Meditations in 1 John: Free Grace and Holiness of Life

By Colton Corter

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

(1 John 2:1-2 ESV)

Keep in mind the main point of the book of 1 John. All the way in chapter 5, John says that he is writing these things that the believers may know for certain that they have been born again (1 John 5:13), justified by the righteousness of Christ by faith alone. Here John gives another purpose – that this church, his “little children” that he loves in the Lord, would become increasingly godly.

These two purposes are not contradictory, or even two separate goals. John seems to be giving one purpose in verse 1 here in chapter 2 that will come as an implication of the purpose for which he wrote the book. Assurance, in other words, leads to holiness.

John is not saying that sin is the exception to the rule in one sense. He knew his own heart and if you have any knowledge of your own you know that our greatest deeds are still littered with sin. The only reason that we can do anything pleasing to the Father is because our deeds are mediated by the Son of God, our brother the Lord Jesus. Believers will struggle with our deceitful hearts until we see Christ fully in glory (1 John 3:2). Romans 7 is ever on the lips of the justified sinner.

But in another sense, sin is indeed the exception to the rule. We really can be holy. God tells us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). In fact, there is a holiness without which one will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). This is one of the goals of our election (Ephesians 1:4), that God would purify a people for Himself who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). By the free grace of God, we really can get better. We can obey more. We can enjoy more of God!

Oh! But when we do sin (which we will, see the end of chapter 1) we may not run to our own efforts to take care of it. When we sin we feel as if we cannot turn to God. It may seem like humility but it is not. Instead, it shows that we have little regard for the person and work of Christ. Brothers, we have the Advocate! Jesus Christ is the righteous one and is the righteous one on our behalf before the holy God of the universe. Our warrant to repent of our sin comes because the perfection of Christ shields us from any wrath that was due us for our sin. Our sin has as little a chance of separating us from the love of God as it has of expelling the Son from the right hand of the Father. We have a sure foundation, a refuge able to withstand every sin and doubt and storm. We run to this fountain and this fountain alone!

And we run here because of what happened outside of us and over 2,000 years ago. The center of our lives exists, not inside of us but on the cross of Christ. Christ is our Advocate before the Father because He is the “propitiation for our sins.” He bore the wrath of God in our place. He received the sentence of death that we might be free. Herein lies the glory of God. This is the fountainhead of all our joy and comfort.

And this Christ is not Savior and Treasure only to those are of a certain background, ethnicity or class. Christ for all of those who come to Him. Anyone who realizes their thirst and need for an alien righteousness may come. The forever fountain flows unhindered. And since God has been propitiated, Christ will not wait to see if He will receive the reward of His suffering. Certainly comes because our certainty is Christ.

And the certainly of our certainty is Christ is the fuel for painstaking holiness. Free grace promotes the pursuit of godliness. The glories of Christ sever the root of sin as we behold the face of Christ, clothed in the gospel. “These things” will help us to hate our sin more and more.

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