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Scripture references are to the King James Version (KJV)
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
― 1 John 2: 1, 2 ―
MY LITTLE CHILDREN! This endearing appeal, uttered repeatedly by the aged Apostle John, was perhaps a subconscious reflection of an occasion in his own distant youth. He no doubt recalled his beloved Lord Jesus admonishing the disciples to let the little children come to Him, saying that any desiring to enter the Kingdom of God must become as little children (Luke 18: 16, 17).
Yet the epistles of John were not addressed to new, untaught believers, but to a church well established and mature in the faith, to men and women who had laboured long with the beloved disciple. They had seen their Saviour rejected by the vast majority of the Jewish nation, witnessed the horrors of Nero’s persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem, and learned with some amazement that Christianity was gaining considerable prominence in the world. John lovingly addressed them all: ‘I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father’ (1 John 2: 13).
Was there any need that a church so well established should be cautioned on the matter of sin? And was there a crucial message in John’s exhortation to believers through centuries thereafter, even to our own day?
The concept of original sin, inherited from our first parents, is ridiculed by most people today, the prevailing belief in human evolution prompting the idea that in process of time the human race will outgrow its inherent imperfections (sins). Even some Christians accept the worldly wisdom, not reasoning that the need of a Saviour is thus excluded, and that their faith is made a mere fiction.
The brethren of John’s day firmly believed that the blood of Christ had cleansed them from the condemnation of Adamic sin. They were justified ― made righteous ― by faith in that blood-sacrifice, and the Apostle Paul had assured them that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit’ (Romans 8. 1). The previous sinful condition could not be imputed again to the consecrated believer, but this does not exclude the possibility that further sin might be committed. The Apostle’s testimony is positive: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1: 8).
John does not instance what particular conduct might be construed as sin. It could be little more than a manifest failure to live up to the proper standard of Christian conduct, an indulgence in some weakness of the old nature. Or the sin might be an obvious and blatant violation of Godly standards, some gross immorality or shameful conduct bringing reproach on the church and their Lord. If a brother or sister in Christ is drawn into sin, snared by Satan’s attacks, or overcome by the weakness of the old fleshly nature, is all hope lost? Manifestly not! As potential sinners, as actual sinners, we have an Advocate to plead our cause at the bar of Divine Justice ― Jesus Christ the righteous.
The word translated here as ‘advocate’is the Greek ‘parakletos’. It is rendered in John’s Gospel as ‘comforter’ (KJV), and in some other translations as ‘helper’, referring there to the holy spirit (John 14: 26; 15: 26). Perhaps no English word adequately conveys the full meaning of ‘parakletos’, but the translators’ choice of ‘advocate’ is quite apt as descriptive of the intercessory role of Christ in relation to His church.
An advocate is one who speaks on behalf of another, especially in a legal context, the one represented being for some reason unable to speak for himself. Our faith and consecration as believers has placed us in a position where the Heavenly Father accepts our sincerity of heart and intention as righteousness, not demanding that actual perfection of conduct which is as yet impossible, as John reminds us. During his years of anxious concern for his spiritual children he must all too often have seen the frailty of human nature lead a brother or sister into sin, bringing some to bitter remorse and to the dread that all was lost.
In such cases, there is a remedy. At the bar of Divine Justice the counsel for the defence Jesus pleads the cause of the repentant sinner, and He does this on the basis of His own blood, shed for all of Adam’s posterity, but imputed first to the members of His body, to the church, and to all who become justified by faith in that cleansing blood. Our beloved Advocate works constantly on our behalf to maintain our peace with a God whose justice is perfect and inviolable, but whose love found a way to reconcile sinners to Himself. ‘Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort’ (2 Corinthians 1: 3).
Does our Lord Jesus act as an advocate for the unregenerate, those as yet ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2: 1)? The vast majority, past and present, have lacked any real knowledge of the salvation from sin and death, available to all who exercise faith in the one who gave His life a Ransom for all. Some may have a little knowledge and a measure of innocence, yet not be drawn to a saving faith. And increasingly in our day there is a wild abandonment of morality and a shameless exhibition of all that is offensive in the sight of God.
Christ cannot be an Advocate, cannot plead the cause, of those who neither know Him nor trust Him. The beloved disciple in his fatherly care was of course addressing the members of the church, the believers, his chief concern as his own life drew to its close. But he was mindful also of the great mercy of a God who so loved the world that He sent his only-begotten Son to give all people the opportunity of gaining everlasting life. St. John therefore includes in his letter a brief reminder of the Divine purpose: ‘He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2: 2).
The word ‘propitiation’ may perhaps bring to mind the notions of mediaeval theology and pagan superstitions that an angry and vengeful God must be placated or appeased. But reason tells us that since God Himself provided the means of salvation, His character is demonstrably that of a loving Heavenly Father who desires to have the human family reconciled to Himself. The Apostle John underlines this view when he declares that ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4: 10; compare John 3: 17). The propitiatory is the mercy seat, the place of penitence and forgiveness, and in Romans 3: 24, 25 Paul adds his own testimony to the forbearance of God in sending Christ Jesus to fulfill that role.
It is clear that the benefit of Jesus’ death as the second Adam is fully applicable to every member of his family. ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15: 22). And those who do not come to God in this age must at some future time have a full and fair opportunity to regain the fellowship that long ago Adam lost.
Paradoxically, in view of the general acceptance of Darwinian teachings, there persists in most men and women an instinctive reluctance to believe that when this short life is ended, there is nothing more. Did the Creator, in His compassion for a world under the sentence of death, allow them the spurious comfort of believing Satan’s lie, ‘Thou shall not surely die’ (Genesis 3: 4)? And is there some Divine programming in the human psyche, convincing us that death is an aberration, a fault in the physical mechanism, acquired on account of the virus of sin?
It is true that in spite of the worldwide sin-sickness, every succeeding generation since Eden has seen a few who pleased God, not by perfect deeds, but by perfect intentions and by faith in His promises of better things to come, even of life from the dead. The advent of Israel’s Messiah gave substance to that hope, though the full outworking of mankind’s recovery from sin and death proved to be a much more extended process than the early church had envisaged. They learned that their primary focus was to follow their Master as living sacrifices, members of His body, and with Him to be ‘able ministers’ of a new covenant to be established in due time between God and mankind, the Christ being its Mediator (2 Corinthians 3: 6; Hebrews 8: 6).
In due time! Paul reminds Timothy that ‘God our Saviour . . . will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time’ (1 Timothy 2: 3-6). Peter also speaks of ‘times of refreshing’ to come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3: 19), an exciting prospect for the church and the world ― the immense challenge of bringing reconciliation between God and Mankind.
We live in a time of confrontation and demand for real or imagined rights. There is frequent need for an impartial peacemaker ― a marriage or family counsellor, a negotiator, arbitrator or ombudsman. In ancient Israel judges were chosen from among the people, men or women of integrity and wisdom. Disputes were settled according to laws based on the Covenant between God and that nation ― the mediator being Moses. That Covenant, which promised life to those who could keep its laws perfectly, only proved the impossibility of doing so, but the annual sacrificial offerings of bulls and goats provided a symbolic atonement for sin, foreshadowing the blood of Christ, shed for the sins of the world.
Jesus referred before the event to His own sacrificial death: ‘This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’ (Matthew 26: 28). He was speaking of the New Covenant under which fallen mankind will be welcomed back into fellowship with God. As its Mediator, the Christ ― Jesus and body members ― will undertake that great work of reconciliation. Released from the death sentence, returning from the graves to a world under righteous government, mankind will be enrolled in a great educational programme destined to restore harmony between themselves and God.
While the details of that new age are not revealed, reason suggests that under the New Covenant millions will rapidly come into harmony with their Creator. But it may be that the distrust and resentment of millions more will call for years of patient mediation, the breaking down of entrenched prejudice and the firm but kindly persuasion that the only way to life is acceptance of the loving terms offered by the Heavenly Father, through his son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
God has the greatest love and goodwill toward mankind, offering abundant, everlasting life to those who will gratefully accept it. The people formerly blinded by Satan and embittered by suffering will learn the truth. ‘And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation’ (Isaiah 25: 9).
Copyright October 2009 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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