The Expository Files

"That You May Not Sin"

1 John 2:1

I John 2:1—"My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

The apostle John addresses his readers with a paternal care in this part of the epistle. Various translations of the verse read almost identically. The subject of the verse is sin, about which John says two things: (1) He is writing "these things" to keep people from sinning, and (2) If people do sin, Jesus is our solution.

Consider his first point about sin. John's statement in 2:1 flows directly from the last verse of chapter 1: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." The combination stated positively would read like this: "I know that no person is perfect (sinless), but I am writing this letter to you to encourage you to TRY to be perfect." John knows that, without any assistance, man cannot attain perfection, but he can surely get direction! {See Jeremiah 10:23}

The implication of John's statement is that sin fails if we boycott it. If we think of our lives as spiritual warfare (II Cor 10:4), with our soul battling sin, there are two ways we can be victors. First, we can boycott sin. The only way sin defeats us is if we let it into our lives. So John says, "I am writing these things to you that you may not sin."

Keep in mind that John just said in 1:4, "These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." Reconciling this with 2:1, we understand John as saying that if we don't sin, then we'll be happy! So how is John going to help people boycott sin, thus completing our joy?

First of all, he reminds us of our leader, calling him the "God of light" in whom "there is no darkness at all" (1:5, 3:1). What an honor and motivation it is to have a leader who is completely righteous and loving!

If an employee sees his boss cheating on his timecard and being dishonest, do you think it will affect morale? If a child is raised seeing parents who shoplift every weekend, what might the child learn to do? Leaders have influence within the group.

A second way John encourages us to boycott sin is to remember that it is a temporary pleasure. In 2:17, he says that "The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." In the early part of chapter three, he emphasizes our hope of eternal life, which causes us to purify ourselves. The contrast is simple. Just like Moses chose to forego the "passing pleasures of sin" (Heb 11:25) in his day, so we should build up that eternal bank account. When I'm on the road to a fancy restaurant that I have longed to visit, I do not stop at the fast food place on the corner. Similarly, when I'm on the road to Heaven, I'm not going to stop for some temporary pleasures that distract me, and make me miss the goal. {See Matt. 6:19-21}.

Thirdly, in 4:9-11, John points out that God's tremendous love, which motivated Him to sacrifice His Son for us, inspires us to reciprocate love back to Him. Mankind can do nothing but return His sacrifice. One of the keys of a strong marriage is mutual sacrifice. He gives up some personal desires for her sake (perhaps a hobby that takes him away from home), and she does the same for him. Our relationship with God ought to be the same. He gave up His son. What will you give up?

As an aside, have you ever considered the sacrifice it took for Jesus to come to earth in the first place? If I am in Heaven, where everything is perfect, why should I come and put myself in jeopardy on earth with all of its disappointments? I suppose that mankind returning that love would form my strongest stimulus.

Finally, John offers a fourth support: "if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (5:14-15). The fact that God hears our prayers for help calms me. Perhaps my brethren forget this sometimes. I am not like the neglected son or daughter in the home. I am not like the student that raises his hand forever without the teacher calling on him. My Father hears me. He cares. He loves me. In fact, He always answers a prayer that is aligned with His purpose. What a comfort!

It remains possible, John implies, for us not to sin. No regular person has ever lived his or her whole life without sinning, but we can surely try! But then he adds that "if anyone sins" we have recourse.

He is talking about the isolated sins that Christians slip into, as he clarifies in 3:9. That is, it is not in a Christian's character to sin as a habit, but if we occasionally falter, God provides the remedy. We are told that sin is abolished when we call upon the Advocate. The word Advocate brings to mind someone who will come to our side to aide us. A lawyer is an Advocate for us in the court system. Christ is our Advocate before God's justice

Paul tells us that Christ "intercedes for us" (Rom 8:34), just as the Hebrew writer states in Heb 7:25. The death on the cross shed the blood that lasts forever. We do not slaughter an animal daily or yearly as they did in the long ago because His blood goes on and on, so long as man needs it.

Sin, then, hasn't a fighting chance…unless we invite it in. "My little children," John writes, "these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."


By David Watson
From Expository Files 9.12; December 2002