The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are no longer slaves to sin, and in Christ we are given the spiritual means to have victory over sin. The Apostle Paul issues a strong command to believers in his letter to the Christians at Rome that we should no longer allow sin to reign or rule or have dominion in our lives.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12–14, NIV84)
In the opening words of the 2nd chapter of 1st John, we hear the aged Apostle John giving pastoral encouragement to a flock of Christians he loves like a father. He writes, “My little children ... “ The Greek word we translate children in this verse refers to very young children and would be better translated, “my little born ones” or even “my little born–again ones.” The Apostle stands next to his readers and encourages them in their struggle against sin. He knows that their heart’s desire is to live a holy life, but occasionally they sin, and sin separates and alienates the sinner from fellowship with God. John hears the plea of the believer who has fallen into sin: “Pastor, what must I do?”
Pastor and Radio Bible Preacher, J. Vernon McGee tells the story of a young married couple who were going to take a trip together, but would not be unable to take their four-year-old daughter along. Their neighbors graciously agreed to take her into their home. They had four boys and a little girl might be a good influence, they thought. The trip came and went, and the couple picked up their daughter, profusely thanking their neighbors for watching after her.
Later that evening the little girl was sharing her experiences of the previous week with her daddy. She said, “Our neighbors have family worship every night. Each night their father prays for his four little boys.”
Her father replied, “That certainly is good to hear.” “Daddy, he prays that God will make them good boys, and he prays that they won’t do anything wrong.” Her father said, “Well, that’s very nice.” The little girl was silent for a moment, and then she added, “But, Daddy, God hasn’t done it yet.” If we are honest with ourselves, each of us must confess that God hasn’t made us perfect yet either. Christians are to work at not sinning, but when we do sin we need not despair because we have a righteous advocate who interceded for us before the Father.
In the passage before us, I want you to see three things that John tells us:
- Don't sin.
- Don't despair when you do sin.
- Don't hog Jesus for yourselves alone.
Let's take these three parts of the text one at a time and unpack them.
I. DON'T SIN (2:1a)
- “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin ... “
- God doesn’t want you to live in sin
- a few chapters later, we hear the Apostle John emphatically say ...
- “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not” (1 John 5:18)
- we don’t know how long the prodigal son was a prodigal, but eventually he got up out of the pigpen and went home to his father
- two reasons ...
A. SIN IS INSUBORDINATION AGAINST GOD
- John's aim is that the flock of God at Ephesus not sin
- this immediately begs the question: What is sin?
- 1 John 3:4 gives the most straightforward definition of sin in this book
- “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4, NIV84)
- it is man's refusal to submit to God's law as found in God's Word
- to use a good military term—sin is insubordination
- when God's Word says, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder," and someone pursues divorce, that's sin
- when God's Word says, "Put away all deceit," and you deliberately distort your financial picture on your tax forms, that's sin
- when God says, "Bring up your children in the instruction of the Lord," and you make no effort to teach your children the Scriptures, that's sin
- when God says, “Bear the burdens of your Christian brother,” and you beg off because you’re too busy, or you just don’t want to be bothered, that’s sin
- when God says, “Honor your mother and father,” and you through a hissy-fit every time they tell you to do something, that’s sin
- these days, not many people weep over their sin these days—even though there is nothing in all the world that is more wicked than insubordination against our Creator
- which leads us to consider the second reason why the apostle tells us not to sin ...
B. SIN IS VERY SERIOUS
- there are at least four reasons given in this book why sin should be taken with tremendous seriousness—with far more seriousness than we usually take it
- 1st, Sin is serious because it insults the suffering of Christ
- according to 1 John 3:8, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil"
- the reason Christ came into the world and suffered was to destroy sin
- the Apostle Paul said that Christ died to purify for himself a bride
- “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25–27, NIV84)
- “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14, NIV84)
- ILLUS. In the early church, baptismal candidates would face westward and renounce sin and Satan before they were immersed. Cyril, a distinguished theologian of the early Church, wrote: “When you renounce Satan you trample underfoot your entire covenant with him and revoke your former treaty with Hell.”
- sin says to Christ, "I do not regard your suffering as sufficient incentive to keep me back from this act. You may have died to prevent me from doing this, but I'm going to do it anyway."
- thus sin insults the suffering of Christ—and that is very serious
- John is very blunt about this: "He who commits sin is of the devil" (1 John 3:8, NIV)
- verse 9 gives the opposite: "No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him"
- we are not to take these verses to imply a perfectionism that would contradict 1 John 1:8–10
- the Apostle is referring to a lifestyle of sin—sinning that is unhated, unassaulted, and too often unconquered in our lives
- at the very least, the Apostle is saying that sin is very serious because it is the fruit, not of God's nature in us, but of Satan's nature
- when you sin, you are acting the way Satan does
- “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3–4, NIV84)
- perhaps one of the reasons that sin is taken so lightly today and there is so little brokenness among God's people over it, is that this truth is rarely taught in the church
- instead people are taught that their assurance of salvation has no relation to whether-or-not they obey God
- we are taught that saving faith is such a weak and powerless thing that it cannot guarantee any changes in life, and therefore to look for those changes as the evidence of saving faith is wrong
- if that is so, then we need to remove the 1st Epistle of John from our bibles
- no matter how hard they try, the easy-gospelers and the cheep-gracers cannot deny that John’s proof that salvation is real is a life that hates sin and seeks to avoid it
- 1 John 3:14 says, "We know (i.e., we have assurance) that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death."
- you cannot have assurance of having passed out of death into life if you are an unloving person or your life is characterized by an unregenerate walking in unrepentant sin
- persistence in sin destroys the assurance of salvation
- “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:16–17, ESV)
- these verses have been hotly debated over the centuries as to what the Apostle John means by them
- we will cover them more closely at some point in our journey through 1st John
- for now let me say forgiveness is offered in 1:9 to all who confess their sin
- but, if the believer is not careful, there is a depth and persistence of sin that can put you beyond the ability to repent and confess
- ILLUS.. Esau serves as an example here. Esau was the oldest son of Isaac who sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. (The story is found in the 25th chapter of Genesis). When Esau finally realized what he had forsaken, he made a half-hearted attempt to retrieve it. But by then, it was too late. In the Book of Hebrews we are told, “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17, NIV84). He bitterly regretted, but he did not repent because he had moved past the ability to do so.
- if you do not see your sin the way God does, and hate it and flee from it, there does come a point of no return in sinning, and that’s serious
II. DON'T DESPAIR WHEN YOU DO SIN (2:1b)
- " ... But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, ... ” (1 John 2:1-2a, ESV)
- in other words, don't despair when you sin—there is hope
- why in the world would the Apostle John say this?
- he has just argued for taking sin seriously—that we should flee from it by walking in the light
- then he blows it, by giving us “an out” when we do sin
- the merciful among us might wish that John had never written 1 John 1:7—“IF we walk in the light ... the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”
- it’s as though the Apostle is saying that forgiveness and cleansing is all dependant upon living a certain way, and that smacks of legalism
- the conformists among us might wish that John had never written 1 John 2:1—“But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father.”
- it’s as thought the Apostle, in stressing the advocacy of Christ, cheapens the gospel and turns it into license
- in this dichotomy the Apostle teaches us something very important: Christians are to work at not sinning, but when we do sin we need not despair because we have a righteous advocate who intercedes for us before the Father
- we must walk in the light if we are to go on experiencing the fellowship of the Father
- but when our lives stray into the darkness, and we sin, we do indeed have an advocate with the Father
A. WE HAVE AN ADVOCATE BEFORE THE FATHER
- the Apostle asserts “ ... we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins ... “
- ILLUS. People in contemporary society are hooked on courtroom dramas. Television shows and movies dealing with crime and trials hold people spellbound. Linda and I have both been fans of “Law & Order” and all its spin-offs since the show’s premier. Thousands of people avidly follow the latest high-profile trials, hanging on every turn of the evidence. Infinitely transcending such worldly trials is the cosmic courtroom drama that dwarfs all human trials in scope and severity. God the Father is the Judge, Satan is the accuser, and every person who ever lived is on trial. The issue is how unjust sinners can be justified.
- the word advocate is from the Greek parakletos, and is the same word which is translated comforter in the John 14:16
- the Holy Spirit is our Comforter here on Earth, and Christ is our Comforter up in Heaven
- it means one who will come to your side to help in every time of need
- we need an Advocate before the Father because Satan is the accuser of the brethren
- in Revelation 12:10 he is pictured as an evil prosecuting attorney who accuses us before our God day and night
- he is out to “get you” at all costs
- remember how Satan accused Job in the Old Testament?
- when that happens in our case, the Lord Jesus is able to step in as our Advocate
- He acts as an Defense Attorney, for all those who believe savingly in Him
- nonetheless, He has never lost a case—and never will
- using the language of the courtroom, Paul declared,
- “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:33–34, NIV)
- He intercedes with the Father on the basis of His own substitution for sinners through his sacrificial death, which fully paid sin’s penalty for all who trust Him for salvation, thus meeting the demands of God’s justice
B. WE HAVE A RIGHTEOUS SACRIFICE ON OUR BEHALF
- Jesus can be our Advocate because he we first our Propitiation
- most modern translation interpret that word propitiation as atoning sacrifice
- but propitiation is a good word and you need to be familiar with it
- Christ could never make His case for the saints as their divine Defense Attorney if He were not also their Propitiator who completely turned God’s wrath from us to Himself, thus removing all our guilt and condemnation
- propitiation through the death of Christ is one of the critical doctrines of the Christian faith, at the very center of God’s redemptive plan
- propitiation is a translation of a word, which means “appeasement,” or “satisfaction”
- Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s justice, thus appeasing His holy wrath against believers’ sins
- “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9, ESV)
- ILLUS. The Day of Atonement—yom Kippur—was the most important day in the year of the Jewish calendar. On that day the High Priest would take an unblemished goat, and sacrifice it upon the altar outside the Temple. Its blood was collected, taken inside the temple to the Holy of Holies where the High Priest would dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it atop the Ark of the Covenant which was called the Mercy Seat. The mercy seat was situated between the divine Shekinah glory cloud above the ark and the law tablets inside the ark. Because the priests sprinkled the seat with blood from the sacrifices, it was the place at which atonement for sin occurred. The sprinkled blood thus stood between God and His broken law.
- in the same way, Christ our Advocate, stands between our sin and God holiness
- every sin ever committed by every person who has ever lived will be punished in one of two ways
- either God’s wrath will be satisfied when all unrepentant and unbelieving sinners suffer eternally in hell, or
- for all who, by the convicting and regenerating power of the Spirit, repent and believe savingly in Jesus, God’s wrath is satisfied by the punishment of Christ Himself on the cross
- the entire divine plan of redemption flows from the Father’s love for unworthy and undeserving sinners
- “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, ESV)
- that’s our wonderful good news as well
III. DON'T HOG JESUS (2:2b)
- the final word of the text is that we must not keep this consolation for ourselves alone
- "And he is not the propitiation for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:2, NIV)
- that’s Universalism and that’s Heresy
- the wrath of God is propitiated only for those who obey the Son of God
- in his Revelation, the Apostle John describes these people as a great multitude that no one [can] count (Rev. 7:9)
A. JESUS HAS ‘OTHER’ SHEEP
- since the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible, let’s turn to some Scriptures that help explain what John means
- in John’s Gospel, the Apostle recounts the ex-High Priest prophesying about Jesus’ death: "He prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (John 11:52)
- also in John’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples ...
- “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:15–16, NIV84)
- as John says in Revelation 5:9, Christ was slain and by his blood he ransomed men for God from every tongue and tribe and people and nation
- Christ did not propitiate the wrath of God against everybody—but he laid down his life for the sheep
- they are scattered throughout the world among every tongue and tribe and people and nation
- He is not the propitiation for our sins only
- there are other sheep that are scattered throughout the whole world and they need to hear the Gospel
- we need to “go and tell” and if we can’t personally “go and tell” we need to make it financially feasible for those who can “go and tell” to do so
In summary, John's message to us today is: Don't sin! It is tremendously and terribly serious. We need to hear about the ominous danger of living in sin. And we need to hear the unspeakable good news that Christ our advocate has removed the wrath of God from those who trust in him. If you do sin, don't despair because your attorney is the Son of the Judge. He is righteous and he makes his case for you not on the basis of your perfection but his propitiation. Be of good courage, don't hog Jesus for yourself alone, go and make disciples.