This passage is a classical “bad news/good news” scenario. The bad news is that sin is present and powerful. The good news is that God has provided a solution. And, upon confessing our sin, we gain steadfast assurance that we have eternal life.
By way of review, John’s letter gives us three tests that show authentic Christianity. Here he begins by refuting three false claims and their consequences, then offers three right responses and their positive results. They are:
|False Claim||Negative Results||Right Response||Positive Results|
|1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness||we lie and do not live by the truth.||1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,||we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.|
|1:8 If we claim to be without sin||we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.||1:9 If we confess our sins||he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.|
|1:10 If we claim we have not sinned||we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.||2:1 But if anybody does [occasionally] sin,||we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.|
The second false claim is that “sin is not present in our lives.” This is a denial of possessing a sinful nature or disposition. However, the Bible is clear about the presence of sin. We are sinners by nature and by choice. Original sin is that moral, intellectual, physical, relational, and spiritual corruption common to all people, everywhere, and at all times. Sin is “original,” not in terms of how God created us, but in our original character as a descendent of Adam (cf., Ps. 51:5; Jn. 3:6; Rom. 5:12; 6:20; 7:15-25; Eph. 2:3). Sin is our enduring tendency toward ourselves and away from God.
The consequence: Self-deception and willful ignorance. It is a deliberate refusal to face the facts. John says that everyone who makes this claim is responsible for his or her own deception. Note: Being unaware of sin is not the same as being free from sin, despite the secular world that seeks to interpret our human predicament exclusively in psychological, biological, and/or environmental terms.
The temptation to deny the presence and power of sin is not just characteristic of unbelievers; it can also be true of believers as well. For John, however, there is one paramount difference: Sin for the believer is primarily episodal, not habitual. Living a habitual sinful lifestyle is just not possible in John’s mind.
The right response: We must confess (i.e., admit as true) our acts of sin (Note: “sins” plural), not our sinful nature.
To Consider: Forgiveness is not unconditional (cf., also, Ps. 32:1-5; Pr. 28:13; Mt. 6:14-15; Lk. 17:3). God forgives confessed sin. Nevertheless, we must not confuse conditions with causes. Our confession does not cause God to forgive; it is the condition He set and enables. Anyone who teaches believers merely to accept God’s forgiveness, without meeting this condition, profoundly misunderstands what a healthy family relationship looks like. Jesus tells us to seek regularly God’s forgiveness (Mt. 6:12).
The result: Forgiveness & cleansing. God removes not only the guilt incurred, but also the stain left by the guilt. God’s faithful character means that He is the ultimate Promise Keeper!
Someone might respond “Okay. I may be a sinner by nature, but not by choice! After all, I live a pretty good life.” Just in case someone wants to distinguish between a sinful nature and sinful choices (often understood today in Christian circles as “separating sin from the sinner”), John insists this distinction does not exist.
The third false claim: “sin has no control over our lives.” This is a denial of sin’s power. To the contrary, just as no one is excluded from a sinful nature, so too no one is excluded from sinful choices (cf., 1 Kgs. 8:46; Ps. 14:3; Is. 53:6; Rom. 3:23).
The Consequence: “God is a liar and His Word has no place in our lives.” This is the most blatant of the false claims. It is not just a deliberate lie, nor self-deception. It is a sheer accusation against God’s character and person, and it is straight from Hell! (cf., Gen. 3:1). It makes God out to be the great Deceiver. Furthermore, it makes a mockery of the gospel.
Since John’s purpose is not just to expose error, but encourage holy living he wants us to stand in our confidence and assurance in salvation based upon the objective gift of God’s Son. Though believers face daily the presence of sin we can be sure that the Son of God has overcome the power of sin.
The positive result: Jesus Christ, the Righteous One! Calling the Savior “Jesus Christ” is a subtle yet pointed correction to the Gnostic heresy that God could not become human. It is because of Christ’s righteousness alone that forgiveness is possible (cf., 2 Cor. 5:21). Note: Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are given the same designation in John’s writings (comp., Jn. 14:16 and 1 Jn. 2:1, NASB). The Holy Spirit pleads Christ’s case here on earth while Christ is pleading our case in heaven.
That Jesus is not visibly present is no disadvantage for us who share in Christ’s presence through His Spirit and forgiveness through His intercession. The residence of Jesus as Counselor and Helper is merely extended to the courts of heaven.
Our Advocate does not claim we are innocent, but acknowledges our guilt and presents His righteous life and vicarious death as full payment for sin’s penalty.
“Propitiation” = turning aside or reversing God’s anger. God initiates the offering and He receives it as total satisfaction for the debt incurred by our sin (see, Rom. 3:25; 1 Pt. 2:24). “Propitiation” may also mean “mercy seat” or “cover.” The cross now takes the place that the mercy seat once occupied. It is the center of God’s provision for atonement (cf., Lev. 16:2; Heb. 9:12). What was once done in secret is now laid bare for all to see (Mt. 27:50-51)!
“For the sins of the whole world.” The scope of Christ’s work extends to all (Jn. 1:29; 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:10), but the effects of Christ’s work are applied only to those who trust Him as Savior and Lord.
To Consider: God is not an unwilling judge who has to be persuaded by Jesus to forgive, because it was God himself who provided the atoning sacrifice for all our sin. He has paid our debt in full without remainder!
Although ‘getting in’ the Kingdom is based upon God’s grace, we often think that ‘staying in’ is based upon our performance. This could not be farther from the biblical truth. Our assurance must never be held hostage by our obedience. If obedient living is the sole basis for our eternal life, then we run the risk of living graceless moral lives that look like the Pharisees whom Jesus repeatedly denounced.
On the other hand, if we tie the gift of eternal life too closely to our salvation experience and separate it from a daily walk in obedience, then we run the risk of our faith being devoid of evidence that God has truly transformed us. The objective assurance of our salvation must always and forever be “Jesus Christ the Righteous One,” whereas the subjective assurance of our salvation comes from our obedient living. To confuse one with the other often invites spiritual shipwreck.
Being honest about sin’s presence and power is essential to our walk with God. When sin is confessed, we can be certain that we are forgiven and rest in the gift of eternal life. Knowing that we are destined for eternity will undoubtedly shape the remainder of our lives here on earth as we anchor our souls in the reality of the cross and it’s profound effect upon us.