My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one. He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2
A True Statement
Can you sense John’s paternal affection in the phrase, “my little children?” The expression appears here and six more times in his letter (2:12, 13, 18, 28; 3:18; and 4:4). As one of the Apostles, John had heard Jesus use the same form of address with the Twelve (John 13:33). The possessive pronoun “my” adds additional poignancy and tenderness to John’s phrase.
John now states clearly the purpose of his writing “these things” (John 1:8-10): “so that you may not sin.” Sin has weighed heavily on John’s heart in the first chapter of his letter. Here he uses the phrase, “but if anyone does sin,” meaning individual acts of sin in the life of the believer, rather than a habitual, unapologetic state of sinfulness. John does not condone sin, but strives here to help prevent it. He also provides hope to every believer who commits a sinful act.
What is an advocate?
Next, John explains the meaning and importance of Jesus’ role as advocate. John clearly understood, as the Apostle Paul knew, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). John is also aware that no believer can fully measure up to the ideal of a life of sinlessness before Almighty God. “But if anyone does sin,” John writes, “we have an advocate.”
The word “advocate” is the translation of a Greek word (parakletos, “one called to your side” so as to support your cause). The word appears only here and in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 through 16 (the “Upper Room Discourse”). The English translation varies (“counselor” in John 14:16, “advocate” in I John 2:1 in the CSB; “comforter” in other translations). When Jesus used the word, he referred specifically to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). When John used the same word here in his first letter, he referred to Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit as our advocate on earth. Jesus is our advocate in Heaven.
Why is Jesus our ideal advocate?
His advocacy is not as an attorney seeking to sway a judge or jury by oral argument. Jesus is our Advocate because of Who He is and what He has done for us. John identifies four reasons why Jesus is uniquely suitable to be our Advocate before God Almighty.
1. Jesus as the son of God is “our advocate with the Father.” Jesus has a special and intimate relationship with God, not as a stern judge, but rather as a loving Father. According to John’s Gospel, (1:1), Jesus and His Father are one and therefore equal.
2. Jesus lived among us a human being. John refers to Him by the name He bore on earth. Jesus shared our human nature during His sojourn with us. He understands us. He knows well our weaknesses. Hebrews 4:15 confirms that while on earth, Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Because He knows our human nature, His followers may “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
3. Jesus is sinless (Hebrews 7:26). John refers to Him emphatically as “the righteous one.” Jesus can appear before the Father with no need for an advocate for Himself. Having Jesus as our Advocate means that He shields us with His righteousness.
4. Finally, Jesus is our ideal Advocate because “He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” His substitutionary death on the cross paid in full the just penalty for all the sins humanity ever committed or will ever commit. The Father’s justice and righteousness demanded atonement, a payment commensurate with the fatal consequences of disobedience and sin. Jesus became the atoning sacrifice that exhausted the Father’s righteous wrath against sinful humanity.
When John wrote that Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world,” the Apostle did not mean that all people are saved. For Jesus to be our Advocate, we must believe by faith that we need an Advocate and that Jesus is our ideal and our only Advocate before the Father. Only by placing our faith and trust in Jesus alone can we know the love and faithfulness of the Father and stand before Him with Jesus as our righteousness (Romans 3:22-26).
Knowing that Jesus is our ideal Advocate before God the Father should encourage us who follow Him. We know as Christians that we should not and must not sin; but we do. When we sin, our salvation remains secure, not because of any merits or works of our own, but because Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. Our daily walk with the Lord should include witnessing boldly to everyone around us to encourage all of them to place their faith and trust in Jesus, our ideal Advocate—and theirs.