The Forgiveness of Sin

September 19th, 2010 Apostle’s Creed Series 1 John 2:1-12

1 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.

2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:

6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.

8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.

10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.

11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.[1]

The Apostle’s Creed is an essential aid to our faith. It quickly teaches new converts what to believe and what to confess as Christians. I have gone so far in my assertions to suggest that no one deserves the title Christian who does not hold the doctrines taught in the Creed.

One of those essential doctrines is that we can be forgiven our sin. I would assume we all know that we need our sins forgiven. We can’t fix our relationship with God by trying to be good.

In fact, attempting to approach God with the fruit of our good works makes us no better than Cain. Trying to be good enough to get into heaven shows a lack of respect for the holiness of God and a lack of humble faith in the work of Jesus on the cross. Trying to be good enough to get into heaven is a terrible sin. We need forgiveness, not a ten step plan for eternal rehabilitation.

And our sin makes us the enemy of God. The Devil sinned and became God’s enemy. Our sin makes us the opponent of God. Sin holds back the expansion of the His kingdom. Our sin puts us in the Devil’s family: judged, condemned and on a path toward eternal destruction in Hell, a place originally designed and built for the Devil and his angels. How dangerous to be God’s enemy!

But the Apostle’s Creed reminds us that the Gospel promises forgiveness in Christ. We don’t have to remain God’s enemy. We can be resurrected out of our spiritual death into the righteous life of our Savior Jesus Christ. And with forgiveness we become family; we become the friends of God.

So how do we know if we are God’s enemy or God’s friend?

Verse 3 begins to answer that question. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. The word keep doesn’t mean a perfect performance of sinless perfection. If we fear God, love His law, study His commandments and hold His godly ways close to our hearts then we are keeping His commandments. We will not always obey perfectly, but we should hold it as the wisdom for our life, seek it as silver and search for it as for hidden treasure.

In contrast, if we have no respect for His commandments, no fear of God, and no sadness in our hearts when we step outside His godly plans for our life, then we are not keeping His commandments. If we live in sin without regret, then we prove that we don’t know God personally. We might say that we believe, but the truth is not in us. That’s verse 4.

Verse 5 says that we know that we are in Christ if we are hiding His word in our heart that we might not sin against God. No guarantee that we won’t sin. We will sin, but we are hoping, praying, and learning His laws so that we won’t sin as often.

This book is a lamp unto the feet and a light unto the path of those who know Jesus through forgiveness. If you are born again then you are walking in the light as He is in the light, you are being transformed by the renewing of your mind and proving to the world by a transformed and blessed life the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.

This godly life will grow our assurance that we are saved. A minister can’t pronounce you saved and a minister can’t give your heart assurance that you are in the kingdom. Ministers point people to Christ and repeat the promises in the Gospel. Assurance of salvation comes through godly living.

So when we step off the path of a godly life does our assurance that we are forgiven go away? Well, you might doubt that you are forgiven. Certainly, our fellowship with God is diminished and the Devil will take that opportunity to drive a wedge between you and God by trying to diminish your assurance of forgiveness.

Verses 1-2 will address this directly. By understanding these two verses God will provide our hearts great confidence that our forgiveness is secure even when we fall into sin habits.

Verse 1 first reminds us that we are family regardless how many times we sin. When my children are in trouble they don’t ask if they are my children or if I still love them. I don’t discipline children that aren’t mine. Getting my hand of correction is proof that I love them. So it is with God.

Sin will diminish our fellowship with God, but not our family connection. We remain forgiven.

Second, verse 1 reminds us that Jesus is our Righteous Advocate before God the Father. In American courts, a lawyer must argue a person’s innocence to be their lawyer. We are not innocent. We are guilty. Jesus is righteous and would never lie to the Great Judge that we are innocent.

Jesus rather makes our defense by pointing to His blood and saying, “I died for that sin too.” The blood of Jesus covers our past sin and the sin we will commit in the future. The blood of Abel cries out for justice; the blood of Jesus cries out for forgiveness.

Even the word Advocate assures us of our forgiveness. It is the same Greek word translated Comforter when applied to the Holy Spirit. Jesus comforts us in our failures and brings us back to God.

Jesus never stops advocating for us. Consider these parallel truths. The work of Jesus on the cross was a once for all sacrifice of Himself for the sins of His people. The work of Jesus as a High Priest never stops. The blood of Jesus keeps working to secure our forgiveness. There’s power in the blood.

That’s all in verse 1. Which begs the question, why would we stay in sin, living in broken fellowship, breaking God’s laws and not living in the goodness of God’s blessings? God isn’t looking to hit His children over the head because we break his laws. God is seeking us to restore us to fellowship that we might walk in His ways and grow in the assurance of our salvation.

Friend, if you are living without daily fellowship with God be assured that your Advocate is pleading for your forgiveness before the Father on a moment by moment basis. You are safe in the family and you are not appointed unto wrath.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. If you are alive in Christ, then the wrath of God for your sin was fully absorbed by Jesus on the cross. The Father isn’t going to punish you too. It wouldn’t be just.

Verse 2 makes this same point with the big word propitiation. What does this word mean?

I remember watching a movie, a comedy called Joe Verses the Volcano. The story was that someone needed to be sacrificed to passive the wrath of some false god to keep the volcano from erupting and destroying the village. No one in the village want to die, so they found an American who thought he had terminal cancer and was willing to cast himself into the volcano to appease the wrath of the god and save the village. A low budget film to be sure.

Let me use the premise of that movie to explain propitiation. Jesus threw Himself into the volcano of God’s wrath and saved the village. Jesus appeased God’s anger so righteous judgment won’t erupt all over us and destroy us. To propitiate is to appease the anger of God.

Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. God’s children are not the objects of God’s wrath. Our hearts need to be taught by this doctrine to be at peace in Christ when we sin. Martin Luther said, “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

Luther was not giving an invitation to test God’s forgiveness with sin. He was using hyperbole to stress the confidence that we should have in Christ that we are forgiven even when we really blow it. Romans 6 tells us not to sin to increase grace. Luther makes a good point, but clumsily.

John the Apostle makes his point much better that we are absolutely forgiven with his comments in the last part of verse 2. John says that Jesus is a propitiation not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world. If we understand this doctrine then our hearts will be protected from the Devil’s slanderous attacks that we are not forgiven when we sin. We really need to understand this.

What does God mean that Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world?

The cults and the liberal religious community interpret this to mean that everyone is saved, even people who don’t believe. No one will go to Hell. This false teaching is called universalism.

The conservative faith community takes the conversation a different direction. Biblical minds ask, “Did Jesus only die for the sins of the elect or did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world? Is the atonement of Jesus limited for the people of God only or is it unlimited?” This verse could help us answer these questions.

But the sermon this morning is not attempting to answer these questions. Sorry. The goal of this sermon is to give a biblical foundation to know that our sins are forgiven even when we sin as believers. So let’s look at the end of verse 2 with that goal in mind and answer the other questions by inference.

What is so amazing about the propitiation of Jesus on the cross, that if I understand it correctly, will convince me that I will never lose my forgiveness with God?

Let me explain it with an illustration. Let’s say I break the law and end up in prison. I use my one phone call to call you. And as luck would have it, you had just that same day been given the family inheritance from your dad. Your dad gave you the family fortune, the Hope Diamond.

And before you went to a bank and placed your inheritance in a vault, you got my call and came to get me out of prison.

It’s late at night. You meet the judge. The judge says, “Tony can’t get out until he pays his debt.” I owe the court $500,000. That means that on my own I am never getting out of prison.

But you have the Hope Diamond in your pocket. You pull it out of your pocket, look at the judge and say, would you be willing to take this as payment?

Now the Hope Diamond is priceless (at least for this illustration). It would fully satisfy my debt. The judge looks at the payment you are offering, recognizes it’s infinite worth, smiles and says, “I would absolutely be willing to let Tony go free if you gave me as payment the Hope Diamond.”

The death of Jesus on the cross was like the Hope Diamond. It is priceless. The life of Jesus had infinite value and His death had infinite ability to pay the debt of everyone who was ever sent to prison.

Back to my illustration. The Hope Diamond was infinite in value, but it was given to the court particularly for me. I believe in a particular atonement, but the value of that gift was way more than I needed. That’s John’s point in verse 2. If I break another law the further debt I incur is prepaid.

Jesus jumped into the volcano of God’s wrath for us. His death paid for our sins of yesterday and our sins of tomorrow. But Jesus’ payment is even greater than that! This is John’s point. It is sufficient for the whole world! Take all the sins of the whole world, put them all together in one pile, and the death of Jesus was sufficient for everyone. This is why Luther said, sin boldly and then hold even bolder faith in the capacity of Jesus to forgive that sin. Grace is unlimited from the cross. We can’t overspend our forgiveness. The death of Jesus is enough for all people. Grace is that abundant.

So is it possible to use up all the grace available at the cross? Could we become unforgiven by a terrible sin? John says, No! The propitiation Jesus gave was sufficient for the whole world. Like the Hope Diamond that gets me out of prison, the unused portion is available for anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord in faith and repentance. The prison bars are opened for everyone.

Jesus doesn’t have to make another payment of suffering to pay for my future sins. I don’t have to go to Purgatory and suffer for sins that were unforgiven and uncovered by the cross. There is an unlimited over-payment by the suffering and death of Jesus for me that any sin I ever commit is pre-paid. There is enough for me, and enough for the whole world if they should repent.

That’s the point the Apostle John is making. Your sin won’t deplete the available forgiveness. Your puny little sins are not going to exhaust the priceless value of the suffering of the Son of God on your behalf. I am not saying our sin isn’t terrible, but the suffering of Jesus propitiated all God’s anger toward the sins of His people. Jesus’ death is sufficient for the sins of the whole world.

Now the application of His propitiation is limited to those who call upon Him in faith. That isn’t Calvinism. Arminians, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, and all other main stream Christian churches believe just as I have explained it from this verse.

Jesus’ work on the cross covers our sins: past, present and future.

Our sins will never empty the supply. The ocean of forgiveness is a bottomless ocean.

May God bless us with a godly life that we might become more and more assured of our faith. And when we sin, may we have great confidence that God isn’t going to erupt in eternal condemnation toward us. We can’t ever become God’s enemy ever again. We are forever friends. We are children. We are safe in the finished work Christ on the cross.  Amen.

Let’s Praise the Lord for the wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all our sin.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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