My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
In 1 John 1, John identifies the source of his message and the message which he brings– God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. He then establishes the need for all of us to walk in the light if we would follow Jesus. He demonstrates that we all have sin, both past and present, and if we deny such, we deceive ourselves. Nevertheless, if we confess our sins before God, He is faithful to forgive us.
John begins chapter 2 by addressing his “little children.” We ought not take this statement too literally here; he uses this same term of endearment another eight times in his short letter. John has great love for his fellow believers, like the love of a father for his children, and therefore we have his tender term of address for them.
John continues by making clear that he writes to the Christians so that they would not sin. Yet, in 1 John 1:8, John says that if Christians say presently that they do not sin, they deceive themselves. Is John contradicting himself?
By no means! We must remember that chapter divisions came much later than the original writing; there is no fixed division between 1 John 1:10 and 1 John 2:1. John is making clear that although the reality is that we all stumble, we are not justified in our stumbling. We have no right to infer from 1 John 1:8 that we have license or excuse to go and sin, and that somehow we cannot “help ourselves.” John here is providing the same type of clarification that Paul does in Romans 6:1-10: just because God’s grace abounds does not give us license to sin.
Christians must strive to avoid sin and to do that which is good (Romans 12:9). We never “have” to sin; there is always a way of escaping temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christians should never be satisfied with removing only a few sins from their lives– they must keep striving to reflect Jesus in their lives, since they were crucified in Him (Galatians 2:20).
Yet, even though John writes so that Christians will not sin, he knows that Christians do stumble. Lest the believers lose hope, John reminds them that if Christians do sin, they have an Advocate– Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). The word “advocate” here is the Greek parakletos, which refers to a legal advocate, a helper, assistant, or comforter (cf. Thayer’s). If we were to imagine a heavenly courtroom, with the Father as Judge, Satan as the prosecutor, and the believer as a defendant, Jesus would be the advocate on behalf of the defendant, interceding on the defendant’s behalf before the judge. Paul indicates that Jesus is the Mediator between God and man, since He is both (1 Timothy 2:5), and the Hebrew author demonstrates that Jesus can sympathize with us on account of His sufferings (Hebrews 4:14-16). These are very comforting thoughts indeed!
Yet how is it that Jesus can be our Advocate? It is because He is the Righteous One, the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2). As Peter indicated, Jesus committed no sin, and thus was entirely righteous (1 Peter 2:21-24). His death was not for Himself, but for us, that we could be cleansed from sin (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:11-15).
Jesus, as the Lamb of God, brought cleansing from sin for not just “us,” but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, cf. John 1:29). While many throughout time have taught that Jesus’ blood only cleanses the sins of believers, and are horrified at the thought that Jesus’ blood would be “wasted” on unbelievers, John is pretty clear about the universal efficacy of Jesus’ blood. John is not saying that everyone will have the cleansing through Jesus’ blood, but is teaching the same thing as the Hebrew author in Hebrews 9:12: Jesus made His sacrifice once, and it is able to atone for anyone. No one is hindered from receiving the redemption of their sin through the blood of Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4).
Yet the blood of Jesus can only atone for those who will confess that Jesus is their Advocate (cf. 1 John 1:9). Those who reject Him or deny Him, either by word or deed, refuse their own atonement (cf. Matthew 10:32-33). Jesus’ blood is wasted on those who have heard the word of salvation and refuse it to continue in the darkness of sin (1 John 1:6, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22). It is indeed a horrifying thought that Jesus’ precious and righteous blood would be wasted. Claim Him as your Advocate today!
Ethan R. Longhenry