Explanation of I John 2:1-3

“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for (the sins, sin) of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. . . .”

We ought to notice, that, in the KJV of the Scriptures here in verse 2, the translators have inserted the words “the Sins” of the whole world. The Holland translation inserted the singular “sin” of the whole world. This should make every teacher of a “Christ dying for all men” sit up and take notice, and not jump to the hasty conclusion that the text teaches universal and general atonement, a general grace for all! 

The implication of the aforementioned paragraph we trust will become evident in our positive exegesis of this very well-known, yet little understood passage from Holy Writ. We may state here and now that whatever this text teaches in this phrase “for the sin of the whole world,” it does not teach and cannot teach on its own merits and intent a Christ for all, for every man head for head in the entire human race that came forth from the loins of Adam! 

John writes a very general letter to all churches, in all times of this New Testament era. 

We do well to give close heed to the message which he heard directly from God, and which he here preaches and writes as a herald and Ambassador of God in Christ. 


John writes with a very definite purpose in mind. His aim is not to write purely polemically. He will not merely use the sword, but he will employ the trowel and build the saints in the faith in Christ. He will instruct them not merely in doctrine but also in Christian ethics, whereas these two are inseparably connected in the covenant of God, the New Testament of the fellowship which we have with the Father and with His Son. 

The basic and all controlling truth is “God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all” (I John 1:5). This is not a mere philosophic premise of man’s invention, but this is “the message.” It is something which John must proclaim as the very Word of God in the Church. 

In the first place, let it be noticed that this is a message which John heard from God! John did not simply hear someone else say that God is light. On the contrary John heard this message from the mouth of God Himself!! John heard this so very really as did Moses hear God speak on the holy mount of Sinai in the Wilderness of Paran. This is the message which we have heard of him. (ap ‘ autou) John heard it without the intermediate agency of another. He heard it directly from God Himself. 

In the second place, we must observe closely that the verb “and declare unto you” is a term in the Greek which is used for authorized, official announcements and pronouncements. John has heard this message from God, and he is told to hide it not. He must speak this word from the house-top, declare it far and wide: God is light! 

In the third place, the implication of the truth that God is “light” and that there is no “darkness” in Him ought to be observed. This writer feels that this is here a necessary emphasis on the part of John not only for doctrine but also for ethics, Christian ethics. This truth is just as basic as is the “Hear, Israel the Lord our God is one Lord.” That is the doctrinal part! The ethics is, Thou shalt love the. Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, with all thy strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5Matthew 22:37) Two things here joined: doctrine and ethics! 

We see this demonstrated in the verses 6-10. Five different conditional sentences bring out this truth of the relationship between sound doctrine and Godly ethics. Wherefore John can write “If we say that we have fellowship with God (who is light!! G.L.) and walk in the darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” 

Yes, that is it. Doctrine and ethics. And the absolute statement of John concerning it. If God is light (and that is the unifying principle between what He is and does) then also this light-life must be the unifying principle in the children of the light. Only those who walk in the light have fellowship with God and do the truth 2nd not the lie. It is not simply what we say that counts but what we do as the fruit of the Spirit. And by the fruits we shall be known. For he that walks in the light as God is the light, he has fellowship with God, and the blood of Christ cleanses him from all sins. He is wholly clean: heart, mind, will and power! In him is the love of God perfected, the great “Shamah” on which all the law and the prophets depend! 

This Great Commandment is placed once more in writing. It is the writing of the “old commandment” which is at once also the “new commandment!” We are dealing with the same God who is light in both Testaments. This message is placed in writing. It must not be lost as a mere statement would be of one of the philosophical teachers on metaphysics and ethics. It is written as the Word of God. It is God’s Word inscripturated. No, it is not God’s Word in the Bible. It is: the Bible is the Word of God! 

It is the rule of life and faith for the “little children.” It is the rule of faith for the little children with all their sins and weaknesses in their battle against sin and unbelief. It is the pure milk of the word by which to grow. Thus only will we keep our feet on the straight paths of the Word and will we not build our house upon the sands of men’s philosophy, but upon the solid rock of ages, Christ!


The term “sin” is very important, and is equally prevalent in this epistle of John. A survey will show that the noun “sir? occurs fourteen times, and that in the following passages: I John 1:7, 8, 9I John 2:2, 12I John 3:4, 5, 8, 9I John 4:10I John 5:16, 17. The verb “to sin” occurs some nine times, and as follows: I John 1:10I John 2:1I John 3:6, 8, 9;I John 5:16, 18. John does not count the sins, he weighs sin in the balance of the light-life of God. All unrighteousness is sin. Unrighteousness is “adikia“; it is the negation of what is just, right. That is true of unrighteousness. It is not as the relativist would have it. According to the latter, the figure of a string will explain. This string is white on one end and it is dark on the other end. Now, the one end is not absolutely “white” and the other end is not absolutely “dark.” The light end is less dark then the dark end, and conversely the dark end is less light than the light end. That is the way with ethics too, so these unbelievers teach. That is the teaching today of the yes-no teaching called existentialism. That must even be true in the “god!” of whom they speak, now as “dead” and then as “alive,” but who is not the living God of the Bible! Even in their idol-god they posit two poles, the good and the evil, and these are necessary. For evil is a counterpart of the good! But John says: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all! 

I write you that ye sin not. I write you that ye miss not the mark. I write you, not ungodly world, which passeth away; but I write you, my little children. And that makes a difference. For John does not refer here to the sins of the world, the sins of those who walk in the entire circumference of their life in the darkness. He is not addressing those who in whom the truth is not. Nay, he is addressing those who basically walk in the light, who have been born from above and who are truly “my little children!” 

These little children have a peculiar mark which they must not miss. They must walk in the light even as God is in the light. And when they stumble in many and sometimes through weakness fall into sin, they miss the mark. They sin. Now the entire writing of John is “that ye sin not.” The aim of this writing is even our sanctification; that the love of God be perfected in our hearts. 

This sin of missing the mark of the upward calling in Christ Jesus is an ever besetting sin with us. God is light and therefore if one sins against one commandment he sins against all of them. When John says “If any sin” he is not really saying “if any man sin” in all the world. Rather he says: if any of you little children sin, we the little children have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. 

Now, I write you in order that ye sin not, but press on in sanctification and holiness of life! 


“If any one sin.” This is a conditional sentence. This presents this matter of sinning not as permissible, nor admirable, but rather as sin which is transgression. The possibility of our sinning is that God has not completely sanctified us yet. We still have an old man, a sinful nature against which we have to battle all our life-long. It is the battle to fight against sin with a free and good conscience. To so stand in the battle that our consciences are not defiled by dead works and sinful works, but that we serve the living God, Who is light and in Whom there is no darkness at all! 

Yes, and then it does not make any difference which member in the church sins. There is here, too, no respect of persons with God. All who are called to the faith and conversion, should they sin, have an advocate! Race and color, nationality and culture, sex and age, all standing in life, king or servant, if any of these are the “little children,” they have an advocate with the Father—if they sin! However, no one outside of the “little children” has such an advocate as we hope to show when we come to “he is the propitiation for the. . . of the whole world.” (Verse 2) 

If any of the little children sin, they have a need of having their consciences cleansed from the guilt of sin. What a need this is for every David! Wash me, make me pure within, cleanse, O, cleanse me from my sin. O, then we stand in need of forgiveness, of confessing our sins before the face of the Lord. To be cleansed with the blood of Jesus Christ, and to know that God is faithful and just. That He does not require payment twice. Yes, we have an advocate with the Father, who intercedes for us. He ever lives to intercede for us, and therefore can save us to the uttermost. (Roman 8:27, 34; Hebrews 7:23Romans 8:26) He has entered for us once and for all into the holy place through His own blood, which speaketh better things than does Abel. He is our peace with God! And, therefore, if any of the “little children” have sinned, we have such an advocate which becomes us: holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens!