The last couple weeks, in verses 5-10, one of the things John brought us to examine was the contrast between the life of the unbeliever and the believer: the unbeliever walks in darkness, the believer walks in the light. The unbeliever may deny that he has sin, the believer confesses sin and receives forgiveness. Indeed this is a contrast we see continued in different ways throughout the letter of 1 John.
As we open chapter 2 with the first two verses, we are brought to a struggle that is unique to the Christian; and that is the battle between sin and obedience. And really that has been part of John’s thinking in the last few verses of chapter 1 as well. In our text today John expounds further upon this idea. This is a battle that is exclusive to the Christian. If we are born again, we all know this fight, and have wounds to show for it – successes and failures. This is a fight that endures our lifetimes. As new creatures in Christ, we don’t want to sin, we want to obey; but we have a present enemy in our flesh, the world, and the devil that wants to see us fall, with which we battle all our days.
Knowing this, John sets out to give the believer ammunition in which to wage this war. Indeed, he has already done so in telling us of the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all unrighteousness, and reminding us of the promise of God to forgive us our sins when we confess them, and the fellowship we have with God and others to not go at this alone.
We see John’s true concern for his readers in his opening address in chapter 2, saying, “My little children…” More than simply a literary affection, but a term of endearment, showing his deep desire that we truly would have fellowship with God, walk in the light, confess our sins, and that we may indeed have victory and not sin. John, who would have been at an elder age when penning this letter, would truly have been a spiritual father to those whom he writes, they his true spiritual children. Many of which may have been converted under his ministry and discipled by him. In one sense this gives us a true insight into the nature of fellowship we have with one another in Christ. And we see that this is not a mere theological idea John writes about, but it consistent and tangible to his own experience of fellowship with younger believers whom he calls, “My little children.” We are indeed family in Christ.
In many ways we ought to let the Apostle John be a spiritual father to us today, as we read the holy writ which by the Holy Spirit he penned and is preserved for us. In this way we can be discipled by John through his letter and be able to name ourselves his “little children.” Ultimately the author of Scripture is God, who is our Heavenly Father, if we are Christians, of whom we are truly His “little children.” In this way God endears Himself to us, showing us his genuine desire and care for us to walk in the light, as He is in the light, and sin not. This is, we could say, is a tone-setter.
The Goal: That you may not sin
Upon addressing his audience, John states his goal clearly: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. Let us remember that John did not write in chapter and verses, but simply wrote a letter, thus we are reading his continued flow of thought. His goal in this, he states, is that we may not sin. John has made it clear that we will not be sinless; but that we can sin less. And that is the goal.
So what are “these things” that John says he writes that we may not sin? From a bird’s eye view we could say the entire letter. Among other things, the whole letter is designed to help us to not sin. But more directly, it is the things of which he has just spoken, verses 5-10 of chapter 1. We could even say the immediately following verses, 1-6 of chapter 2. “These things” that he writes here would fall into two categories. One being the warnings, such as “If we say we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. Or “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and truth is not in us.” The other category would be the promises, such as “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Indeed, it is both of these aspects of the Christian life – the warnings of sin, and the promises of the gospel – that teach us not to sin. But most directly, the forefront of the two, I believe he is referring to are the promises of the gospel, based upon how he immediately follows up this statement with the person and work of Christ on behalf of the Christian.
James Montgomery Boice puts it this way, “[verse 1] contains a call to holiness which in turn is based on two great christian certainties. The first is the promise of God to forgive sin, already stated in chapter 1. The second is the work of Christ, on which he elaborates.”
What Grace Produces
Now we know that there are many who would accuse the grace of God of giving license to sin freely without care. “If God promises to forgive us of all sin, then what does it matter if we sin, when we are promised forgiveness?” But according to Scripture, such thinking is faulty logic. For John, it does not follow that the free forgiveness we have in Christ gives us permission to sin. In fact, he states the opposite! The free forgiveness we have in Christ gives us permission to obey! The free forgiveness we have in Christ teaches us to NOT sin. The grace of God in Christ does not produce lawlessness, but obedience. If someone freely sins without repentance in response to the grace of God, then the grace of God has not taken root in their hearts. Indeed, they do not actually know or have the grace of God.
The Possibility: If anyone does sin
So as we’ve seen, John’s main goal here is to write to us so that we do not sin. And the grace of which he writes does not give us license to sin, but cleanses us from sin and all unrighteousness. But within the same breath of John stating his desired goal – that we do not sin – he recognizes the human condition and our sinful frailties by saying, “But if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
As we saw in verses 8-10 it is utter foolishness to say that we are without sin, and we are reminded here again of our sinful condition. Yet though we are to be realistic and biblical about our sin nature, we are shown here, no to make it an excuse for sin, and way to lighten our sin. Yes, we are going to sin. But that’s not the goal. The goal is to not sin! The goal is to be perfect. The reality of our sinful condition is not meant to make us okay with ourselves when we sin because we know that we are sinners after all. A true heart of repentance is not simply confessing our sins more quickly and more often; but it is to sin less and less and less. And to grow in our obedience and holiness to the Lord. And true Christians get excited about this and passionate about living a holy life.
But then, it’s a thought, a look, a word – something – and we have sinned. The goal is not to sin, and the possibility is that we will sin. And this reality of sin that a believer can fall into, often will bring in different things to the mind of the believer. John tells us that when a believer sins, we have an advocate before the Father. Yet, many times, it is not the voice of advocate interceding on our behalf that we hear, in the moments following our fall into sin, but it is another voice. It could be a number of other voices. And listening to these voices can do serious damage to our joy, assurance, and fellowship that we have with God and others. And these other voices are not advocating voices, but they are voices of condemnation.
The Narrative When we Sin
Let us, for a moment, take a view inside the mind and conscience of a believer, following a believer’s fall into sin. For many of us, it is our minds that we need to step out of to take a look at ourselves from the outside looking in.
Condemnation From the Law
For the true believer, there is a love that one has for the law of God, such as is echoed in the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 119, “Oh how I love your law!” There a knowledge of God’s law there. There is a familiarity with God’s law. There is a desire and effort to keep God’s law. There is an understanding of the weight of God’s law, and thus the serious nature of a breach of God’s law. And when such a believer sins, he knows that he is breaking God’s law. He knows the weight and the seriousness and the wrath that is put upon rebels to God’s law. It is not out of ignorance that a Christian breaks God’s law; but out of knowledge, out of a willful disobedience. And that, the Christian knows, is a real serious thing.
And so we have here before us, in view, the mind of such a believer. And this believer has just sinned before God, breaking his law, showing disdain for God’s law, and acting as a law unto himself! And so upon
breaking God’s law this believer is now being tortured in his mind by the law! He sees himself before the throne and the courtroom of God, and there on the witness stand is the law. With a cloud of thunder and lightening it booms and roars with holiness. Maybe this person has looked upon a woman with a lustful eye, and the law begins to witness against him saying, “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” But in foolishness this person dares to defend himself, “But I only looked upon a woman with lust…” The law then thunders back with the words of Jesus, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart!” And so as far as the law is concerned the verdict only rings out, “Adulterer!”
Or maybe this person is a child who is brought before the courtroom of God for lying about their siblings to their parents, and the law witnesses against them saying, “Honor your father and your mother” and, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And as far as the law is concerned you are a found guilty as a disobedient liar before God.
Condemnation from the Devil
But now we leave this believer’s mind who has been thoroughly accused and condemned by the law. We enter now into the mind of one who immediately after sinning is dragged before the throne and the courtroom of God by one who is called the “accuser of the brethren.” And ever since this poor believer’s conversion this accuser has been hurling accusations against him all day and night before the throne of God, seeking to have them condemned forever. This accuser brings up sin after sin, without end, continually bringing up sins you are surprised to hear because you had forgotten about them or never even realized you committed such sins. But this accuser holds nothing back, this accuser appeals to the law of God, “See! They have broken your law!” He accuses. This accuser sneers and jeers toward the judge saying, “Are you not a righteous judge who must punish all iniquity? You must bring justice down upon this law breaker!”
And the more this accuser continues with his accusations and his case upon no end, the more you listen to his case against you, the more you begin to realize that he has a case. You have broken the law. God is righteous. He must punish sin. He must punish you. And you begin to believe that the accuser will prevail!
Condemnation from Self
We have seen the law and the devil, and their modes of condemnation; but there is yet another believer’s mind into which we must enter. This is a poor little believer, who find it quite hard to believe the gospel, but yet has a small mustard seed of belief nonetheless. He is a sorry little creature. A continually sad and downcast believer who rarely experiences the joy of his salvation, and who rarely knows himself whether he is a believer or
not. But this believer enters into the courtroom of God by his own volition. He is not drug there by the law or the devil. This one needs no one to stand in the witness seat to bear witness against him – no law or accuser necessary – not because of his innocence, but because he goes into the witness stand himself to witness against himself.
As he rises to testify against himself he begins to list all of sins and failures and shortcomings, one after the other. Nothing he is saying is false. It is all true, he is guilty. As he witnesses against himself, he attempts to climb in to the judge’s seat so that he can just condemn himself. His own unrighteousness prevents him from rising to such a position as judge, and thus he slumps back into the witness stand to condemn himself of that. His own self witnesses so much against him that he begins to make all sorts of things he thinks he ought to be condemned for that law says nothing of.
Jesus Christ Refutes Them All
So we have seen three cases against three believers. But in each case the trial is not over! Look again to the first case. There as the law thunders forth its demands that have been transgressed, the doors of the courtroom swing wide open and in comes one who begins to advocate for this believer, “Yes,” says the advocate, “The law has been broken. But I have fulfilled it! See my hands, see my feet, see my sides, see my scars; I have taken his transgression upon myself and have suffered the punishment thereof! I did so as the only suitable substitute, living in step with law, keeping it at every point. But further still! Look at his clothes! Why those are my robes of righteousness that he wears that I have clothed him in. I see now no sin on him, but only righteousness. He is free.”
Ah, but what of the other, where there is an accuser before the throne of God day and night? As that accuser’s vile venom of accusation spits from his mouth, questioning the justice of God, the doors swing open and the accuser walks in saying, “Stop right there! God is both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness was maintained at the cross where I was justly punished on behalf of sinner’s so that the sinner who has faith in me could go free. See my blood as proof!” And the Lord Jesus Christ takes that accuser and he throws him down so that his accusations never arise to the throne of God again! And that believer begins to sing, “When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end of all my sin. Because the sinless savior died, my sinful soul is counted free. For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.”
Ah, but what of the other courtroom, where the poor believer is heaping condemnation on himself? Let us re-enter there where we find this poor believer slumping over in condemnation. The Lord Jesus, the advocate walks in, walks over to this little one, puts his arm around him, holds out his hand and says, “See what I have done for thee? Look at what you’re wearing. Is that not my righteousness? Look around – there is no one here to condemn you. Where is the law? I have satisfied it. Where is the accuser? I have thrown him down. Oh you of little faith, I will help your unbelief. Do you not remember? I have said that it is finished. Are you to continue it? Who is to bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! And that includes you! You have no charge to bring against yourself, I have cleared them all.”
The Assurance: We Have an Advocate
What happens when a Christian sins? He has an advocate with the Father. Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins. I love how A. W. Pink puts it, “Christ sits at God’s right hand as no silent and inactive spectator, but as an industrious and mighty Intercessor… Thus we have a friend at court who spreads before the Father the odours of His merits as the all-sufficient answer to every indictment which Satan prefers against us.”
The Basis for Christ’s Advocacy
Our advocate does not plead our innocence; he acknowledges our guilt and presents his vicarious sacrifice as the ground of our acquittal…Moreover, in this lies the Christian’s confidence, for it is not on the ground of our merit but solely on the basis of the finished work of Christ, therefore we are bold to approach a righteous heavenly father.
The twofold basis for Christ’s advocacy for his people is found in his righteousness (his life) and his propitiation (his death). It is upon Christ’s person, merits, and accomplishments that we are accepted before God – that and no other. And so the believer can truly sing these words from a Charles Wesley hymn:
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands;
My name is written on His hands.
He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for all our race,
And Sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die.”
The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away the presence of His Son:
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.
My God is reconciled, His pard’ning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.