Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 2:1–6
Our Sins, God’s Commands
We saw in last week's summary (1:5–10) how Apostle John used the "darkness and light" metaphor to represent sinful living versus living in a fellowship with Lord Jesus. When God's "light" shines through an obedient Christian, it manifests itself as pure and perfect light. But when we believers invite sin's darkness into our lives, incompatibility is immediately evident, since darkness and light are irreconcilable. Today, the only way to retain a pure spirit is to confess sin, which means that we must agree with God that our sinfulness violates his will for us.
We ought to promptly and specifically identify our wrongs. God fully expects us to deal with our sin promptly and staunchly so he can help prevent the harm that our sinful nature often brings and also keep ourselves from being tempted to yield to Satan's encouragement to continue sinning for our ultimate enjoyment. Believers who honestly acknowledge their sin and take responsibility for it maintain a right relationship with Jesus. John's epistle validates God's longing to cast out darkness while keeping us entirely in his light and his love. We must make a hearty effort to deal promptly and convincingly when Satan hurls his dirt at us.
Chapter 2 finishes the element of sin and its darkness, reminding us that Jesus, our advocate, became the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. As a result, true believers are to obey God's word and love one another. John will then exhort us not to love things of the world that will surely pass away. Next he'll warn us about antichrists who deny Jesus as being the Christ. Finally, he'll assure us [twice] that the Spirit of the living Jesus continues to remind us of the inerrant truth of God's word and how we're to accept and live by such truth.
First John isn't primarily about salvation, though it warns us of the need to confess our sins. John wrote his letter to church people who already had a relationship with God but needed to be reminded about how to remain in fellowship with him. Father God wants all believers to enjoy their time with him; to do that, sin must be dealt with accordingly. So, before John the Elder writes about "love and hatred for fellow believers" (starting in v. 3), he begins the first two sentences of today's passage by directing our attention to "not sinning."
Thankfully, we Christians have been made new when we believe in and follow Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). However "new in Christ" we might be, we're not yet perfect; we continue to sin by giving in to the temptation to be controlled by our natural tendencies. Doing so invites sin and darkness into our lives (1 John 1:6). But, to "walk in the darkness" doesn't mean and shouldn't suggest that a sinning believer can lose his or her salvation. While we might occasionally elect to depart from God's will by veering off onto a dark pathway for a while, our efforts to confess our sin to Lord Jesus lift us out of such darkness, bringing us peace and contentment. Believers who return to living in a right fellowship with him exhibit that desired peace and contentment. When we confess our wrongdoing, our fellowship with God remains spirited and secure.
The Atoning Sacrifice — Advocate — for Our Sins (1 John 2:1–2)
As we learned in week 2's summary, John directed his readers' attention to Docetists who were the predecessors of the Gnostics; although they hadn't formed a religious group as such, their teachings were a rudimentary version of heresy in the early church, contaminating it with their unfounded, self-conceived promotions. They claimed to be special elect beings having a superior knowledge of God; they knew God in a way that house-church Christians didn't. As a result, the false-teaching Docetists believed that the spirit was the only pure thing and the flesh didn't matter because it would be burned up by God on judgment day. For that reason, John emphatically used the Greek gnosko (meaning "knowledge" and from which "Gnostic" is derived) twenty-five times in First John.
The Docetists also thought: We can use the flesh in whatever way we want! We don't need to obey the physical sense of the law. With such a belief, they were committing an boundless amount of sin. They contended that although the spirit was holy, their flesh was weak, thereby permitting them to sin acceptably and enjoyably. It was primarily for that reason that John wrote this chapter's two opening verses.
2 1My 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. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (2:1–2).
John addresses his readers as dear and faithful Christian children. His desire was that they “will not sin.” God doesn't condone a single sin; he's not suggesting that we sin as seldom as we can. Sadly, sin impairs a Christian's fellowship with his Lord, impacting negatively the will and blessings of the Father for his believing children of all ages. In effect, John (and Jesus) says that sin should be the exception, not the rule. Every Christian has a sinful nature and practices sin, despite Father God's command to not sin. In our fellowship with the heavenly Father we must see his encouraging us as a parental guide and guardian who generously offers us his forgiveness. To maintain a righteous fellowship with our Father, we believers need to relate wholeheartedly to righteous Jesus, our Father's Advocate, through his precious blood, through our prompt and sincere confession and repentance of our sins, and through our unending trust in Christ and the good that he's done for each of us.
Thankfully, when we sin we have Jesus, the Righteous One who's an Advocate with the Father (v. 1). An advocate is a spokesperson and proponent who defends, pleads, or promotes a cause or proposal. Being our Advocate, Lord Jesus aims to stimulate us to promptly confess our sins so that an impaired fellowship can soon be made healthy. In heaven, it's Christ who, with the Father, intercedes on our behalf when we confess our sin to him (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus atones, propitiates, sets aside Father God’s displeasure and anger for sinful behavior. Dying on the cross for us, Jesus paid the price and penalty for our sin debt. No one but Christ can set aside our punishment. No matter how well we know God, no matter the level of righteous fellowship we have with him, we ardent believers must follow and obey his ways and will.
In the next three verses, we'll look for, find, and evaluate the relationship between knowing God and practicing love. Father God wants mankind to gain from his perfecting his love for us, which in turn motivates us believers to genuinely love one another.
Love and Hatred for Fellow Believers (vv. 3–6)
The text of today's two opening verses highlights God’s love-filled, unwarranted grace in forgiving the sins of all who believe in him. When we sin, Jesus, God's Advocate, steps in and forgives our sinfulness. But there's a prevalent danger that believers, whether new or quite mature, will mistakenly refashion God's grace into licentiousness in their denial of Jesus Christ, the only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 4).
After advocating God’s grace in vv. 1–2, John demonstrates in vv. 3–6 that those who have truly experienced it will show it by living in obedience to the Scriptures.
3We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God's love, is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (2:3–6).
Elder John is teaching us here that knowing God doesn't come through a mystical experience that results after we fast, pray, whip our bodies, or lock up ourselves in a monastery. Neither does knowing God come through having a superior intellectual knowledge or captivating revelation; it comes by obeying God's words. We can declare conclusively that we "know him" and have righteous fellowship with him only "if we keep his commands," by adhering to his will and obeying his words.
How do we know that we "know him"? What's it mean to know God so personally and certainly that our “knowing” him is authentic and "honest-to-God"? The Elder was committed to helping house churches in Ephesus address this question. His suggestive text affords a suitable answer that's appropriate for today's believers. Our untiring refusal to obey Christ confirms our being liars, while our fervent desire to continually obey him substantiates true Christianity.
It's important to realize that where and when there's no call for obedience, tolerance abounds, enabling Do your own thing! to become the accepted motto. Instead of seeing such disobedience as being "sinful," disobedient souls feel or sense no need for forgiveness. But as John tells his readers and reminds us today, God demands that believers obey his commands. Fortunately, when we fail to follow those commands, he provides genuine forgiveness by and through Jesus in our relationship with him.
Let's get back to answering the question "How do we know that we 'know him'?" To really "know" God requires that we relate personally to him, talking, listening, praying, and waiting on him. We also must have a strong level of faith and confidence in his power and potential. Confidence comes from knowing and understanding what God requests and expects from us so we can enjoy having a righteous fellowship with him.
We see a new phrase in v. 6 about having a right fellowship with God: "live in him." Here, the verb "live" is the same word that older versions translated "abide" while modern translations use "remain." A person lives either in a realm of light or darkness. Our lives, our daily "walk," are shaped by the realm in which we live.
In addition to confidently declaring that we "know him" and "live in him" by having a right fellowship with Jesus when we "keep his commands," v. 6 states that we must "walk his walk" by living as he did. That doesn't mean that we're able to be perfect or perform miracles as he did. No. When we believe in Christ wholeheartedly, we become empowered — albeit commissioned — to live as he did! We're to present our personal testimonies of the miraculous power of God to the world. With so many who hurt and suffer, we're to emulate Father God’s care-filled response by measurably addressing people's needs. We're able to walk his walk through the free gift of God’s grace.
Throughout the New Testament, we see numerous examples of God’s people walking in his power, bringing wholeness to the afflicted. Because we human beings are weak, God offers us the same power of the Spirit that he'd given Jesus, while he was on earth as a man. He provides this divine power to every believer today. It's up to those of us who "know him" and have a personal "fellowship" with him to "keep his commands," "obey his words," and "live as Jesus did."
In these three verses, John advises his readers that God wanted believers to know him enough to trust him fully and rest on his promises. When Christ Jesus said, "Remain in me" or "Abide in me" (John 15:4), he meant that those of his disciples who continued to follow him were to stop striving and struggling on their own but, instead to trust him to subdue their flesh or sinful nature.
To "know him" and trust him fully is naturally (and biblically) liberating! We know from Apostle John's own gospel (John 15:1–17) that a branch doesn't bear grapes as a result of its determined efforts to be shined upon by the sun; rather, it "remains or abides in the vine" until fruit appears; the vine does all the work. In light of John's vine metaphor, we believers are to "remain in the Savior" so that spiritual fruit will grow abundantly in our lives.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sums up 2:3-6 most appropriately, as follows.
“If you have the life, it is bound to show itself, and if it does not, then you have not the life. . . You cannot be receiving the life of Christ without becoming like Him. You cannot walk with God without keeping His commandments. You cannot know God without immediately, automatically loving Him. Love always manifests itself by doing what the object of its love desires.”
(Walking With God [Crossway Books], p. 53)
- Q. 1 How do you define "atoning sacrifice" or "propitiation" (v. 2)?
- Q. 2 Do you know Christ (v. 4)? . . . How do you know that?
- Q. 3 Do you keep his commands (v. 4)? Do you obey his word (v. 5)?
- Q. 4 How are you doing today at living as Jesus did (v. 6)?
1 John 2:1–6