John is an interesting writer. In 1 John 1:6 he tells us, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth. Then again in verse 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (see also v. 8) In Chapter 2:4 he writes, “He who says, ‘I know him,’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” So, if we look at these three texts where John calls people liars they stack up something like this; if we say we are sinless we lie and if we say we are His followers but don’t obey His commandments we are liars.
Once again the context of 1 John is that false teachers were preaching a total experiential religion. They were not interested in the ethical and moral aspect of their walk. They understood freedom in Christ as the opportunity to live a life free of constraints and thus lived life on a super spiritual plane. They believed their relationship with God left them sinless. John makes it clear that sinless perfection has no part to play in a growing Christian’s life. (v. 8, 10)
John also makes it clear that a Christian should not take his relationship with God for granted and as a result live a life of sin. When we come to the foot of the Cross in repentance we rise up new men and women, spiritually reborn in Christ. Our life is transformed because our heart is transformed. The old things that once held us in captivity to sin no longer hold the same attraction and we begin to grow spiritually. John reminds his readers, “I am writing this to you so that you may not sin.” 1 John 2:1a Even though he understands that a Christian cannot be perfect and live a sinless life it does not negate the desire to live a life that is reflective of our conformity to Christ.
But, chapter 2:1 goes on to say, “but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” John has a very practical view of Christianity that has developed by constantly ministering and mingling with people. He tells his readers, “And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, “I know him,’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected.” 1 John 2:3-5a
Here is the problem with proof texting. Many times I have heard fellow Christians expound on verses 3-5 without the context of chapter one verses 8 and 10. As well they usually skip Chapter 2:1b and usually verse 6 is ignored as well. What we are then left with is a demand by John to keep the commandments of God if we love God. And since the word perfected is included in 2:5 it often gets transferred from, our love for God is perfected to our characters being perfected.
So, what is the bottom line? Are we to keep the commandments in order not to commit sin (See chapter 3:4) or do we believe John when he says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar?” Let’s look at the problem this way; when we come to Christ we desire with all our heart to live in connection with God. We long to please God and obey Him. We as Christians would love nothing better than to keep all His commandments perfectly and be in total harmony with the Father through a sinless character. However, reality sets in with both the knowledge and experience that we have a sinful nature and we find that we do sin. What do we do when we find ourselves in this dilemma of wanting to live a life of total obedience and the reality that we don’t?
Here is the wonder of grace. John tells his readers “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.” 1 John 2:1 The ideal is that we don’t sin. But, when we realize that we do stumble on our journey, which we all do, then we are not to give up but remember we have an advocate in Jesus.
The entire point of the Bible is that we don’t live up to sinless perfection. That is why Jesus came lived a sinless life, died as our substitute on the Cross and now sits as our advocate at the right hand of God. He did all that the law required including paying the penalty, and He accredits all His merits and perfection into our account and declares us justified. In return He accepts all our sins upon His shoulders and carries them to the cross where they are forgiven and forgotten. (See Acts 3:19) If you and I could live a perfect obedient life then the cross and Jesus’ death upon it as our substitute would not have needed to happen. If we could save ourselves through perfect obedience to the commandments then Jesus died for nothing. “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:21, 22
The law cannot save us and perfect law keeping is a myth. “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them. Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Galatians 3:10, 11 Our redemption is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. As Christians, however, we do not take that lightly and live a life oblivious to His desires for us. We walk as Christians, living our lives in harmony with His will, but we also realize our walk with Christ, no matter how in tune we are with His will, has no merit towards our salvation. Our salvation is not based on what we are doing but on what Jesus has done.