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.

6 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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