Letters From an Old Man, 3

That You May Not Sin

1 John 2:1—2

No matter how fundamental it is, this statement still raises eyebrows from Christians who either don’t know the Word or don’t think: There is no one who is sinless except for Jesus. No matter how old that dear blue-haired saint is who has been in the church for a hundred years, she is still a sinner! For those of us who diligently read and study the Bible, who endeavor to put its teachings to work in our lives in a God-pleasing and meaningful way, the tragedy is that we still stumble and sin from time to time.

What is sin according to John? In his theology, the word “sin” includes both the propensity and the act. What that says to me is that when it comes to the sin game, nobody can win! Even when we are standing still, or in traction from head to toe in the hospital, we still have the propensity to sin. So is there any hope? Where is the hope for one who has fallen into sin? What do we do with the believer—maybe the person who sits in front of you every Sunday morning—who has stumbled and fallen into sin? John, the elder statesman of the Church, gives us the answer by pointing to Jesus, the One who is our helper.

1. John the Comforter, 2:1a

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

The discussion John is about to have is deadly serious, but he starts off using a very strong term of endearment: “dear children.” This term is most often used as an affectionate way to describe the relationship between teacher and student. However, his readers aren’t immature children in terms of their ages. The term, really, is a way for John to show his authority as an apostle in the Church. Also because of his age, for by now he may well have been one of the last of the Twelve alive, he is the one person who is able to relate to young and old alike because he has seen it all.

After establishing his relationship with his readers, John writes an amazing statement in light of his previous statements about the fact that we all sin.

I write this to you so that you will not sin.

If sin is universal, then there must be a universal solution for the problem of sin. Just because sin is inevitable in the life of the believer, that does not mean that it should not be treated as an urgent concern. Many Christians are like the false teachers of John’s day, who were running around saying that sin is no big deal because God is a loving God and if I sin all I have to do is pray and ask for forgiveness. But sin is a big deal since John writes the statement, I write this to you so that you will not sin. Of course forgiveness is available by confession and the blood of Christ, but as a loving pastor, John writes to admonish his readers not to fall into sin. It is interesting that John writes in the singular here, as though he were writing to just one person. A good pastor, John is also good preacher.

(a) Sinlessness

Sin is such an enemy to the Christian that John is trying to show us how not to sin. Sin and obedience are mutually exclusive. John is not indicating that any of his readers are living in sin, because he has already said that they are having fellowship with God. In fact, John is trying to head off a potential problem for he is keenly aware of human weakness and the Devil’s seductive power. Since the hallmark of the Christian life should be the absence of sin, and that should be the goal of each and every Christian, it stands to reason that the Devil has each and every Christian in his sights. The Devil wants you to sin and he will stop at nothing to see that you do. The Devil wants you to come out of the light and back into the darkness. Sin is the one thing that can rob God of your fellowship and rob the body of Christ of your fellowship. Sin is something every believer should take seriously because there is no such thing as a “harmless” or “secret” sin. NO sin is harmless because it prevents you from having fellowship with both God and His Church. So it’s obvious when a fellow believer is having a sin problem: you never see them in church when they could be here.

The goal and lifelong pursuit of every child of God should be living a life marked by an effort to not sin. And it is a goal that is possible for every single believer to reach! It is attainable because of the very thing John wrote in chapter one of his letter. What are the things that make the goal of living a life marked by not sinning?

  • God’s self-revelation
  • The provision of fellowship with Him and His promise of fellowship with us
  • The promise of forgiveness and cleansing through walking in the light

Those things, says John, are the things that should inspire us and empower us to put forth the effort to stop sinning. The phrase that you will not sin refers to definite acts of sin rather than the habitual state. In other words, John knows his readers are sinners by nature, but they should NOT sin.

(b) A solution

The idea of sin as a power pushing us into performing acts or having attitudes contrary to God’s Word must be dealt with. Realistically, though, when we fail and sin, there must be a remedy so we are able to maintain unbroken fellowship with God; it is that important to Him and that vital for us. Here is the remedy—

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (TNIV)

The phrase if anybody does sin refers to an instance where a believer is overtaken by sin, rather than succumbing to their sin nature; it refers to giving into a strong temptation whether by ignorance or because they were deceived into it. Or John could be writing about just careless thinking and lazy living. In any case, when we willfully decide to commit a sin, forgiveness and restoration is possible through the efforts of one Person.

we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One

The word “advocate” is a powerful word taken from the Greek paracleton. This noun is used of Jesus Christ only by John. In his gospel, John speaks of the Holy Spirit as “another comforter,” also paracleton. A paraclete is one who is sent for, one who comes to help and to comfort, one who intercedes. It’s a common Green word to describe somebody who has come to help. As John uses the word here, paracleton has the idea of One who stands before God representing someone else, who then pleads their case before God.

The answer to lapsing into sin is not to lie about it or try to justify it or to cover it up. The answer is in confessing what you did to your Paralete, who then goes to the Father on your behalf and secures your forgiveness. That’s why we say that forgiveness from sins comes through Jesus Christ. Only He is able to do that; for in His human nature, Jesus is:

  • Our brother according to Hebrews 2:11
  • Acquainted with our weaknesses according to Hebrews 4:15
  • Our savior according to Hebrews 7:25

And according to John, He is our advocate and our intercessor. He is also God’s only Son, God’s Messiah, the Christ, who alone has fulfilled every single demand of the law for us and has been given the fitting title Righteous One. This is the sinless Lawyer who represents you in God’s court. So what are you worried about?

2. John the counselor, 2:2

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Our advocate does not maintain our innocence, but confesses our guilt before God and gains our forgiveness. In this verse, John has two lines of thoughts: Jesus’ sacrifice and the extent of that sacrifice.

(a) Jesus’ sacrifice

The first phrase is difficult to translate because of John’s use of the Greek word hilaskomai, which is normally translated “propitiation” or “expiation.” Here is how confused translators are over John’s use of this word:

  • NIV, TNIV: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins
  • KJV, RV, ASV, NASB: He is the propitiation for our sins
  • RSV: He is the expiation for our sins.
  • NEB: He is Himself the remedy for the defilement of our sins.

What exactly is John trying to teach us? Each translation of hilaskomai carries a nuance of the word:

  • “propitiate” means to appease.
  • “expiate” means to remove the guilt incurred in an offense
  • “atone” means to pay for an offense

In a sense, all three meanings more or less apply to Christ’s work on our behalf, yet all three meanings in themselves fall short.

John expressed the exact same thought in 1 John 4:10—

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Again, the same word, hilaskomai, is behind “atoning sacrifice.” Was Jesus simply a way to placate the anger of God (propitiate)? By His actions, did Jesus simply take away our guilt (expiate)? On the Cross, did God simply extract payment for our offenses from His Son’s blood? Thoughts like these seem to make God very cold and mechanical in His dealings with both His only Son and man.

According to John, it was God who loved a sinful world first; and He showed that love by giving His Son to cover its sin and remove its guilt. That resulted in the death of His Son on the Cross, but also made His fellowship with us possible. It is God who desired that fellowship first and He made a way to make it possible for Him to have fellowship with us.

That does not describe a cold and mechanical God; it describes a God who so desperately wanted to have fellowship with the human beings He lovingly created in His image that He was willing to give His Son’s life to make that possible. God sent His Son into the world because of His great love for the world and for sinful man, not because of anger or hatred.

(b) The extend of His sacrifice

Christ’s work of redemption—His atoning sacrifice—His becoming a man like us and dying on the Cross—reconciled prodigal sinners to Father waiting with open arms. But this work is provisional:

for the sins of the whole world

What a glorious thought. God’s remedy for sin is available to the whole world, not just a select few. But sadly, many people will never avail themselves of this cure. Christ’s work is unlimited in its scope, but provisional in its application, for God will not force His gift of redemption on anybody who doesn’t want it. All of mankind has been reconciled to God in Christ, but individuals must experience their reconciliation by repentance and a willingness to “walk in the light.”

3. Lingering thoughts

I find these two verses very deep and full of meaning on several levels, but two of them speak loudly to me. As John presents God to us, he presents a responsible God, a loving heavenly Father, who has made full provision for the restoration of lost humanity, His most noble creation. When Adam and Eve rebelled and fell into sin, taking all of humanity with them, God did not relinquish responsibility. Despite man’s sinful condition, God still treats man as the noble creature He first created. God was able to provide salvation through Jesus Christ, yet at the same time He was able to respect man’s freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

This shows us the greatness of God, but it also shows us something about man, who despite being mired in sin and living in a ruined state, having allowed sin to dominate his life, is still able differentiate himself from the animal kingdom and rise above the level of a eyeless, slimy grub. The spark of God still resides in even the vilest of sinners, and even the vilest of sinners was made to live in an upright position, physically and intellectually. When it comes to salvation, God expects man to act like the noble creature he is; He expects man to stand up and accept responsibility for his sinful state; choose to accept the gift of salvation being offered to him; then to deliberately choose to walk in the light and eschew the darkness for the rest of his days on earth.

Man’s hope for salvation rests squarely in the finished and complete work of Jesus Christ on Calvary, but of necessity it also rests on man’s God-given and God-enabled ability to choose that which Christ has wrought on the Cross.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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