1 John 2:1-6.
The Fruit of Grace

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2015, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


John, the last of the living Apostles, was one of the most highly regarded members of the Christian community as he shared the love of Jesus Christ from his home in Ephesus, following his release from exile from the Isle of Patmos.  The community of Christians in Ephesus was formed shortly after new Christians had returned home from the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The community was visited by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys which concluded with a three-year stay.  This served to form a large and well-established Christian community. 

It may be instructive to note that John wrote the Revelation during this period of time, and it was most likely written before the three epistles since his Revelation took place in Patmos and he would have desired to write everything as soon as possible.  Ephesus is well-known as one of the seven churches that are mentioned in the first two chapters as having received personal messages with most of them illuminating some of the ways the churches were becoming increasingly unfaithful to the LORD.  The church in Ephesus is praised for its patience as it works to reject those who practice evil.[1]  However, the LORD also reveals that the church had “lost its first love,” meaning that their love for the LORD was ebbing, compromised for their love of this world.

This is the environment into which John writes.  Heretics have been introducing destructive doctrines that reject the deity of Christ and the need for forgiveness.  John wrote this letter to the churches to encourage them and remind them of the truth.  Knowing the truth, they will not be tempted to listen to the false gospels, and will be able to stand firm against the evil that they are working to resist.

One of the concerns that were being addressed by the heretics involved the voracity of sin in a Christian’s life.  The hypocrisy of the Jerusalem Jews was felt by all of them, knowing in their hearts that they were not keeping all of the law, yet they professed to do so, and by so doing they proclaimed a form of righteousness.  Christians can face the same dilemma if their understanding of grace is incomplete.  As people of faith, they strive to live lives that are obedient to the LORD, yet they still commit sin.  At the end of the first chapter of this epistle, John states that anyone, and this includes both the saved and the unsaved, who declares that they are without sin is a liar.  He also stated that to do so makes God a liar since it is God who has defined the means of salvation:  forgiveness of sin in exchange for faith and trust in Him.  The battle with sin does not end when one turns to the LORD in faith.  It is then that the battle really starts.  It is then that the Christian, in response to their love for the LORD and seeking obedience in Him, that the desire of the heart is to repent, or turn away from, sin.  Still, we are people of free choice, and the temptation is always there to choose sin, and though we may aim for the bull’s eye of the target of perfection, we always miss the mark.  It is this dilemma that John addresses as he continues his teaching about sin.

1 John 2:1.  My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

John reveals a little of himself in this verse.  His humility is evident through all of his writings, and references to himself are rare.  This should serve to highlight the importance of what John is presenting.  He first uses an endearing reference to his readers as “my little children.”  Certainly, John is rather aged compared with many to whom he writes, but this reference has more to do with spiritual age and experience than chronological age.  John is certainly in a position to refer to the church as his children, as he would feel much like a father to many of them, particularly those who are young in the faith and struggling in their understanding of the truth.

In this statement, John reveals one of the reasons why he is writing this letter: that it would serve to help the Christian community deal with their struggle with sin.  Often we make the error of taking a few words by themselves and ignore the other words around them.  In this example, if we stop at “that ye sin not” we can come away with an heresy that states that is it possible for a Christian to stop sinning altogether.  John has already stated that anyone who proclaims that they are without sin is a liar, and makes God out to be a liar.  Therefore, there is more going on here than a simple few words.  Furthermore the next phrase begins a discussion on the remedy for that sin that God has provided.

A better way to understand the “that ye sin not” is to render the Greek as, “that you not practice sin.”  To the lost, sin is a basic lifestyle with few boundaries, and those are determined by the local human culture.  It is these who practice sin.  The mark of a Christian is a desire not to sin, so Christians do not “practice” sin.  Still, however, people of faith, as much as they may try still “miss the mark.”  Though they take aim at a lifestyle of perfection, they miss the “bull’s eye.”  However, the LORD is pleased when we try, and has provided a remedy when we would miss:  advocacy.

The idea of advocacy is largely a metaphor.  Salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ, so Jesus is the source of forgiveness.  When we face the eternal God in judgment people of faith are not condemned for their sin because of their faith in God through the work of Jesus, the Messiah, YAHWEH.  In this way, Jesus could literally say, “He is one of mine.”

1 John 2:2.  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

Many misunderstand this verse simply because the word that is rendered, “propitiation” is unfamiliar to many.  To propitiate is simply to gain the favor of another by doing something that pleases them.  This term is often confused with expiate, which is to pay the penalty for having committed a crime.  Consequently we find both terms used to describe the atoning act of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary.  In this context, the word refers to the nature of Jesus, Christ and the work of advocacy that He performs for those who have faith and trust in God.  As Jesus, the human incarnation of YAHWEH, Jehovah, the Son of God, He found favor with the Father with whom He is in a familial relationship.[2]  As the One who is fully man and fully God, Jesus serves as a form of intermediary between God and man.  By His submission to death on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for the sins of all who place their faith in God (expiation) and now serves as a Priest who brings the faithful before the throne of grace, free of the condemnation for sin, a people who love the LORD.  Through His work of advocacy, God refers to His people as His “delight” (propitiation).[3]

John also notes that God’s offer of grace is open to all people, not a select few, or a select race.  Many in the early church held that God’s favor was only offered to the ancestors of Abraham, holding for themselves a special place in God’s favor.  The voracity and application of God’s grace has never changed since man was first created as a living, spiritual, soul.  God always promised to bring to Himself those who had faith in Him.  God used Israel in a very special way as He used the faith of Abraham to establish a relationship with him that would continue in the remnant of ancestors that also maintained faith in God.  It was through Israel that God’s purpose of grace was introduced to the world.  It was through Israel that Jesus would be born, and the Messiah would bless the world.  Though God used Israel to reveal Himself, the revelation was to the whole world, and His offer of forgiveness for those who place their faith and trust in Him is given to all people of every “family, tribe, nation, and tongue.”[4]

John 2:3.  And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

Another of the reasons that John wrote this letter was to restore the faithful people’s confidence in their salvation.  John’s repetition of this theme throughout the letter indicates that there was an influence within the Ephesian fellowships that was working to make its faithful members doubt the voracity of their salvation.  If one can get a Christian to doubt their salvation, they have the opportunity to control them with an heretical doctrine that promises remedies for their plight.  Even today there are those who will use this same methodology to exercise power over others.  John states that we can “know that we know Him.”  The Greek word that is rendered “know” in the first instance refers to a complete and thorough knowledge.  One could accurately translate this word, as “know for certain.”  The second word that is rendered “know” is a little different, as it refers to the intimate knowledge that one has of another in a close, intimate, relationship.  John is going to describe a few things that serve to help us have confidence in our relationship with God so that any seeds of doubt could be removed.

The first that John describes as indicators that one has a relationship with the LORD is the keeping of His commandments.  If we understand that the greatest of the commandments is to love the LORD we can embrace a deeper understanding of this phrase.  If one truly loves the LORD, they will seek to be obedient to Him, and by so doing, the voracity of their profession of faith is proven.  However, if one does not love the LORD, they would replace their profession with an attempt to do good works and keep the law.  However, this approach to salvation is simply powerless since the most important law is broken: to love the LORD.

Consequently, John is not saying that we know that we know God because we work to be obedient to a book of law.  We know that we know God because our lives demonstrate a desire for obedience that comes from the heart because of our love for Him.  If your love for the LORD is sincere, you have no reason to doubt your salvation.

1 John 2:4.  He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

Some have argued that it is not possible to identify whether another individual is a person of faith or not.  This concept of occult faith is not a biblical teaching.  There are some circumstances that serve to demonstrate the true testimony of an individual.  We have just learned that when one demonstrates a true love of the LORD and seeks to follow Him in obedience, their testimony of salvation is defensible.   The contrary testimony is also true.  If one professes to be a person of faith, but their lives are devoid of any evidence of their sincere love for the LORD, and their desire to be obedient to Him, their testimony is open to debate.  John makes no debate:  he simply states that one who testifies faith, but does not demonstrate any fruit of the Spirit by their denial of demonstrated love, is a liar.  Either they are deliberately giving a false testimony, or their testimony is ignorant of the true nature of grace.  In either case, their testimony should be rejected as false.

1 John 1:5.  But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

Bringing the argument full-circle, John returns to the logos, the Word.  We often refer to the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, as the Word of God, and such a reference is quite accurate in that in its content, the Word of God is revealed.  However, the logos concept goes beyond the text of the Bible.[5]  God reveals His will and His purpose to people of faith in many ways, and one of the most important ways is through the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  God promised that He would put His Word, His logos, into the heart of the believer.[6] 

The first part of this verse should not be missed:  the idea behind keeping the word carries the idea of embracing it deep in the heart, consistent with God’s promise concerning the logos.  Something that is kept in this manner is cherished and protected.  It becomes the center of one’s being.  The sincerity of one’s love for the LORD is demonstrated by this form of embrace of the Word of God, and as John has already stated, one can be absolutely confident, sure of the voracity of their faith when they know this embrace to be true.

This is God’s purpose for all people, a purpose that is made complete when one embraces the Word in their heart.  The word rendered, “perfected” had a broader meaning in Old English than it does today.  We tend to think that something is made perfect by removing every blemish.  We are looking for a perfect score.  For us, something is perfect only when it cannot be made to be better.  However, the Greek term that is rendered “perfected” refers to a process whereby something is continually being made more and more complete with a goal of final completion.  John is simply stating that the presence of the logos in the heart of the believer serves to make our love for God complete.  It serves to establish a love relationship between the believer and God.

John then returns to the encouraging statement that, we can know that we are “in Him” when the Word of God is in our heart.  It is the Word of God in one’s heart that is the foundation of faith, and a strong foundation can withstand considerable buffeting.  If one is trying to convince us that our faith is in vain, we can know that their accusation is totally false when our love of the LORD and our embrace of His word is sincere.   

1 John 2:6.  He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

How should our lives be different when we embrace the Word of God in our hearts?  We have already been instructed that a person of faith seeks to “keep His commandments.”  Obedience to the LORD is characterized by one’s submitting all of their choices to the will of God.  His will is first that we love Him and love one another.  We might be reminded of Jesus’ words:

John 13:34-35.  A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

A life that is lived in love engages a fulfilling that is available in no other way, and empowered through no other source than the Holy Spirit.  When one is living a life that is submitted to the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit all of their choices are informed by Him.  John refers to our “walk” as the content and character of our behavior.  We walk through our day engaging others, making decisions, expressing and entertaining our desires, and exercising our talents and gifts.  The true nature of our soul is demonstrated by the way we “walk” in this way.

John has stated that when one embraces the Word of God in their heart, they abide in Him.  John also states that when one embraces the Word of God in their heart, their walk should mimic the walk of Jesus Christ.

Charles M. Sheldon wrote a classic text, In His Steps, in which he narrates the experience of a group of people who committed to model their lives after Jesus Christ.  In 1993 Garrett W. Sheldon and Deborah Morris wrote a contemporary retelling of the story entitled, What Would Jesus Do.  This was a significant impetus for a movement that followed, a call for obedience that was illustrated in the commercial sale of WWJD bracelets and other objects that would remind people to ask the question prior to making a decision.  It would be reasonable for us to observe this passage and be satisfied to apply it by simply stating that we can walk as Jesus walked if we always ask “What would Jesus Do.”

However, the context and intent of this passage goes far beyond “WWJD.”  Taken at face value, WWJD brings us back to the law from which people of faith have been set free.  Obedience is not measuring our behavior by the standard of what we know about Jesus:  obedience is following the Word of God that is in our hearts, and communicated by the Holy Spirit.  Walking as Jesus walked is simply the fruit of our love of the LORD; it is the fruit of God’s grace.  One does not need to stop and ask, “What would Jesus do.”  One simply needs to ask, “How can I please the LORD in what I do?”  It is a miracle of God’s grace that people who still struggle with sin even have the privilege of asking such a question.  It is only through Jesus Christ that we can approach God and seek to please Him.  This is how Jesus is the propitiation of our sin. 

John is seeking to teach the early church how to recognize a true, faithful Christian when the church is being attacked by heretics.  He has shown that true faith is demonstrated by a life that testifies to the faith by the very core of their nature, a core that is submitted to the LORD and embraces His word in their hearts. 

Rather than use this information as a tool to recognize heretics, as it certainly does, John’s teaching serves to encourage the faithful by declaring that their faith is real when the fruit of grace is present in their lives.  This can cause every person of faith to examine their own commitment to the LORD. 

The core idea in these verses is that a person of faith embraces the Word of God in their heart.  The first commandment of that Word is to love the LORD and to love one another.  If that love is sincere, our lives are radically changed as we seek to life a life that is submitted to that word.

In these few verses John states that,

All of this is possible because of God’s grace.  When we fully understand that the Creator of this universe has reached down and accepted us, complete with all our sins and shortcomings, we can begin to understand the power of His grace.  When we have turned to Him in faith and embraced His Word in our hearts, we can be confident in the surety of our salvation, and be free to praise Him and worship Him, thanking Him for His love for us, a love that would provide a path of forgiveness for us: the atonement of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.  When we have turned to Him in faith and embraced His Word in our hearts, our lives will demonstrate the fruit of His grace in all that we do.  Consequently, not only can we be confident in our salvation, we can express the fruit of grace with confidence.  Then we are free to let His light shine through us so that others can see Him work through us, and glorify God.[7]


[1] Revelation 2:2-4.

[2] Matthew 3:16; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34.

[3] Isaiah 65:19.

[4] Revelation 5:9.

[5] We may be reminded that the fellowships to whom John writes considered the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament to be the full canon of Holy Scripture.

[6] Jeremiah 31:33, cited in Hebrews 8:10, 10:16.

[7] Matthew 5:16.

.

 

[1] A.E. Brooke.  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles.  New York, NY:  Scribner’s.  ii-iv.

[2] Daniel L. Akin. “1,2,3 John.”  The New American Commentary.  Nashville, TN:  Broadman & Holman Publishers.  2001.  p. 35. 

[3] John 1:1.

[4] John 1:14.

[5] Juhn 19:36. 20:2, 21:7, 21:20.rr

[6] YAHWEH and Jehovah are one and the same.  The name “Jehovah” is simply the English rendering of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name, “YAHWEH.”  This is evident if we pronounce YAHWEH in the original Hebrew, where the “Y” sound is replaced by the newer “J” sound, and the “W” sound is replaced by the “V” sound.  The name of YAHWEH is pronounced “Iehovah.”

[7] Ibid., Akin, p. 57.