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A Mini Commentary on 1st John (2): Cleansing, Confession and Commandments (1.5-2.6)

J Hay, Perth

The Character of God (1.5-7a)

John had heard Christ (1.1), and now he "declares" truth that the Saviour had expressed, "God is light" (1.5), followed by a negative assertion for emphasis. There is no record of the Lord Jesus making that particular statement, but the tenor of His teaching and His own holy character left this indelible impression on the apostle. "God is light" - He is intrinsically righteous, impeccably sinless, utterly holy. That fundamental fact had to be impressed on the believers' minds, for it had implications for their present situation. Were those whose teaching had disturbed them genuine believers or not? They had claimed to have fellowship with God (1.6), to be devoid of sin (1.8), and to have ceased from sinning (1.10), but did their claims match reality? John demonstrates emphatically that they did not. "If we say", is mentioned three times (1.6,8,10); sadly, their words and their works did not agree. What they professed and how they behaved were at variance.

In 1.6-7, John shows that there are two spiritual spheres in which people are located: true believers are those who "walk in the light"; sinners "walk in darkness". As ever, what a person is positionally will be evidenced practically. Believers who were "once darkness" and who are now "light in the Lord" will "walk as children of light" and will produce "the fruit of the light" (Eph 5.8-9, RV). So an unregenerate person walking in darkness, yet claiming to have fellowship with God as the errorists did, is lying. The darkness of their native sphere is incompatible with the light of divine holiness. They are strangers to Him.

The Cleansing of the Blood (1.7b)

By contrast, genuine believers who are walking in the light not only have fellowship with Him, but they "have fellowship one with another". They have mutual interests and common desires in keeping with the holy character of Him who "is in the light". That does not imply a believer's perfection, but in the blood of Christ provision has been made for their cleansing. The sacrifice of the Saviour which meets the sinner's need has perpetual efficacy; it deals with the failures of the saints. As in 1.3, it is significant that John uses a range of names for the Lord Jesus. Because He is Jesus, a real man, He was able to shed His precious blood; because He is "his Son", truly divine, the value of what He did is incalculable; it is effectual for "all sin".

The Confession of Sin (1.8-10)

The antichrists' claims to be rid of the very root of sin left them self-deceived, for even in the believer there is constant tension between the flesh and the Spirit (e.g. Gal 5.17). Their stance gave evidence that they peddled error; the truth was not in them (1.8). By contrast, the believer who confesses his sin receives parental forgiveness from the Father. At conversion, we were judicially forgiven "for his name's sake" (2.12). But failure as a child of God demands a confession which brings the Father's forgiveness. He is "faithful" to the blood that has made that pardon possible. He is "just" because of the blood. David brought back Absalom unrighteously (2 Sam 14); there were no expressions of regret and no words of confession. God cannot do that. The blood allows Him to forgive the believer on a righteous foundation, and confession makes it a reality.

To be like the antichrists and deny acts of sin is to imply that the God who "cannot lie" (Tit 1.2) is a liar (1.10); it proves that "his word is not in us" in the sense that there has been no acceptance of His verdict on universal guilt (Rom 3.23). Summarising the section practically then, the person claiming to have fellowship with God, as one walking in the light, will maintain the joy of that relationship by confessing sin, accepting that the Father has pardoned it legitimately, and rejoicing in the fact that the precious blood has made the transaction possible.

The Care of the Advocate (2.1-2)

In 2.1, for the first of seven occasions in this epistle, John uses the term of endearment translated "little children". It is distinct from the word translated "little children" in our English Bibles at verses 13 and 18 of the chapter. The word there indicates immature believers in contrast to the "young men" and the "fathers". Here John wants the believers to be sure that he has a genuine affection for them. One of the reasons for writing is then stated - "that ye sin not". He aims to discourage believers from sinning and his inspired communication should have that effect as should any part of Scripture. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Ps 119.11). John makes clear that, for the believer, sinning should be abnormal rather than normal.

However, John is realistic; he knows that we will never attain perfection this side of heaven, and so he adds, "And if any man sin…". Verb tenses are important, and here John is referring to isolated acts of sin, and not the constant practice of sin alluded to in 3.9. Habitual sinning as a lifestyle demonstrates that a man has never been born again. That is what exposed Simon the sorcerer; said Peter, "thou art…in the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8.23) - he was still enslaved to sin. But what if a genuine believer sins? "We have an advocate with the Father". It is vital to note that God is still referred to as "the Father". The erring child is still in His family! In human terms, a father/son relationship can never be reversed. The enjoyment of the relationship can be destroyed and a bad boy can be expelled from the family home, but nothing can alter the fact that he is his father's son. Thus, when a believer sins the enjoyment of his relationship with the Father is disturbed, but the vital family link can never be severed. Put plainly, a genuine believer can never be lost and what is called "the fall-away doctrine" flies in the face of the clear teaching of this passage.

However, it is obvious that if a believer sins, restoration is needed if spiritual family life is to be enjoyed. The Lord Jesus is available as "an advocate" (Gk. paracletos, a helper, translated "Comforter" in regard to the Holy Spirit in John 14.16). His activity helps the wayward believer back into the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father. Again, there is stress on the fact that it can all be accomplished perfectly righteously. The One who effects it is "Jesus Christ the righteous", and it is based on His work of propitiation. The present tense, "is the propitiation", is another indication that what He accomplished at the cross to satisfy divine justice has permanent effects for the child of God. On the basis of His sacrifice, sinning saints can be restored to the Father's favour. Of course, His propitiatory work is adequate for "the whole world", though it is clear from other Scriptures that the concept of universalism should be rejected - only believers benefit from what was accomplished at the cross. In failure then, let us all be sensitive to the work of the Helper as He encourages us back into the full enjoyment of being one of God's family.

The Call to Obedience (2.3-6)

As has been shown, sinning is not the norm for the believer, but now John shows that obedience is. Again, verb tenses are important; paraphrased, v.3 could read like this: "hereby do we always know that we have come to know Him, if…". Obedience gives us the constant knowledge that at a point in our lives we came to know Him in a saving way. Once more, in this section John is concerned about the claims people make: "He that saith…" (vv.4,6,9). He insists that what we profess is backed by hard facts. Here, claiming to "know him" must be evidenced by keeping His commandments, the commandments that are enshrined in "his word". In those who display a submissive obedient disposition, His love has been "perfected". God had a goal in loving you. It was not just to rescue you from hell; His desire was to have in this world people who are different from the majority, the "children of disobedience" (Eph 2.2). In obedient believers that aim has been achieved and God's love has been "perfected".

The greatest Exemplar of obedience was the Lord Jesus Himself: "obedient unto death" (Phil 2.8). John now indicates that knowing that we are "in him" and claiming to abide in Him is verified by that same submissive spirit, walking "even as he walked". John sees it as a debt that we owe, this being the meaning behind the word "ought" (2.6). His obedience right to the death of the cross places the beneficiaries under obligation to exhibit the same biddable spirit. May God help us all to say, "not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22.42).

To be continued.


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