The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 2:2-2:6
Week 17: Jan 15, 2012
I have fallen a little behind in posting the class, and will try to catch up in the next few days. When we finished from the last posted class John had interrupted is refutation of the claims of his opponents to clarify that his comments on forgiveness should not be misconstrued. We do not have forgiveness so that we can sin; we have forgiveness so that we can have fellowship with God. We also have an advocate or our behalf, Jesus. In verse two John continues this thought, giving the John giving the reason Jesus can serve so effectively as our advocate.
ii. Three Proposition Refuted (1:6-10)
b. Expansion: Keep His Commandments (2:1-6)
i. Jesus the Messiah is our advocate (2:1-2)
2:2 – It is he who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’s.
It is he who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins
– atoning sacrifice
The Greek word (ἱλασμός) occurs in NT only here and in 1 John 4:10, and there is some dispute over how to translate this word. In secular literature this word refers to a means of placating an offended person, which could be translated with the word Propitiation. Some scholars, however, argue that in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word has a somewhat different meaning. Instead of focusing on appeasing the offended person, these scholars argue that it focuses on the removal or cancelling of sin, and as such means expiation more than propitiation. Not too surprising, other scholars strongly disagree, arguing that it does have the meaning of propitiation in some places of the OT.
So how should we settle? As always, we look to the context. Here the context is Jesus as our advocate before God and this would point to propitiation, the appeasing the offended person, more than expiation, the removal of sin. The meaning here is that Jesus’ death on the cross, renders God favorable to pardoning our sins. Yet this controversy may help explain the passage in 1:9 earlier and the meaning of Forgive and Cleanse. Forgive would point to propitiation, cleanse to expiation and like in 1:9, and in this light both meaning may be in view here. Thus the translation of atoning sacrifice
atoning – for sin – expiation
sacrifice – to God – propitiation
Jesus is both or advocate and our atoning sacrifice. He pleads before the Father on our behalf based on what he has done. However, it is important not to push the metaphor of the court room too far. There is nothing here to say that God is reluctant to forgive our sins. On the contrary, in John 10:30 Jesus said, “I and the father are one.” John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave is one and only son.”
– but also for the whole world’s
Christ serves this role no just for John’ readers (i.e., Christian) but for the whole/complete (ὅλου) world (τοῦ κόσμου). This is one of the reasons I question the doctrine of Limited Atonement, which holds that Christ died only for the elect. But if Christ died for all, does this then teach universal salvation? No. This is in the context of 1:9 which said, “If we make it our habit to confess our sins.” Christ serves the role of advocate for the entire world. If anyone in the world seeks forgiveness through Christ, they will be forgiven. But we must seek forgiveness to be forgiven.
What does this say about our duty to forgive? Are we required to forgive those who do not seek forgiveness? This may run counter to a lot of teaching on forgiveness, but I believe our duty to forgive is balanced by an offending parties duty to seek forgiveness. We have a duty to offer forgiveness, as Christ died for the whole world. But as with salvation, that forgiveness is not complete until it is truly sought.
ii. To Know him is to Obey him (2:3-6)
1. Statement (2:3)
a. Claim (2:4)
b. Counter-Claim (2:5)
2. Restatement (2:6)
Having clarified the nature of forgiveness, John now returns to the claims of his opponents, in this case that they know God. Notice the emphasis that John’s structure gives this claim. This is a very key claim and central to John’s overall argument.
To understand this claim, it is important to understand the discussion to this point, which has centered on the question: who is correct. It is important to remember that 1 John was written to a church that had undergone a church split where a heretical faction has broken away. Both sides claim to have the truth, and to know God. Individual members probably had friends in both camps, so how could they tell which side was correct?
2:3 — This is how we can be sure that we have come to know him: if we continually keep his commandments.
- John answers the implied question of which side is correct. Again, a key claim of the opponents was to know God (see the next verse) and this was a key claim of Gnosticism. Yet for John this is not just intellectual knowledge about God. To know God is to be in a relationship with Him.
if we continually keep his commandments.
- This is a common theme for John. In John 14:21-24 the theme is to love God is to obey him. We cannot be said to be in a relationship with God, if we do not obey him.
2:4 – The person who says, “I have come to know him,” but does not continually keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth has no place in that person.
- John now returns to the specific claims of his opponents, in this case the claim that they know him. At the core of agnosticism was the claim to have a secret knowledge of God.
but does not continually keep his commandments is a liar
- How can we claim to know Jesus if we do not follow him. This is a much more powerful argument than it may at first seem. How can we really truly believe that Jesus is God incarnate; that he died for our sins; that we are in a relationship with him, and yet then ignore what he says? Every time we sin, we in effect deny that we know Jesus.
and the truth has no place in that person.
- This is an emphasis of the previous point, but it is more than just an emphasis. In John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus is the truth, and to have truth, secret truth, was a key claim of proto-Gnostics. So this is more than just a mere emphasis of the point. They have neither the truth nor Jesus.
2:5 – But whoever continually keeps his commandments is the kind of person in whom God’s love has truly been perfected. This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God:
- Having dealt with the claim, John now turns to his counter claim. Note that John as changed from “If we” to “the kind of person” (ἐν τούτῳ) Lit: in this one. John is not talking about particular people but rather a goal that we should strive for. The person who is willing to be molded and shaped by the love of God; that person is the one who will follow his commandments.
has truly been perfected.
- The word for perfected (τετελείωται) means to finish, to reach a goal, to perfect. God’s work in us will be completed when we continually follow his commandment. John is not saying that we will reach this perfection. In fact John has already made it clear that we will not. Earlier in he wrote, “If we say that we do not have any sin, we are deceiving ourselves (1:7) But this is the goal we should strive for; the kind of person, we should strive to be.
This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God
- John is not saying that we must reach perfection, to be sure. Rather that God is working in us. That we are striving to follow his commandments.
2:6 – The one who says that he abides in him must live the same way he himself lived.
John now returns to a restatement of his starting principle stated in verse 3, though here it is a summary statement and serves as an emphasis of this point. This was also one of the key messages of the Gospel of John.
If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.
See here for references and more background on the class.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org
Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.