1 John 2:1-2 – What Should We Do If We Sin?

The goal is “not sinning” (2:1a). In another purpose statement, John says one of the goals of the writing of this letter is that the reader will not sin. Even though we cannot “not sin,” and to claim we to “not sin” is a lie (and is therefore a sin).

Atoning SacrificeBut we will sin, so Jesus is our Advocate (2:1b). The world John uses here (παράκλητος) is the same used in John 14:16 to refer to the Holy Spirit. The verb can have the sense of pleading a case, as in 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul implores his readers to be reconciled with God. The word is sometimes translated as “comforter,” someone who encourages or comforts someone in a difficult situation.

Although many preachers imagine this word to refer to Jesus functioning as a legal advocate, the use of this word for lawyer or attorney is rare (BDAG, although NIDNTEE 2:539 says it is “a personal term with legal connotations”). In Roman legal settings, a person could hire a person to speak for them, perhaps a patronus, a patron could speak on behalf of their client accused of some crime. (Some readers may hear the allusion to this practice in the Harry Potter stories, summoning a helper in the time of need, expecto patronum!)

It may be that John has in mind the Jewish view that angelic beings stand before God as advocates. Like Archangel Michael in Second Temple Judaism, Jesus stands before the throne of God advocating on our behalf.

What does the word propitiation mean? The word the ESV translates as “propitiation” is another allusion to the Old Testament. The NIV and NRSV translates ἱλασμός as “atoning sacrifice,” which better communicates to modern readers what this word means.The word has the sense of “appeasement necessitated by sin, expiation” (BDAG). A god has been offended, so the offender must sacrifice in the right way to turn aside the god’s  wrath. In the Law, the word is used for a sacrifice of restitution, Numbers 5:8.

In the Greco-Roman world, a god might be calmed by human or animal sacrifice, but other rites of purification or prayers were also common. Less familiar to modern readers, sometimes ritual dances and games dedicated to the god turned aside wrath (F. Büchsel, TDNT 3:311-12).

In the Old Testament the word and its cognates almost always refer to appeasing the wrath of God (Lev 1:4, for example; see NIDNTEE “ἱλάσκομαι,” 2:531.).

John finishes the first section of this letter with a clear declaration God has in fact forgiven our sin, but sin remains a serious problem for the believer. We can have confidence in the faithfulness of God to forgive our sin and complete reliance on Jesus as our atoning sacrifice and advocate. But there is a need to take seriously the effect of sin on the life of the believer and on the community of believers.

15 thoughts on “1 John 2:1-2 – What Should We Do If We Sin?

  1. Dr Long, while I agree that we can’t go about our lives after our receiving of salvation and live perfectly, I do think John may be trying to make a different point than what you initially stated however.

    For instance, 1 John 2:1 reads, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (NKJV)

    It is hard to avoid but John upfront is writing so we will not sin. He continues, “But if anyone sins we have an Advocate”. I think for John to state his goal in writing to us is so we may not sin and then for him to say “if” we sin is a big deal and should challenge our interpretation of the passage.

    It is important to note that we (Christians) do NOT have a sin nature. We have a new nature in Christ Jesus, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, the old has gone and the new is here! (1 Cor 5:17). Paul even says to “Throw off the old sin nature…which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God-truly righteous and holy” (Eph. 4:22-24 NLT). Why would Jesus point out that you can identify false teachers by their fruits? Can an apple tree produce oranges? In our case can darkness produce light? Of course not! We must have a new nature to produce good fruit because Jesus Christ’ nature lives in us and only He can produce Himself (The good fruit).

    If we have a sin nature as Christians then Christ merely died so we may go to heaven and leave us in our struggle with sin which is very contrary to the entire sixth chapter of Romans.

    Indeed, God had sent His one and only Son that we may be restored to a right relationship with Himself. Can darkness (Sin nature) have fellowship with the light? This is something John actually wrote of in the previous chapter. I’ll spare you the first three verses, but John is testifying to the things he has seen and heard (Jesus Christ, His resurrection etc.) and declares to his audience “That you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). He continues,

    “This is the message that we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (5-6). Note John’s biggest purpose in writing this is to make clear this Gospel message because others are deceived and actually following the Antichrist (thinking you are genuinely saved, yet you do not practice the truth and thus are walking in darkness). John in this passage is specifically targeting those who are not saved yet and saying if they are saved they will have fellowship with Him and walk in the light.

    With that being said, I must continue unpacking the passage, John continues, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). It is important that I note that I interpret this passage as both positionally and behaviorally (Justification and Sanctification). If merely justification then he speaks to unbelievers, if sanctification he is speaking to believers, but as a believer it is a lovely reminder of what we were justified through Christ blood. I’ll clear up my point with what Akin says,

    “The claim to be “without sin” probably arose from John’s opponents’ understanding that fellowship with a holy God required one to be sinless. Verses 8 and 10 are essentially parallel: the heretics argued that the condition for fellowship with the Father is sinlessness. Therefore they claimed to be sinless. Yet in this very claim they rejected God’s word (1:10; i.e., the truth God has revealed in Jesus, 1:8), deceived themselves, and made God out to be a liar.131 Sinlessness is theirs by virtue of life in Christ alone. It cannot be located merely within themselves.” (Akin, New American Commentary).

    It truly is genuinely about having a right relationship with God. John transitions into “My dear children” which means he is directing his attention to those who are saved through faith in Christ already, and not merely those who are deceived with this “sinlessness” mindset. Akin adds,

    “Even though John was responding to the heretics in ruling out false conceptions of fellowship with God (in teaching correct theology), his primary purpose was to instruct and warn his readers against sinning in the same manner as the heretics”

    John is talking to believers now, my paraphrase would be “I am writing to you so you do not fall into this teaching, (that you may not sin) but if you do sin just return back to what Jesus Christ did for us and repent”

    We need to understand that sin is not an action. It’s not the attitude of ‘don’t do this or don’t do that!’ (Col. 2:21). Sin is independence from God and yes, as we all know, even we as Christians decide to be independent of God at times.. Well how do you be one with God? By faith. Paul says, That which does not come from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). And we are told many times in the Bible that “The just shall live by faith” (Habb. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11 etc.). We are saved by grace through through faith (Eph. 2:8). This is the essence of Justification. A right relationship with God. We live in Him through faith in Him and if we happen to sin, we can repent and come back, be forgiven, and have faith in whatever area of life it is you stumbled on before.

    Also, to clarify, yes sin is an action, but out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (words and actions). Our spirits as Christians are born-again, completely saved. Our souls are being saved so we still have parts of us that are conformed to our old way of thinking and need to repent and submit to God’s way (Rom. 12:1-2, James 4:8-9). Then our flesh will not be redeemed until we receive our glorified bodies in heaven (2 Cor. 5).

    Akin, Daniel L. 1, 2, 3 John. Vol. 38. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001. Print. The New American Commentary.

  2. First it is so extremely important to know that we are unable to lose our salvation (Luke 20:36). We are sealed with the Holy Spirit living inside of us. Out of love God sent his son to be the ultimate atonement for our sins (2 John 2:2). We are forgiven of our sins forever. As Christians we are secure in Jesus and ought to strive to be like Christ as He walked on this earth. It is so important to take sinning seriously because, it not only effects your spiritual walk with Christ but also effects how others view you as a Christian. We must make a conscious effort to stop falling into sin in order to continue in growth and fellowship with God. God Forgives our sin when we go to Him, repent and ask for forgiveness. God promises that through Jesus we will be forgiven. Let’s not take this forgiveness lightly, for God’s wrath will be with disobedience (Eph 5:6). We are justified through our faith (Eph 2:8). When we sin, we are able to come before God and become stronger in our walk with Christ.

  3. It is important to realize that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Jesus fixed all of that when he died for us on the cross and rose again so that we could choose him or a life without him. Our free will is intact we have the choice to seek God and his gift of salvation to us or we can choose our own path and walk away. God wanted us to have the free will to choose if we want to accept and repent or live our own way. Accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation does not mean that as believers we will never sin again it just means that we are promised a life with him forever and that one day we will live with him in a place where there is no more sin. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation as many other religions teach it is by grace that we are saved as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we do sin however as believers in Jesus Christ we must turn to Him and repent of our sins. This is so that our relationship with God is not broken and so that we do not experience the wrath of God. I think that many of us view God as an angry Grandpa in the sky waiting for us to mess up but that is not the case he loves us unconditionally even when we sin.

  4. To start, it is not possible for us to lose our salvation no matter how much we sin throughout our lives. Like Parker said from Romans 3:23, we all have sinned and have fallen short. Our salvation should not be questioned by sin because even after we’re saved, we will still struggle with temptation and we will still fall short and give in to temptations. But the question is: if we’re saved no matter what, why stop sinning? It is this that puts into questions someone’s salvation, not sin. Once we’re saved, our hearts are changed and we should automatically yearn for Christ and to do good by Him. Our hearts should be filled with shame and with guilt when we’ve sinned after were saved because it is in us to want to please our Lord. We should not brush off sin and move on. If we’re struggling, as followers of Christ we should be able to identify when we’re falling short and work to change it and pray and rely on the Lord to guide us and to help us through those temptations. We must repent our sins and we must try to resist temptation despite our salvation never faltering when we fail. In my opinion, what we do after sin, not what we sin or how much we sin defines a Christian and what shows our true hearts.

  5. it’s important to understand that no matter what we want to believe, we all sin. Once we can grasp and accept that fact, then we will be able to understand what our mindset should be on sin itself. I think that the first thing we should do when we sin is tell God. We should repent to the Lord and he give us peace in knowing that our sins have already been forgiven. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) It says here that when we do sin, we already have someone to forgive us who is almighty and righteous. We all know that Jesus is the reason our sins are forgiven, but this should NOT give us a free pass to sin, or even to not want to improve ourselves in that area. We should always be looking for areas of sin where we can improve, even if we feel like we have pure hearts. A good example of this might be with the area of lying. For some people, lying is a part of who they are. They lie to others, themselves, and even God. We need to understand that in our society today with social media, it is very easy for any of us to lie about something, or even mislead.

  6. We do need to take it seriously. John made it clear in his letter that God had actually forgiven our sins. Why do you think God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross? The reason why Jesus did that was so the people could have a second chance, giving their life to Christ to understand and know what God wants for His people. Believers should know this about sin and should not sin. However, believers tend to sin; in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, we do fall short when we sin, and it is hard not to have temptation. Non-Believers do not want to do anything that involves God, the Law or does not want to believe in God so, they will continue to sin and don’t care about their life. Christians believe there is a true God and others believe false gods and idols. Catholics believe in God, but they believe they sin then they go to confession and believe they are doing something right in their religion then that means they will go to heaven. The truth is that is not how it works. Catholics and Christians are different. There are Christians that will stop following God and change beliefs for whatever reason. There was Christian artist who was a believer and decided not to believe in God. This is not a joke; sin is a serious problem for believers. There could be another problem which involves the church. It depends how the pastor is preaching the sermon. We all have to be careful of the messages including songs as well. Satan wants God’s believers or followers to fail their faith. The believers need to remind themselves that sin is a serious problem.

  7. There is no place for Christian life. However, we as Christian’s are always sinning and need to be cleansed by Christs blood. John makes it clear that we believers how put our faith in him and cleanse our sins through His blood are assured eternal life (1041). I think the look into the word propitiation is interesting. The look that appeasement needs to happen to God for wrongdoings is a big part of our faith as believers. This appeasement or sacrifice that needs to happen is to turn aside the wrath of God. This encompasses all we need as believers. We need to live lives that we do not constantly need to be “giving sacrifices” to God for our wrongdoings. All people sin, as believers we are to live as though we are mirroring Christ. We will never be perfect, but we need to try our hardest to be like Christ. All sin will bring God’s wrath especially sin that is not repented for. Gods’ wrath follows disobedience (Ephesians 5:6). When we sin if we have the right heart, we can use these sins as motivation to strengthen us as humans as well as strengthening our faith. It is very comforting as a believer to know and hold that God will forever forgive our sins no matter how great they are.

  8. Growing up I was always taught in Sunday School and young fives that Jesus forgives all our sins. I still believe that today and that we can’t live a perfect life because we are human, and we sin. In 1 John 2:1 right at the beginning it says “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.” (ESV) I also grew up learning that when we do sin, we must ask Jesus for forgiveness, and He will forgive. That is why Jesus sent his Son to die on the cross for us, so that we could have a second chance and so that more people could confess their sins and give their life to Christ. As believers you need to notice your sins and by confessing them you need to take it seriously because we are called to live like Christ and Christ didn’t sin. We must try our best to represent Him. When we sin, and confess we are showing God that you are truly sorry and that you realized the wrong that you have done. Non-believers tend to not care about sinning, and they just keep on doing it repeatedly and don’t ask for forgiveness. We need to represent Christ and by confessing our sins and showing that we are truthfully sorry for what we have done and if you mean it from your heart, God will forgive you.
    When I think of sins or forgiveness, I think of the song called “Forgiven” by David Crowder. It is a very well written song and the chorus says this” Forgiven, Forgiven Child there is freedom from all of it, Say goodbye to every sin, you are forgiven”. This song speaks truth and when this song is played or when I hear it I immediately just start repenting and asking forgiveness because of my sins. Knowing that God will forgive us from us sins no matter how little or how big they are is very comforting.

  9. This post reminds me of Paul’s struggle within himself captured in Romans 7:19. Here Paul battles with the reality of sin in which all humans can relate. Why do we do not do the good that we want to do and do the evil we do not want to. I am thankful for not only a savior who knows and empathizes with the human struggle, but also for a creator who knows us well. He not only knows our evil, our temptation, our sin; but also our heart. It is not only ourselves who hear the struggles with sin, but God himself, who sent His son for an undeserving and sinful people.
    Like my fellow classmates have also recalled before, it is so important that in relation to this discussion we remember two things. First, that while we cannot lose our salvation but is by faith alone, faith without action is dead. Second, we have all sinned and therefore are all in need of Jesus’ act of propitiation. It is so often that when we walk a life with the Lord we experience seasons of lukewarmness which are alluded to and we are warned of in Revelation 3:15-16. In these moments it is easy to slip into lazy faith that reaps little action. It is also easy to forget our depravity and the weight of Jesus’ sacrifice can lose it’s factor of awe. We become less thankful and more inclined to sway through the motions.
    I strongly agree with the closing statement, while there is forgiveness for all sinners due to Christ’s sacrifice, we must take seriously the effect of sin on not only our own lives but the lives of those around us. Even in light of Grace in life there is still action and consequence.

  10. This is a very serious blog post and I really liked reading it, especially the ending, for it really made me come to my realization that every single day we Christian believers inevitably will sin before judgment. Sinning is bad because it is doing something that is unpleasant to God, and God forbids mankind to sin. However, God knows that mankind will fall victim to sin thus, He sent His only Son to atone and have propitiation for mankind. This entails that Jesus Christ has been sent to Earth to pardon mankind and to be like an attorney speaking on behalf of our bad decision and getting us out of trouble and cleaseing our past. I really liked how P.Long brings this blog post to an end mentioning a direct commandment and realization about sin. “God has in fact forgiven our sin, but sin remains a serious problem for the believer. We can have confidence in the faithfulness of God to forgive our sin and complete reliance on Jesus as our atoning sacrifice and advocate. But there is a need to take seriously the effect of sin on the life of the believer and on the community of believers.” (P.Long). This ending is important to me because; yes, we as human beings are not perfect and will always end up sinning one way or another. Moreover, our sins in the past and in the future can be forgiven by God; but it will not be as easy as asking for forgiveness, we will have to act on our request and do a better job at imitating Jesus Christ while we still can.

  11. We are all sinners. No matter if you have more money than someone else, are smarter, better-looking, you are still a sinner. We all fall short of God’s glory. What Jesus did do for us was dying on the cross for our salvation because he knew that we were sinners. He took the burden and barred the cross because there was no one else worthy enough to do so. It is important to note that Jesus was a perfect human-being. He knew no sin and in conclusion never sinned. It all started when Adam and Eve were in the garden. From that point on, God knew mankind would be sinners. What is important is that we cannot lose our salvation and the Holy Spirit remains with us. Just because we receive salvation and God’s grace does not mean that we will never sin again. What it means is that we have eternal life with God after we die. We have a Father who is much greater than anything on this Earth that is looking after us. We have hope and guidance for our lives. He is a God who never gives up on us just because we sin. It is important to not sin and to perform works like Jesus did. This all starts by loving. God loves us as sinners and as His children. What we must do after we sin is to repent. We must ask God for forgiveness and strive to be better. To learn from our mistakes and to not do them again. We must pray to God in hopes for better futures. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. God’s wrath would be much worse than anything that we could experience here on this Earth. Once we receive salvation we should understand that sin is what keeps us from being perfect. I think that what we do after we sin is the most important aspect of this. It is not about the sin that happened but about how you go about correcting it. How you must come to God and repent.

  12. It is impossible to go through life without sinning. We are all sinners and are born sinners. One of the goals of John’s writing in 1 John 2 is for the reader to go without sinning. However, we are bound to sin, but luckily we have Jesus as our advocate. This same word is used in various parts of the Bible and can often be referred to as being a comforter who is someone who is able to comfort or encourage someone else in a difficult situation. Jesus being referred to as an advocate is more of a personal terminology than a legal one, however, it is both. The term propitiation is another term used, which in other translations that are easier to understand in the modern culture is referred to as atoning sacrifice. John emphasizes the importance to believers about how we are forgiven by God for our sins, but despite us being forgiven, sin is still a major issue in the world. It is fascinating to me that even back in Jesus’s time there had to be a book written about how big of a problem sin was in the world and this is still the case in today’s world. All the way back in 1 John people were being told that they need to stop sinning and people are still struggling with it. Even though God has forgiven us for our sins, we continue to sin. It reminds me of the verse Matthew 18:21 where Jesus is explaining that we need to forgive not seven times but 7×70 times. God demonstrates this forgiveness to us.

  13. Sin is inevitable. We are constantly sinning, that could be with a simple thought or our actions of being greedy. When Jesus came on earth He was sinless, that is because He was God and we don’t compare to Him. Christians are capable of sinning. Sin is what separates us from God. Jobe stated, “the sin unto death is simply a violation of the fundamental terms of relationship with God that Jesus Christ mediates (p.426).” 1 John 2:1, states that if we have sinned we have an advocate who will plead for us. We must first recognize our sin and confess those sins to God. We are not meant to deal with our sins alone because God is our lawyer. He will plead for us because He has already paid for those sins. That doesn’t mean we might not suffer consequences for our sins because God is also just. 1 John 2:12 states, “I am writing to you, little children, because you sins are forgiven for his name’s sake”. These verses remind us of God’s characteristics of advocate and defender.

  14. What should we do if we sin is a title that some may think of as “oh so it is okay to sin because there are things we can do to get away from that sin.” Sin is something that almost everyone does at some point in their life. As Christians we believe that sinning is against the Lord, and it is something that is punishable. There are also people who say “yeah I am a Christian” but then they go around committing sin after sin. We do have a chance for those sins to be forgiven because God is always willing to give us multiple chances to regain our faith and be the Godly individual that he expects us to be. God is known as what some call a comforter as P Long says, which is someone who is able to encourage someone else who is in a difficult situation. As Christians we belong in a community that is full of lifting others up during their hardships. We have grown to help others along with treating others how we would like to be treated. For the sake of our faith, we are here to support those who may have sinned and are currently in a state of sinning.

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