My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. – 1 John 2:1 ESV
John opens up chapter two of his letter by referring to his audience as “my little children.” It was a term of affection, spoken from the heart of a pastor who saw the believers to whom he wrote as his personal responsibility. He was concerned about their spiritual well being and wanted to make sure they understood what he was trying to tell them. Like children, they were somewhat gullible and susceptible to outside influences. They were too tolerant of other people’s opinions about the gospel, which is the whole reason John is writing his letter in the first place. He knew that, if he was not careful, much of what he had just written could be misunderstood or misconstrued by his readers. He had made it quite clear that anyone who claimed to be sinless or who refused to accept God’s declaration of sin in their lives was deceived and guilty of calling God a liar. Rather than deny our sins, we should confess them. “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). It would have been easy for someone to conclude that the availability of confession and forgiveness was like a get-out-of-jail-free card allowing them to sin without consequences. Knowing human nature like he did, John knew that the doctrine of God’s grace, made available through Jesus Christ’s death, could be abused. The apostle Paul knew the same thing. In his letter to the believers in Rome, he spent the first five chapters establishing the guilt of all men and their unrighteous standing before a holy God. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” ( Romans 3:22-23 ESV). But Paul, like John, knew there was good news for sinners. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Paul follows this wonderful news with the sobering question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV). He knew that someone was going to make the seemingly logical conclusion that more sin would lead to more of God’s grace and forgiveness. In other words, they could keep on sinning, but always just ask for and receive forgiveness. Both Paul and John rejected this dangerous notion.
In fact, John said that the reason he was writing was so that his readers would NOT sin. God’s grace was not a license to sin. Christ’s death on the cross was not to be used like some miracle elixir to magically remove the guilt of our sins. Yes, if we sin, we can confess those sins and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. But forgiveness is not the goal. Sinlessness is. Paul would have agreed. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:2-4 ESV). Both Paul and John knew that their readers were going to end up sinning, because they knew their readers had sin natures. As long as we live on this earth, all of us as believers in Jesus Christ will wrestle with the presence of our sin natures. But that does not mean that we HAVE to sin. It does not mean that sin is inevitable and unavoidable. We can walk in newness of life. But to walk in newness of life we have to learn to walk in the light – in fellowship with God and His Son. We must allow the penetrating and purifying light of God reveal hidden sin in our lives so that we might confess it and receive forgiveness for it. So much of the time, we are busy confessing for sins we have committed, but fail to ever see the root source behind our sins. We tell God that we’re sorry for lying. We admit to him that we had a lustful thought or an angry outburst. But we never see what’s behind those acts. We can’t see our heart or know that those symptoms are the result of something far more insidious and dangerous – our own pride. It is only when “we walk in the light as he is in the light” that we begin to realize just how deep-rooted our sin nature really is. The great King David wrote, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin” (Psalm 19:12-13 NLT). Our goal is to live lives free from sin. But for that to happen, we must live in the light, in close fellowship with God, the Son, and the Word, allowing the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to penetrate and expose those hidden sins that are the root cause of all our wrong attitudes and actions. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT). One of the primary ways we can walk in the light is by spending time in God’s Word. The Psalmist knew the reality of that truth. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11 ESV). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 ESV).
The more time we spend in the light of God’s Word, the more hidden sins will be exposed. But John reminds us “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ESV). He stands beside the Father making intercession for us, and providing forgiveness and cleansing because of His sacrificial death on the cross.