“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):
- Review Hebrews, specifically chapters 6-10 which focus on the High Priestly role of Jesus and the offer of His sacrifice.
- Read Leviticus 16. What parallels, if any, can you draw between the Old Testament ‘Day of Atonement’ and the passages from Hebrews?
- If you previously looked up the definition for propitiation, what two significant actions from Leviticus 16 are foreshadows of Christ’s propitiation?
- Thomas Watson Body of Divinity
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones Life in Christ Studies in 1 John