January 31, 2021 | Don Horban
References: 1 John 2:1-2, 15-17Ephesians 4:22Colossians 3:5Romans 14:23James 4:17
Topics: The Holy SpiritSinDespair

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1 John 2:1-2 - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

These two verses are extremely valuable for sound Christian thinking. John is dealing with an issue that still pounds in the minds of those who want to follow Jesus. We constantly are in need of two ingredients as we continue in our growth in Jesus Christ. We need both these things like an airplane needs two wings. Either one by itself is useless, and possibly even dangerous. But the two ingredients John offers in our text, taken together, will help our hearts remain sound and spiritually airborne.

Thankfully, John has these two key ingredients locked together in these two opening verses of the second chapter in a simple, direct fashion. First, there’s warning - "I write these things to you so that you may not sin"(1), and secondly, there’s hope - "If anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2).

That all sounds so simple in our text, but in practice the church usually divides over which of those two truths she will defend:

a) There are those for whom the greatest fear is that the church will somehow compromise her stand on basic principles of holiness.

"If you start preaching grace like it grows on trees people won't care about pleasing God. More worldliness will creep into the church. People will think they can follow Jesus and live as they please. Make sure people know that 'these things are written so that you will not sin!'"

b) Then there are those who fear that people who just hear the warning will eventually become discouraged and frustrated with their own sense of guilt and shame.

"Make sure people understand that the gospel really gives a new beginning. Don't leave Christians crying over the spilled milk of their lives. Because spilled milk stains and stinks. And there are multitudes of believers who never once experience the joy of the Lord. Church makes them feel lousy, unclean, and hopeless. Make sure they hear that 'If anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.'"

This is more than some cold, academic theological issue. It directly affects how you hear the Word of God. It affects what happens in your heart when you go to church. It affects what kind of attitude grows in your heart when you encounter Christians who have in their past things of which you disapprove. We are dealing with one of the central issues in the New Testament Christian experience.

Let's look at what John has to say:


1 John 2:1 - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin....”

Notice the words Aso that.” John says that this is the purpose of all that is written in the Scriptures. This is the relationship between doctrine and life - between the Bible and real living - between going to church and you. The end result of everything God does in my heart and mind is simple. It's to lead me to stop sinning. If that isn’t happening everything is phoney, wasted, and empty. Whatever I've experienced, it has nothing to do with New Testament Christianity or Jesus Christ if my heart isn’t increasingly turned against its own sin.

Break down this idea from John and here’s what you will find:

A) I am responsible to stop sinning - "I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin....”

This is not something that's done to me or for me. I have to stop. Sin is not something God takes out of my life while I'm pondering something else. It requires a steadfast will and mind to stop sinning. You don't grow out of sinning. You stop sinning.

That last sentence needs to be explained. It is blessedly true that as I grow in Jesus Christ and deepen my life in His Word and Spirit He will increasingly reveal more and more things He wants brought under His Lordship. That’s a never ending process until Jesus comes again. And the sins He reveals are sins of a different type the longer I follow Him. They move from outward actions to inward disposition and motives.

But even though this is joyfully true, it will always be the case that I am the one who will still have to stop and yield and obey whatever it is the Lord reveals. In other words, the Bible never teaches, at any point in my walk with the Lord, that if I just pledge myself to Jesus I will automatically be brought to some sin-free position in Christ.

Ephesians 4:22 - "....put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires....”

Colossians 3:5 - "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Have you ever actually put something to death? I can remember the first time a group of us boys killed a gopher. I can remember the first time I shot a crow with a 22. Say whatever you want, it's no small thing to personally stomp the life out of something else. Creatures don't die that easily. Killing them isn't for the timid. And we need to think about this. You can’t follow Jesus without being a ruthless hunter of indwelling sin.


Let's just reaffirm some basics on the Biblical doctrine of sin:

i) Sin is anything that violates the clear commands of Scripture.

It doesn't matter what the subject is, if the Bible says I must not do it then I must not do it.

"You shall not steal", "You shall not commit adultery", "You shall not covet", "You shall not have any other God's before me", etc. You never get to live so spiritually that you're on a different, more advanced level and no longer have to think about those commands.

ii) Sin is violating the still, small voice of conscience

Romans 14:23 - "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

The sin Paul is describing isn’t something in the meat. It’s in the violation of the conscience. Our circumstances are worlds removed from those of this text in one sense, but in a deeper sense, not removed at all:

"You know, I really don't feel right about this, but...." Or, "After all, there's no verse in the Bible that says you can't do such and such." No. There probably isn't. That's why God very tenderly put a living standard right inside your own skin. God has given each person a conscience to fill out all of the specifics that are covered in principle rather than detail in His Word.

iii) Sin is allowing my desires to overrule the voice of God’s Spirit.

Later on in this very letter John will give a name to those fallen desires. In 1 John 2:15-17 he calls them “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions.”

John means sin is as simple and common a practice as allowing the immediate visible realm to press into silence the voice of the invisible, eternal God. TV and movie and computer and fashion directed Christians can never love and hear the Spirit of God. That’s what John is saying.

iv) Sin is knowing what is right but not doing it

James 4:17 - "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

This is the important contribution James makes on the discussion of sin in the New Testament. James says I don't have to do anything bad to sin. I sin when I don't respond to the Word and the Spirit of God. I sin when I ignore, when I'm lazy, when I procrastinate in the pursuit of holiness, when I'm indifferent and cold to what I know God is calling me to do and become.


i) Sin separates me from God.

The first thing Adam and Eve do after they disobey God is hide. The closeness with God is gone. In fact, to this day we call that event of original sin the Fall because that term emphasizes the gap - the distance - that now exists between God and His creation. We are not on the same level as we used to be. Everything is lower and more removed from God. The Bible says God cannot "look upon sin."

ii) Continued sin in professing Christians is a denial of the power of the gospel.

Here is a gospel that announces the coming of power and the beginning of a new creation. My continuing in sin is contrary to everything Jesus died to bring about. It denies the power of the cross before this world.

What an ugly, foul thing sin is. It can undo the power of the cross for those who see more profession than actual transformation in my life.

iii) Sin takes the reality and power out of prayer.

Most of the time Christians think of prayer as being one of the difficult spiritual disciplines to faithfully practice. And I’m not standing here saying prayer is always an easy venture for finite beings.

But I also know this - many times, when I find it particularly hard to pray, it's a sin problem more than a prayer problem. Sin makes you doubt your relationship with God. It causes you to feel you’ve sold out spiritually. It makes approaching God an embarrassing experience.

A situation arises that you know needs prayer. You feel a desperate need for divine help. But you're forced into a corner because as you approach God you feel the weight of your own carelessness and rebellion in other areas of your Christian walk. It’s one thing to approach God when you know you’ve failed. We’ve all been there. Fortunately there is the promise of “grace to help in our time of need.”

But it’s entirely something else - and exactly what John is describing in our text - when you approach God with the request of the day, knowing that you’ve chosen to remain disobedient in another area of life where He’s been probing at your heart. How can you get God's help when you feel like a hypocrite?

John isn’t some legalistic prude. He loves these people and knows he’ll be off the earthly scene very shortly. And for all of the reasons we’ve just examined John pleads with his readers - "I'm writing all of this to you so that you may not sin!"


1 John 2:1b-2 - A....But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

John will soon be leaving this world. There will be no more opportunity to speak or teach these people whom he loves so much. "My dear children....”, he says. He cuts to the core issues in these verses - "Your greatest danger isn't the persecution you are facing. Your greatest concern needn't be your safety or your prosperity. The greatest danger you face is falling into sin. You can actually think it doesn't matter whether or not you are holy and pure. There is compromise all around. I'm writing all of this to you so that long after I'm gone you won't sin!"

Pause. And it's as though as he writes he realizes another great danger faces these people...."But if you do sin, never let it stop you in your Christian walk. Never let your sin be your final condition. You have an advocate before the Father! He's always there on your behalf. You never have to stand on the bankruptcy of your own righteousness. You can always stop. You can always turn around. You have more going for you than you think!"

It's as though John knows there are times when all you can see is your own unworthiness before God. It’s the blackest place on earth. There are those horrible times when the enemy tells you your life has been nothing but a string of failures and sins - when you start to wonder if you're ever going to be the kind of person you know you ought to be.

There are also times when friends and fellow believers can hold on to your guilt and rub it in your face. But John is concerned that these people know that there is One who is on their side. And he reminds us because it’s the last person you’d expect to be on your side because He is more sinless than any of our friends or families or loved ones. It’s “Jesus Christ, the righteous.”

Here is truth that is more necessary to cling to when I need to repent, but which is also harder to cling to when I have to repent. I have no trouble thinking of Jesus as that "friend who sticks closer than a brother" most of the time. After all, He came and died. He's gone to prepare a place for me in heaven. He is coming again to take me to be with Him. And most of the time I have no trouble relying on what the Lord Jesus has done for me. Except when I'm feeling the weight of guilt for some sin.

Dear one, we all face the smallness of our own approach to God when we sin. We all sense the lameness of our own excuses. And the Devil will remind you of all of that when you come to Jesus with your sin. Listen, never forget what John is trying to get across in this little verse. I don't know how wonderful my little prayer is when I sin. I don't know what kind of a mighty man of faith and victory I am when I whimper out some plea for grace.

When those thoughts come, brush the dust off of this text. Remember John’s point. My little plea for grace isn't all that's going on when I ask God for forgiveness! Jesus intercedes right before the face of the Father! He enjoys perfect harmony with the Father. He has never sinned in any way. He is in a perfect position to plead. He doesn’t pretend. He doesn’t argue for my innocence or my pathetic little prayer. That's not what stands behind my forgiveness and restoration.

Something huge stands behind each little cry for grace. Jesus’ shed blood, spilled from the purest life ever lived, has unbelievable cleansing potential. In our text John has to set himself groping for big enough words on this subject - 1 John 2:2 – “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

John is trying to do the impossible in these two verses. He’s wrestling with what every serious pastor wrestles with every time God’s Word is opened before sinful, grace-needing people. We must all wrestle with sin fiercely. And we must all rely on grace passionately.

Remember, before you sin guard your soul like eternity depends on the fierceness of your diligence. But when you sin never stay in your guilt. Your Judge is also your Redeemer. That’s why John uses that judiciary title for our Lord, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous” (2:1).