The world is a very big place.
Apart from all the different cultures, languages and people groups that exist in our world today,
we also have to take into account different sets of philosophies and beliefs.
I’m not so much talking about different religions as I am talking about political and ideological understandings.
I’m talking about things like Communism, or Nationalism, or other “isms”.
What we know about these “isms”, is that there is a basic set of beliefs and understandings that enable people to then act in the world.
Let’s say you were a communist.
What does a communist believe?
A communist believes that the workers should control the means of production
- companies and land should not be owned by individuals, but by those who work them.
Alternatively, let’s say you were a capitalist.
What does a capitalist believe?
A capitalist believes that each individual has the freedom to spend and invest their money in whichever way they see fit,
and individuals together as a market determine how much things cost.
Let’s move away from economics.
What about a nationalist?
A nationalist is someone who loves their country above other countries,
and will do whatever they see is necessary to ensure that their nation survives and prospers.
So what we have here is a common thread
- we have the basis of belief, followed naturally by action.
What you believe determines what you do.
If you believe, for example, that there is a bomb in this building set to go off in 10 seconds, you will escape as quickly as you can.
If you believe that there is no God and that there is no point in living, then you are fairly likely to go and commit suicide.
So what does it mean to be a Christian?
Like anything else, being a Christian involves believing in something, and doing something as a result
- our belief sets up our actions.
Let me just remind you about what the Apostle John is doing here in this letter.
He was writing a circular letter to a group of churches that had been influenced by strange teaching
- teaching that radically changed the understanding of who Jesus was and what he had done.
John wrote this letter to warn the churches that they risked abandoning the Christian faith altogether if they followed this teaching.
In these verses, John outlines to us what it is we believe about Jesus, and what we then do in response.
You can see in your outlines that there are two points.
The first point is titled “Jesus Christ - advocate and sacrifice” - this is what we believe about Jesus.
The second point is titled “Knowing and Obeying Christ” - this is what we do in response.
2.1-2 Jesus Christ - Advocate and Sacrifice.
Let’s move onto the first point: “Jesus Christ - Advocate and Sacrifice”.
Let me read to you verses one and two of 1 John 2.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ the Righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
The first thing we notice here is that John calls the readers “my dear children”.
What this does is establish who John is - he is acting as some sort of spiritual father,
a man who has care and concern for those under him, while also having a level of authority.
He calls them children because he loves them and wants the best for them,
which is why he is teaching them about who Christ is and what he has done.
The second thing we notice is the reason for his writing.
He is writing so that they will not sin.
This follows on with what he was talking about in the last 3 verses of the previous chapter,
which show that Christians are people who confess and acknowledge their sin.
He says in verse 9 of the previous chapter that those who confess their sins to God will be forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness.
In the verses we are examining today, he goes on to explain this further.
So what is sin?
Sin in the Bible is defined in two basic ways.
The first is an attitude of rebellion against God - of outright opposition and rejection of God as king and ruler.
The second is in actual actions or words or thinking - the sins of murder, or greed, or lying for example.
Probably the best way of understanding this is that when a person lives in rebellion against God’s rule, they behave and think sinfully.
Both Paul and John make it clear that sin is universal in its effect - everyone is sinful.
Everyone has rebelled against God’s rule, and everybody is guilty of sinful thinking and behaviour.
John is writing so that we do not sin.
He is writing so that we can acknowledge God as our king and ruler, and so that our sinful thinking and behaviour can change.
But John knows that we’re not perfect.
He states that if we do sin, we have someone who can speak to the Father in our defence
- Jesus Christ, the Righteous one.
The word we can best use here is “Advocate”.
Jesus is our advocate - the person who can speak to the Father in our defence.
Now we might translate this as being somewhat legal.
Is Jesus simply our defence lawyer?
1Are we in court before God for our sins, and is Jesus our legal representative?
That might seem an interesting illustration to use, but it is flawed.
After all, having a good defence lawyer is no guarantee of winning a court case
- especially if the evidence against you proves beyond doubt that you’re guilty.
No, Jesus is not our lawyer in heaven.
The idea of an advocate or counsellor is more one of being friends with someone in a high place.
That is, rather than being our Lawyer, Jesus is actually our friend.
And our friend is the son of the judge.
So Jesus actually speaks into the Father’s ear to defend us.
Now this may seem all rather corrupt - the court case against us being dropped because we are friends with the judge’s son.
But all this shows the limitations of the legal illustration I used.
The key to understanding this is that the one who speaks to the Father in our defence is Jesus Christ The Righteous One.
This is not just God’s son, this is a person who is without sin, a person of impeccable character.
Jesus, who has no sin, speaks to God about our sin and is able to save us from punishment.
Jesus somehow removes our guilt and turns God’s anger away from us, making us acceptable to God.
Jesus, our advocate, ensures that we are declared innocent and holy.
The question is of course, how does this occur?
How exactly does Jesus do this?
This is explained in verse 2 - Jesus is our atoning sacrifice.
Now I have to say at this point that this verse has been a bone of contention among Christians for the last 50 or so years.
What does it mean that Jesus is an atoning sacrifice?
There are some Christians who say that the death of Christ simply stopped God being angry at us.
By dying on the cross, God’s anger against us simply stopped.
Now this is true to an extent, but it doesn’t explain how.
The NIV uses the words “atoning sacrifice” here to describe what happens to God’s anger - it is not stopped, it is transferred.
In other words, the anger that God feels at us for our sins is transferred from us to Jesus.
And more than that, when Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself God’s punishment for our sins.
Jesus is a sin sacrifice - he is punished instead of us.
God’s anger at our sins is not somehow nullified, it is redirected at the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
In the Old Testament, the Priests of Israel were instructed by God to sacrifice animals on the altar.
There were various types of sacrifices, but one of the most important was the sin sacrifice.
Bulls, lambs, rams and goats were all used in various sin sacrifices.
They were slaughtered and burnt on the altar in the temple.
In this way, God’s people were reminded of how awful sin was.
Many Christians find the idea of Jesus being a sacrifice unpalatable.
Surely God would not be so primitive as to require sacrifices?
Yes he does, but he only needs one sacrifice - when Jesus died on the cross he did so for our sins.
Our sins are transferred to Jesus, and God punishes Jesus for our sin.
The book of Hebrews makes it clear that the death of Jesus has replaced the Old Testament sacrificial system,
and was God’s intended method of saving his people.
The Old Testament sacrifices actually pointed forward to the death of Jesus.
If we return to the courtroom illustration I was using. Jesus is not only our advocate, he is the one who goes to jail for us.
An innocent man, free from any sin, willingly takes our place in the dock,
in the prison cell,
and even in the gallows
- Jesus is executed instead of us.
So Jesus is our sin sacrifice.
But a number of questions are still unanswered.
Just how much sin does Jesus take upon himself?
How effective is Jesus’ sin sacrifice?
John finishes verse two by saying that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
This verse has also confused Christians for a long time.
It seems to say that the death of Jesus as a sin sacrifice is actually effective for the whole world.
Which means that all sins have been forgiven - even those people who are not professing Christians have been forgiven.
Is this what John is saying?
This sort of belief is sometimes called “universalism”
- the idea that everyone’s sins have been forgiven by Jesus and are assured of a place in heaven.
For Christians who don’t like the idea of hell, this sort of belief can be very attractive.
Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
John himself says in 5.12 that “He who has the son has life; he who does not have the son does not have life”.
So it can’t mean that.
So what does it mean?
It is not saying that everyone’s sins have been forgiven.
It is saying that Christ’s death was so powerful that it could, theoretically, be enough for all the world’s sins.
John is not so much worried about the world here as he is about the power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
And if Christ’s sacrifice was so powerful, it means that only a single sacrifice needed to be made.
Christ does not need to be sacrificed and crucified again and again for every sin committed.
Christ’s death was so powerful that only one sacrifice was needed.
One sacrifice was so powerful that it could cover all the sins committed by the whole world throughout all history
- past, present and future.
As I said at the beginning, this forms the basis of our action.
Our understanding of God and Jesus stands at the centre of our belief.
And our belief informs our actions.
Before we move on to examining our actions, let’s apply some of what we’ve learnt already.
The first thing we need to be reminded of is that Christians sin.
If Christians did not sin, then what John is saying here is illogical - it doesn’t fit.
Let’s be realistic here.
We all know that none of us is perfect.
We all know that each person has been tainted by sin.
We also know that some people commit more sins than others.
Sin is an unfashionable term nowadays though.
This is not surprising since our society is full of sin, and does not appreciate being exposed for what they are.
We need to be aware that our world is always telling us that looking after ourselves - after no. 1 - is the highest priority we have.
We need to be aware that our world’s understanding of human nature does not take sin into account.
Humankind is basically good, says the world.
The reason why bad things happen and people do bad things is not about sin, it’s about environment and upbringing.
We need to stand firm against the world’s lies at this point.
God’s truth is not determined by democracy, and is always out of step with modern society.
The second thing we need to know is that if we are Christians then our sins have been forgiven.
While we must always feel bad about our sin, we must also know that Jesus is our heavenly advocate
- he stands before God and pleads our innocence.
More than that, he takes upon himself the penalty for our sin, and dies as a sacrifice.
The result is that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.
If we sin, we can know that our relationship with God is intact.
This is important to know because we need to be reminded that our relationship with God does not depend upon our works or efforts,
but upon what God has done by sending his Son.
Modern and ancient understandings of religion almost always place the efforts of humankind towards their God or gods as being central to their relationship.
This is not the case with true Christianity.
We do not rely upon ourselves, we rely upon God for our salvation, and for God’s provision of Jesus as our sin sacrifice.
2.3-6 Knowing and Obeying Christ.
So the idea is that belief informs actions.
Now that we know that Christ is our advocate and sacrifice, we need to understand how we know and obey Christ.
Which is the second point on your outline.
Let me read to you verses 3-6 of 1 John 2.
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. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Notice firstly that John does his little literary trick.
As an English teacher I appreciate little things like this, but if you notice, you’ll see there’s a bit a symmetry in these verses.
Verse 3 and verse 6 are related,
and verse 4 is related to verse 5.
Verse 3 says that we’ve come to know Jesus if we obey his commands.
Verse 6 says that those who claim to live in Christ must walk as he did.
John is saying the same thing twice.
Obedience to his commands is essentially walking as Jesus did.
He does a similar things with verses 4 and 5.
Verse 4 is a negative - it is describing what the hypocrite does.
While verse 5 is a positive - it describes what a true follower does.
On the one hand, the hypocrite is a liar;
while on the other hand, the obedient Christian has a complete love for God.
He compares lies with a true godly relationship.
What John starts off talking about here is the idea of “knowing” Christ.
What does it mean to know Christ?
We need to understand that he is not talking here intellectually, he is talking relationally.
In other words, he is not saying that we should know about Jesus as though he were some object of study,
but we need to know him as a person.
If we remember that John was attacking a heresy that denied Jesus’ humanity, then we can understand this a lot better.
Jesus is not a ghostly spirit being that is unknowable, but is a person.
Yes, he is God, but he is also someone we have a relationship with.
The idea is that we all have to have a personal relationship with our saviour.
But John seems to make a strange condition.
It seems as though our relationship with Christ depends upon our obedience to his commands
- or as verse 6 puts it, to walk as Jesus did.
Now what does this mean?
The first thing we need to realise is that obedience to Jesus’ commands means we take to heart Jesus’ mission on earth.
At the beginning of the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ message is
“The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
What does it mean to obey Jesus’ commands?
It means that we should repent, to turn away from our sins, and to trust in the message of forgiveness that Jesus brings.
When a person turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus,
their sins are forgiven and they are in a right relationship with God.
The second thing we need to realise is that in John’s understanding of the Christian life, obedience and forgiveness are not separated.
We really only have two choices open to us
- to be forgiven or to remain unforgiven.
If we are forgiven, then we live in obedience to Jesus’ commands.
If we remain unforgiven, then we are rejecting Jesus’ commands.
There are no other options.
You cannot be forgiven while at the same time live in rebellion against God.
And you cannot remain unforgiven while at the same time live you life in obedience to Jesus.
The third thing we need to realise is that our obedience does not ensure our faith.
Our forgiveness is not at the mercy of our works.
John’s already pointed out that a Christian can sin and still be forgiven.
Our obedience to Jesus’ commands is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus - it is not the root.
Obedience to Jesus, however, is actually an act of love towards God.
If you look at your NIV bibles, you will notice that verse 5 says
If anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.
You’ll notice that there is a footnote which says that “God’s love” could be translated as “Love for God”.
The books I’ve read in preparation for this passage reckon the best translation is “love for God”,
and I’ll just have to trust them at this point because I don’t know how to read Greek!
The idea is that a person who obeys Jesus is actually loving God.
This backs up the claim that our attitude towards God finds its expression in actions.
If we have an attitude of love towards God, then we will naturally obey him.
If we have a rebellious attitude towards God, then our lives will naturally reflect this.
Our works do not save us
- it is Jesus who saves us and acts as the means by which we can love God,
a love that produces obedience to Jesus’ word.
But remember that John is addressing a heresy within the church
- he is not only teaching the basic truths of the gospel in this letter,
he is also exposing and confronting error.
In verse 4 he says The man who says ‘I know him’ but does not do what he commands is a liar - the truth is not in him.
John is here pointing a finger at the heretics
- those who denied that Jesus was human, and who denied that they were sinful
- these people, John is saying, are liars.
I’ve already made the point that your basic understanding of God goes on to find its expression in the way you act and think.
These heretics had an understanding of God that did not include the humanity of Jesus.
As a result, their understanding of sin and forgiveness was skewed, which led them away from a belief that Jesus had died for our sins.
John did not believe that these people were Christians
- in fact, later on in this chapter he refers to these people as antichrists, people who have denied that Jesus is the Messiah.
Obedience is therefore more than simply doing the things that Jesus wants us to do,
it involves thinking the way that Jesus wants us to,
and believing the way Jesus wants us to believe.
If we deviate from this,
if we change the nature of our understanding of Jesus,
then we are rejecting Christ,
we are not doing what he commands,
we are not walking as Jesus walked,
our love for God is not being made complete.
We are lying, and the truth is not in us.
When I was here a few months ago I mentioned a man by the name of Samuel Angus.
Angus was a professor of New Testament at St. Andrews college Sydney during the 1930s.
He was training ministers in the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches.
In 1934 he wrote a book called “Truth and Tradition”,
1and in it he described some of the Christian beliefs that he had problems with.
These included; The Virgin Birth;
the physical resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb;
the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world;
the deity of Christ;
the trinity, which was a fourth century invention and not from the Bible;
the authority of scripture;
and the Westminster Confession of faith.
From that point on, the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches in Australia began a turning away from the truth of Biblical Christianity and began rejecting Jesus.
As a result, these churches began to lose their influence on the world, with many churches declining in number.
The fruit of unbelief is empty churches.
There are a number of different applications that we can make from these verses.
The first concerns the idea that faith and works are linked. I’ve already made the point that John does not separate them.
Obedience to Christ is the natural result of faith in him.
The teaching of the Roman Catholic church does not fit in with this Biblical idea.
For the committed Roman Catholic, there exists a heartfelt and genuine desire to obey Christ
- but there is no assurance of forgiveness or salvation.
For the committed Catholic who obeys the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, forgiveness depends upon obedience.
Christ’s death is not enough to cover their sins, and they must make up for this lack through their obedience.
This belief is not Christian, no matter how devoted the person is.
On the other hand, there are a number of Protestants who believe that faith and trust in Jesus does not have to lead to obedience.
For these people, all you need to do is invite Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.
You don’t need to obey - it is only an option.
What these Protestants believe is that you can be saved without having to obey Christ.
This belief is not Christian either
- the idea that you can have faith without repentance,
that Jesus can be your saviour and not your Lord.
So we need to be obey,
but we need to understand that obedience is a natural result of the salvation we have.
One of the traps we can fall into at this point is the trap of legalism.
Over the years, Christians have enforced very silly rules
- these include the belief that Christians should not drink alcohol,
let their babies feed when they want to,
wear jeans to church
or even listen to rock music.
Their desire is a noble one - to live a holy life.
But when they enforce rules that are not found in the bible, they only make it difficult for us to live the Christian life.
Another trap is to have a faith that is only skin deep.
By this I mean that we say the right words and do the right things, but deep down we do not know Jesus personally.
It’s very easy to do - we look like we are obeying Christ’s commands, but the reality is that we are just doing things to look good.
John says that we have to know Christ personally, and that this relationship leads to obedience.
If we have not turned from our sins and trusted in Jesus to save us, then we do not have any relationship with him,
and we are not forgiven.
No matter how many good things you do,
no matter how often we turn up to church,
no matter how often we read the bible or pray,
no matter how often we preach from the pulpit,
if we do not have a real faith in Jesus we remain unforgiven.
Our works do not save us.
We obey Christ because we know him and love him.
We have full assurance that when Jesus died on the cross he acted as a sacrifice to take our sins away and turn aside God’s wrath.
As a result, we have forgiveness and the assurance of salvation.
It is a great and wondrous thing that God has given us, something we do not deserve,
yet something we have the responsibility of sharing.
The early church grew because Christians obeyed Christ
- their lives bearing witness to the pagans around them.
And the pagans asked the Christians why they lived such good lives, and the Christians told them about Jesus.
As a result, people who had no hope and no salvation discovered the truth about God and Jesus.
They turned away from their sins and put their trust in Christ.
This is how the church grew in the first century,
and it is the way the church will grow in the 21st century
- through Christians speaking the truth and living good lives so that unbelievers can understand that they too can be saved.
I started today talking about how what you believe always leads you to act and think according to that belief.
A socialist fights for justice and equality,
a capitalist fights for the freedom to spend and invest money in whichever way he or she wants,
a nationalist will do anything to promote their country’s well-being and safeguard it from harm.
So what are we?
We are Christians.
We have been saved by God’s grace,
through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross,
ensuring our forgiveness and salvation.
As a result, we love God and live in obedience to Christ’s commands.
Jesus brings us to the Father,
through his death on the cross,
enabling us to have peace with the Father and giving us the means to obey him fully.
Let me pray.
We thank you for giving us an advocate, Jesus Christ, to speak to you in our defence. Thank you that through his death on the cross we have assurance of new life and forgiveness from our sins. Give us hearts to love and obey you, avoiding hypocrisy and falseness, and a desire to live out our faith in the lives we lead. AMEN.
From the Keyrgmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.