Summary: If God is light, if God is perfect righteousness, then we’d better get real about our own righteousness.
John is writing to his followers in the final years of his life. You get the feeling that he thinks he’s running out of time because there’s a certain urgency to the way he writes. He doesn’t waste words. There’s no polite greeting at the start of the letter. He just gets straight to the point. This is how it is. Jesus is real. The Lord who made the universe has appeared in human flesh. God is pure light. His perfect righteousness allows for no compromise. Truth matters. All in the first few verses. Then he begins to develop his themes.
If God is light, if God is perfect righteousness, then we’d better get real about our own righteousness.
Get Real About Righteousness
So he says “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” He’ll finish this first part of ch2 with these words: “Whoever says, "I abide in him," ought to walk just as he walked.” It should be obvious shouldn’t it? If we claim to follow the perfect Son of God, if we claim to be the children of God, as John will remind us we are in the next chapter, then we should be living the same perfect life that Jesus lived. There’s no room in our life for sinful thoughts or words or actions. In fact that sort of behaviour denies our real status as God’s children.
But of course it’s not as easy as that is it? If we’re going to get real about our own righteousness then we’ll quickly acknowledge that we’ve got a lot to learn. Some may be better at not sinning than others but all of us are still on the path to righteousness. None of us have got there yet.
Some of us are new Christians, still working out what’s OK and what’s not. Others have been studying godly living for years and still get it wrong. It’s a bit like a person learning to play a musical instrument. You start off with the basics and as you improve you’re given harder and harder pieces to play. And even when you’re a master musician you’ll still be making mistakes. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist, once commented that the only difference between him and a beginner was that he was able to correct his mistakes much faster.
So what does it mean if we continue to sin, even though we claim to be followers of Jesus? Does it mean we’ve failed? I guess it does. Does it mean the gospel has failed? Not at all. In fact this is what the gospel is all about isn’t it. The gospel is for those who are failures at obeying God’s commands. See what he says: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
In the first chapter we were told to confess our sins. Now he explains what happens then. We have an advocate, a spokesperson, a representative, who’s sitting next to the Father’s throne in heaven, speaking on our behalf. He says to the Father something like this: “That Chris Appleby has done it again, but I don’t want you to punish him the way he deserves. I’ve already paid the punishment for him. He’s made himself one of my followers, he’s made me his Lord and now I stand in his place.” Jesus can sit next to the Father because he himself is righteous. That’s something I could never do in my own strength. And he died as the atoning sacrifice on my behalf. The actual word used there has the idea of a sacrifice that removes God’s anger and wrath towards the rebellious sinner. We deserve God’s anger for the way we ignore him, for the way we deliberately do what we know is against his will for us, as well as for the way we distort the truth in order to justify our behaviour. But Jesus, in his death on the cross, takes all that righteous anger on himself, leaving us spotless before God.
But that doesn’t mean I can ignore my sinful urges. No, if I claim to know God, know him in a personal way that is, to be related to him, then I’ll be a person who obeys his commandments. Those people who claimed in John’s day to have come to know God but who thought that what they did in the flesh was irrelevant, because they thought that all that mattered was the spiritual realm, were fooling themselves. John calls them liars. Those people today who claim to know God but who refuse to accept the standards of moral behaviour he’s set out in his word are likewise deluding themselves, living a lie. Often they’ll even use love as the justification for their denial of God’s standards. But see what he says there in v5: “5whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.” That’s the standard of love that we aim for - love that results in obeying God’s word. And the standard of life we aim for is to walk just as Jesus walked.