1 John 2–the Problem of Sin
It was the author, John’s purpose that the churches not sin, but he had already said that “If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar”. Since it is inevitable, why struggle against it? Why not go along with the Gnostic claims that since God forgives, we can live any way that we like? What difference does it make? 1 John 2 is a call to holiness that is made by appealing to their logic. Since we know and have experienced God’s great love and His undeserved forgiveness, it should move us to be obedient to His commandments. God’s love in saving us and forgiving us should motivate us to pursue a holy lifestyle. When we do falter and succumb to temptation, Christ is our advocate with the Father who desires to restore us to fellowship. We can approach God confidently with confession and repentance based on Christ’s presence at the right hand of God acting as our advocate. We know that unlike lawyers in the world who would defend anyone for any crime in order to make fame and fortune, Jesus is righteous. This means that Jesus Christ approaches God on our behalf appropriately based on the vicarious sacrifice for sin that He Himself has already made. We are declared righteous based on His atoning work on the cross. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, meaning that He has appeased God’s holy wrath against sin. God has provided the way by which His own wrath may be placated. So what has Jesus accomplished on our behalf? Jesus is our advocate, He is righteous and true, and He has appeased God the Father. In verse 2 the author says that the appeasement of Christ was adequate not just for us, but for the whole world. We might say that His atoning work was sufficient for all but efficient only for those who believe. John was saying that since Jesus has done so much and continues to speak in our defense, shouldn’t it lead us to holiness? I remember what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died (to themselves); and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again (Jesus)on their behalf”.
The Three Tests of True Faith
In 1 John 2:3-27, the author gives us the three tests of faith that both reveal our true belief, but also reveal that the false teachers do not know Christ and they are liars and live in the darkness. In verses 3-6, we have the moral test of faith. We can truthfully say that we “know Him (Jesus)” if we pursue the keeping of His commandments. This may confuse you if you just read chapter one where John said we are sinners who sin. The difference is that we recognize it as sin, humbly come before God in contrition with a desire to repent (change). The false teachers were habitually practicing a sinful lifestyle while they justified their actions or dismissed them as inconsequential. The person who is determined to practice his own way of life, will come to justify the sinful things he does. John made a contrast between the person who professes Christ but lives his own way and justifies it, versus the true believer who loves God, desires to please God, and so pursues obedience to God. The author has already confirmed that we are all sinners, so he does not mean here that believers perfectly obey, but only that we desire to wholeheartedly obey. We call sin what it is, recognize that we are sinners, but we do not practice sin or justify sin.
The second test of true faith is the social test found in 1John 2:7-11. The social test involves our relationships with two kinds of people. We have a relationship with other believers in which we are called to edify and serve them according to their needs and our gifts. We also must have relationships with unbelievers in which we are called to share the Gospel and seek their salvation in Christ. Many of these people both inside the church as well as outside the church are very unlovable people, and therefore we can know by our love for even the unlovable that it is a spiritual love from Christ. It is not of the world to show unconditional love, but we are commanded to do so by Christ. In His last teaching to His disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that He was giving them a new command to love one another as He had loved them. This command was given by Moses over 1400 years before, and Jesus had repeated it in His sermons earlier like the Sermon on the Mount, so in what way was it new? It was new in the sense that they had never loved before as Jesus loved–unconditionally and sacrificially. The people in the world naturally love others that appeal to them, or people that can help them or return the favor; but Jesus loved unloveable sinners like the tax collectors and harlots. He loved them sacrificially in that He gave His life for them. Many of us would die for our family, close friends, or our country, but Jesus died for enemies and Gentiles. Jesus has given to us who believe in Him the Holy Spirit who leads us to love our brothers in Christ but also the unsaved world. This is a New Covenant love made possible by the internal ministry of God’s Spirit in us. Therefore we can know that we “abide in the light” as John says, but the false teachers are in the “darkness”.
Stages of Spiritual Growth
In 1John 2:12-14, the author wanted his readers to rest assured that regardless of each person’s personal stage of spiritual growth, they could be sure they were saved from the penalty of sin by believing in Jesus. Some might be spiritual infants, some might be young in the faith, and some might be mature, but all could be certain that they had overcome “the evil one”. John was addressing all the children of God regardless of maturity. From John’s perspective, only two families existed, children of God and children of the adversary of God. The problem that John was addressing was that the immaturity of God’s children makes them prone to distraction and susceptible to the danger of false teaching. They can be moved away, distracted by their fleshly desires, and motivated by the lures of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Therefore, false teachers with their offers of prosperity, good health, and new elite doctrine are a real danger within the church. Paul wrote to the churches at Ephesus (the same audience as John had) that “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ”. In order to progress in spiritual growth, we need to hold fast to the life giving and transforming Word of God.
A perfect example of what both John and Paul were warning the church about occurred very subtly in the church about 20 years ago. A very successful fast growing church with a multitude of young people was catching the attention of the traditional churches. One of the distinctives of this fast growing church was a de-emphasis on the Word of God. The leaders message was that Christians have too much knowledge and not enough outreach. They said that we had too much Bible study and not enough appeal to the secular world. Instead of emphasizing God’s Word they emphasized entertainment and whatever it took to draw people in. They preached a feel-good message of loving on everyone and meeting their needs. Now some twenty years later the head minister of that church admits to his mistake, as surveys have proven that all he accomplished was attracting a generation of selfish materialistic young people who only came “to have their needs met”, and who lived in ignorance to God’s Word.
The Love That God Hates-Jn. 2:15-17
The application of John’s assurance that “you are strong and the Word of God abides in you” is found in verses 15-17. John’s message was meant to encourage his audience to seek God and His values instead of the world and its values of materialism, pleasure, and self-exaltation. When John says “Do not love the world nor the things of the world”, we need to understand the way he was using the word world. Here it is being used in a different sense than he used it in 1 Jn.2:2 where he used it to refer to all the people God is reaching out to. Here it is used in the negative sense of the ethical nature of the world in rebellion against God. The world’s systems of political, economic, and religious opposition to the true God are under the influence of the evil one, but they have a great appeal to us all. We all like the idea of “if it feels good do it” or “the ends justify the means” or “go for the gusto” or this is “the me generation”, and especially “God wants us to be healthy and wealthy”. It is a good thing to be healthy and wealthy, but what God truly wants is for us “to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom.8:29). What appeal does the world offer us to distract us and move us away from The Lord? John summarized the lure in 1Jn.2:16, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life”. John then gave at least two reasons why this love of the world is hated by God. Love for the world is incompatible with the love for God–they are mutually exclusive. Jesus taught this to him in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”. The second reason is that this materialistic world is passing away in the sense that we are drawing nearer every day to the return of Christ when He will judge this present world, and re-create it into the Kingdom of God for eternity.
The Third Test of Faith–1Jn.2:18-27
The third test of true faith is the doctrinal test of truth. In this section we find the contrast between true believers who hold fast to the truth of the Gospel, and the false teachers who would lead them astray and split up the church. Here we find the Bible’s only usage of the term antichrist. In Daniel 9:27, he is called the evil prince and in Dan.11:31 and Matt.24:15 the abomination of desolation. Paul calls him the man of lawlessness in 2Thes.2:3-4, and in Rev.13 he is called the beast who misleads the world. But here John refers to the antichrist who will come in the future, but also the antichrists who are active in the world today. It is alarming that these antichrists come from within the church. John said that their defection from the true church marks them as “not really of us”. In verses 20-21, he lists two characteristics of true believers: they have the Holy Spirit, and they believe the truth. Then in verses 22-23, he lists the fundamental heresy of all false cults that arise out of Christianity–the nature of Jesus Christ. Heretics deny either that Jesus is the Son of God and thus divine, or that Jesus was 100% human in perfect form. In John’s day, the Gnostics denied the humanity of Christ, and other cults denied the deity of Christ. Thus John established that these false teachers were “trying to deceive you” (v.26). In verses 24-27, John said we have two main weapons of defense–the Gospel that we believed which saved us and transformed us, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit which we received from God when we believed. The Holy Spirit enables us to discern truth from error. His message then is that believing in the truth of the Gospel saved us, and then God gave us His Spirit to continue to grow spiritually so we must not be distracted or pulled off course by the lures of the world that appeal to our selfish desires.