Post Series on 1 John 1:5-2:6:
- God is Light, and in Him is no Darkness Whatsoever – 1 John 1:5
- Reforming the Speech of Pharisaical Hypocrites (Like Me) – 1 John 1:6-10
- How Can God be Faithful, but Still Just? – 1 John 1:9
- Reforming the Lives of Wanton Libertines (Like Me) – 1 John 2:1-6
In 1 John 2:1-6, John turns his attention from Pharisaical hypocrites to wanton libertines:
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)
We will come back to the first two verses of this chapter (1 John 2:1-2) because it is helpful to figure out which problem underlies what John is writing in 2:1-6 before we come to the solution. And, once again, the problem of sin is not primarily that it causes us undesirable consequences (broken relationships, shame, hell), but that sin is darkness, and therefore sin is in direct opposition to our great God, who is Light himself.
So how do we reform the libertines and antinomians who scarcely desire to change the way they live? One idea is simply by applying more of the Law to their lives: don’t do this, don’t do that, but be sure to do this over here, etc. A recent article published in Christianity Today made a splash in the Reformed world by arguing that Paul’s example demands just this kind of preaching the Law (even if balanced with the gospel) in order to increase holiness in the church.
I like Michael Horton’s response to this idea:
What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel! In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification….
The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin. (Original post)
This, it seems, is exactly John’s point in 1 John 2:1-2. John opens chapter 2 of his letter with the solution to the problem of antinomian, libertine “Christians”:
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)
Now, the Law is good if one uses it lawfully. God uses the Law to show us our sin and the extent to which we fall short of the glory of God. Furthermore, God uses the Law in the lives of believers to teach us about what he loves and what he hates–we learn the character of God from the Law. But the Law is not a solution to our sinfulness–it merely points to our solution.
To lives rotting away under sin, John counsels us not to look to the Law, but to our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He does not minimize the problem of sin–he is writing these things so that we may not sin!–but he points us to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said much the same thing:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely . . . . Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love. And repose in his almighty arms. (From John Piper’s biography on M’Cheyne)
We do libertines and antinomians no favors by encouraging them to look increasingly more on themselves–the gospel for such people (among whom I am chief) is to look to Christ. The more we look to ourselves, the more we either despair and/or give up our struggle for holiness. But the more we glory in the beauty of Christ, the more detestable our sin becomes to us, and the more we obey out of desire, not mere duty.