Everything We Need – 1 John 2:1-2
By: Alistair Brown
I was stunned by the words of a police sergeant who was giving a lecture on road safety. He said: “When car manufacturers advertise the safety features in their cars, they make the roads more dangerous.”
What? That seemed really strange. Surely not?
He explained and his point was simple. Today’s manufacturers emphasize side-impact protection, crumple zones at the front, air bags everywhere to cushion the occupants, and so on. Why stress these things in their marketing? Because they want people to believe they’ll be safe if they drive that brand of car. Isn’t that good? “Not really,” said the police sergeant, “because those who buy those cars start thinking they are beyond being harmed in any accident, and that tempts them to drive badly. They become a hazard to everyone else on the road.”
I understand the logic: why take care if you are in no danger of being harmed?
You could apply similar logic to other areas of life:
- If the professor has announced in advance that everyone will pass the exam, why study for it?
- If there is a pill to cure every illness, why take care of your health?
The writers of the New Testament had to be careful that logic did not build up among early converts when it came to sin. They might think:
- If Jesus will erase every sin I commit, why worry any more about sinning?
Paul had to contend with that logic. Writing to the Romans, he stressed God’s grace to deal with all sin, and then, in case anyone misinterpreted him, he added: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1-2).
And John, near the beginning of his letter, makes the marvelous promise that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). That is wonderful news. What a gospel! But it could be seen as a license to live as you please. So almost immediately he writes: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1).
There were heretics around who did preach a message that sin did not matter. John could not let that go unchallenged. Sin always mattered. “Do not give in to sin,” he says. And he will go on to tell them that if you know Jesus, you will choose to live as Jesus lived (1 John 2:3,6).
John has to warn these Christians against carelessness. But he has to do it without building unhealthy concern. If the sign of belonging to Jesus is that you obey him and live like him, then what does it mean if you do sin?! Would that prove you are not really a Christian?
I understand that line of thought. I was in my early twenties and knew that I should be living every day and every moment for Jesus. But I wasn’t. Many things seemed wrong with my life.
One night I started walking the streets, my head tortured by the contrast between what I said I believed and how I was living. It was cold that night but I was not going to give up until I found peace, maybe a deeper commitment that would mean I lived so much better from that moment. By three o’clock that morning it wasn’t peace that drove me home but exhaustion. I went to bed, I slept for some hours, and I felt better, though I was still troubled by the gap between what I professed and what I did.
There was hope, and it lies in the verses in this study. John was tough on anyone who did not wholeheartedly live for Jesus, but he also had the answer for those who got things wrong.
1 John 2:1-2
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
John has a two part answer for anybody who does sin.
Part one: Jesus is our advocate with the Father.
When I was eleven it was time to change schools. In those days Scottish schools had a test, and the marks you scored in the test determined the subjects you took in the secondary school, the next school up. The outcome of that exam would therefore affect your whole life. Being put in the top performers’ group meant you studied academic subjects like foreign languages, math and science, and being placed in a lower group meant you concentrated on practical skills like woodwork and metalwork. Eventually they abolished that whole system because how kids perform at age eleven should not decide their whole future. But I had to deal with it.
I seemed to do well in the test, and there was great excitement at home when I got an ‘A.’ The day came to go to the ‘big school’, and I found myself put in a ‘B’ group. That wasn’t the lowest; it was middle-of-the-road. I would be doing a mix of academic and practical subjects. When I came home and told my mother she was furious. “Leave it to me,” she said.
I went to school next morning. My first class was technical drawing – the kind of work an old-fashioned draughtsman would do before computer aided design came along. Anything with the word ‘drawing’ in its title was disaster for me. I hated that class with a loathing grilled to perfection. But half way through that morning I was called out, and told I was being moved to another class. Five minutes later I was sitting with a whole new set of students, and we were studying Latin. Latin was not exactly good news either, but I knew I had been moved to the ‘A’ group and I was happy enough.
What I did not know until late afternoon when I got home is that my mother had gone straight to the school’s Principal that morning. My father had landed with the Allied Forces on D Day during World War II, but my mother was best for this confrontation. She could be spectacularly terrifying when roused. Apparently the Principal said he’d thought the ‘B’ group would be a better fit for me. My mother said her son had achieved an ‘A’ in the test, and the school had no business making its own subjective judgment. He said “What if he can’t cope with the work?” She said, “You’ll see – he’ll do just fine.”
I guess I did. Four university degrees later and sitting now in the President’s office of a top US seminary, I think I managed okay. But where would I have been if left that day in the technical drawing class? More precisely, where would I have been without my mother arguing for me? I had an advocate, and that was life-changing for me.
John writes: “…if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (v. 1).
Let things wrong – fall short – make the worst choices – let yourself and others down – miss God’s standards… that’s sin, let there be no doubt about it. But “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” Jesus Christ stands in heaven pleading our cause.
In Greek, the word translated ‘advocate’ is paraklētos, and has the general meaning of someone called alongside to help. In other places in the New Testament it is sometimes translated as ‘counselor.’ Here John intends something more than just support; he uses paraklētos in a legal sense, hence an ‘advocate.’ (Similar ways of talking about Jesus’ role occur in John 14:16, Rom. 8:34 and Heb. 7:25.)
We should be very careful trying to imagine exactly what happens in heaven, but the image is of Jesus standing before his heavenly Father as our representative and arguing that our sinfulness has been replaced by his righteousness. John calls Jesus “the Righteous One,” and his argument is that the perfect life we should have lived was lived by him. He takes our badness and we are given his goodness.
Jesus is our advocate, arguing for us to be released from sin.
We could make one mistake in thinking about this. All too often big murder trials get hours and hours of media time. Maybe a big celebrity has been accused. Maybe it’s a story of love and deceit that led to a killing. Maybe a child has died and the mother is accused. Maybe there’s a race element in the killing.
These trials are big news, and they often attract hot-shot lawyers, attorneys who are both courtroom stars and media experts. They impress juries with clever arguments and try to convince the public to have sympathy for their client. Yet, often people still feel the accused must be guilty, but the verdict is ‘Not Guilty.’ So, we think, that clever lawyer – the advocate – somehow manipulated that jury’s thinking enough to get the client freed.
Nothing like that is in John’s mind here. Jesus, our advocate, is not manipulating the truth and he’s not trying to sway opinion. There is no pretense about our sin. We are guilty, dreadfully guilty. Every time we fell short of God’s standard, we sinned. Whether this world thinks our sins are small or large, they’re sin. So, there is no denial of sin. And there is no attempt to persuade God to go against his best judgment, perhaps to a lesser sentence. The judge of all the earth will always do right. He can’t be influenced, and he can’t be made to do anything other than what his perfect nature of justice requires him to do.
But neither of those are this heavenly advocate’s argument. Jesus’ argument is that he died in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, the perfect for the imperfect, and God can set aside his judgment on us because it has already been taken by Jesus.
That is exactly what John explains next.
Part two of the answer for those who still sin: Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Here are two fundamentals of our faith:
a) God loves us. Despite all our sins, despite rejecting him many times, God loves us. He longs for us and he seeks after us.
b) God has so loved us that he gave his Son in our place to remove our sin and restore us to fellowship with him.
That second point – that Jesus died for us – runs through the whole New Testament.
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
- “…when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
- “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
- “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).
Over and over the message is the same: Jesus died in our place. Often I talk about the cross of Christ, but the hard reality is that it is the cross of Alistair Brown and your cross too. It’s our cross, but it’s Jesus hanging there, Jesus suffering, and Jesus dying for sin – sin that was never his but ours.
So, John writes, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
“Atoning sacrifice” is just one word in Greek: hilasmos. The NIV and other modern translations use more words because it is difficult to find any one word in English which has the full meaning of hilasmos.
It could mean to placate or appease. The King James Version translates 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins,” because propitiation means appeasing.
But hilasmos was also used in ancient times to mean cleansing, and just a few verses earlier John has said the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin (1:7). The imagery is that our sin has been washed away or that the slate on which our sins were written has been wiped clean.
The two ideas of appeasing the one who has been wronged and wiping away the offense can come together.
Imagine you owe me money. Let’s make the debt a big one. You have borrowed a million dollars from me and now you can’t pay it back. I’m not happy with you. You can’t get away with this! But wait, you have a friend with a million and he’s not simply going to lend you money, he will personally pay every penny of that debt for you. He hands over the million to me. I check it and it’s all there. I am no longer angry with you – my wrath has been appeased! And you no longer owe anything – your debt has been wiped out.
The two goals, of turning away anger and erasing the cause of the anger are accomplished in one action. Similarly, John can say Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
There is one amazing and important truth behind all this: God has done it all. If we forget that, we could have overblown ideas about an angry God who wants to consign everyone to hell for their sin. Or we could have distorted ideas that somehow God has to be persuaded to change his mind. But we can’t think like that if we remember that it is God who has done it all. He came from heaven to earth, lived the perfect life, and died my death for sin that I might live.
Two writers sum it up well.
F.F. Bruce says the meaning here is “not… something which men must do to placate God, but something which God has provided in His grace to bring men into His presence with the assurance that they are accepted by Him.”
I. Howard Marshall writes: “…It was God the Father who gave Jesus his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins… the paradox of the offended God who himself pardons our offenses by giving his own Son to be our Savior.”
God has so loved us, he gave his Son for us. All debt paid. All sin gone. All fellowship restored.
John finishes verse two by saying all this was done for the whole world. He’s not saying everyone will be saved. He is saying the gift of Jesus was for all people. No-one is excluded. Jesus did not die only for people of one nation, one color, or one background. Nor did Jesus die just for the good or the religious, not just for some spiritual elite. He gave himself for all people. No one is too poor; no one is too lost; no one is too uneducated; no one is too far away physically or spiritually. God gave Jesus for all.
He is the perfect advocate for all people.
He is the perfect atoning sacrifice for all people.
He is truly everything we need.
 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 50.
 I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 119.