Exposition of 1st John 2:1-2
In John’s first movement, he explains how Christians experience eternal life in fellowship with joy, and to do that he begins with the nature of God. He shows that God’s nature is holy and entirely separate from all darkness; there’s no shadow of deception or unrighteousness in the nature of God’s being.
The holiness of God then presents the first obstacle to human fellowship and joy in his presence.
How can fallen humans experience real fellowship with a God in whom there is no darkness?
How can fallen humans rejoice in the presence of a God who fundamentally opposes their sin?
John then dismantles three false solutions to this problem:
To ignore the holiness of God and try to have fellowship with him while living in darkness
To ignore our fallen human nature and deceive ourselves into thinking we are without sin
To deny our fallen nature altogether and reject the idea that we have sin
These are false solutions to the problem of God’s holiness.
Now we are going to hear God’s solution for restoring fellowship between the fallen human race and our holy God.
The three primary theses of this movement are as follows:
We come to God through the sacrifice and mediatorship of Christ
Love for God is expressed by living out his word
God’s original command is now realized in our lives because of Christ in us
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
“Dear children”: John’s genuine affection for God’s children is evident by his use of the phrase Τεκνίον, meaning “little child”; this phrase is repeated six times in this epistle (1 John 2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21).
This phrase compels us to read this letter with a tone of paternal care and affection. The tone that you use to read this letter will determine how you understand the heart and intent of this letter and can predispose us towards wrong conclusions.
“I write this to you so that”: the function of this phrase is highly misunderstood in John’s epistle.
This phrase appear six times in various forms (2:1, 8, 12, 13, 26, and 5:13)
This phrase is not used to provide the purpose of the epistle as a whole
This phrase is used to explain John’s major propositions as he develops the major themes that he provided in his prologue.
John’s first major proposition is that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5). Therefore, this verse is concerned with developing our understanding of God’s nature and our fellowship with him.
Specifically, John is going to answer the implied question of “how can fallen humans have fellowship with a holy God who is resolutely opposed to all darkness?”
“So that you will not sin”: one of the chief distinctions between Christ’s way to God and the world’s way is that Christ’s solution to our ethical problems is not law but grace-empowered transformation.
The Bible explains the true nature of sin to us, and it’s not pretty:
Sin actively looks for an opportunity to attack our souls (Gen. 4:7)
Sin is always directed against God (Ps. 51:4) and against his ways (Isa. 30:9)
Sin is always rooted in faithlessness towards God (Ro. 14:23)
Sin takes us captive as slaves to obey its rebellion against God (Ro. 6:16)
Sin produces death (Ro. 6:23)
Therefore, sin is contrary to the eternal life that John says is the goal of his writings. Deliverance from the power of sin unto the power of righteousness is at the very heart of the gospel. This deliverance is produced by beholding the glory of Christ and being transformed into the same image from glory to glory:
2nd Corinthians 3:18 (CSB) We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The process of our sanctification in the light is described in 1st John 1:5-10 as follows:
God is light, faithful, and just
Christ is our mediator and cleanses us from all sin as we faithfully confess our sins and walk in the light
This produces the fruit of joyful fellowship with the Church
KEY SUMMARY: Our sanctification begins with the reality of God’s nature and progresses in communion with the Body of Christ as the Holy Spirit washes away our sin-guilt with the blood of Christ in those who walk in humility with faith towards Christ.
“But if anybody does sin”: the question must be asked that if God is light and cannot have any fellowship with darkness, and humanity is fallen and cannot deny its sinfulness, how then can our broken fellowship with God be restored?
The gospel expresses God’s determination to take sinners, give them a new heart, and carry out their sanctification so that they can be renewed in the image of Christ, who is the New Man.
KEY APPLICATION: God cleanses our sins by his love that was proven for us when Jesus died on the cross, and teaches those who walk in the light the way of new life in Christ!
“We have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”: Jesus is our heavenly Paraclete (Advocate) and is the one through whom our sanctification occurs!
1st Corinthians 1:30 (CSB) It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption…
The Christian’s answer to sin is not merely “try harder”, but – to use Christ’s words – “come closer”.
From our Advocate we receive all grace from God
In the presence of the Righteous One we learn righteousness
Now, what does it mean that Christ advocates on your behalf in heaven? Does that mean God has become our accuser? Certainly not! That was Satan’s name!
Christ’s advocacy on our behalf in heaven is most clearly explained in the following:
Romans 8:33-34 (CSB) Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. 34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
Hebrews 7.25-27 (CSB) Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. 26 For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself.
Hebrews 2:17-18 (CSB) Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement, for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
Christ advocates on our behalf in heaven to:
Intercede on our behalf and bring grace from God to meet our needs
Forgive our sins by the sacrifice of his blood
Help us in our deepest struggles
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins”: our sins separated us from God (Isa. 59:2) and provoked his wrath (Ro. 1:18), but the atoning sacrifice of Christ satisfied God’s wrath by the demonstration of his great love and has restored our fellowship and unity with God.
Because sin separates us from God, in whom is the life of humanity, it produces death, which means that all who sin must die.
KEY GOSPEL APPLICATION: God’s answer is that he took upon himself the full weight of death that your sin produced, so that through his sacrifice you could experience the full joy of eternal life that God’s love produces!
No one else could have accomplished this for us because everyone has sinned:
Matthew 16:26 (CSB) For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?
This phrase in 2:1 is key for clearing up one of the most common misconceptions about what John said earlier:
1st John 1:7, 9 (CSB) 7 If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Atonement for sin is not made by:
Walking in the light
Confessing our sins
Atonement for sin is made exclusively by Christ’s sacrifice! “Walking in the light” and “confessing our sins” is how we experience the reality of Christ’s atonement with joy in fellowship with God and one another.
Instead of being the means of atonement, John tells us that anyone who is not confessing their sins and walking in the light has not yet experienced the reality of Christ’s atonement.
“Not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world”: John identifies the object of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us by saying that the scope of Christ’s sacrifice is not limited only to those who walk in the light, but extends to the whole world.
Some careful attention is required at this point.
The application and sanctification of Christ’s atonement is limited to believers alone:
1st John 1:7 (CSB) If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1st John 2:1 (CSB) My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Atonement extends as widely as sin extends:
John 3:16-18 (CSB) 16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
Think of Christ’s atonement as a great reservoir. There is enough water for everyone to drink, but only those who come to the fountain can drink; so the provision for our atonement was generously provided for the whole world, but the sanctifying ministry of that atonement only occurs in those believers who follow Christ having confessed their sins with their heavenward hope set solely on Christ.
This is the first point in which John introduces the “world” metaphor into his epistle (1st John 2:2, 15, 16, 17; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 14, 17; 5:4, 5, 19):
Don’t love the world because everything in the world is evil and passing away (2:15-17 “World ” x3)
The world contrasted with God’s children as those who don’t know him (3:1)
The world sometimes hates Christians (3:13)
The possessions of this world are used by Christians to express God’s love (3:17)
Many false prophets have gone out by the spirit of the anti-Christ to deceive the world (4:1, 3-5)
Jesus sent into the world as its Savior so that we might live through him (4:9, 14)
Christians need to live like Christ in the world (4:17)
Christians have conquered the world through faith (5:4-5)
The whole world is under the sway of the evil one (5:19)
John uses the “world” metaphor as our mission field representing the lost in contrast to God’s children.
This is important because it indicates the kind of heart we must approach the lost people of this world with; “as Christ was in this world, so we also must be”.
As Martin Luther wrote:
Thou, too, art part of the world, so that thine heart cannot deceive itself and think, The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me.
KEY THEOLOGICAL APPLICATION: The atonement has real efficacy for the whole world; to believers it brings life, to unbelievers death.
This is the meaning of what Paul wrote:
2nd Corinthians 2:14-16 (CSB) But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things?
God’s answer to human sin isn’t to ignore our darkness, it isn’t to pretend that we are sinless, and it isn’t to ignore the existence of sin altogether; God’s answer to our sin was to take the full weight of sin’s burden upon himself in death so that the full weight of eternal life could be given to us by his love; to transform us in his presence as we humbly confess our sins and walk in the light; and to cleanse us from the guilt of our sin by the washing of his blood.
God’s way preserves justice and transforms the sinner into the image of his son, from glory to glory.
God’s way is the way of eternal life.