The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©



'My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 'and he is the expiation for our sins; and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world' (2:1, 2).

In the last few verses we have read that no one can truly say that he has no sin in his life (1:8) or that he has never sinned (1:10). If we all have so much sin in us, and if God is so willing to forgive us (1:9) does this mean that sin does not matter very much? We must never say or think that. Sin is as opposed to God as darkness is to light (1:5-6). If we love God and want to walk with Him, we must hate sin. John says as he writes this to those whom he loves as his own 'little children', that the purpose of his writing, and in fact the purpose of all his work for them, was that they might walk in the ways of God. If we love God and want to live in fellowship with Him, we should not want sin to have any place in our lives. Yet we do fail, every day. So what John says in these verses is a comfort to us, as it was for those who first read this letter. If we sin, God has provided for the forgiveness of our sins. This is described in two ways in these verses, and we need to study them carefully to understand them properly.

a. Jesus Christ is our Advocate

The word translated 'advocate' means 'one called alongside'. The advocate is one called alongside of us to help us. Jesus was like that to His disciples when He was with them on earth, alongside of them to help and strengthen and encourage them. Then when He was about to leave them, He said that though He went away from them, He would send to them another Advocate, the Holy Spirit. We read His words in John 14:16, 26 and 15:26 and 16:7 (R.S.V. translates the word in these verses as 'Counsellor', but the word is the same one that is here in this verse translated 'Advocate'). We have the Holy Spirit as our Advocate now, our Strengthener, our Guide, alongside of us, in our lives. But we also have Jesus Christ as our Advocate 'with the Father'. He is the One who pleads our cause, the One by Whom we come to God, just as a lawyer (often called an 'Advocate') pleads the cause of the guilty person in court. The New Testament in other places says that He 'intercedes for us' (Romans 8:34 and see Hebrews 7:25 and 1 Timothy 2:5).

It is also important to notice that John speaks of Him here as 'Jesus Christ the righteous'. He might have said 'Jesus Christ the merciful', but there was a special reason for his speaking of Him as 'righteous'. God could have simply set aside and forgiven our sins with a word. But then it could have seemed as if our sins did not matter very much to Him. But our sin does matter. It grieves Him and provokes Him to righteous anger. It does endless harm to others as well as to ourselves. It spoils the world that He has made. We must see it as rebellion against Him. Sin cannot be set aside lightly. In Old Testament days the people were taught this, in the way that they had to bring an animal 'without blemish' to sacrifice because of their sins. This showed them the seriousness of their sin in God's sight, and it prepared them for the time when God would send His own Son, to live among us as sinless, 'without blemish', and then give Himself to die as a sacrifice for our sins. It matters very much that our Advocate is called 'Jesus Christ the righteous'. Only such a Person could bring us back to the Father.

b. He is the propitiation for our sins.

John says that 'Jesus Christ the righteous' is 'the expiation for our sins' as the R.S.V. puts it, or, as other translations have it, 'the propitiation for our sins'. The Good News Bible translates this, 'Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven'. We need, however, to look at this a little more closely. Both words 'expiation' and 'propitiation' are difficult words. What do they mean? 'Expiation' means the taking away of the guilt of our sin (the wrong we have done and all the ways that affects us), and it is certainly true that this is what Jesus did in dying for us. 'Propitiation' means the taking away of the anger or wrath of God on account of our sins. This also is true. We do not think of propitiating or satisfying an angry God in the way that some religions and cults think. They think of the anger of the god as something that cannot be explained, but a person must offer sacrifices to propitiate or satisfy him. The Bible does not teach anything like this. But it does teach that God cares so much, and He hates sin so much, that our sin provokes His righteous anger. Our Lord Jesus Christ when He was on earth was moved with anger when he saw the 'hardness of heart' of Jews who professed to be religious people, and whose rules about keeping the Sabbath mattered more to them than that a man with a withered hand should be healed (see Mark 3:1-6). He was moved with anger when He saw the temple court used as a market, and even for dishonest trade, instead of it being able to be a place of prayer (see Mark 11:15-17). So our sin, in the way it affects others, affects ourselves and the whole purpose of God, causes the righteous anger of God. Sin cannot be taken away lightly. When we think of God, we must think of His love and mercy, and also His purity and holiness. Because God is holy and pure, man's sins must be borne and cannot be set aside. To do this, He gave His Son to die for us, and Jesus Christ gave Himself to bear our sins and to make possible our forgiveness. In the way we have explained it, we may say that He is the expiation and the propitiation for our sins.

Jesus has done all this 'not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.' 'God so loved the world' - not just you and me, but 'the world' (John 3:16). 'The Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world' (4:14). His love reaches out to people of every race. If we know His love like that, we have the privilege and duty of taking His love to others, whether to the person next door to us, or to people at the other end of the world. Everybody should know, and He has trusted us with the task of seeing that everybody in the world does know.


Lord, the sins and failures of our lives have caused sorrow and disappointment to others, and have grieved and provoked You. We thank You for Your love and patience and mercy in giving Your Son to die for us, and that now He is at Your side as our Advocate. We come to You through Him, humble and thankful. We pray that Your forgiving love may be in our hearts so that we may tell it out and show it out to others that they, too, may come to You in their need and find forgiveness and life through Your Son Jesus Christ. AMEN

For further thought and study.

  1. Note New Testament passages which emphasise that our Lord Jesus Christ was righteous and without sin in God's sight (Matthew 27:19, Luke 23:14, 47, John 8:46, Acts 7:52 and 22:14). Study the passages which indicate why it was necessary for Him to be without sin, so as to give Himself as a sacrifice, to bear our sins and make possible our forgiveness. See especially 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, Romans 3:21-26, Hebrews 7:23-28, 9:22-26, and 1 Peter 2:22-25.
  2. How can we best do what we ought to do in seeing that the good news of Him who died 'for the sins of the whole world' is told out in the whole world?