John completes the thought expressed in 1:5-10 and makes sure that what he wrote about confession and sin in 1:8-10 is not abused or misunderstood.
John’s tone changes in verse 1. He addresses his readers as my little children. John is likely an old man as he writes these words. He is the teacher to these people and they are his spiritual children. Calling them my little children expresses both authority and love – his intent is to make what he is about to say very personal.
He also changes how he refers to himself. In Chapter 1 he used the plural “we” to refer to the authors of the book and the witnesses of Christ’s ministry (1:1-5). Here he changes and says I am writing these things… This is another sign of the personal and affectionate nature of the instructions he is about to give them. He wants to connect with his readers and wants there to be no confusion over who addresses them.
He says he is writing these words that you may not sin. John knows that some could take what he said about sin and confession in 1:8-10 as a license to sin. If Jesus is going to forgive when we confess, then why worry about sinning? As long as we confess everything then all our sin is taken care of, right? Besides, if everyone sins (1:8,10), then apparently it is not something to get too concerned about. John anticipates these thoughts and tells his readers that his intent is that they do not sin at all (Paul elaborates on this thought in Romans 6).
At first this seems to contradict what he just said in 1:8-10. If we deceive ourselves and make God a liar when we say we do not sin, how can we then say that we are not going to sin? We are not to do something that he just said is impossible not to do?
John wants his readers to understand that even though it is impossible for them to lead sinless lives, their continual goal nonetheless should be exactly that. Sin interrupts fellowship with God – darkness has no fellowship with light (1:6). Since John’s stated goal in writing is to foster fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:3), his readers must stay away from the very thing that makes that fellowship impossible. Nothing is more important than our relationship with the Father; consequently, we must stay away from anything that inhibits that relationship.
Thought: This means that we are to live lives continually striving against sin. Note John does not say anything about supernatural help. That certainly is not to be discounted – we cannot live a godly life apart from the Holy Spirit – but John addresses his readers directly and says YOU may not sin. We are never to use as an excuse that we are depraved and incapable of living without sin. Our lives are to be marked by a continual effort to fight temptation (James 4:7) and stay in the light (I Pet 1:13, Eph 4:17-24, I Tim 6:11-16).
Why should the believer stay away from sin? (Some of these ideas are from Lloyd-Jones in Life in Christ)
- It is the antithesis of God. John said God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. How can we embrace what is literally the opposite of God? God is light. Sin is darkness. Darkness has no place in light. Believers have no place in the darkness.
- It is what put Christ on the cross. What cleanses us from all sin? The blood of Christ (1:7). If it took the blood of Christ to destroy sin, how can we take it lightly or engage in it? We were not redeemed by silver or gold, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (I Peter 1:19).
- It is dishonoring to the gospel. When we sin we declare the gospel is not comprehensive enough to give us all we need. When we sin we declare the gospel is not powerful enough to deliver us from temptation. Sin declares to the world that the gospel does not make us different. Sin makes the gospel just another religion in a world of religions.
- It is inconsistent with our profession of faith. Why did we accept the gospel? What is the point of practicing the very thing we came to the gospel to be delivered from?
- It robs us of happiness and joy. The true believer spending a season in darkness knows nothing of contentment and satisfaction. There is no joy in the aftermath of willful sin. The only things awaiting the believer in the darkness are condemnation, guilt, and irritability.
- It makes us feel we have no right to pray. You do something that you should not do and you get this sense of condemnation; then something happens and you feel you need strength from God and you say, “I will pray about it.” And then the thought comes to you that you have no right to pray, you have sinned against God, you are a cad to rush to Him just when you want Him; and when everything goes well you do not want Him and you forget Him – have you not found this interruption to prayer? We face trials and crises in life and we say, “I wonder, what of God?” and we are about to pray and then comes this sense of condemnation and somehow we feel we have no right to approach Him. That is why we must not sin. If we want to enjoy fellowship with Him, if we want to be able to pray in the hour of crisis, we must keep the line of communication clear, keep the pathway open, avoid these obstacles that hinder access to God. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ; 45.) [Note – we must always pray. Letting sin get in the way of praying is to give the Enemy victory. The Enemy condemns us and uses our sin to keep us from the Father. He wants us to discount the ramifications of sin before we act and to think of nothing else after we act. Never let sin keep us from prayer for long periods. Prayer is a habit and prayerlessness can become a habit. Long periods of prayerlessness lead to longer periods of prayerlessness. The longer we inhibit our inclination to pray as a response to life, the less often we will have that inclination.]
John does not leave his little children with only this thought. He goes on to reassure them in an amazing way. He tells them, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father; Jesus Christ the righteous.” We are not to sin and our goal should always be not to sin. But when we DO sin, we have Someone to stand for us before the Father – Jesus Christ the righteous. Similar to 1:9, John gives hope in the midst of hard words – we have Someone who will speak for us before God, and because of Him God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Consider the words of 1b carefully
- We – Jesus is the Advocate for those who believe on His name and walk in the light in fellowship with the God of light. He does not intercede for those who are not His sheep.
- Have – His actions on our behalf are ongoing. He is our Advocate NOW. He intercedes continually for us as long as we live.
- With the Father – Jesus is always in the presence of the Father. He is never separated from Him. Our Advocate is one with the Father and Judge. And the Father is also our
- Jesus – He is the man who walked among us and who was tempted in every way we are. He understands what it means to live in a sin-drenched world (Heb 4:15).
- Christ – He is the Messiah who saves us – the anointed one. He is the Savior appointed by God (the Judge appointed the Advocate!) because God loved the world (Jn 3:16, Heb 5:4).
- Righteous – He was tempted in every way we are, yet He is without sin (Heb 4:15). He is worthy to stand in the presence of a holy and pure God. Since He has no sin of His own He can plead for another. He does not have to serve His own sentence before pleading mine (Heb 7:26-27).
What does it effectively mean that Jesus is our Advocate? It does not mean that He pleads for us before an angry and unwilling God. After all, God so loved the world that He sent Jesus (Jn 3:16). God reconciled the world to Himself through Christ (II Cor 5:18-19). God as judge appointed the Advocate. The exact picture of how Christ’s intercession works is unknowable. What seems to make sense is that when we sin, Jesus stands before the Father in our place as the One who has paid the price for all sin. His presence enables God to justly forgive us because the punishment has been borne. He also hears the prayers made on our behalf by the Spirit (our weak prayers transformed) and carries those prayers – covered in His blood – to the Father according to the Father’s perfect will (Rom 8:26-27). Though His advocacy is based on His once-for-all death and resurrection (Rom 8:34), it is not passive since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25).
Is there anything that can be more comforting and more consoling than to know that at this very moment, and always, the Lord of Glory is concerned about you, is watching over you and is concerned about your interests and is there representing you? We are frail and we are weak and we fall and fail, but we have an advocate with the Father. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ; 52.)
Thought: This becomes another reason for the believer to stay away from sin. If we have a picture in our minds of Jesus standing before the Father ceaselessly interceding for us and lovingly taking our place, how can we then willfully sin?
John completes his thought by saying that Christ is the propitiation for our sins. This is the basis of His advocacy for us. The word “propitiation” (hilasmos) can also be translated “expiation.” Propitiation refers to Jesus placating the anger of God toward sin. Expiation refers to wiping away the sin itself. In this case both thoughts are likely intended. Jesus’ sacrifice covered sins and allowed God’s righteous anger to be changed.
Note that Jesus does not simply offer a sacrifice. He Himself IS the sacrifice. He is the priest AND the offering. He does not just present an offering to redeem me, He IS the offering to redeem me. He is the eternal High Priest on the once-for-all Day of Atonement, but it is HIS blood that He sprinkles on the mercy seat. And His blood perfectly placates God’s justice and anger and wipes away all sin.
Jesus’ sacrifice is comprehensive. His death can satisfy God’s justice for the sins of the whole world. His death is sufficient propitiation for all sin – not just the sins of believers (our sins). This does not mean that all are saved, simply that Christ’s death is sufficient. If John means that all are saved he would not make Jesus’ advocacy exclusive or refer to our sins versus the sins of the whole world – there would be no distinction. Also, later in the book he says that some have life in Jesus and some do not (5:11-12) – the complete opposite of teaching that all are saved. His point is that Christ’s perfect death is enough to pay the penalty for ALL sins committed by ALL people for ALL time. This is to encourage us that nothing we do or have done is outside of His propitiation.
Thought: When we fall into sin and the Enemy comes to convince us that we are without hope, we must remember that we have an Advocate before the Father who is righteous and who hears our prayers and who placates God’s anger toward us. We must remind ourselves that because of this Advocate we are accepted by the Father and can be restored to fellowship. We do not have to believe the lies of the Enemy and we do not have to live in despair.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:14-16).