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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.—1 John 2:1-2
In Job 9:33, (part of our read-through-the-Bible plan today) we read, “There is no abitrater between us, who might lay his hand on us both….” Job did not realize the mediating work of Jesus Christ, but we have the benefit of ALL of the Bible, and we KNOW that Jesus is our wonderful advocate!
Verse 1b says, “And if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” But someone may ask, “If in the death of Christ our sins have all been covered, why do we need an advocate before God? If God’s wrath has been averted in Christ, why do we need the Son of God to be an attorney for us in heaven?”
Ah, but that is the wrong way to ask the question. We should ask, “Since Christ has died for us, and has propitiated the wrath of God, and has been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and now stands before God in heaven, what has he become for us?” Not: Why does he need to be there? But since he is there, how shall we understand his present work for us in heaven?
And if you put together verses 1 and 2, surely the answer is that Christ is our attorney and his portfolio is his propitiation. He stands before his Father in heaven, and every time we sin, he doesn’t make a new propitiation. He doesn’t die again and again. Instead he opens his portfolio and lays the exhibits of Good Friday on the bench before the Judge. Photographs of the crown of thorns, the lashing, the mocking soldiers, the agonies of the cross, and the final cry of victory: It is finished.
The advocacy of Christ and the propitiation of Christ are part of one saving work, because the portfolio of Christ the advocate is Christ the propitiator. What he pleads on our behalf in heaven is the ongoing effects of his own death.
And John means for this double role of Christ to keep us from despairing when we fall into sin. We dare not say that we have no sin (1:8). But if we cannot claim to live sinless lives, then the only thing that can keep us from despairing before a holy God is that we have an advocate in heaven and he pleads our case not on the basis of our perfection but of his propitiation.
John’s aim is that we not sin. His strategy to free us from sin is that unique biblical combination of warning and consolation, threat and promise, caution and encouragement. Tough and tender—just like his Master. We need to hear about the ominous danger of living in sin. And we need to hear the unspeakable good news that Christ our advocate has removed the wrath of God from those who trust in him. The warning guards us against presumption and instills vigiliance in the Christian walk. The consolation guards us against despair and instills the courage of hope. And vigilant hope in God is the power that overcomes sin.