RPM, Volume 14, Number 45, November 4 to November 10, 2012

Dealing With Sin (2)

1 John 2:1-2

By J. Ligon Duncan III

In the end of chapter 1 of the book of 1 John, John is addressing some false teaching in the Christian church about the issue of the place of sin in the Christian life. If you look at verses 6, 8 and 10 in 1 John 1 you will see him address three specific false teachings which are being noised abroad in the churches to which he is writing. They begin with a little phrase "If we say," "If we say," and "If we say." And each of these three false teachings gives a mis-statement and an untruth about the issue of sin in the Christian life to which John responds.

The first claim in verse 6 is that it doesn't matter whether you go on sinning, you can still have fellowship with God. The second claim is that once you are a believer, at least once you are a super Christian or an enlightened Christian, you no longer have a sin nature. The third claim is that you can be a Christian and actually stop sinning. And John challenges the truth of those particular statements. He says these are false teachings, and these are marks of false prophets' teaching. And he challenges them emphatically making it clear that sin is an ongoing reality in the believer's life.

Now having made that point, one could draw the conclusion that, well, since sin is an ongoing reality in the believer's life, we just need to shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, what can we do? It's not that big a problem. We'll just keep on sinning." And John, in 1 John 2:1 and 2, wants to address that attitude and say, "No, no, no. That's not what I'm trying to promote either. Yes, sin is an ongoing reality in Christian experience, but that's not what I've said to you or why I've said what I have said to you. I've said what I have said to you in these last verses of chapter 1 precisely because I want to promote holiness in the Christian life."

If sin is an ongoing problem in the Christian life, isn't the proper response then just to shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, I can't help myself?" John gives us his response here in 1 John 2:1 and 2. Three things I want you to see: 1) John tells us here what the goal of his writing is to these Christians. 2) Secondly, he shows them the basis of our forgiveness and the way that we can fight against sin in verses 1 and 2. 3) And then at the very end of verse 2, he shows us the only hope of forgiveness of sins. And I'd like to look at all three of those things with you briefly today.

I. A right view of sin, and of the place of sin in the Christian life, promotes holiness.

First, look at 1 John 2:1: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin." John is saying here, "Look, I didn't write to you to discourage your fight against sin. I didn't write to you to diminish the importance of godliness. I didn't write to you to diminish your drive and desire to grow in holiness. Quite the contrary. The reason that I told you about the reality of ongoing sin in the Christian life is so that you can fight against that reality, so that you can grow in grace, so that you can grow in godliness, and in holiness. I've written to you," he says, "so that you may not sin."

So John's very purpose in writing to them is to encourage a life of holiness. He knows that Christians cannot live sinlessly, but he never wants Christians to stop hating their sin and growing in holiness and grace. And so John is saying that a right view of sin and of the place of sin in the Christian life, far from making us complacent about sin, promotes holiness, and that is why he is writing. His very purpose is to move us to want to grow in grace. That's the first thing that he's saying.

If we use John's words to excuse our ongoing struggle with sin, if we use his words to excuse our own sins, then we're using them wrongly. He has said these words in 1 John 2:1 to promote godliness. You see, when you really understand sin and grace, you won't want to go on sinning; you won't want to live in sin. When you really understand sin and grace, you want to grow in grace, and you want to die to sin. And that's why a glib attitude towards sin — an attitude that says, "Oh well, God will forgive me, that's His job" — that kind of attitude is certain proof of a graceless heart, because when the work of God's grace is done in your heart, you begin to hate sin, especially sin in you. You become less concerned with other's sins and more concerned about your own sins, and you desire for God to slay that sin and grow grace in you. And John's saying that here. If you understand sin, even ongoing sin in the Christian life, it makes you want to grow in grace. That's the first thing that he's saying here in 1 John 2.

II. Christ's person and work are 1.) the ground of the Christian's confidence in the fight against sin, 2.) the source from which our holiness flows, and 3.) the basis on which our forgiveness rests, and thus the reason why Christians are not frozen, paralyzed in the admission of their sin or hopeless in the fight against it.

And the second thing is this: John points us to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as the source of our strength and our hope and ultimate victory over sin. How do you live a godly life in light of ongoing sin in the Christian life? Well, John says you look at Jesus, and you remember three things about Him: You remember that He is your Advocate; you remember that He is the Righteous One; and you remember that He is the propitiation. Let's look at each of those three terms.

He says that you look to Jesus, and you remember that He is your Advocate. That's obviously a law court metaphor, and the picture is of us standing before the judgment, the Great Assize of God, and all of our sins are weighing on us. And John is saying, Jesus is your Advocate. You have this advocate, this defense counsel, this attorney who is going to represent you.

Jesus our Advocate/Paraclete. And I want you to note specifically the phrase that John points you to. He says that Jesus is the Advocate before whom? "Jesus is our Advocate with the Father." Notice that John is pointing you to two grand realities as you consider your deserved punishment for sin, as you stand before the judgment seat realizing all your sins, realizing that as much as you have striven after holiness in this life, you have failed in all of the commandments of God and that there has been murder in your heart and lust in your heart and greed in your heart and anger in your heart and covetousness in your heart and stealing in your heart and all the sins that could possibly be committed. You've known them. You've known some in greater proportions than others, and you can barely lift your eyes to consider this Judge, this just Judge who is God, you know that He is just. You know that He is righteous. You know that in judgment He will condemn the wicked. And yet, John says, remember you have "an Advocate before the Father." And you remember two things as you lift your eyes to the Heavenly Father: you know that He is just and He is pure and He will not allow sin to go unpunished. You know that He knows everything. You know that His eyes search to and fro on the Earth, searching out the evil and the wicked. But you also know this: He is by grace your Heavenly Father, and there is nothing in the world that He wants more than to acquit you of your sin. There is nothing in the world that He wants more than to pronounce upon you this sentence: not guilty. And so John says, "Remember you have "an Advocate before the Father."

It's very important that you remember that before you begin thinking about Jesus being the Advocate because the picture is not Jesus the loving and kind and gracious and merciful defense attorney, standing before this gigantic ogre in the sky who can't wait to cast sinners into Hell, who has not a shred of love in His heart, and Jesus is coaxing this only strict and judgmental hanging judge into showing mercy on His people. That's not the picture at all. It's not love saying to justice, "Show mercy." When Jesus the Advocate stands before the Father, it's justice standing before love and saying, "You may show mercy justly because of what I've done." Jesus the Advocate, we're told in the very next breath by John, is righteous.

Now, generally, that's not something that gives a guilty criminal much encouragement. When you stand before the judge, you really hope that your defense attorney is righteous but you know, the problem is not your defense attorney. He's not on trial, you are. But in this case, the defense attorney is the One who is not only your Advocate, He is also the One who is the sacrifice for sin. That's what we'll get to when we talk about the word propitiation. And so the fact that He is righteous and that He has lived righteously in your place and that He has borne the penalty for your sins is vitally important. And so Jesus as the Advocate stands before God and reminds Him that God's justice has been fulfilled for all who trust in Him through His death, and therefore God can show grace and show mercy and show loving kindness justly because of what He has done.

And so John says, when you're thinking about your ongoing struggle with sin, remember that you have an Advocate with the Father. "Five bleeding wounds He bears. They strongly plead for me," says "Arise, My Soul, Arise." And so we have an Advocate with the Father. It's not an advocacy of love against justice. It's the advocacy of justice to love so that God may love and show grace justly to all those who trust in Christ. And so John says, "How do you live a holy life? You look to Jesus, and you remember that those sins were borne by your faithful advocate, and His death advocates for you before the Heavenly Father."

Jesus the Righteous Messiah. Secondly, you remember that He's righteous. We've already mentioned this, but this is a theme that is applied to the Messiah all throughout the Old Testament, and it's picked up by the New Testament authors who emphasize, over and over again, Jesus' righteousness, Jesus' purity, Jesus' sinlessness. John emphasizes Jesus' righteousness and purity and sinlessness right here in 1 John. You can see it in this chapter in verse 6 and verse 29. You can see it in chapter 3 in verses 3, 5, and 7. It's an important Messianic theme that is continued in the New Testament. Jesus is the Righteous One.

Why is that important? It is important because the New Testament makes it clear that God in salvation shows grace, but He shows grace in such a way that all of the concerns of justice are filled to the 'nth degree.' And they are filled and fulfilled to the 'nth degree' by the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ. He positively obeys all of God's Law, and negatively He receives in His own body on the tree the due penalty of our sin, so that as the Righteous One He stands in our place that we might be forgiven. Jesus the Messiah is righteous. And John says, "When you're weighed down under your sins, look to the Righteous One."

Jesus the Propitiation. Then, thirdly, he says Jesus is the propitiation. Now, let me just stop right there. That's a two-dollar word. It's not one that we typically use over the counter while we're having a coke. So let me just pause and say, to propitiate means to satisfy the wrath of God against sin. It means to turn away His wrath. It means to offer a sacrifice that appeases God's just judgment and righteous anger against us and against our sin.

You see pictures of what it means to propitiate in the Old Testament in the sacrificial ritual. When you go into the courtyard of the temple or the tabernacle and you see bloody bodies of animals strewn everywhere and burned, charred remains of animals, you are seeing a picture, not of God's wrath having been visited on our sin, but you are seeing a picture of what our sin deserves. The just judgment, the bloody judgment, the condemning judgment of God, that's what we deserve. That's the picture of what we deserve. And in the ceremonies of the Old Testament ritual sacrificial system, we see ritually our sins transferred to the sins of these beasts.

But, of course, as the book of Hebrews tells us in chapters 9 and 10, the blood of those bulls and goats cannot forgive sin. It cannot be a propitiating sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God. So what can? Hebrews tells you. John tells you. Jesus is the propitiation. Notice here that it doesn't say that He is the propitiator. He isn't simply the One who offers a sacrifice of propitiation — like the high priest in the Old Testament did — but He is the propitiation. He is both priest and sacrifice. And John says, "When you're fighting against sin, look to Jesus the Advocate. Look to Jesus the Righteous Advocate, and look to Jesus who is the propitiation for your sins." He is the One who in His death has turned away the condemnation of God against all those who trust in Him. He has borne the wrath of God wholly and solely and only, and therefore Christ's person and work are the ground of our fight against sin and the source from which our holiness flows and the basis on which our forgiveness rests. And, thus, the reason why those who trust in Christ are not frozen and paralyzed by their sin, and not hopeless in their fight against sin, is because of Jesus Christ. Christians are able to realistically and hopefully deal with sin because of who Jesus is and what He does. That's the second thing that John says here. So the first thing that He says is this: I'm writing to you because I want you to be holy. The second thing He says is the key to your holiness, the key to killing sin and growing in grace, is looking to Jesus Christ.

III. Jesus is the only basis of forgiveness of sins for the whole world.

And the third thing he says is this: Jesus is the only basis of hope for the forgiveness of sins. And he says this at the end of verse 2. Look at it. "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

That passage emphasizes a truth, which is very, very precious to gospel-preaching Bible-believing Presbyterians. I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion where people from different faith groups were to give a 25-word definition of what they meant by salvation. And they were to each make their statements, and then there was to be dialogue between them and the audience. And so I had to write a statement about what I believed that Christians thought about salvation in 25 words or less. I wrote 100 words. And that was hard. But here's a little snippet. Here's what I said: "Christianity claims that salvation is the free gift and action of God whereby any, all, and only those who trust in Jesus as Lord and Messiah, are delivered out of their condition of sin and misery and brought into a condition of forgiveness, new life, membership in God's family, increasing holiness, and eternal fellowship with God." Any, all, and only those who trust in God's Son, Jesus who is Lord and Messiah, are saved. That is the truth that John is stressing in 1 John 2:2, the second half of the verse.

When John says that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world, he means to say at least two things. First, he means to say that Jesus is the one Savior for the whole world, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. Or to put it in John's language, that Jesus' propitiation, His satisfaction of God's wrath, extends to the whole world of those who trust in Him by faith receiving the benefits of His death, embracing the gospel. It's not just for a little group of Christians in Asia Minor to whom he is writing. It's for everyone in the world who trusts in Him, who embraces the gospel. That's what Jesus' propitiation is for. It's for all those who trust in Him. And, by the way, that enlarges the Christian's heart for the world. He longs to see everyone in the world embrace the only satisfaction for sins.

Secondly, John means this: Jesus is the only way of salvation for the whole world. He's not one good way among many. He's not one of the better ways among many. He's not even the best way among many. He is the only way that you can come to know God. He is the only way that you can get forgiveness of sins. Again, to put it in the language of John here, Jesus is the only God-provided satisfaction for sins for the world, and, thus, everyone must come to Him and Him only if they are to have sins forgiven. In other words, John is saying that any, all, and only those who trust in Jesus are saved. He's being exclusivistic here.

Now, I know that our generation thinks that intolerant, but John is stressing the truth that there is salvation only in Jesus. For no man in the whole world is there any other way of being reconciled than through the satisfaction of Jesus Christ.

And that puts a question to us, doesn't it? Have you embraced Jesus? And if you have not, the only hope for the forgiveness of sins that you have is in Jesus. But if you have embraced Jesus Christ and you have trusted Him for forgiveness of sins, John is reminding you: Keep looking to your Savior. The fight against sin is long, and it will not end until the day that you are taken up to glory. And so keep looking to the One who is your Righteous Advocate and who has paid the penalty for your sins and has satisfied the just judgment and wrath of God in your place. May God help us all to do those things.

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