1 John 2 – God’s glory and the sinner

Erkki Koskenniemi
Reija Becks

Looking at the first chapter of the epistle, we noticed that the chapter division (which is not done by the author himself) in the Bible interrupts the train of thought. That is why the last verse of the first chapter was left to be dealt with here. Let us go through the structure of the section once more. The main statement is the passage in the fifth verse, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”. The limit-setting begins after this, through the instructions derived from the main statement – what is in accord with God’s awesome glory and what is not. Not in accord is if we claim to belong to God but live in sin (1:6-7), or if we claim that we have no sin (1:8-9). We shall now look at the next instruction, which takes us to the second chapter.

Children of light fight their sins 1:10-2:2

The third instruction in this section seems to repeat the previous ones but, in fact, takes us far ahead. At the start, there is criticism of those who, in principle, admit to being sinners, but in reality deny it. It is easy to admit to being a sinner but much harder to confess our evil deeds. However, it is what a Christian must keep doing, or else God is made a liar. God indeed says that we are sinners and that he forgives us our sins by the blood of Christ. If we claim to be pure, we make Christ’s way of the cross entirely futile and, at the same time, false.

In the last part, the writer speaks to his beloved “children”, the recipients of the epistle. The foundation has now been secured, and we can draw the conclusions. Not in accord with God’s glory is sin, or denying our sinfulness, or our separate evil deeds. It is only after we have learnt to understand these facts and know God’s holiness, our own sinfulness, and the atonement for our sins by the blood of the Son of God that we can listen to the exhortation: fight sin! Sin is a dangerous and horrible thing. And still, at the same time, there resonates also the consolation: if anyone does sin – which, from the first chapter and from our own experience, is a constant fact – we have an advocate with the Father. Jesus Christ is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

A child of light loves the Lord’s commandments 2:3-5a

The fourth instruction tells us the same that the Lord himself simply says, “You will recognize them by their fruits”. There were false teachers claiming to be well acquainted with the way of God. Their lives, however, were a warning example. They were not at all in accord with God’s glory. Therefore, such teachers had to be renounced, and it was vital to make a complete break from them. To a true teacher, God’s commandments are precious and marvelous. Love for Jesus is not an ethereal nothing, but that love becomes clearly apparent in how we relate to his word.

God’s word is also here very tough. We have to examine ourselves and bow our heads. We remember the instruction given earlier: children of light must not deny their absolute sinfulness. And, facing these words, it would be difficult to deny it.

We also receive strikingly timely teaching. There are many teachers, persuasive, winning, talented. It seems surprising that the life of someone who teaches God’s word is not a private matter. Quite the opposite, we we as church members are advised to observe how the teachers live. The measuring rod that we are given is not the wideness of their smiles, or how smoothly they bow, but how cherished God’s words seem in the teacher’s own life. The question is about their regard for concrete Bible verses. If the teachers’ lives do not bear inspection in this respect, they invalidate their sermons with their own lives, and nobody should listen to them.

Children of light follow the Lord’s example in their lives 2:5b-8

John keeps hammering away sternly and makes the fabrications of the false teachers crash like a house of cards. They claim to know God well by their own experience and knowledge. John rejects this in a very straightforward way. Whoever belongs to the Lord ought to keep the self-sacrificing love of Jesus as an example for themselves. As there was no sign of this, their teaching was wrong. The false teachers had evidently offered the people some captivating novelties. John, by contrast, gives an old and very simple command: live following the example of Christ!

We can once again see here, how the Christian faith is not something theoretical and difficult. It is very simple: we live in God’s grace and love, listen to his word, and repent accordingly. Our faith is not more complicated than this. And yet it involves studying and learning that will last for all eternity.

Children of light do not hate their neighbour 2:9-11

The writer elaborates further, leaving no room for misunderstandings. The question is, how do we treat our neighbour? Whoever claims to be God’s own but, at the same time, hates his neighbour, shows that he is lying. Also, he himself may think that he is a child of light but, in truth, he is still living in darkness. Anyone walking in darkness has gone astray and no longer has any idea where he is or where he is going. Darkness has blinded his eyes, and he will no longer find the right way. Things are completely different for him who loves his neighbour. It is work which is in accord with God’s glory. A person like this will therefore also stay as a child of light. The words are hard and are getting even harder. We should not try to soften them and explain them away. That is how the Bible expresses the matters. Period. Maybe we now understand why we are warned about the last judgment and, in particular, about the risk of having to receive God’s judgment just on our own devices. Our only refuge is that our sins have been forgiven by the atoning blood of Christ. These severe Bible passages teach us to draw the right conclusions from the fact that we belong to God.

The church is well protected 2:12-14

John knows that he has spoken severely and hard. He had in his mind first and foremost the false teachers who had sown poisonous seeds. Now it is time to console. Those verses have been interpreted in one way in our Bible, but they must probably be understood like this, “I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven in his name.” We find there a wonderful sequence testifying of God’s grace and directed at the readers of the epistle. It is not an exhortation here but a statement: sins have been forgiven by the blood of the Son of God. When we keep this faith, the evil one is overcome. False teachings are snares of the devil. Right, apostolic teaching keeps us from falling into them. God’s glory is overwhelmingly awesome, and the world’s night is pitch-dark. A sinner is safe only in the church of Christ, but totally safe there, in the care of the apostolic word.

Do not love the world! 2:15-17

Faith in Christ is something from which we draw conclusions in our everyday life. We find ourselves continually in situations where we must make choices about what matters most for us. We either love Father God or this world. Jesus says the same like this, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Will I yield to my own sinful desire and to the things this world is offering, or do I remember that I am a child or God? This means concrete Christianity. John’s first epistle helps us in our choice-making situations: this world and all that is in it will pass away one day. If that is our treasure, we ourselves will pass away together with this perishable world. If the Lord is our treasure, by his grace, we will live forever and ever.

Antichrists and the latter days 2:18-25

Those who are God’s own are not living out of the reach of the evil one in this world. By means of lies and false doctrine, the devil is looking for prey. John speaks about the antichrist first in singular and then in plural. The coming of the antichrist is a sign of the end time. During the time when the epistle was written, there were many “antichrists” about. They were former Christians, but not true Christians, which was proven by their falling away. They were identified as antichrists because of their teaching. The essence of it was that they denied Jesus as the Christ of God referred to in the Old Testament. There is more talk about this later in the epistle. Anyone who does not want to know Jesus does not have God either. Whoever has Jesus has the Father also. The original apostolic teaching will keep the congregants as heirs of eternal life. “The anointing” means here the Holy Spirit whom they had since their holy baptism. This gift from God keeps them from falling away until the end of the world.

Sometimes we hear something like this, “I do believe in God, but what do we need Jesus for?” Christianity without Christ seems to be more acceptable than the apostolic teaching. When the cross of the Lord is not discussed at all and the talk is about something more interesting, there is at least somebody who wants to listen to the church. But that is the way to lose not only Christ but also the Father! The only way to God is through a door, and that door is Christ. We will not listen to those who “modernize” Christianity, nor, on any account, those who systematically deny the atonement for our sins by Jesus (Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

The end times are widely discussed. The coming of the antichrist is given here as a sign. We can also see that when the epistle was written, the end time was not yet at hand, even though there were many antichrists about. A slight shadow of the antichrist was already casting its gloom in the ministry of the false teachers. This shadow has darkened several periods in history. False doctrine, strong delusion, backsliding, blind hatred, and persecution of Christians are signs of antichrist times. In our own time, we can see many signs pointing to the last days. These signs will be fully visible only shortly before the end. In the middle of anxiety, we will remember that after the great tribulation, the final days will bring us a complete redemption.

How can I stay in the faith until the end? 2:26-27

The principle that was touched on earlier is repeated in this section: “the anointing”, the Holy Spirit, will keep the congregants as God’s own and guide them to all truth. False teachers are not led by the Holy Spirit. That is why they spread plain lies. The listeners must, against their teachings, keep the doctrine that they received from the apostles. The writer thus says that the Holy Spirit will keep the congregants faithful. It is wonderful to know that staying and enduring in the faith does not depend on our own performance. Otherwise we would not have the strength to live. But we must not forget that the Holy Spirit uses the word of God as an instrument. Therefore, we must listen to it, read it, and repent accordingly.

The last verses of this chapter (2:28-29) belong to the next section. For this reason, we will discuss them with the third chapter.