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Photo: Martha G. Brady


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.  

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, 

and not only for ours

but also for the sins of the whole world.

I John 2:1-2 (NIV)

See prior links to this study either below under “related posts” or in the tag cloud click IJohn.

Once again, I need to encourage you to read this small commentary by James Montgomery Boice.  It is a great treasure and goes into more detail than I can in this venue.

This passage today is a very encouraging one but definitely needs to be taken in context with the passage from last week.   We get used to hearing these 2 verses but often forget the setting of I John.  He has set the stage for the fact that we all sin.  It is an ever-present fact of life.

For those of us who want to deny it, John says bluntly, we are liars.  For those of us who want to say we don’t sin anymore (now that we are Christians), he says we are making GOD a liar!  Okay!  He made that clear didn’t he?

Now, in that context, we read these tender words from John, an old man and pastor of 90 years old…or close to it!

“My dear children, I’m writing this to you so that you will not sin.”

It sounds like he is contradicting what he just said, doesn’t it?  But he isn’t.  If we stop here, we are interrupting him mid-thought.  I don’t know about you, but I have done that too often in real life!  My quiet, understated husband just stops talking when I do it…which infuriates me!

But he makes his point well and I let him finish what he has to say.  I have often laughed over the years at those who thought I ran our marriage.  It is so not true!  If you go by volume of words, I might, but leadership has way more to do with something more than volume of words!  It has to do with character, genuineness, mutual respect, and the ability to move people in the direction you need them to go…wherever it is!  But I digress.

To get to an outline, I’ll mention Boice’s here:  This sentence (vss. 1-2) calls us to holiness based on the two Christian certainties.

  1. The promise of GOD to forgive sin (discussed in chapter 1.)
  2. The work of Christ (to be discussed further now.)

1. GOD’s promise to forgive sin

Of course, John wants these Christians to be free of sin.  Boice spent a good bit of time making the case for the particular reason he chose the understanding of this section he did.  Because of space, I can’t include all of his reasoning here.  It is very interesting reading. I think many of you would enjoy reading it devotionally.

It boils down to an interpretation that says we can be assured of forgiveness of all our sin that happened at the cross and it will lead to a holy life (not a perfect one).  As impossible as this might sound, we can even find human illustrations of it.  He passed one on that he heard from a mentor and former pastor of the church he pastored, Donald Grey Barnhouse.

A young man lived a wild life in his younger days when he was fighting in Europe (during World War II…yes, it was a long time ago!)  Later, he was converted and even later, he met a young woman he was falling in love with.  He wanted to marry her, but was fearful that someday, in a weak moment, he would fall back into his old ways and hurt her badly (of course).  He wasn’t sure what to do.

As he discussed his past with her as well as his fear, he told her he was afraid he would hurt her in the future and for this reason, was afraid of marrying her.

Here was her reply: “The day may come (I hope it won’t) when you will succumb to temptation and sin.  Satan will tell you, you have ruined everyting, that you might as well continue in sin and above all you shouldn’t tell me because it will hurt me.  But I want you to know this is your home.  This is where you belong.  I want you to know that there is full pardon and forgiveness in advance for any evil that may come into your life.”

As this story was being told later to a young man in a similar situation, his response was “My God, if anything could ever keep a man straight, that would be it!”

As I read that illustration, I thought, “That is what Christ did for us!  Except that He knew the depths of our sinfulness when He died for us.  He knew we had already done that evil thing against Him to break His heart!…and then some!”

What a great illustration of GOD’s promise of forgiveness beforehand motivating a holy life!

2. The work of Christ

Yes, I know this is a huge topic.  Whole books have been written about it.  In fact whole books have been written about portions of this topic!  It is huge.  Space limits me of course.  Also, my ability to discuss it limits me immensely!  The other limitation?  We’re only discussing a part of it here as discussed in this passage.  But the basic bottom line here is based on who Jesus Christ is.

Three aspects of who He is are brought out in this section:

  • Our Advocate
  • The Righteous One
  • The Atoning Sacrifice

I have found that each time I focus on GOD and His attributes, I learn so much more about Him…and it brings Him into more focus…He becomes more concrete and less ethereal. It instructs me in my poor views of who GOD is, what salvation is, what the Gospel is, etc.

That is true in this case for sure!

For clarity, Jesus Christ, as the Son of GOD, the second person of the Trinity, equal with GOD, the same in being, but different in his work, is still GOD.  Remembering these three aspects of His character reminds us of who He is as well as what He came to do here on earth!

Our Advocate

He is the One is our Advocate before the Father.  We know what the word advocate means in our American culture in the legal profession.  At times, it can have a negative connotation.  As in, someone who gets a guilty person off scot free and is therefore not just.

That is not the use of this word despite the fact that guilty people are involved!  I learned that it is only in John’s writings that this word is used.  Of course, the concept is used throughout Scripture, but this word is only used in John’s writings.

The difference between our common use of the word advocate and the way he uses it is this: Rather than the advocate defending the defendent on the merits of his case (we have no merit in ourselves, we have no case before GOD!) The merit here is on the part of the Advocate…Jesus!  (cf. Luke 12:8, Romans 8:34)

The Righteous One

Which leads to the next logical point…He is our Righteous One.  He would have to be to be our Advocate!  Again, Boice goes into some more detail on what is being described in this passage vs. others in Scripture.  He suggests that in this passage, John is talking about Christ’s advocacy on the part of the believer who has sinned.  While other forms of His advocacy are true and mentioned in other passages, this one is what He is talking about here!

This isn’t talking about the advocacy the Righteous One took on for us before the Father on the cross.  He writing to Believers.  Some of whom may have failed their Lord in a time of persecution and wondered if they had believed in the first place!  He is reminding all of us that even as Believers, we will fall.  We will sin.

Even in those times, our advocate is the Righteous One, Jesus!

He is the One who is faithful, just and will forgive our sin…and will cleanse and purify as well!  (cf. I John 1:19)

Atoning Sacrifice

“Atoning sacrifice” is what is sometimes interpreted in place of propitiation.  It is closer to what propitiation really meant.  Other new versions use the word “expiation” which carries more of the meaning of covered or disinfected.  Propitiation carries much more of the meaning of an angry GOD…angry against sin.

In our more “enlightened” society, the feeling is that this angry GOD doesn’t exist.  He couldn’t possibly.  Yet so often in Scripture, we find a GOD there who is not sweet, loving and kind only, but is angry at sin, evil and injustice.  And shouldn’t He be?  Why do we have such difficulty with aspects of GOD that we don’t like or understand?  Why do we feel we must explain them away?  It seems they turn this GOD of the Bible into a wimp…certainly into something that is not true to His character, but a god made in our own image!

How much more hopeful and encouraging is it to know that this GOD of justice is also angry against sin and evil and can’t be in the presence of sin and unrighteousness.  For this reason He had to provide a temporary  provision for His people to approach Him in the Old Testament in the form of the sacrificial system followed by the coming of His Son to the world to give His Life…to fully satisfy that anger and justice on the cross.

Remember the darkness after Jesus died?  When the Father and Son were separated by sin?

Our Righteous Advocate doesn’t plead our innocence, He acknowledges our guilt…and presents His vicarious sacrifice as the grounds for our acquittal before the Father!

The motive for holy living?

We have a Righteous Advocate

who has become our atoning Sacrifice before the Father.

What a motive for worship and a holy life…if not a perfect one!