Mankind loves to seesaw between overcomplicating things and oversimplifying things. Our temptation is to either intellectualize or emotionalize away our sinful state. The passage before us is full of deep things stated with marvelous simplicity. Man’s quest to know God is no different. God’s eternal purposes, hidden within Himself, yet so simply declared to us: “Believe on the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ.”
1 John 2:1-8
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
Summary of the Text
Our assurance of fellowship with God rests upon the reality of Christ’s full divinity and his humanity. Further, this Christological litmus test helps weed out anti-Christ’s, false teachers/Gospels. So, we should keep in mind that antichrists and false gospels loom large for John throughout this epistle.
John writes, as to his own children, with the goal of preventing them from sinning (v.1, cf. 1Jn. 1:4). But if––not when––we sin we have the assurance of a righteous Advocate who represents us before the Father: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of Life made manifest (v.1, cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-3). He is the propitiation for our sins, and the sins of the whole world (v.2). John then offers the assuring knowledge that if you keep God’s commandments you can know that you know God (v3). If a teacher claims to know God, yet rejects His commandments––His Word––he reveals himself as a lying antichrist, and doesn’t have the truth (v4). Keeping God’s Word assures us that God’s love and favor rests upon us, for we are abiding in God as Jesus did (vs. 5-6). John is not teaching a new commandment, but the old commandment of God’s purpose to save man which had been revealed from the beginning (v7); the “new commandment” is that true light is now shining upon the dark foreshadows of Old Testament types, prophecies, symbols (v8).
Three Theological Tripwires
- Is propitiation really for the whole world? This reference to the “whole world” is used to defend both Arminianism and its logical offspring Universalism. The overall point John is making regards mankind’s representative before the Father. The only saving representative for the whole world (i.e. the whole race who was first represented by Adam) is Jesus the Christ. The whole world is under wrath in Adam, but in Christ alone is propitiation for our world. In view here is not only soteriology, but also eschatology: the “re-creating” of the world by Christ: the Word made flesh. (See also Rom. 5:18-19)
- Is salvation found in commandment keeping or in God’s free, sovereign, electing grace? John is not teaching works righteousness, he is proclaiming the good news which Jesus had sent Him to proclaim (1 Jn. 1:5): trust in Jesus as the Messiah, begotten of God from all eternity (1Jn. 3:23).
- Sinai or Calvary, Law or Grace? Think about those optical illusions that you stare at and suddenly you see a hidden image; once you see it, you can’t un-see it. The darkness (of the Law’s symbols and Greek searching) is past, and true light now shines in Jesus alone. John is not preaching a new commandment or Gospel; he has received from Jesus the revelation of God’s purpose that through the Word of Life being manifested in the flesh, mankind might be saved. Knowing God through our Advocate turns the whole Law into “love one another” (cf. 1 Jn. 3:11, 2 Jn. 5, Jn. 15:17). The massive implication here is that believers––whether Jew or Gentile––are now one family, through the New Creation work of Jesus.
When the Israelites dwelt in tents in the wilderness, God dwelt with them in His tent. Once they entered the promised land, and built houses for themselves, Solomon built a grand house to remind the Jews God dwelt with them in His house. When the fulness of time had come, God took on human flesh and became a man, that all mankind might know God had come to dwell with us, in our midst, bringing us communion with God Himself through the man Jesus Christ.
God declared that He would put the law in His people, and “they shall all know me (Jer. 31:33-34).” Man glories in his wisdom, might, and riches. Jeremiah teaches that a man should “glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD (Jer. 9:23-24).”
John’s concern is that theological error always leads to ethical error. False teachers proclaim false christs which offer false salvation. What you believe will either save you from your sins, or weigh you down with greater and greater sins.
- If you believe you are saved by the accumulation of doctrinal knowledge, you are in danger of exalting reason above faith, and dashing your faith against the rocks of intellectualism. Archetypal vs. Ectypal Theology.
- If you believe you are saved by flitting from one emotional experience to another, you are in danger of exalting emotion above faith, and dashing your faith against the rocks of sentimentalism.
- True faith comes when the truth of the Gospel is presented to our reason and our passions, and by the Spirit both are regenerated to both trust and love God. We are not saved by how much we know about God, or how much we feel like we know God.
Thus, you may know that you know God by obeying His command to place all your hope for salvation in a man: the Advocate, Jesus Christ, and the propitiation for sins that is found in Him. We know God because He revealed Himself, but His preeminent revelation of Himself is Jesus Christ, the eternal Word made flesh.
Jesus prayed, “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (Jn. 17:3).” This is why John points us to abide in Jesus (cf. Jn. 15), Who was the One whom the Father had sent to be the only mediator between a holy God and sinful man. Jesus was the only man who walked in perfect fellowship with the Father; and as our substitute is the only way which we might have assurance that our sins are forgiven and that God’s love and favor rests upon us.
The Christ was hidden in the Law and Prophets. But now, the promised Christ has become flesh and God is made known to us through our elder brother, Jesus. We know God, because we believe upon Jesus Christ; hidden in Him we are cleansed from unrighteousness, reckoned as God’s children and lavished with the Father’s great love. Simply put, your salvation from the just wrath which your sin deserves is found only in Jesus Christ.