A synopsis of the evangel
John now launches out, developing and enlarging in some detail on the preceding verses which have been largely an introduction. He makes first an emphatic statement: “This is the message” (1:5).
We at once feel from these words that John has something very definite to say and wants to say it with emphasis, and we have not followed him very far before we discover that we are being tested by this message of which he speaks. That is implied in the little word ‘if’, which comes six times in the next eight verses. We are to be tested so that we may be assured of our position, and may have joy and peace in believing. When John comes to the above message, he speaks about ‘God‘. This title illuminates, as we have said above, the nature of the life we have received. It is divine and incorruptible, and its principle features are righteousness and love.
The message is only briefly stated here. The apostle in a few concise sentences outlines what he will later expound more fully. He shows us in these verses that the message concerns the character of God, the condition of man, the value of the blood, the need for confession of sins, the forgiveness to be enjoyed, and the provision which is made for failure in the child of God. It is a concise summary of the gospel. We will look at these points in full.
The character of God and the condition of man
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5). The word light in Scripture is used to describe infinite holiness, purity and righteousness. They are characteristics of God: “Who coverest thyself with light as a garment” (Psalm 104:2); “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable” (1 Tim. 6:16). They are characteristics too of His Son: “His face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light” (Matt. 17:2).
These descriptions lay emphasis upon His character, reminding us that He can never be otherwise. But they are not intended to make us draw back, for not only is He light, but He is in the light (1:7); that is, He is fully manifested, there is nothing hidden; and, if we would have fellowship with Him, we too must come into the light. There can be no union or communion until we fulfil this condition. We come forward into the light; and, when we first do this, we come with our sins upon us. We should not be afraid of this, because only when we are in the light before God can our sins be seen and felt as they must be, if we are to be fully delivered from them. All God’s dealings with us are in the light, and must be so because of the revelation of His character.
“If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness we lie and do not the truth” (1:6). Man is sinful. If he is in the dark he will not see it, and the fact that he does not see it indicates that he is in the dark. This is the second matter underlined in the message. Man is in darkness. He is spoken of as lying, as being deceived, as sinning, and as having the understanding darkened. All men by nature are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Eph. 4:18).
This is the condition of every man outside of Christ—of every man who has not received divine life. Sometimes it is wilful darkness as in John 3:19: “This is the judgement, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.” There men are seen to prefer darkness to light, and they prefer it because their deeds are evil and they fear exposure. The Word of God warns us that God will judge with darkness those who wilfully remain in it. This we may speak of as ‘judicial darkness’. Such judgement is referred to in Jeremiah 13:16: “Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains; and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death and make it gross darkness.” Or in the words of Paul: “For this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11-12).
Beyond this there is, too, a final darkness for those who wilfully choose darkness rather than light, for whom, as Jude says in verse 3 of his letter, “the blackness of darkness has been reserved for ever”. That is final and eternal darkness. Man by nature is darkness, and if, when offered the light, he chooses to remain in the darkness, he places himself in danger of eternal darkness.
The atoning blood
“The blood of Jesus his Son, cleanseth us from all sin” (1:7). The Blood, we are told, cleanseth us; but where shall we find this precious blood? If we desire to be cleansed, where shall we go? And where is God?
God is in the light, and the blood is sprinkled in the presence of God. This we see in the Old Testament type, where it says of Aaron: “He shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy-seat on the east; and before the mercy-seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times” (Lev. 16:14.). God’s abode in the tabernacle was the mercy-seat. It was there that He sat between the cherubim in the light of His own glory which illumined the most holy place. The blood was sprinkled on the mercy-seat, and on the ground where man stood before God. Thereby the place that would have been the judgment-seat for the sinner has become the place of mercy. The precious blood of Jesus has made it so, for it is to this that the type points forward.
Do not be afraid; come into the light, for there you will find mercy and pardon for sin. The first time you come, it will be with your sins upon you, for you cannot come in any other way. You cannot get rid of your sins before you come. Nowhere in scripture does God require it or make provision for it. And you cannot see the blood while you stand outside in the dark; it is in the light that you will find the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. God makes no other provision, by which you can get rid of your sins. come into the light. You will find the blood before God where the light shines, and you will find that which will make you thankful, not fearful. You cannot have fellowship with the Father or with His Son Jesus Christ if you stand outside in the darkness. The blood can only be seen by your coming into the light, and it is the blood which cleanseth us from all sin (1:7).
The importance of a frank confession of sin
“If we say we have no sin…” (1:8), “If we say we have not sinned…” (1:10). If we say either of these things we are wrong, and we are deceiving ourselves; but we shall be the only ones deceived. If we stay in the dark we may well be deceived about our sinfulness because we cannot see, but if we come into the light we are undeceived, and can see and state what is wrong. In the Old Testament men had to come before God and explicitly confess what they were guilty of. Thus, “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, If anyone sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and deal falsely with his neighbour in a matter of deposit, or of bargain, or of robbery, or have oppressed his neighbour; or have found that which was lost, and deal falsely therein, … he shall bring his guilt offering unto the Lord, … and he shall be forgiven, concerning whatsoever he doeth so as to be guilty thereby” (Lev. 6:1-3, 6, 7). For each specific sin, offering was to be made and forgiveness received. There was to be nothing vague or indefinite about it.
Many people do not get through to God for lack of a clear and definite confession of their sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive” (1:9). The Word does not say, “If we confess ourselves to be sinners.” Come to the light and state clearly and definitely what you need to be cleansed from, and then God will show you the precious blood which cleanses from all sin.
The forgiveness we can enjoy
“He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9 ). There is no need to stand in doubt of forgiveness, for we have “Jesus Christ the rightleous; and He is the propitiation for our sins” (2:2). Moreover the privilege here spoken of is not for ourselves only, for our exclusive use; it is for all. “Not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (2:2). As Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ made atonement for sin, so that the sinful creature is reconciled to God, the Holy creator. This He did on the cross, “For it was the good pleasure of the Father … through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; … And you … hath he reconciled.” (Col. 1:19-22).
On the cross, as He was about to die, His cry was, “It is finished”. The work of reconciling the sinner to God is a finished work, finished by His act of making atonement once for all. The life given to us in His death and resurrection has established an eternal bond of union between us and God, a union which is based upon that finished work. Forgiveness, at our first coming to the Lord, is full and absolute and issues in an immediate life-union with God. If we seek it in relation to subsequent failure and a consequent break in communion, it is just as full and just as absolute, and the restoration of fellowship is just as immediate.
If we have recognised the character of God—that He is holy and righteous—we will know that He cannot lie. He forgives and forgets. When we forgive a brother, we often go on talking about that brother’s sins. We do not really forgive because we cannot forget. But God both forgives and forgets. “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17).
“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Rom. 4:7). Why can God forgive our sins when once they are confessed? Because, in virtue of the precious blood, they are covered; and if covered they can no longer be seen. Praise God that we can be assured of sins forgiven, and can enjoy unbroken fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:3), and with one another (1:7), because of the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus. “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
The provision for our failures
“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (2:1). “If any man sin…”
Believers should not sin. As sinners they came into the light, and there they saw the blood; there they faced the matter of their sins, and there they gave consent to the fact that they were sinful; there they accepted the cleansing which the blood affords, and received the forgiveness of their sins. To all such, divine life is imparted by the Holy Spirit as God’s gift, and thereby they have become united to the Father and the Son and are able to enjoy the communion referred to in chapter 1 verses 3 and 4. To these John says: “My little children, these things, I write unto you, that ye may not sin” (2:1).
“My little children…” Note the form of John’s address. The word literally means “born ones’ and is a term of affection. He is now addressing those who are ‘born again’ and this is not a reference to age or stage of growth.
We might better translate it “My dear children”; those who are born with me into God’s family. We shall find the same term coming again in verses 12 and 28.
“We have an advocate” (2:2). What is an advocate? An advocate in law is one who takes up our cause and stands on our side, and this is now the work of the heavenly advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, on behalf of the children with the Father. His ministry it is to restore broken or interrupted fellowship.
My failure cannot undo the work of the cross, for that is finished; but failure can, and does, interrupt my communion with the Father. One unholy thought, one un-Christ-like action, will interrupt fellowship, for fellowship depends upon my walking in the light. If for a moment I cease to do this, a cloud will come between me and my brethren, because we are all of one family. Here in chapter 2, John reveals the provision God has made for such failure.
We need an advocate because we have an adversary. As soon as any child of God sins, this adversary becomes the prosecuting attorney in the high court of heaven, and will accuse him before the Father. We read of him doing this in the story of Job even though he had no foundation for it (Job 1:9 and 2:2-4). This is one of Satan’s chief works, to accuse. He is called the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is not called the accuser of the unregenerate, for he does not accuse those who are his own children. He lulls them to sleep.
But we have an accuser; and because we have an accuser, we need an advocate. And Christ Jesus has become our advocate, interceding for us with the Father. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:31-34). And notice this further point, that John is not saying, “If any man confess, cry to God, or repent of his sin”, but, “If any man sin, we have an advocate”. This suggests that as soon as we sin, without waiting for anything else on our part, Christ, our advocate, acts: He immediately pleads our cause in the presence of the Father.
From John 14:16-18 we learn of an advocate within, as well as an advocate before the Father, and these two agree as one—for they are one: Christ enthroned in heaven, and Christ resident by His Spirit within. Jesus Christ the Righteous as our advocate before the Father will take up the legal aspects of our case if we sin. The same Lord, by His Holy Spirit as our advocate or helper within, takes up the moral aspects of our case. Without Him I may not know what has interrupted the fellowship, but now that He has come as advocate within to help me morally to see, to confess and to put away the wrong, I can at once enjoy again restored communion with the Father, with the Son, and with other children of God.