 3:10-18.  Not only that, but passages such as Genesis 8:21 and Jeremiah 17:9 explain that man’s sinfulness is beyond deeds, such as do’s and don’ts but actually extends to the nature of who man is.  At his heart he is sinful.   It therefore goes without saying that to argue a point contrary to God’s Word is calling God Himself a liar and that’s the very position that John stresses to his readers.

In addition to a failure to recognize sin, it’s remarkable how few professing believers understand the necessity of confession of sin to God on a regular basis.  If it’s even done at all, it seems all too often that repentance is believed to be a one-time event, whereas in this passage we see John emphasizing believer’s confession.  Just like it would be absurd to say that a believer in Christ could stop having faith in Him and still have salvation, the opposite side of the same coin is also true, it is an unbiblical, even absurd, idea that confession of sin to God should cease at any point.  We see this sandwiched between the two negative applications of John’s moral test as he adds an evidence of genuine salvation, i.e. confession of sin, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is an oft-quoted passage, but I fear it’s one that is rarely deeply considered or one that’s read in its context.  Notice the links in the statement John is making, believer’s confession of sin magnifies 2 aspects of God’s being: 1) The character of God, i.e. His faithfulness and justice and 2) The actions of God, i.e. His forgiveness of believer’s sins and cleansing from all unrighteousness.  It seems clear that in this verse John views the actions of God as an outworking of His character.  It would serve us well to explore this relationship a bit more deeply. 

How are we to understand God’s faithfulness and justice?  Well, through His forgiveness of sins and cleansing from unrighteousness for starters.  God’s faithfulness is inextricably linked to His promises made to those who repent of their sin and place their faith in His Son, Jesus, namely he offers them forgiveness and removal of sin.  As Matthew Henry points out, “God is faithful to his covenant and word, wherein he has promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors.”3  Remember in the last post where we looked at the significance of Christ’s blood poured out in the New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins.  We see this again in a passage from Colossians, He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13-14 God is faithful to His promise for those who seek forgiveness through repentance and faith.  He has promised forgiveness of sins for those who repent and place their faith in Jesus.  If God were not faithful to that promise, He would not longer be God.  But indeed He is faithful and He is most certainly God, a forgiving and merciful God for those that seek Him.

The second attribute of God’s character that John mentions here is His justice and it is put on display through the cleansing of believer’s [who make confession, remember this is evidence of genuine faith] from all unrighteousness.  God is able to do this because the demands of His justice have been met in the cross of Jesus Christ.  Think about this believer, not only were the sins you committed prior to your salvation forgiven in Christ, but ALL of your sins, even your future ones.  Practically speaking all of our sins were future when Christ made His atoning sacrifice.  God’s holiness was vindicated through the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, who took the punishment, namely the wrath of God, for all those who would ever believe on Him.  As Paul states, “It [God’s forbearance in passing over former sins] was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:26  In an amazing and humbling divine work, God is able to be just and the justifier of believer’s because of Christ’s atonement.

The Apostle John’s test here is twofold: 1) the recognition of sin and 2) the confession of sin.  Dear reader, do you recognize sin in your life?  Do you despise it and desperately want rid of it?  Do you cry out like the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24  Do you make quick confession of sin or do you let it linger and fester?  Is your chief concern the offense of a holy God?  These are signs of genuine believers.  Contrast that with the negative implications of the test.  Are you oblivious to sin in your life?  Do you fail to recognize it and fail to confess it?  A denial of sin is self-deception and ultimately the self-deceived are not only lying to themselves, but are calling God a liar as well.  A test of true assurance in the Christian faith is continual recognition and confession of sin.  Do you pass the test?

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):

1.       Why does John buttress his argument of believer’s confession of sin with Christ’s role as advocate? (vs. 2:1)

[Note: if you have not already done so from the last post determine the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?]

2.      In verses 1:8-2:2, what aspects of Christ’s atonement does John emphasize?

3.      As revealed in our study passage (1:8-2:2), on what basis is Jesus “qualified” to serve as believer’s advocate?

 

References:

1 Hill, Jonathan, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity [Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006], p. 65

2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 26

3 Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible

Test 1: Walking in the Light 1 John 1:5-7

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

If you haven’t yet read the previous 2 entries in our study of 1 John, Part 1 and Part 2 let me encourage you to do so before continuing in this one, that way continuity and context is maintained.  Here, in this section of John’s first chapter, we again see his eyewitness testimony, this time in the form of hearing a message from Christ and proclaiming that message to the Churches to whom he’s writing (and subsequently all believers).  His message that he’s relaying is, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”.  In this passage, some have pointed out that light has 2 characteristic meanings as it relates to God.  The first is that the light is life, namely eternal life.  Support for this can certainly be found in John 1:4, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” and John 8:12 “Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In these passages we can see the link between the light of God and the life of God.  Without going into greater detail with this possible implication of “God is light,” let’s look at the second one.

It would seem in our passage from 1 John that the more natural interpretation of “God is light” relates chiefly to the holiness of God.  In context, it seems that this is the most likely intention because it is contrasted in the same sentence with “in him is no darkness at all”.  The flow of John’s argument in the following two verses maintains this contrast of light vs. darkness as it relates to an individual’s walk or daily life.  Therefore, it seems best interpreted as a distinction between holiness and sinfulness or perhaps better stated as godliness vs. ungodliness.  This leads us to the first test that John provides which he begins with the statement, “If we say”. 

John’s test is as follows: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  The parts to this test are simple and have great implications for us today.  In his test, John outlines a common If/Then statement of logic.  If we, as professing Christians, say that we have fellowship with God, (remember we defined that fellowship last time as being adopted into the family of God, thereby having communion and a relationship with Him) yet we continue to walk in a pattern of sinfulness, then we are liars and our profession is a lie.  The application of this test to your own heart should convict you.  Are you one of the many Christians in name only who profess Christ but display no visible evidence of being in fellowship with Him?  Is your life marked by a pattern and lifestyle of sin, rather than a pursuit of holiness?  Do you detest sin and have a burning desire in your heart to love the things of God, namely His Son, His Word, and His people?  This is the test that lies before us today.  Do you fail or pass?

Not leaving us alone with just the negative implications of the test, John provides the solution for his readers in verse 7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”   Here he exhorts genuine believers to walk in holiness, as God is holy, such that we have fellowship with one another and efficacy of Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice.  Working through John’s logic backwards we can see that a consequence of Christ’s atonement is cleansing from sin, fellowship in God’s family, and a life marked with holiness.  Justification, adoption, and sanctification. 

The significance of Christ’s blood here cannot be understated.  It’s not to be dismissed or classified as gruesome as so many liberal theologians are apt to do, but must be understood as necessary to bring life to the unbeliever and cleansing from sin.  The entire foreshadowing of the OT blood sacrifices is significant to the bloody death of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This echoes the Old Testament passage “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Leviticus 17:11 Christ Himself emphasizes the significance of His blood as marking the establishment of His New Covenant, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” Matthew 26:28 and Paul points out for us in Ephesians 1:7 that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” and again in 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

This is an oft-neglected and misunderstood aspect of Christ’s atonement, but as we’ve seen it’s essential, not for mystical powers as some have claimed, but for its significance of marking the New Covenant in which Christ’s atoning sacrifice brings cleansing and forgiveness of sins and thereby life to the sinner who repents and puts their faith in Him.  The test that John lays out for us in the passage should either convict or reassure the hearts and minds of those who read it.  Conviction should come to those who understand and realize that their lives are not marked with holiness nor a desire for godliness, but instead are a display of sinful patterns of behavior.  If this is you dear reader, then it is time for you to repent and turn from your sins.  Turn to Christ in faith and trust in Him for the cleansing and forgiveness of your sin.  God alone is holy and it is the righteousness of Christ that you are in need of.  Call on Him today.

Believers, this should either be a wake-up call to you or proof of the genuineness of your faith.  If you are battling besetting sins, then you need to realize that the mark of a genuine believer is walking in holiness.  As we will see in the coming verses, confession of our sins gives evidence of true salvation.  Return to God today, confess your sin, and seek a life of godliness. 

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):

  1. What is the next “test” that John offers his readers?
  2. If believers are already forgiven of their sins, past, present, and future, why does John exhort a pattern of confession (vs. 1:9)?
  3. What is the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?
  4. Using a good Bible dictionary or commentary, define propitiation (vs. 2:2). [Note in some Bible versions this word may be translated as ‘atoning sacrifice’; the Greek word is hilasmos]