Good news! If you have reached week 3 in our memorization of 1 John, you have finished the entire 1st chapter! Of course, it is the shortest chapter in our epistle, and the only one which only requires 2 weeks to memorize. But, hey—how encouraging even still! Give yourself a high-five!
As we begin chapter 2 John is writing in a fatherly, even affectionate tone, to his readers. He has just given them three examples of non-believers who talk as if they are believers, but who don’t seem to understand that they are sinners. John now assures his people of something which we would do well to remember—Christians still sin. Sin is not the defining feature of a Christian’s character; we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and forgiven of all our unrighteousness, but we still sin. John gave us our assurance of pardon in 1:9, he will now tell us what that pardon is based on: the advocacy and propitiation of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As I have been meditating on these verses it occurs to me that the majority of this epistle, indeed, most of scripture, is written using simple language. This week we have one of the “big words,”—propitiation [prō-pĭ-chee-ā-shun]. Chances are you don’t use this word in conversation most days. It’s one of the words that we slow down for, even stumble over in our reading because it is unusual. Do you see how, in contrast, the rest of the words John uses are so very common? Friends, most of scripture is not hard to understand. It may be hard to swallow, but it’s easy to understand.
The advocacy and propitiation of Jesus Christ are blessed doctrines indeed, and we find them both within a heartbeat of each other in verses 1 and 2 of our passage. John tells us that when (because we will, though he writes if) we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, and our advocate is Jesus Christ the righteous. Jesus is ready to plead on behalf of his blood-bought people when the devil hurls his accusations at us before the bar of God’s holy courtroom. As the accusations fly, our righteous advocate rises to defend us and says, “I paid for that.” He doesn’t say that we are innocent of our crimes, but that they are paid in full by his blood.
Which brings us to propitiation. This word describes the effect that Jesus’ atoning death has on God the Father regarding us and our sins. As sinners we justly deserve the wrath of our holy God. But Jesus bore our sins on the cross, turning his Father’s wrath away from us and toward himself, and fully satisfying God’s justice. This is what propitiation means, and why it is such blessed ground upon which to anchor our assurance of faith. Christ’s propitiation was not only enough to satisfy the Father for the sins of only a few, but for the sins of every believer in Christ all through time and all throughout the world.
John then turns to the first of his tests of assurance for believers, the moral test, or, the test of obedience. Obeying God’s commands is evidence of saving faith, and therefore assures believers that they are in Christ. Verse 3 is the transition from what Christ has done to secure our salvation, and verses 4-6 give two examples and a general principle of what obedience to God’s commandments looks like. John provides three ways to describe this obedience: “keeping his commandments,” “keeping his word,” and “walking in the same way in which he walked.” Verses 4, 5, and 6 each begin with a “whoever” statement. Still writing in hypothetical language, John is laying his case before his “little children” carefully and clearly.
With this brief explanation of the meaning of the passage, let’s jump in and find some more aids for our memory:
2:1 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.
The last verse in last week’s passage was a scary thought—so John now reassures his people with this kind and gentle opening: “My little children.” His purpose statement comes next: “I am writing these things (what things? The things about sinners denying their sin) to you so that you may not sin.” (hear the pattern in “to you so that you”?) Good news is next: “But.” “But if anyone does sin (and they will) we (he makes it personal and includes himself here) have an advocate (with whom?) with the Father, (and who is our advocate?) Jesus Christ the righteous (hallelujah!).
2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for
ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Rolling straight from the last thought into this: Jesus Christ the righteous: “He is the propitiation”— (then three “for” points [3- 4’s] separated by an “and not,” and a “but also”) —“for our sins (again, hallelujah!), and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
3 And by this we know that we have come to know
him, if we keep his commandments.
Here’s the transition: “And by this” points forward —> (but first, the point) we know that we have come to know him (this is the assurance— note how certain this is! Clear, spare writing with no flourishes), —> if we keep his commandments.” Note also the repeats: “we know”/ “we have come to know”; and also “come”/ “commandments.”
4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep
his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in
Here’s the first “Whoever.” John gives a hypothetical quote to this “whoever,” (and you know what that means—”air quotes” when you say—) “I know him.” This “whoever” is talking big, “but does not keep his commandments,” which makes him, “a liar,” which, restated, means, “the truth is not in him.”
5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the
love of God is perfected. By this we may know that
we are in him:
The next “whoever” is in contrast to the first who “does not keep”, so we begin with “but whoever keeps.” John pulls out his thesaurus to give us different words for commandment-keeping, and here we have “keeps his word,” which is the same idea as the verse above. In verse 4 the truth was absent, in this verse, in the word-keeper “truly the love of God is perfected.” John now shows that this is true of believers including himself when he uses the personal “we”— “By this ( pointing back at the word-keeping) we may know (certainty again—and what do we know?) that we are in him (2nd “in him” but different him—the first referred to the believer, this refers to Jesus).”
6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in
the same way in which he walked.
Finally, a general principle: “whoever says” (there’s our 3rd “whoever”) “he abides in him” (a synonym for being “in him,” follows straight from v. 5; this “in him” refers to Jesus) “ought to” (this is how things generally ought to go) “walk” (how? In yet another synonym for obedient living/ commandment-keeping—) “in the same way in which he walked.”
Believers who are in Christ walk in the same way Jesus walked- we walk the talk and talk the walk. We say we are in him and prove it by how we live—not perfectly, mind you, but that is the motivation of our renewed hearts. I pray that the Holy Spirit is using this word hidden in your heart to convict you of the ways in which your walk isn’t matching your talk and that you run to our Father in confession and repentance, pleading the blood of his Son and knowing that in his faithfulness and justice he will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness! May the sure knowledge that Jesus himself pleads for you based on his sufficient self-sacrifice on the cross give you confidence in him and a deeper assurance of your faith. And may you strive to honor and reflect Christ by keeping his commandments even a little better each day, being transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:2).