John will confirm his doctrine by the principle of love, which was the driving passion which led Jesus ultimately to the cross.  He adopts a unique tact here, showing love to be both an old and a new commandment.  The idea that God’s people are to love one another is no new thing.  From the earliest recorded history we find the saints of God attempting to walk together in harmony and fellowship, as for instance Abraham and his gracious dealings with Lot.  Later, this would be codified in the Mosaic law.  Love was first instituted as the duty of God’s people in that book most hated today by theological liberals who like to fancy they have discovered what genuine Christian love is.  But God, speaking to Moses, commanded in Leviticus 19:18, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people: I am the LORD.”  He grounds their obedience to this command upon His own eternal power and Godhead.  It is not a matter where the people of God have a choice.  We are all to love our neighbor even as we love ourselves.  James calls this the “royal law,” and Christ made it the foundation of His “golden rule.”  Paul said that the whole law is fulfilled in this one word.  Indeed, it is an old commandment, but a lasting commandment, and one of immeasurable value!  This is the word which the saints had heard from the beginning.  They knew, because it was inscribed in the law, endorsed by Christ, and expounded by the apostles, that they were to love their neighbors as themselves.

But John comes back again in verse 8 to say that he is writing a new commandment, a thing which is true in Christ and in His people.  To what could this refer?  The darkness, he says, is past, and the true light now shineth.  To understand this, we must return to the upper room, where Christ had taken a towel, girded Himself, and proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples.  The disciples were amazed at this humiliating behavior of their Lord, but He informed them that He had set them an example which they were to follow: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

The life of the believer is to be an imitation of Christ.  Obviously, all are not born into the same precise earthly circumstances as was our Lord.  All are not born into a carpenter’s home, living in obscurity and with but the most modest means.  All are not called to be preachers, and only a handful have ever been summoned by God to work miracles.  When John tells us that the man who abides in Him ought to walk as He walked, he refers us to Christ’s absolute submission to the will of God, and His scrupulous obedience to the divine law.  As Christ the child was obedient to His parents, and honored His mother even at His death, so ought we to do, whatever our particular circumstances might be.  As Christ spoke the truth, even at personal risk, so ought we to do.  As Christ was willing to lay down His life in defense of the truth He held and preached, so ought we to manifest the same spirit.  As Christ was tender and compassionate towards the ignorant, and those who were in need, so should we be.  As Christ was willing to receive the worst of sinners into His fellowship, when once that person repented and sought His favor, so also should we, both as individuals and as churches.  Those who best imitate the character of the Lord Jesus make the best Christians.

Again and again John draws the contrast between the children of God and the children of the Devil, skipping back and forth from one extreme to the other.  He wishes us to be in no doubt as to what precisely are the identifying marks of the children of God.  His desire is that no man, on his account, should deceive himself into thinking he is saved when in reality he is still lost.  Having exposed the religious antinomian as a fraud, he again describes for us in more detail the nature of the heaven-born child of God.  The man who desires to obey God, keeping His word because it is more precious to him than life, in such a man the love of God is perfected.  It is through the love of God dwelling in him that he is enabled to run in the way of God’s commandments.  It is not mere human affection, but divine love which works in and through him, as he resists the carnal motions of his flesh, and compels himself to yield obedience to the holy law.  This is true love, which transcends all human sentimentality.

The love of God is not perfected in us by us simply showing a simpering, ecumenical politeness towards our fellow religionists.  The love of God coexists, and in fact motivates, obedience to the law of God.  Many times such obedience will put us at odds with our fellow men, and will in fact induce some of our friends and near kinsmen to hate and forsake us.  It may ultimately cause that we are persecuted, because we act upon the principle that we ought to obey God rather than men.  This is the true love of God.  This same apostle wrote in 2nd John 6, “This is love, that we walk after His commandments.”  The love of God is only perfected in those who yield heartfelt obedience to the commands of the Most High.  They do it, not to attempt to propitiate God towards themselves; they know that Jesus Christ the Righteous is their propitiation.  They do it because they love the God Who gave His only begotten Son up to death, that we might live through Him.  Out of abounding affection towards this unspeakably gracious God, revering Him both as Creator and Saviour, the heaven-born soul obeys Him cheerfully, regretting only that his obedience is less precise than it should be.  Walking in such a spirit, he may know and be assured that he is in God, and in His Son Jesus Christ.

Contrariwise, there is no legitimate ground of assurance for the person who lives in open defiance towards the commandments of God.  There are all too many who think they can have their cake and eat it too.  They will, so they imagine, inherit eternal life, even while they ignore the law of God, and pursue the lusts of the flesh.  John would have such hypocritical antinomians disabused of their heretical notions forthwith.  Yes, a man can say, “I know Him,” but if his behavior is one mass of contradiction to the express commandments of God, then has he not proven himself a liar?  Verily, he has.  Thus also taught our Master, Who succinctly said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.”  Just as you cannot glean grapes off of a thorn bush, so obedience to God can never flow from an unrenewed heart.  A joyful willingness to walk in obedience to the law of God has to flow from a person who has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus, because no others even possess such a capability.  No matter how loudly and brazenly a man may boast of his religious experiences, John would have us to know that they who refuse to obey God’s commandments have not the truth in them.  They are lying to others, they are lying to themselves, and, worst of all, they are lying to God.  While they may be able to fool men, they can never deceive God, Who knows infallibly the hearts of the children of men.

Having offered this precious reminder, that the erring believer has an Advocate Who is the propitiation for his sins, John returns once more to his theme of sin and holiness.  He has stated already that the purpose of his epistle is that his children in the faith sin not.  Now he proposes to give them one of the most important grounds for assurance, which is the keeping of the commandments of God.  It is noteworthy that he first interposed the reminder concerning Christ as our advocate and propitiation, for this must ever be the first ground of Christian assurance.  Apart from the work of the dear Saviour, and His continuing intercession on our behalf, no amount of spiritual striving could ever give us justifiable grounds for knowing that we know God.  It is only when we have first placed our entire hope of acceptance before God upon the work of our great Mediator, that we can then begin to look at the internal evidences, which are wrought within us by the effective operations of the Spirit of God.

John is far from presenting obedience to God’s commands as a means of earning salvation.  He has already made quite clear that we come into favor with God by being cleansed with the blood of Christ.  But this naturally begs the question, “What evidence do I have that I have been cleansed by precious, saving blood, and that I truly am a child of God?”  This is the question that John ably answers in a variety of ways throughout this epistle.  One of his primary answers is that found here in verse 3.  The phrase “know that we know Him” is an apt way of presenting a picture of Christian assurance.  John is saying, “This is the means by which you may know that you are in fellowship with God, and truly a citizen of His heavenly kingdom.”  The means here is the keeping of the commandments of God.  Those who truly know God will delightfully run in the path of His commandments, thinking themselves never happier than when they are most obedient to the will of their gracious God.

Christ is our righteousness, and also our propitiation.  This is a word that hearkens back to the mercy seat in the Old Covenant, where the blood was sprinkled to make atonement for sin.  Propitiation refers to appeasement, to the act of effecting conciliation between two alienated parties.  This is what Jesus Christ did by the bloody offering of Himself upon the cross.  Sin, which had alienated man from the thrice-holy God, must be removed before the guilty sinner could gain acceptance with God.  Since man was utterly powerless to reconcile himself, a sinless offering must be found.  This God provided when He sent His only begotten Son into the world, to act as our Substitute, suffering for our sins, purchasing us with His blood, awarding us His righteousness.  It is of grand and essential comfort to the child of God to remember that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for his sins.  He has put away the one thing that alienated us from the Father, and therefore we may be easy in our minds concerning the state of our souls.

Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and “also for the sins of the whole world.”  This is a favorite verse of those who urge the concept of universal atonement; that the Lord Jesus suffered for the sins of every human being, trying to earn salvation for them.  But this places Christ in the spot of a failure, for if He attempted to save every last human being, He has utterly failed, for He Himself said that “many are called, but few are chosen.”  The character of God cannot admit of the slightest degree of failure in any thing, and certainly not in His great scheme for the salvation of sinners.  Therefore, we must study the word “world” with great care, to discover its usage in the New Testament.  This done, we will find that it is a term that has numerous uses and applications.  The same John who here speaks of Christ being the propitiation for “the whole world,” also records the Saviour as saying of His followers, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world.”  Moreover, even the term “whole world” does not always have a universal application in apostolic writings.  The apostle Paul once commended the Romans that their faith was spoken of “throughout the whole world.”  It is evident that by that point in history, the vast majority of people on planet Earth had never heard the word of the Gospel.  Paul, then, was referring to the world of the churches of Christ, who had heard of the faith of the Romans, and happily concluded that they were true, diligent servants of the Lord Jesus.  More to the point, John himself will write near the conclusion of this epistle, “The whole world lieth in wickedness…”  Clearly, the same phrase used in I John 5:19 as in our present text cannot have a universal meaning, since John is writing to Christians who are no longer under the dominion of wickedness.  Since the phrase “whole world” is very evidently used in multiple places without an absolutely universal meaning, I see no reason to assign it that broad of an extent when dealing with Christ as our propitiation.  Instead, he uses that very broad term to encompass large groups, primarily either all believers or all unbelievers.

This is very likely the sense in which we should take “whole world” here in I John 2:2.  Christ has made propitiation, not just for us as individuals, or for the particular audience to whom John was writing, but to the entire world of sinners for whom Christ died.  Or, perhaps it could be understood to speak of the entire church of God, as comprising both Jew and Gentile.  At that early day in church history, Jewish believers were still prone to think of themselves as somehow elevated above their Gentile brethren, who had trusted in the same Saviour as themselves.  If John was writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, it is very likely that he was reminding them that Christ died not for their sins only, but also for the heathens who would trust in His Name.  Either explanation is more than sufficient to show that Christ’s propitiation is fully acceptable to God for every person for whom it was offered.  To say otherwise is to denigrate the merit and the success of the atonement of Christ.

The apostle now proceeds to describe the reason why he is writing in this vein to the church of God.  His intention in describing the absolute holiness of God, the necessity of holiness in His people, and the reality of sin and forgiveness, is ultimately to this point: “That ye sin not.”  He is concerned that the children of God manifest an attitude of true righteousness which flows from a renewed heart, which will hate sin in all of its manifestations, and strive after the standard of holiness inculcated in God’s word.  That “walking in the light” of which John wrote in the first chapter necessarily involves separation from sin.  One cannot be walking in the light as God is in the light if he is living a life of abandonment to the lusts of the flesh, and all the powers of sin.  This standard will ultimately separate the believer from the unbeliever.  The unbeliever is not concerned whatsoever that sin is still the guiding principle of his life.  The true Christian, on the other hand, though he knows sin is forgiven for Christ’s sake, still yet mourns when he discovers its pervasive presence in his life, because sin disrupts his fellowship with God, grieves his heavenly Father, and spoils his testimony before the world.

But sin is still a reality that must be admitted and contended with, and John would not have the child of God who discovers sin in himself to be without comfort.  Thus, like a good minister of Jesus Christ, he pours in the balm of the Gospel, telling us, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  This is a special message intended for the soul comfort of the child of God.  Yes, we find that we sin, much more often than we care to acknowledge.  But the good news is that our sin does not destroy grace, and throw us back under the power of the Devil.  There is an advocate, a lawyer, a defense attorney, as it were, standing before the throne of the just God of heaven and earth, to plead our case.  He does not do like an earthly lawyer, searching the rules and regulations for points of technicality, or any clever excuse by which he might get us off the hook for the punishment we deserve.  No, this great Advocate is too honest to deny that His clients are sinners.  But for all this, He is yet the greatest Defender any man ever had.  His clients, those He represents, surely are guilty and unrighteous, considered in themselves.  But the good news of the Gospel revolves around the doctrine of Substitution, which declares that Jesus Christ stood in our stead, taking our guilt upon Himself, and suffering the punishment for it in His own body upon the tree.  Moreover, as our sin was imputed to Him, that He might bear its punishment, so His righteousness is charged to our account, so that in the record books of heaven we stand “holy as the Holy One.”  By His obedience we are made righteous, says Paul.  Said the same apostle in another place, “He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”  This is surely why John ascribes to the Lord Jesus in our passage the title of “the Righteous.”  He wishes us to be reminded that, although we sin and continually must confess before God that we are unrighteous, that we are still received before Him because our acceptance with God is based upon the righteousness of our Advocate, never upon our own personal merit.


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