A Message from John
One of the most thrilling passages in John’s first epistle is found in chapter 2, verses 1-2. The text reads as follows:
“My little children, these things write I unto you that you may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”
There are several points in this passage that are worthy of notation. Let us briefly concentrate upon them and the meaning they contain for our lives.
- The phrase “little children” is found nine times in this epistle. It reflects the tender love that the apostle had for his fellow Christians. Would it not be wonderful if more of God’s children would treat one another as “family”? This disposition is possible—even when we disagree. Can we not consider each other as “brothers,” rather than “enemies” (2 Thes 3:15)? This does not mean that we are allowed to ignore error; it does address the attitude we should adopt in dealing with our spiritual kinsmen.
- The text underscores the power of the written word; John hopes that his message will inoculate against sin in his brethren’s lives. There are those who believe that an inward, supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit guards them against wrongdoing. John knows nothing of the “zap” ideology. In fact, if such were the case, one could only conclude that the Holy Spirit is doing a mediocre job—since even Christians cannot live above sin. According to the apostle, the written word is the antidote against evil (Psa. 119:11). And when there is failure, the flaw is with us—not the Spirit of God.
- John acknowledges human weakness; he takes note of the fact that sin will overtake us on occasion (see: 1:8; cf. Rom. 7:15; 1 Cor. 10:12). I shall never forget the conversation that I once had with a Christian brother who, deadly serious, stated that he had finally graduated to the level where he sinned no more! I could only listen in stunned amazement, noting that he had eclipsed even God’s apostle. Perhaps John anticipated such arrogance when he wrote, “If we say that we have [present tense] no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). When we do yield to sin, if the evil is not remedied in the biblical way, even Christians can be cut off from Heaven’s grace (Gal. 5:4)—contrary to the dogma of Calvin.
- When the child of God does sin, however, he need not feel that his situation is hopeless. If he confesses his wrongdoing (1:9), and attempts to turn from such in repentance (Acts 8:22), his “Advocate” (parakletos – a term meaning, “to call to one’s side”) is available to help him. The idea suggested is a legal one; Jesus is the “counsel for the defense” on our behalf. Based upon his own flawless record (cf. “righteous” v.1b), and his atoning mission (1:7), he is qualified to plead our cause. If we practice “walking in the light” (the grammatical tense implies sustained activity), our case will not be lost!
- Jesus serves as the “propitiation” (hilasmos) for sin. In secular Greek the term denoted a price paid to mollify the wrath of another. While some object to this meaning within the biblical context, the reality is — it is by the Lord’s atoning death that the obedient are delivered from the wrath of God (Rom. 2:5,8; 5:9; 9:22; 1 Thes. 1:10).
Incidentally, a form of this word (hilasterion) is found in Hebrews 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy-seat” [the covering of the ark of the covenant] on account of the annual blood-offering for sin that took place on the Day of Atonement. Blood was sprinkled on the “mercy-seat” to atone for sin. Christ is the “covering” for our sins (cf. Psa. 32:1). When one attempts to “cover” his disobedience in any way that digresses from the divine plan, it is a futile effort.
- Finally, the potential universal effectiveness associated with the Lord’s death is emphasized. Christ died for the “whole world” (cf. Jn. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), which truth contradicts Calvin’s notion of “limited atonement.” This is the theory that Jesus died only for those whom God predestined to salvation before the foundation of the world. This view has no support in Scripture.
John’s wonderful word of admonition is brimming with instruction and comfort. Be refreshed by it.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.