God’s Provision for Sin
1 John 2:1–2
God is light (1 Jn. 1:5). Light defines and describes God’s true nature and symbolizes His purity, character, and glory. To have true fellowship with God, Christians must have a vital relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12).
In 1 John 1 the apostle John made it clear a person cannot walk habitually in the darkness of sin and have fellowship with God. Such a person is a liar—devoid of truth (1 Jn. 1:6). People who boast that they have no sin (i.e., sin nature) are self-deceived and lack truth. God’s Word is not in them; they accuse God of lying (vv. 8, 10); and they directly attack God’s nature, character, and veracity. There is no hope for these people unless they repent, confess their sin, and begin to walk in God’s light.
In 1 John 2:1–2 John presented the purpose for writing this epistle: to teach that when Christians sin, a remedy is available.
In the previous chapter, John had used the first-person plural “we.” But in chapter 2 he spoke in the first-person singular, addressing the reader directly: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (v. 1). The phrase my little children (“little born ones”) does not imply John viewed his readers as immature, nor that they were necessarily his converts. Rather, it conveys pastoral affection, love, and the responsibility John felt for those he was addressing. This is a favorite phrase of tenderness that John used often (2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). As a spiritual and loving father, he was providing necessary direction and warning to those under his care.
The phrase these things I write to you applies to the entire epistle, including his previous instruction concerning the incarnation of Christ, and false teachers and their twisted attitudes on sin.
John wrote this epistle to guide Christians so that they will “not sin” (2:1). John did not say this epistle will help Christians never to sin again. Sin is always possible as long as believers possess the old sin nature. And the sin nature will not be removed until believers receive their glorified bodies.
John acknowledged Christians will succumb to sin sometime in their lives: “And if anyone sins” (v. 1). The word if in the Greek text is translated “since” and assumes believers will sin sometimes.
Christians who walk in the light of God’s Word will still face temptations, but the Lord promises to provide a way of escape so they will not succumb. The apostle Paul wrote,
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).
In other words, applying the teaching of John’s epistle and yielding to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit will strengthen the believer’s resolve not to succumb to sin when tempted by Satan. Remember, no act of sin, no matter how insignificant, can remain unconfessed if you want to walk consistently in fellowship with God.
It is inevitable believers will fall into sin, but God does not intend for them to flounder around in it, trying to figure out how to be restored to fellowship with Him. God has provided for restoration in Christ: “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1). John said he himself (“we have”) needed an Advocate, just as they did. The Advocate was not someone who would appear at a specific, future time to bring restoration; He was there before John ever wrote the epistle.
The word for “Advocate” is the Greek word Paraclete. It refers to someone who is summoned alongside of another person to provide comfort, encouragement, exhortation, and help.
John used the word in his Gospel, referring to the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a Christian (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Jesus Christ not only described Himself as the Comforter (Helper) but stated that God the Father will give Christians another Comforter who will abide with them forever (14:16). The word “another” (Greek allos) means another of the same kind. In other words, the Comforter sent by God the Father will be the Holy Spirit (a member of the Godhead), who is the same kind of Comforter as Jesus Christ. He indwells believers (v. 17) and carries out Christ’s ministry within them on Earth, while Christ is their Advocate in heaven.
The English Bible uses the word Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1) in this passage, rather than Paraclete, because Advocate more fully expresses Jesus Christ’s ministry before God the Father’s throne in heaven. He functions as the Christian’s defense attorney in heaven. Unlike earthly defense attorneys, Christ does not argue the person is innocent of the crime.
The apostle identified the Advocate as “Jesus Christ the righteous” (v. 1). This phrase is so appropriate when expressing the Lord’s advocacy. First, the name “Jesus” is His human name, wherein He relates to the saved people He is defending. Second, the word Christ is His divine title and identifies Him as the Second Person within the Triune Godhead. Third, the word righteous describes His character. Since the actual Greek has no definite article, the word righteous does not speak of His identity but of His character as the divine Son of God. The Advocate who represents the sinner in heaven must Himself be separate from sin, guiltless of any wrongdoing, and perfect. Only Jesus Christ is qualified to function as man’s Mediator.
As the believers’ Advocate, Christ seeks justice and an acquittal for people who have sincerely trusted Him as their Savior and believe His shed blood and sacrificial death on the cross paid for their sin. Scripture makes it clear God the Father can justly acquit sinners who put their faith in Christ because His shed blood paid the required price to free sinners from the condemnation they deserve. Therefore, God’s justice, satisfied through Christ’s work on the cross, makes it possible for sinners to be declared justified.
The word justified is a legal term meaning to pronounce, declare, or treat as righteous. Justification is defined as the judicial act of God whereby He justly declares and treats as righteous the one who puts faith in Christ for salvation. This means the Judge (God the Father), on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice and shed blood on the cross, has removed all charges of sin pronounced against the believer.
Thus, Christ’s advocacy functions in three ways for Christians: (1) He is their Legal Defender; (2) He is their Intercessor, seated at God’s right hand and making intercession for them (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25); and (3) He confesses their names before God the Father because they confessed Him before men (Mt. 10:32).
John then connected the self-sacrifice of Christ as the basis for His advocacy: “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2).
The text does not say Jesus is the propitiator. Nor does it say He functioned like the Old Testament high priest who, on the Day of Atonement, sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies to cover sin. The priest did this once a year to appease God’s wrath so He would bestow mercy on Israel. The text says, “He Himself is the propitiation.” Yes, Jesus is the High Priest. But more than that, He is literally the “propitiation,” giving Himself for the believer’s sins. Notice, the text does not say Jesus was the propitiation but, rather, He is the propitiation, meaning His propitiation ministry continues from its inception and into the future for the sins of the world.
The word propitiation means to appease, expiate, or make atonement. Propitiation is used in Scripture to describe an offering for sin that will satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God and assuage His divine wrath against sin. Thus it is a sacrificial term that denotes the means by which sins (1) were covered on the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament and (2) are today remitted and removed through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, propitiation does not placate a vengeful God but, rather, satisfies the righteousness of a holy God, thereby making it possible for Him to show mercy righteously.
Propitiation is needed because man’s sin of rebellion against God and His commandments has alienated him from God. God’s holiness leaves Him only two choices: remain alienated from sinners, leaving them eternally damned; or lovingly devise a plan for forgiving their sins and reconciling them back into fellowship with Him. Through grace, God provides the only possible means of propitiating Himself—the sacrifice of His Son as a substitution for sinners. Christ came to Earth to pay in full the penalty for sin through His death on the cross. This made it possible for God to be propitiated; for sin to be expiated; and for people to be justified, forgiven, and restored back to fellowship with God.
Christ’s propitiation was efficacious “for [the sins of] the whole world” (v. 2). The preposition for is repeated three times in the last phrase to emphasize that Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice is for people everywhere. The word world refers to the entire scope of unsaved humanity that is condemned because of sin.
John taught that Christ’s redemptive death is universal for all humanity, but he did not teach that everyone will be saved. Jesus made it clear not everyone is going to heaven. Those who reject God’s gift of salvation in Christ will in no way receive eternal life but are eternally damned (cf. Jn. 3:16, 18, 36; Rom. 6:23; Heb. 2:3).
Praise to God for His wonderful plan of salvation through the advocacy of Jesus Christ! We who were once condemned are now eternally justified, and can walk in fellowship with God.