Summary: We can know we’re Christians with absolute certainty. Is this being presumptuous? The objective basis for our assurance of salvation rests on faith plus action. Our choices reflect our commitment to Christ.
Sermon Series on First John, “Collecting Evidence of Faith”
“Obeying our Advocate”, 2:1-6 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Picture a tense courtroom trial. The evidence has been presented and things don’t look good for the defendant. The defense attorney stands before the Judge and begins his closing argument by declaring: “Your honor, my client is, without a doubt, guilty as charged.” What kind of lawyer is this? Yet he goes on to say, “…and I would like to take his punishment.” John presents Jesus as both our Advocate and Sacrifice; He speaks in our behalf. He does not declare us innocent, but He receives the penalty for our wrong-doing.
John presents us with the ideal, the real, and the solution: The ideal is stated plainly in verse 1, “I write to you so that you will not sin.” When we sin we’re out of our element. We have no business sinning. No true believer would take advantage of God’s pardon. Sin is not the norm. Now if John were to stop there, we’d all be in trouble, because in spite of our best efforts, we still commit sin…yet John goes on to say, “if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense.” He pleads our case; there’s the real, thank God. John then goes one step further, to the solution, verse 2: (Jesus) “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We can approach God without fear. We need not fear punishment because Jesus has already taken the punishment for us. He’s solved our sin problem for good.
Most translations describe Jesus as our “Advocate” in verse 1; the NIV renders this, “One who speaks to the Father.” The term “advocate” literally means someone who comes alongside to offer assistance. Jesus is the Counsel for our defense; He’s our Mediator, our go-between. We have the right to approach the Father for forgiveness and cleansing through the work of the Son. In a judicial trial the defendant’s advocate pleads in behalf of the client’s merit. We have no merit, nothing that we can present to the Judge to gain acquittal. Jesus pleads for us on the basis of His merit, His judicial righteousness. He is not contaminated by sin and is qualified to intercede for us. “He can enter the Presence from which all sin excludes” (Ross). He is a lawyer who has never lost a case.
The term “atoning sacrifice” in verse 2 means that Jesus has, in our behalf, satisfied the justice of God. Our guilt before God is covered by the blood of Christ. The stain of our sin is removed. John then adds, “not only for our sins but for the whole world.” This universal provision implies that everyone has need of it…yet not everyone is saved. John is saying that the passion of Christ is sufficient to save everyone; the price paid was potentially good enough to pardon the whole world…but it applies only to those who believe and receive it. God’s mercy is a gift that may be refused. And so the sacrifice of Jesus is a remedy adequate for all but is limited in its application, not its sufficiency. John may also be indicating here that the Gospel isn’t just for Jews but for all people.
We do little but receive the free gift of God’s mercy. He takes the initiative, not us. His sacrificial love provides the means by which our sin is covered, our guilt removed. He came, not like the trapped animals used in burnt offerings in the Temple, but willingly. The cross has been described as the greatest battle scene in all history, upon which Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death in His own death. Jesus was not a helpless victim but One who conquered evil through His shed blood. When we realize what it took to forgive us, we can no longer treat sin lightly.
John then shows us what genuine faith looks like in verse 3: “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.” Charles Spurgeon observed, "An unchanged life is the sign of an uncleansed heart." Knowing God is evidenced by a desire to obey Him. Knowing God isn’t some one-time enlightenment or intellectual attainment, but knowledge that has ongoing present results. Knowing God is experiential; we live what we’ve learned; our beliefs determine our behavior. It’s been said that we only believe the parts of the Bible we obey. Some people think they can add Christ to their lives without subtracting sin. How can I know and show I’m a true Christian? The proof is in my walk. Obedience is the natural outworking of genuine faith and love for God.
In chapter 1 we saw how God’s truth is lacking in those who deny sin. Here we learn that denying obedience has the same effect. Refusing to admit that they’re in need of God’s pardon, and with no desire to follow Him, people get seriously disconnected from God. Faith and obedience are “bound up together in the same package” (Spurgeon). James cautions that “faith without deeds is dead” (2:26). John says “the truth is not in them.” Obeying God is not a condition of knowing God but a characteristic of knowing God.