CONTINUE IN HIM
By Joseph Magno
1 John 2:1-29
Key Verse 2:28
“And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”
In the first chapter John instructed the early church regarding the problem and dangers of the “Gnostics” of the time who denied the coming of our Lord Jesus in the flesh. Then John talked extensively about the importance of fellowship with God and with one another. John concluded with the issue of sin. The “Gnostics” freely sinned in their false theology. But John encouraged the early Christians to reconcile with God in fellowship by confessing their sins and receiving the forgiveness of God. In that way their fellowship with God and with each other would be secure as well as the foundation of the work of God.
In this chapter John deals once more, but in detail, with the problem of sin. In brief, he talks about the endless battle Christians have with sin. And in this passage John encourages the early Christians to continue the struggle against sin. He gives them some eternal truths to help them remember the snare of sin and how to overcome it.
First, our defender, Jesus Christ (1-2). Look at verse 1a. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” What does it mean, “So that you will not sin”? Here, John is not talking about the common sins which plague the human race. In fact, it is impossible not to sin as long as we live in this body of sin. Furthermore, we cannot deny the fact that indeed, as Christians we must not continue to sin, but must do our best to shun sinning. But then again, in times of weakness we sin. John says, “So that you will not sin”. In reference to the first chapter, then, he is mostly talking about the sin of the “Gnostics”. They sinned by denying that Jesus came in the flesh. They sinned by allowing themselves to live a life of the flesh instead of a life of restraint by the Spirit. Mostly they sinned by extending their bad influence on others, causing others to sin.
When John said, “So that you will not sin”, he also meant that a Christian must be different from all other people of the world— especially different from the “Gnostics” who did not take sin seriously. Mostly then, the encouragement “So that you will not sin” implies that a Christian must extend his or her good influence on all people. We know that sin is first of all offensive and grievous to God— the Righteous One. (1) At the same time, sin is destructive to the body and soul of people. People sin freely, but not without consequences. Sin brings about in our hearts sorrow, guilt, fear, anxiety and restlessness. It is not without cost. The early Christians were tempted to believe the devil’s lie that whatever feels good to the body cannot be evil. They were tempted to live the “Gnostic” way of double life, exercising Christian customs but embracing the worldly life. But John wrote them so that their fellowship with God and with each other may not be broken by sin. He wrote to them to overcome the temptation and live the Christian life according to the teachings of Jesus so that they may be of good influence on each other and the world. Certainly then, a Christian must not sin, but must live as a child of God.
But as we said, it is impossible for Christians, even the strongest of them, not to sin so long as they are in the flesh. For this reason, John wanted to talk to them regarding this matter. What then does he say to the Christian who weakens and sins? Read verse 1b. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” John is like a good shepherd who is ever so careful that sin does not take its full course on his sheep to weaken them by its power and then to plunge them into sorrow and despair as it does with the common person. Praise God that we Christians have a defender, Jesus Christ. He is our advocate— our vindicator who sacrificed his life on the cross to make sure that our sins are forgiven and our soul remains spotless before the judgment seat of God. And this is certain because John tells us in verse 2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” When the people of the world sin, they taste the full weight of sin’s fury in their hearts. And there is nothing to restrain them. There is nothing to absolve them either of the shame and guilt of sin. But not the Christian! We unwillingly sin. But we have a defender in heaven who sits at the right hand of God. He’s ever there to defend us. He’s ever there to forgive us. He is ever there to proclaim us “not guilty”. Our God put him there to fight for us until he raptures us one day to eternal life. When we sin, we must come to God with a repentant heart, ask forgiveness and pledge ourselves to the life of faith again and again. Read 1st John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Look at 1 John 2:2 again. As John said in 1 John 2:2, this grace is available not only to the Christian, but also for the whole world, if anyone would only humble themselves, repent and bow to the Righteous One at the foot of the cross. But for the most part, people don’t! This generation is notorious for overlooking the problem of sin. In Romans 1:18 Paul tells us, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” Sin is a power that enslaves people. At the same time, there is a sin that can be avoided. It is the sin of deliberately suppressing the truth of God. In other words, God created us with the knowledge of God embedded in our hearts. This truth is universal. Therefore, no one can say, “There is no God” without lying, because every man believes in God. But the Bible tells us that most people suppress this truth. They deny the truth about God not because there is no evidence that he exists but here’s the problem: if they acknowledge God, then they must also acknowledge their sins. So, for the love of sin, most people choose to deny God instead. But then sin traps them. When they sin they cannot avoid their guilty conscience. But then instead of looking to God for mercy through the sacrifice of his Son, they want to get rid of their guilt and their conscience. So, they pay a medical visit to numb their guilt. But it never works! What really works is this. Hebrews 10:22 says, “…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Indeed, Jesus is the defender of humanity. God appointed him to cleanse our conscience from guilt when we humble ourselves and come to him with a repentant heart for cleansing and forgiveness. This truth we must also proclaim to the world, dying in its sin.
Second, live in the light. (3-14) John already stated that a Christian must not live in sin. Then he goes on to tell the early Christians how they must live as Christians. Read verses 3-6. “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” The Christian faith has been alive for almost 2,000 years. And over these years, many churches have risen. Among them there are a hundred theologies, beliefs and convictions. There are a hundred customs and traditions. And with each church, denomination, faction and sect there are also different kinds of Christians who have their own set of beliefs and tendencies. There are the intellectually inclined, the hedonistic, the carefree, the dogmatic, the traditionalists and the cultural, the emotionally inclined and the spiritualists, the physical and the moralists, etc., etc. But according to John, there is only one kind of Christian with no exception— it is he or she who “walks as Jesus did”. (6)
To “walk as Jesus did” is the mark of the a Christian. The word “walk” symbolizes a lifestyle— a walk of life— a life direction which imitates that of the Lord. The Christian faith believes at the purest level that Jesus is God himself, God the Son, who came to earth in the form of a Man. He lived a life of suffering and sacrifice and taught the word of God. Finally he gave up his life on the cross for the sins of the world and rose on the third day to justify sinners. And anyone who believes in him has the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and the kingdom of God. No one can do as Jesus did because he alone is the Savior. But Jesus did teach us the will of God in the Bible. He taught us how to live the life of faith and mission. He appointed disciples and commissioned us to proclaim the gospel to the world. And he charged us to walk in his footsteps of faith and mission. Therefore, John tells us that to know him is to obey his commands. John tells us that a Christian is a Christian when he commits his or her life to the obedience that comes from faith (Ro.1:5)— to walk with him in faith and mission.
When John encouraged them to walk with Jesus, he was also talking about living in the light of God’s truth, versus living in the darkness of sin. Practically then, how can we walk in the light? Read verses 7-11. Once Jesus washed his disciples’ feet at the last supper. It was an attempt to teach them a practical meaning of love. In his discourse with his disciples that night, he urged them to wash one another’s feet in love. It was his plea for them to serve one another as he had served them during his life with them. It was also a plea to serve his flock. When we study the life of our Lord Jesus carefully, we find that serving others was the core of his life on earth. It was the love of God for unworthy sinners. Still Jesus served them through the word of God, through prayer, through discipline, through teaching them the life in God through example. This command to love God and others through serving them is not new. It is as old as the Bible itself. Many times we human beings cannot love God and others as we should. At times we are confused about the meaning of love especially when we think love is some kind of an emotion. But John learned from Jesus the kind of love which serves God and others. And he urged Christians to obey the most basic of commands in the Bible— to love— to love through serving others. This is how we can be an influence of God’s grace on others. This is what living in the light is all about. To hate our brother is to live in one’s own way, and this influences others to sin. But we must love through Christian service in every way to the glory of God.
Read verses 12-14. Look at the way these verses are arranged. They are arranged in this manner in a poetic form. They are beautiful words which the early Christians probably memorized and recited time and again in their struggle against sin and darkness. These verses are an encouragement to the Christians of John’s time struggling with the problem of sin and darkness. Notice the verbs “you have been” and “you have known him”, “you have overcome” and “you are strong” and “lives in you”. These are definites and absolutes. They are truths the Christians struggling with sin and the world must deeply accept and remember because they are true. They are the strength of our hearts when we have no strength to fight. They are the assurance of our soul when sin seems to be winning. They are the glory of our life when our struggles appear futile and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. They are our hope and faith.
Why did John give them these verses? Jesus said in John 17:15, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Our God put us in the world. Our God wants us to be a blessing to those who are wandering in the world. Our God wants to evangelize the people of the world through personal Bible study. But this is not easy. It is a battle. We battle with discouragements. We battle with other’s pride and obstinacy. Jesus did not intend for us to live a struggle-free life. But he certainly intended for us to battle and to win. And according to John, the Christian’s life from beginning to end is a glorious triumph in spite of the many struggles. Why? Because, as he tells us, we have been forgiven. This is a glorious reality we must never forget. And Because we have known God— that is, we know him personally. This is again a precious truth that soothes our hearts. We know him and he knows us. He also says we have overcome the devil. He doesn’t say: “will overcome” or “perhaps” but have overcome. This is the spiritual reality. This is the truth which God sees in spite of our own view in spite of what you and I think, or feel. Because we are strong and God’s word lives in us. This is the power that works with us otherwise we would have died in our sins. John encourages us and we should be encouraged to continue our struggle against sin and for world student and campus evangelism. We must not give up— why? Because we have all these things and they are ours and because God will never take them away from us.
Third, do not love the world. (15-17) Read verses 15-17. In our walk with Jesus in the light of his truth and word, if you and I are a Christian at heart, then as a Christian we must not be deceived by the attraction and magnetism of the world. There are many things in this world that we love and should love. What John meant is “do not worship” the world or anything in the world. When we don’t, our struggle with sin is confined and restricted for the most part. God created us to love and worship only God. But this world has created many idols that ensnare the soul. People say they love God, but their lives indicate otherwise. They love and worship the things of the world— the fame and fortune— the success and the glory— the flesh and its desires. They love and worship themselves and each other more than God. When they do, sin holds them in chains and they become God’s enemies. But John gives us the truth. Do not worship anything or anyone but God. The love of God should be primary in our lives. How do we worship God? We love and worship him by living according to his word and imitating his Son Jesus in faith and mission.
Fourth, warning against antichrists. (18-29) Look at verse 18. “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come . This is how we know it is the last hour.” The last hour is the time of the end (Mk.13). And one of the signs of the end is the appearing of the Antichrist and many antichrists. In verse 19 John tells us that the antichrists and their followers deny and abandon the life of faith which the Lord has called us to live. They promote lies. They compel others not to make any commitments but to live the free life in pursuit of their own freedom. They compel them to compromise instead of live the absolute life in God and in his word. Today these antichrists are many. They oppose the teaching of our Lord Jesus and deny the truth of God. Even if they go to church, their hearts are full of contradictions and hostilities to the gospel and its teaching. We must be very careful not to be deceived by them. Instead, you and I as a Christian should focus ourselves in the word of God and live by the gospel faith.
Read at verse 20. The Christian has an anointing from the Holy One and he or she knows the truth. Anointing is a distinguished and honorable word. To the eyes of the people of the world, Christians are nothing but boring people with boring lives. People think that Christians don’t know how to enjoy themselves with sinful pleasure. But to God, Christians are God’s children who are anointed by the Holy Spirit. In other words, they are chosen by God to be different from the world. They are God’s voice of truth to a dying world. They are precious because they love God and uphold his truth in spite of their sorrows and pains, in spite of their struggles and hardship. They uphold his truth and honor Jesus as their king and Savior. To God there is nothing more precious than his anointed children who resist the trend of the world and keep the word of God close to their hearts and proclaim it at the cost of everything. To them John says in verse 28, (let’s read it) “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” “Continue in him” is God’s admonition to us to continue the spiritual battle against sin and darkness. We must then continue in the life of faith and mission. We must continue to pray, to offer prayers on our behalf, on the behalf of the brother and sister whom we love and on behalf of the world dying in its sin. “Continue” is a command not to lose heart nor to despair but to trust God who has anointed us to be his children and the defenders of the gospel. May God help us to live in the light and to walk as Jesus did and to continue the struggle against sin in faith and holy mission. Amen.
Read our key verse 28 again. “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”