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Advocacy and Example

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Advocacy and Example

A sermon on 1 John 2:1-6 preached at Christ the King Church on 11/6/05.

 

Prayer:  Father in heaven, as we come now to listen to your Word explained and applied, help us by your Spirit to recognize in Jesus, our Lord, both His advocacy and example.  We ask this in His name.  Amen.

 

Introduction:  A few weeks ago I received an invitation to attend a conference at a so-called ‘Christian’ seminary in Chicago.  The title of the conference was To Preach the Word in an Interfaith World.  Now, besides the talks and workshops that focused on this topic of religious diversity, the brochure I received also touted two interfaith worship services, which made the obvious claim that people of different faiths can still worship the same God.

Inside this invitation I discovered this seminary’s purpose statement, which fit well the theme of their conference:  “We are a community in the presence of God [which] attracts pioneers in thought and deed.  We are men and women exploring our own spiritual frontiers- pushing boundaries and creating new maps for faith’s journey.  This is [our] bold legacy of curiosity, exploration and action.  We are scholars and spiritual explorers- because faith’s journey never ends.”

             

Now, that purpose statement epitomizes the world we live in, a world of religious exploration, a world that indeed is pushing the boundaries and creating new maps (maps other than the Bible) maps for our personal journey, a journey of faith that never ends, a journey that never settles, a journey that never arrives, because truth is too elusive, too slippery, too unobtainable.

Well, this morning, as we open God’s Word, we will, thankfully, find none of this postmodern mush for the postmodern mind.  No, today as we look again into 1 John we will hear a message that cuts against the grain of today’s religious pluralism.  For you see instead of pushing the boundaries of Christian theology and ethics, John defines them.  He marks out the marks of faith.  By focusing on the person and works and teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostle gives us an old map with real boundaries, boundaries that cannot be pushed aside if we are to reach the destination of faith’s journey. 

In 2:1-6 John highlights three points of direction, three characteristics of basic biblical Christianity.  In v.1 he talks about who Christ is, in v.2 about what Christ has done, and then in vv.3-6 about what Christ commands.[1]   

 

 

Who Christ Is

 

Now, please open your Bibles with me, and let’s begin with Who Christ Is.  In v.1, John writes, “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.”

 

You may remember the story from the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel about the woman caught in adultery.[2]  The scribes and the Pharisees brought this woman before Jesus in order to test Him, saying, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law of Moses we are commanded to stone such women.  So what do you say?”  Well, our Lord, in His typical fashion offers a brilliant reply, a reply that is faithful to the just and merciful intent of the Law, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.…”  One by one the stones dropped to the ground, and one by one all these ‘righteous’ men walked away.  And then as Jesus stood before this woman, He said, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more.”  And then in the next verse (v.12), Jesus apparently turns to His disciples and says those famous words, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Now, I cannot think of a better cross-reference to illustrate the point of the first verse in First John, Chapter Two.  For in this Gospel story John highlights three things.  First, he highlights the sinfulness of all mankind, from the most pious Pharisee who drops his stone to the abhorrent adulterous, who bows her knee.  Second, John highlights the wideness of God’s mercy in and through Christ’s intercession, a forgiveness that extends even to crimes punishable by death. 

And then third, John highlights Christ’s righteousness (His lightness) and the necessity of those who follow Him to walk in that light, or in His own words, to “sin no more,” to live a life free from the dominion and domination of sin.

Well here in 1 John we find these same three themes in a slightly different order.  First, we have John’s version of Jesus’ “sin no more.”  This is how John begins v.1.  “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  You see, with a mix of fatherly tenderness, pastoral comfort, and apostolic authority, he wants these Christians, his spiritual “children,” those under his elderly oversight, to avoid sin.  Yet, like Jesus, John next recognizes the sinfulness of all mankind, even Christians.  And so He writes of God’s mercy in Christ.  Look at the second half of v.1.  It picks up these two themes, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

So note here the balance.[3]  It is the same balance we find in the story about the woman caught in adultery.  Here we find a serious, realistic, and merciful view of sin.  Sin is evitable but not excusable!  Sin is evitable, not excusable, and yet forgivable!  And our sin, both before our conversion and after our conversion is forgivable because of Jesus’ constant intercession or advocacy, as v.1 illustrates, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”                  

There are nearly two hundred different names used for Jesus in the Old and New Testaments.  We think of titles such as Immanuel, King of Kings, Bread of Life, Alpha and Omega, Man of Sorrows, Root of David, Prince of Peace, Second Adam, Word of Life, Son of Man and Son of God.  Well here Jesus is simply called our “advocate.” 

In the Greek the word is parakletos (paraclete)Now, that is likely a familiar word to us, for we recognize it in reference to the Holy Spirit, who in the Gospel of John functions as Jesus’ paraclete, the one who testifies “in favor of Jesus over against a hostile world.”[4]  Well, here in 1 John, in a similar fashion, “Jesus functions as our parakletos.”[5]  Like a defense attorney in a court of law,[6] Jesus testifies before the throne of God in favor of us over against our sin and its due punishment.  So Jesus is our “advocate.”  And He is, as John points out at the end of v.1, a good one, a righteous one, “the righteous one.” 

 

Now, lawyers today are stereotyped as being selfish crooks.  And of course there is a bit of truth in every stereotype, for sadly some attorneys serve their own interests above that of their client, and some seek, through various legal technicalities, to escape the truth and justice of the law.[7]  Yet, here in our passage, John tells us that we Christians have been assigned “the best defense attorney in the universe,”[8] a lawyer who is perfectly righteous, a man without sin, one who every time we commit a crime against God, selflessly and justly, as Romans 8:34 so beautifully puts it, “pleads” our case.

 

“Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;

The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears. 

Before the throne my Surety stands;

My name is written on His hands.”[9]

It is a tremendous thought to think that Jesus, because of His love for us, died for our sins.  But a far more tremendous thought, I dare say, to know that Jesus “has never lost his interest in, or his love for,” us.[10]  That when upon the cross, He said, “It is finished,” that He was not yet finished with me.  That He was not finished interceding for our sins.  

What Christ Has Done

So, Who is Christ?  He is our “advocate.”  And He has been given this eternal advocacy for our sin on the basis of His work on the cross.  Which is precisely the connection John makes as he moves us from v.1 to v.2.  For there, in v.2, he speaks of What Christ Has Done. 

 

Concerning Jesus, John says (look at v.2), “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

 

You see, here the scene has changed.  We have moved from the courtroom (v.1) into the temple (v.2), from Christ being our advocate “who speaks in our favor in the presence of God despite our sins,” to Christ being the very propitiation or atoning sacrifice for those same sins.[11]  He is the lamb who was slaughtered on the temple altar. 

The Greek word here translated as “propitiation” is used only twice in the New Testament, both in 1 John, here in 2:2 and then again in 4:10.  This word, as used in other ancient Greek texts, usually has to do with “the removal of God’s wrath.”  Now, there is certainly a sense of that here in our text.  However, if we looked at 4:10 and then back at 2:2, we would see that this word “propitiation” has something to do with Jesus sacrificing Himself for our “sins” in order to secure God’s mercy,[12] a mercy, as John goes on to say, that is as wide as the world.

Now look at the second half of v.2.  Here we find a statement that challenges Calvinists such as myself.  If I was the writer of this Epistle, I would have been content stopping with the first phrase, simply stating that Christ is “the propitiation for our sins”- the sins of the church.  But John doesn’t share my conservatism.  He goes on to say “and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 

 

Now, I don’t want to spend too much time wrangling about this verse.  For this verse is not as difficult as theologians make it out to be.  Here’s the gist of it.  Here’s how you should think about it. 

John loves talking about the bigness of the Cross event.  Do you remember what is said in his Gospel, in 1:29 where John the Baptist says of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world,” or in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son…” or John 12:32, where Jesus says of His death, “And when I am lifted up … I will draw all people unto myself.” 

 

Now, here in 1 John 2:2 John again has the whole world in view, but not in a universalistic sense, but rather in a sufficiency sense.  “The phrase the whole world relates not to every creature God has made….  The word whole describes the world in its totality, not necessarily in its individuality.”[13]  So, this verse is not saying that all people will be saved by Christ’s death whether they believe or not; for we know that such a reading contradicts the whole of Scripture, not to mention what John himself goes on to write in 2:19-23.  Instead what is taught here is that Jesus’ death was and is sufficient to deal with everybody’s sin, every person in the world who comes to Him in faith.

So, here John tells us that in Christ’s death there is a universal offer.  So, if you are sitting here this morning, saying to yourself, “Jesus couldn’t have died for me.  I’m too insignificant.  Or I’m too sinful.”[14]  Well then, this verse tells you that you are wrong.  It tells us to cheer-up.  It tells us that the cross is great enough to cover everyone, and that its benefits can be enjoyed by all who embrace the saving work of Christ.[15]    

What Christ Commands

Now, I call those first two verses, words of comfort.  For it is comforting to know that Jesus stands in our place, that through His death and intercession He was and is our advocate.  But… don’t get too comfortable, for God’s Word is about to make us squirm in our seats.  For if vv.1-2 are words of comfort, then I think (for many of us) we will find vv.3-6 to be words of conviction.  For you see in the first two verses John addresses topics we are familiar with.  He talks about Who Christ Is and What Christ Has Done.  But then in vv.3-6 he shifts his attention to a topic that often misses our religious radar.  Here he shifts from Christ’s advocacy to Christ’s example.  And here he focuses on What Christ Commands:  Who Christ is (v.1), What Christ Has Done (v.2), and now finally, What Christ Commands (vv.3-6). 

The last time we studied 1 John we looked at the message, “God is light.”  And we began to address the issue of what it means to walk in that light, saying (if you recall) that the one who walks in this light first acknowledges, confesses, and repents of sin.  Well, here in chapter 2, we receive further clarification on the content of this calling.  In vv.1-2 we learn that the one who walks in the light embraces the advocacy of Christ made available through Christ’s death.  And, then in vv.3-6 we learn (or we will learn) that the one who walks in the light follows Christ’s example and keeps Christ’s commands

Starting in v.3, John writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.  By this we may be sure that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” 

First John is a book about assurance.  In fact, there is no other book in the whole Bible that deals more with this theme, this theme of knowing whether or not you are a Christian.  In this little Epistle, the verb “to know” and its derivatives are used nearly forty times.  And the first of those occurrences is in our text.

Now, in the text before us we have the first mention of this great theme.  Just look at the language used here.  Look at the start of v.3.  “And by this we know that we have come to know him….” And then peak again at the second half of v.5.  “And by this we may be sure that we are in him.”   

 

Well this all sounds very good, doesn’t it?  “How wonderful,” you might say, “to know if we have come to know him.  How wonderful to be sure that we are in Him.”  Yet, I want you to note the John’s litmus test of genuine Christian discipleship is far removed from many of our common perceptions and perspectives.

For the first 19 years of my life I was a Roman Catholic.  And then for the past 14 years I have been a Protestant Evangelical.  So I have witnessed first hand, in two very different camps, how professing Christians most often deal with this issue of assurance.  The Catholics, on the one hand, lean on their baptism and/or some other objective means, like the existence and status of the organized Church.  So, if I asked the average Catholic if they were a Christian or not, most would say they were.  And then if I asked them why, or what makes them so sure, they would respond saying something about being a member of or being baptized into the one true church.   

Now, Protestant Evangelicals, on the other hand, respond in a different way.  That is, if I asked the average Evangelical if he is a Christian he would confidently say he is.  And then if I asked him why, or what makes him so sure, he would take me back to that moment in time in which he “let Jesus into his heart”- the time he made a profession of faith by walking an aisle or signing a card or what have you. 

Now, while the typical Catholic response is objective and the typical Evangelical response is subjective, sadly both fail to acknowledge the best biblical means by which we find assurance.  So, yes the Bible addresses baptism and conversation.  But neither of these means is highlighted as being the surest means of our assurance.  Instead, what is found (and thus what is to be our perspective on this matter) is that assurance is almost exclusively related to obedience, and certainly that is the case throughout 1 John.       

Now, look with me again at vv.3-6, so that you know I’m not making this up.  Here, John introduces us to two types of people, the talker and the walker.  This ‘talker’ is depicted and defamed in v.4.  “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  So, this person is the professing Christian who extols knowledge at the expense of obedience to Christ’s commands.[16] 

A number of years ago some liberal theologians gathered together to agree upon and advocate what they called a “new morality”.  Now, just as many of them came to an agreement that morality should now be free from any and all traditional rules and regulations, one of the men objected, saying, “But there must be some guidelines.”  Well, this objection led to further discussion in which they then together granted that there was one and only one acceptable guideline, namely love (generically defined)- any act was allowed so long as it did not hurt anyone. 

Now, while the discussion was proceeding along these lines, one of the more conservative liberals (they do exist) became very quiet, so quiet that it became overwhelmingly noticeable.  The others turned to him and asked, “Don’t you agree that the only limiting factor in any ethical decision is love?”  To which he replied, “Well, didn’t Jesus say, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’” (John 14:15)?[17]

Now, sadly, what was then called the “new morality” is now simply called morality.  But John reminds us, just as Jesus did, that morality has its definition in the teachings, in the commandments of Jesus Christ; and that authentic discipleship defines itself not on the basis of a confident affirmation, “I know Jesus,” but on a humble submission to the revealed will of God.

And that’s why John next places before our eyes the image, not of the ‘talker’, but of the ‘walker,’ of the one whose actions speak louder than his words!  Just look again at v.3, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”  And look then at v.5 and v.6, “… whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected [made complete].  By this we may be sure that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

 

Notice those strong action verbs, “we keep,” “whoever keeps” and “we ought to walk.”[18]  To John “the true knowledge of God is essentially personal and practical.”[19]  It “is experiential, not speculative and abstract.”[20]  It involves keeping and walking.  It involves a present reaction, a kind of continual reflex to the will and ways of God.  It is not “a one-time enlightenment, but rather a past experience with ongoing present consequences.”[21]  So, just as James, in the second chapter of his Epistle, says, “show me your faith” through your good works.  So here John says, “show me your faith through your obedience to Christ’s commandments.”

Think for a moment about the Great Commission, that Commission that we find at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that is so often cited as the impetus or motivation for evangelism, and yet ironically its’ precise commands are rarely heeded.  There are four verbs in the Great Commission (verbs which tell us what we are to do).  We are to “go”.  We are “to make disciples”.  We are to “baptize”.  And, what then is the last command of this Commission?  We are to “teach,” we are to teach these new disciples.  What?  What are we to teach them?  We are to teach them all that Christ has “commanded”.

 

Now, I honestly think today that the church does not even know many of Christ’s commandments, let alone teach them.  Just think for a moment on your religious education.  Did anyone ever go through all of Jesus’ commandments with you, teach them to you, and then emphasize their importance?  You know, this is not some obscure point of theology.  This is the A, B, C’s.  This is simply the Great Commission.      

In the Gospels, I counted nearly forty different commands.  Other scholars list over fifty.  And then if we took all the interpretations and applications of Christ’s teachings as given by His apostles, His commands would total around one hundred; commands that cover categories such as our relationship to God, Jesus, neighbor, and household, as well as our personal character, that is, what we are to think, say, and do.

Now, whatever John had in mind when he wrote about keeping Christ’s commandments, we know that he had Jesus’ own summary of all the Bible’s commandments in mind, because both in the immediate context as well as throughout this Book the command to “love” is emphasized.  So, if, for example, you look at the verses that follow (2:7-11), there we find this theme.  And then if you looked throughout 1 John you would see 14 different times this direct command “to love” is mentioned (2:10; 3:10,11,14,16,18,23; 4:7-8, 11-12, 16, 19-21). 

So, as professing Christians we should keep all of Jesus’ teachings in mind, but in all these, we are above all to put on love. We are to love God and love others.  For indeed they will know we are Christians by our love.  But so will we!  We are to keep Christ’s commandments!

Now, I think I have heard a thousand times in sermons on the Great Commandments a thousand escape clauses.  You know, something like, “Yes, we are to love God and others we all we are and have, yet oh how we fail, oh how impossible a task this is, oh how we cannot possible come close even for a minute, oh how terribly wretched we are that not one thought is good enough for God….” 

Now, I must say, I was tempted to take these verses in this way.  To say, “Yes we are to obey.  But ‘no’ we cannot obey.  And so thank God Christ has obeyed.”  Sounds like a good sermon, doesn’t it?  But is this the right way to understand what is said here?  I mean are we really expected to keep commandments, whether it is Moses’ or Christ’s?  Well, if we go back to vv.1-2, we might think the answer is “no,” for there we are clearly told that we are not to sin and yet we do sin, and thus we need an advocate, namely Christ, to be our righteousness before God.  So, if we just had these first two verses we could conclude that we are not expected to keep these commands because Christ has kept them for us.

But, you know, such logic would make sense if v.6 didn’t exist.  But it does exist.  And in v.6, we find this call: that we are “to walk in the same way in which he [Christ] walked.”  So, yes, Jesus is our advocate, our righteous advocate, because we are truly unrighteous.  Yet, Jesus is also our example.  He is our advocate and our example.

But, of course, we need to be careful here.  For what does it mean that we ought to walk in the same way as Jesus walked?  Does it mean we walk on water?  Does it mean we choose twelve disciples?  Does it mean we perform great miracles?  Does it mean we die upon a cross?  Well, of course not!  We cannot walk in the same exact way[22] or for the same exact purpose or with the same results.  We are not miracle workers.  And if we were our miracles would have no Messianic significance.  And yes we will surely die.  But our death will save no people from their sins.  So, we are not called here to merely and precisely copy Christ’s life.  So what then are we called to do?

I would imagine we are all familiar, whether it is in sticker, pin, or bracelet form, with the acronym, WWJD, which stands for What Would Jesus Do?  Now, there is good and bad associated with this slogan.  The bad is that takes away from Christ’s unique work as the unique Son of God.  And it can lead one to speculate on what one imagines Jesus doing a particular contemporary circumstance, rather than focusing on God’s revealed will in Scripture.  Thus, in light of this misuse some Christian leaders have suggested it be replaced by WDJD, What Did Jesus Do! 

Yet, the good aspect of this campaign is that it points out our calling to be Christ-like.  And this calling is issued often in the New Testament.  We think, for example, of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2, where, using the example of Christ’s humility, he calls Christians to unity, service, and meekness.  Or we think of Paul’s invitation in 1 Corinthians 11:1, where he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  So think of v.6 in this way:  In the way Jesus was morally obedient to the Father, and in the way Jesus loved the lost and the needy, so we are to imitate Christ, “to walk in the same way.”

 

Conclusion

 

In John’s day, like our own, the church was full of pious slogans.  People were saying, “I know him,” “I live in him,” “I am in the light.”  But here John, similar to James, knows that “a man’s words must be tested by his works,”[23] and he knows that “no religious experience is valid if it does not have moral consequences.”[24]  A true personal relationship with God, a saving relationship, expresses itself “not in sentimental language or mystical experience but in moral obedience.”[25] 

So, God in His kind providence has brought you here this morning to ask you a few important questions:  Does your walk back your talk?  Are you known to God and to others as one who is obedient to Christ’s commandments?[26]  Is your life characterized by growth in godliness, by a striving for Christ-likeness?   

John Newton, the converted slave-trader, who became a minister of the gospel, said of himself, “I am not what I ought to be; but I am not what I once was.  And it is by the grace of God that I am what I am.”[27]  Well, can you say that of yourself?  Are you different than you once were?  Is your life characterized by obedience to Christ’s commandments?[28]

Jesus is our advocate.  Jesus is our example.  Do you know if you know Him?  I pray you do.  Amen.

Prayer:  Lord, we thank you this morning that Jesus is indeed both our advocate and our example.  And we ask that you would help us to know that we are yours by the obedience you have wrought in our lives, obedience to the commandments of Christ.  Lord, we thank you for the good news of the gospel, and we ask that you would help us to life lives worthy of that same gospel.  We ask this in the name of our Advocate and Example, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Benediction:  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor. 5:14-15).  May we indeed die to sin and live for Christ!  Amen.

 


----

[1] See Jackman

[2] Recorded in John 8:3-11

[3] See Stott, 79.

[4] Kruse, 72.

[5] Kruse, 72.

[6] Although it is squawked at today in various theological circles, God’s Word tells us it is appropriate to envision, with each and every sin, a kind of courtroom scene.  So, “Picture a court of law in which the guilty party is summoned to appear.  The sinner needs a court-appointed lawyer to represent him.  God, who is the plaintiff, appoints his Son to be the intercessor for and the helper of the defendant.”[6] 

[7] See Boice, 39.

[8] Barton, 29.

[9] Charles Wesley.

[10] Barclay, 38.

[11] Kruse, 73.

[12] Note that “sins” is mentioned twice.

[13] See Kistemaker, 253.

[14] Martin Luther thought of these verse in this way when wrote of it, “You, too, are part of the world, so that your heart cannot deceive itself and think, ‘The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me.’” 

[15] Stott, 74.

[16] Kistemaker, 257.

[17] In Boice (reworded).

[18] “Brown argues convincingly that this verb means more than observance.  Its use in the LXX and elsewhere implies duration and perseverance: to observe diligently, to guard carefully, to suddenly realize a truth- and to protect it” (In Burge, 98)

[19] Boice, 46.

[20] Burge, 97.

[21] Burge, 97.

[22] “Earlier he had set the light of God before us as an example.  Now he calls us also to Christ to imitate him” (Calvin in Boice, 49)

[23] Stott, 90.

[24] Stott, 90.

[25] Stott, 91; “No amount of clearness or strength in the experience itself can guarantee its validity….. [it must be confirmed by] an ethical quality” (C.H. Dodd in Boice, 50)

[26] See Burge, 105.

[27] In Jackman, 43.

[28] “This does not mean, of course, that those who know God will never fail to obey God’s commands, but rather that those who know God will not be characterized by disobedience to his commands” (Kruse, 79).

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