“My little Children”
John addresses the church as his children. It is, perhaps, a reference to the fact that John was instrumental in bringing the good news of Jesus to these people, and they in believed that message. As Paul said to the Corinthians, he had ‘birthed’ (eteke) them in the faith.
John is acting in the manner of a father to them. He is not behaving like a sergeant major whose aim is to whip them into military shape. He has real concern for their spiritual welfare, and he wants them always to be reminded of the good news and the reality of Christ’s saving work. And this saving work has real, observable effects on the attitudes and behaviours of those who are saved.
“I write these things to you so that you might not sin.”
What is sin? In the Hebrew language, the word for sin literally translates as “missing the target”. The tribe of Benjamin had, at one stage in Israel’s history, 700 slingers who could each aim a stone at a single strand of hair and not “sin”, meaning that they did not miss that target. They were very good shots.
The target that we all have as God’s creatures is obedience to God’s moral law. Later in this letter, John tells us that sin is lawlessness. Whenever we act or have desires contrary to God’s law, we sin. We are very bad shots.
But, because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus Christ, we are to aim at giving up our sin. We are to put sin to death, just as Paul says. The gospel is not a reason to become relaxed about our sinful behaviours. God’s free and full mercy to us in Christ is in fact the biggest argument against having a relaxed attitude toward our bad behaviour.
If our Lord Jesus Christ so humbled himself to …
- take on humanity by being conceived and born a human baby,
- live a completely good, law-abiding life despite the opposition of sinners and the temptations of the evil one, and
- take responsibility for the sins of his enemies and to be condemned and executed in their place
… so that he might rescue bad people like us from that condemnation, how can anyone who has received such mercy be content to go on living a lawless, God defying life?
“And, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Here John recognises that Christians will fail in spite of their best efforts to live lives free of sin. In fact, the Bible does not anticipate perfect sinlessness in believers here and now.
Jesus Christ has made us saints while we were still sinners, and he keeps us saints even though we are still sinners.
John explicitly recognises this in those to whom he writes and he recognises this in himself.
He says that, if anyone sins (and each one of us will – 1 John 1:8 & 9), We have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1)
Note that when the apostle says “if anyone sins”, he means “if any Christian” sins. We know this because of what he says next. If any Christian sins, We Christians have (present tense) an advocate with the Father. John saw himself as a sinful Christian who always needed an advocate.
An advocate, in this sense, is a legal representative. The word itself simply means one who is at your side. In an other context, Jesus called the Holy Spirit by this term. In the passage of John’s gospel, the term is usually translated as “comforter”. The Holy Spirit brings reassurance to believers that they have not been abandoned by God. The Holy Spirit reminds God’s people of Christ and his word and what he has done for them.
In this letter, Jesus is spoken of as a legal representative at our side, on our side. He speaks for us before God the Father. He is there for our defence.
In his role as advocate, Jesus does not justify or minimise our sin, but he interposed his own righteousness and his death as fully satisfying God’s justice on our sinful behaviour.
This is because John not only identifies the Lord Jesus as our advocate, but he also reminds us that he himself is the propitiation for our sins.
The word “propitiation” means the removal of all offence. If we wrong a friend, and our friend is rightly offended, we try to restore that friendship in some way that removes the offence. Again, if one nation threatens war against another, often there is some attempt to appease the one who is threatening and thus avoid war.
The propitiation that Jesus achieved for us is that of his good life and his death in our place.
By his good life he provides human righteous for his people who have no righteousness of their own. Our Lord Jesus always kept the Law of God perfectly. He never missed the target, and he did this as a human being for us. It is his righteousness that is legally attributed to those who trust him.
In his death, Jesus took responsibility for our sins. God legally attributed our sins to his sinless Son, and his son was condemned and executed in our place. The only sinless man bore the sins of his people on a Roman cross and died because of those sins.
By his death Jesus completed the condemnation of our sins. By his good life he provides us with real human righteousness. He has removed our offence before God.
All who trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Bible can know that the offence of their sins has been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And not only for ours but also for the whole world.”
John is not teaching that everyone without distinction is propitiated by Jesus. It is not true that every human being, despite their attitude to Jesus Christ, will finally be saved.
What he is saying is that anyone, anywhere in the world, who trusts Jesus Christ shall be saved from their sins.
There are some implications from this statement:
- it identifies all people from all nations and cultures as sinners. No one is excluded.
- it identifies Jesus Christ as the only hope for any person in this world
- it reminds us of our obligation to contribute to the work of taking this message to the whole world.