We have noted in our study of John’s first epistle that John is dealing with many opponents who are claiming to be disciples of Jesus, but their actions prove false. John has declared that a person cannot claim fellowship with God and walk in darkness. Rather, true disciples walk in the light. John explores in greater detail what it means to walk in the light. John is going to reveal for us what true disciples look like.
John’s Purpose (2:1)
John introduces his paragraph with very warm words toward his audience, “My little children.” John uses “beloved” and “my little children” to show how much he cares for these Christians. While writing with force because of these false teachers who are pulling them away from the Lord, John adds these loving, emotional touches to reveal his love for these believers.
John writes these things so that we will not sin. Just a few sentences earlier John has described a great hope the Christian has. “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). John does not write these things so that we will think we have a license to sin. He does not want disciples thinking that they can sin so long as they remember to confess their sins. John called such thinking, “Walking in darkness.” John is writing these things so that we avoid sin. John’s message is that God is light. Therefore, to walk in the light, we must avoid sin also. We need to get in the light and stop sinning. We need to be serious about avoiding sin. We need to understand the character of God which will lead us to not sin. We must have daily resolve to not sin.
Jesus, The Righteous (2:1-2)
John continues that if we sin, we have an advocate. When we are trying to walk in the light and stay away from sin, then we have an advocate when we do sin. The Greek word translated “advocate” was a legal term used to refer a person who was called along to help in a court of law. We have an advocate to speak in our defense. Here is the great picture: God coming to the world brought a legal benefit.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34 ESV)
The scriptures tell us that our helper is Jesus. Jesus is the mediator. Jesus is the one making intercession for us. But there is something unique about this legal defense. The defense before the Judge is not based on our life or actions, but on Jesus’ life and Jesus’ actions. Jesus only defends those who confess their guilt. He does not defend those who maintain innocence. In our court system today the client is almost always told to plead not guilty and then a legal defense is constructed to show that the person on trial did not commit the crimes that were charged. Our defense works completely different. If we try to plead not guilty to the crimes, we will be found guilty and be cast into eternal punishment. However, if we confess our sins and admit that we are guilty of the charges, we have Jesus our advocate who pleads for mercy on our behalf on the basis of his own perfect life. Jesus is the righteous one, not us, in this defense. Jesus has the ability to help and is the only one who can help. We need a righteous intercessor. Anything less would leave sinner without the sure access to the God of mercy.
We have an advocate because Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. Some translations read, “atoning sacrifice.” The imagery refers back to the Law of Moses when on the Day of Atonement blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, which symbolically resided on top of the ark of the covenant, and atonement was made for the sins of the people. This symbolized the removal of guilt due to sin. Atonement had been made for the people. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. His blood is brought to the mercy seat to remove the guilt from our sins and remove the coming wrath toward us that we deserve. There is no limitation as to who can have this advocate providing mercy through his sacrifice. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. No one is excluded from having this great defense. This is a frustration that we often feel in our world today. We see people avoid conviction because they have the power or money to get the very best defense team so as to avoid conviction. We have been given the very best defense team for free. Jesus paid the price so that you and I can have the very best legal defense because we are guilty. On the day of judgment we can either stand alone pleading innocence and be cast into eternal torment or we can rely on the defense of Jesus, whose blood atones for our sins. Every person has access to this gift.
Who Has The Advocate (2:3-6)
John now wants to make clear who receives this divine legal defense. “This is how we are sure that we have come to know him.” John wants to give his readers confidence that they have Jesus as their advocate to make atonement for their sins. Who are those who have come to know God? We know because we keep his commands. We do not know him by having an experience, a feeling, a vision, or unusual circumstance. The test to know if you know God is: Are you keeping his commands? The profile of the Christian is a person who keeps the commands of God. John is writing these things so that we will not sin. He wants us to realize that we cannot live how we want to live and think that we can consider ourselves Christians. We cannot think we have the advocate to deal with our sins if we are disobeying God’s commands. Anyone who says that they know God but does not keep his commands is a liar and the truth is not in them. Keeping his commands does not mean we make a list of God’s laws and try to keep them. John is not saying eternal life is found in heartless obedience. Martyn Lloyd-Jones well states, “It means that I am always concerned to be living the Christian life as fully as I can, that my great object is to be well-pleasing in His sight” (Life In Christ, 188). You know that you have come to know him when your life ambition is knowing what God wants you to do and striving to do it.
Verse 5 contains a key statement in knowing the profile of the Christian. “But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is perfected.” God’s love is already perfect. John cannot be saying that when we keep God’s word, then God’s love is perfected toward us. Rather, John is saying that our love of God reaches perfection. The NLT carries the idea, “But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him.” (1 John 2:5 NLT) God’s love is already perfect. It is our love that must be improved. John is telling us that our obedience is the proof that our love for God is maturing. To state this another way, our obedience comes from a maturing love for God. John is not looking for mere observance of God’s laws. John says that the Christian keeps God’s word. The Greek word translated “keeps” implies duration and perseverance. There is a zealous desire to adhere to God’s will. Keeping his commands shows our enduring and maturing love for God.
John concludes by stating this truth another way. This is how we know we are in fellowship with God. We can know that we abide in a relationship with God because we walk just as Christ walked. This crystalizes the imagery of what it means to walk in the light. The scriptures often describe our life as a walk. We read that Enoch and Abraham walked with God (Genesis 5:24; 6:9). Paul commands us to, “Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). We look at the life of Jesus as we do what he did. We examine his words and his actions and we imitate him. If we are branches on the vine (John 15:1) then we will bear the characteristics of the tree. If we want to be in fellowship with God and have the advocate to defend us by his blood then our life goal is to live as Jesus lived.
The profile of the Christian is righteous living. John has written so that we will not sin. However, even as we walk in the light we will take missteps and sin. But when the Christian sins, we have an advocate who comes to our aid for our defense. Based on the life of Jesus we can have atonement made for our sins. This knowledge provokes a love for God that is perfected as we walk as Jesus walked. Do you know that you know him? Does your life prove to you that you do?