My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous… [2:1].
Point and counterpoint, point and counterpoint; throughout John’s letter is point and counterpoint, an interplay of juxtaposition. Some of the juxtaposition is straightforward: light and darkness, love and hate, love for the Father and love for the world, truth and falsehood. Other juxtaposition is nuanced:
Walking in the light as He is in the light doesn’t mean that we don’t ever sin – not in this passage, for forgiveness of sins is central to the passage.
If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.
I am writing these things that you may not sin.
If we confess our sins He will forgive us and cleanse us.
We have an Advocate with the Father.
The one who says I know Him and doesn’t keep His commandments is a liar.
John is writing that you may not sin and yet at the same time he brings God’s provision for our sin (Jesus Christ) into focus. John doesn’t exhort us to live in a pretend world where we delude ourselves into thinking that we are experientially perfect; nor does he lead us down the dangerous path of calling evil good and good evil – of excusing our sin. Also note that John does not write that sinning is a forgone conclusion – that is a proposition that disciples may spare themselves from pondering, our focus is to be on Jesus and on obedience to Him.
There are two extremes, the first says “I am sanctified and I cannot sin”, the second says, “I’m a sinner saved by grace and being a sinner I sin all the time.” The second errs in that the Biblical identity of a disciple of Christ is “saint” and not “sinner”. With sinners obedience is the exception; with saints sin is the exception. The first errs in that it confuses our heavenly perfection in Christ with the realities of that perfection working itself out on earth; we are becoming who we are in Christ, but who we are in Christ is not fully manifested until He is fully manifested: Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is, 1 John 3:2. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory, Colossians 3:4.
Legalism is often the result of denying the reality of sin and of insisting on sinless perfection in the here and now; law and tradition are substituted for mercy and grace in an effort to maintain righteousness and holy living – condemnation and insecurity are the results. On the other hand lax discipleship and rationalization of sin can be the result of the “I’m just a sinner saved by grace and sin is part and parcel of my lot in life.” The Apostle John does not let us get away with either of these two mentalities: Walk in the light as He is in the light and you will have cleansing, confess your sins and He will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. The one who says, I have come to know Him, and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Knowing that we have an Advocate with the Father frees us to live righteously – it does not free us to sin. Confession of sin is not mere mental acknowledgment of an act having transgressed the law and holiness of God, confession is a heart and mental acknowledgment – a soul acknowledgment – that I have sinned against the God of light, life, and holiness. When I realize that Jesus Christ is my righteousness and my Advocate I can take my eyes off myself and fix them on Jesus and on others, then I have freedom to live righteously and am delivered from the fear that I have to produce and maintain my own righteousness, I am delivered from the torment of having to atone (a futile proposition) for my own sin – godly freedom produces obedience in Jesus Christ.