5. 1 John 2:1-6
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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word,in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Since God is light, John has told us, there is no way for us to hide, either from him or from ourselves. If we claim that we are without sin, we are just fooling ourselves. And worse, we are cutting ourselves off from God because we are not keeping the truth of his Word in our hearts and minds. But as a loving pastor, John’s purpose is not to rub our noses in our guilt, not to shame us or give us a dose of reality. His purpose is to bring the healing of Christ into our lives so that we are no longer slaves to sin. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin,” he wrote. John has the mind of Christ, whose good will for us is to set us free from our sin completely.
What is hard for us, I think, is that we like things to be clear cut. We like things to be simple, and even more, we like things to be instant. Jesus lived among us; he lived and died to set us free from all our sins; he sat down at the right hand of the Father as our faithful High Priest; he poured out the Spirit of Truth on his people to guide and comfort us. And yet, day by day, just as John wrote, we are only fooling ourselves if we think we don’t sin any more. As often as we are honest, with ourselves and with God, we are fully aware that we fall far short of obeying his commandment to love him with all our mind and heart and soul and strength and to love our brothers and sisters as much as we love ourselves. Has Christ’s work failed in our case? Does our daily battle with sin mean that we have somehow failed to receive the fruit of his work in our lives?
We can answer those fears with a resounding “NO!” Christ’s work never falls flat; his purposes never fail to come to a perfect fulfillment. He doesn’t grow weary or discouraged in tending his vine; his mercies are new each and every morning, and his grace is inexhaustible. The good work that he began in you and in me he will bring to completion. Jesus is committed to his people; God will not fail the children he has adopted through his Spirit. John says that Jesus is our propitiation, that he paid the penalty for our sin in full. He paid the ransom that no man could possibly have afforded, as Psalm 49 says:
“Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.”
But the work of Christ did what no other person could have done. The offering of his perfect life was the only treasure that would suffice to rescue sinful mankind from the death they deserved. And that is also why Jesus is our Advocate, proclaiming our adoption as sons and heirs of the Father in the heavenly places forever.
As Christians, even though we believe that Christ has ransomed us, even though we rejoice in his love and in the assurance of the Father’s forgiveness, there is more to our lives than just hope that we will be alright in the end. Because the Spirit has made his home in and among us, the work of transforming us is already happening. We are already “works in progress”. Though we see the sin in our thoughts and actions every day, though the presence of that “old man”, our unregenerate self, is continually waging a war within us for our hearts and our attention, it is absolutely true that God is winning the battle and that there is evidence within us of his transforming power. As John wrote, later in this same letter:
“he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
As you walk with Christ, allowing his Light to reveal and transform all that is dark in your life, be sure that you will see evidence of his work in you. John wrote, “by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” Look back in your life with Christ and you will see, not only your failures and struggles, but the marks of the faithful Gardener at work in you: making your conscience more tender, more easily grieved by the sin in your life; giving you victories over those sins that are especially hard for you – victories of patience, victories of mercy, victories of compassion, victories of strength. Because you abide in the Vine, you will bear fruit, and that fruit – especially the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – is proof to you that God is at work, transforming you day by day into the image of his Son, our Brother, Savior and Lord, our Friend and our perfect example in all things.
“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
By the grace of God, by the love of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will walk in his way, imitating Christ more and more nearly, loving him more and more dearly, each day of the rest of this life, and then walk with him forever.