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Bible Commentaries
1 John 2

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-6

Christ our advocate

1 John 2:1-6

v.1. ‘My little children.’ This general epistle is addressed to all believers. ‘I write unto you that you sin not.’ John does not hold out the possibility that any man can be totally free from sin. This would be contrary to his own words in 1 John 1:8-10 and contrary to all scripture. But he is saying, ‘I write this epistle to you that you might not live in sin, indulge the flesh, walk in disobedience and behave like the world of unregenerate men.’ The will of God is our sanctification and holiness in spirit, word and deed. The true grace of God in a man’s heart does not condone or excuse his sin, but condemns it and gives him a continuous desire to be like Christ and glorify his Lord. True believers mourn their sins, confess them and seek to avoid them.

‘And if any man sin.....’ as every man does, even every one that walks in light and fellowship with God, believes on Christ and is justified by his blood. As much as we hate sin and see to avoid it, we are still in this flesh and in this world (Romans 7:18-25).

Under no circumstances does a believer excuse sin, justify it, or permit it to go unjudged and unconfessed simply because it is atoned for by Christ. But we do have an Advocate with the Father, a great High Priest, who makes intercession for us, pleads for us whose sins have been laid on him and has made full satisfaction for them; therefore, our sins should not be laid to our charge. He is the Advocate ‘with the Father,’ against whom all sin is committed and to whom satisfaction is made. Christ is the only Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). He is Jesus Christ the righteous! It is his righteousness that is imputed to us (Romans 5:19; Romans 10:4; Romans 8:31-34; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

v.2. ‘He is the propitiation for our sins.’ Propitiation means ‘to cover, to atone for, to pardon and reconcile.’ In order that the wrath of God be appeased, his justice and holiness satisfied so that he can forgive sin, be just and Justifier, Christ died for us (Hebrews 9:22; 1 John 4:10). He is the propitiation (sin offering) not just for the Jew, but for Jew and Gentile believers, not just for this generation, but for believers of every generation, not just for those who read this epistle, but for every believer throughout the whole world. Our Lord has a people out of every tribe, tongue and nation. As he is not the Advocate or Mediator for unbelievers, neither is he a propitiation for them (John 17:9).

v.3. Throughout this earthly journey believers struggle with inward sin, doubts, fears, trials and attacks from Satan, and often are heard to say with Newton,

‘Tis a point I long to know,

Oft it gives me anxious thought

Do I love the Lord or no,

Am I his or am I not?

John says, ‘This is how we discern daily by experience that we are coming to know him: if we bear in mind, observe and practice the teachings precepts and words of our Lord Jesus’ words and commandments of Christ in regard to faith, love, forgiveness, humility, works of charity, kindness, giving, witnessing and all that relates to our daily walk’ (1 John 5:3). The love of Christ and the words of Christ are our rule of life.

v.4. The person who says, ‘I know and am acquainted with Christ in a saving interest,’ but has no love for his teachings and commandments, is not telling the truth, and the truth of the gospel is not in him. For if any man be in Christ, he is a new person. He is a bondslave of Christ and his whole life and desire is to become more deeply and personally acquainted with him. This is done through his words and teachings (1 Peter 2:1-2).

v.5. He who treasures the word of Christ, who bears in mind the precepts, who observes his message in its entirety, in him has the love of God and for God been established and it is reaching maturity. This is the way we know that we are in Christ: we love him, his word, his will, his presence. You cannot separate Christ and his teaching, or Christ and his commandments.

v.6. He that says that he and Christ are one ought to walk as Christ walked, love as Christ loved, forgive as Christ forgave and be humble as Christ was humble! (John 15:4-5.)

Verses 7-14

Love the rule of life

1 John 2:7-14

v.7. This is referring to what John has written in the preceding verses:

1. Christ is our Advocate with the Father.

2. Christ is our atonement and mercy seat.

3. Those who know God love him and keep his word and commandments, and those who abide in Christ seek to walk as he walked.

This is no new teaching or commandment but dates back to the beginning. We have no new gospel, but the ancient, eternal gospel of God’s grace in Christ, the principles and commandments of which are always the same (Romans 1:1-3; John 8:56; John 5:46).

v.8. John speaks here of brotherly love and refers probably to the words of Christ in John 13:34. This is no new commandment in the sense that it has been recently formulated and brought into existence; Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His gospel, his law, his teachings are all the same, but this commandment to love one another is

1. Newly explained by him and purged from the false teachings of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:21; Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:43).

2. Newly exemplified by Christ in his love for us;

3. Newly enforced by the argument, ‘How can we love God and not love our brethren? How can we be new creatures in Christ and not be like Christ?’ That which is true in Christ is true in you who are in Christ.

The ‘darkness’ or dimness of the ceremonial law is past and the clear ‘light’ or Christ shines. The darkness of sin and ignorance is past and we have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

1 John 2:9-11. The person who says that he has been illuminated by the Holy Spirit, has a true knowledge of the gospel and walks in the light of fellowship and union with Christ, yet who hates his brother (by creation, as all men are brothers, or by regeneration, as brothers in Christ) is still in a state of unregeneracy and ignorance. He is still in darkness as far as the gospel is concerned (Matthew 5:43-48).

He who loves reveals a work of grace in his heart, for love is of God, not the product of nature (1 John 4:7-8). Love does not lead to sin as hate does. Love is the rule of life (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14) and produces obedience.

He reminds us in 1 John 2:11 that whatever appearance of excellence or merit we may show, if love is absent, it is all sinful darkness and to no avail (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 1 John 4:7-11).

vv.12-14. This commandment of love to God and one another, the apostle writes to believers (distinguished as little children, young men and fathers) and urges them to obedience from the consideration of God’s blessings which are peculiar to them.

‘Little children’ are not infants but babies in Christ. Nothing stimulates men to love God and walk in holiness more than when they are properly taught and knowledgeable of the blessings of forgiveness in the name and by the merits of Christ. ‘You are sinners by nature and practice, but your sins are all forgiven’ (Romans 4:7-8). ‘You know the Father.’ This spirit of adoption gives the children assurance and a sense of security; and as our gracious Father we love, honour and obey him.

‘Young men’ are those who are in the flower of their spiritual age. ‘You are strong in faith, strong in purpose and principle! You have overcome the world, which is particularly difficult for men in their prime. Your strength is not in the flesh nor in your determination, but because the word of God abides in you, both the living Word and the written word!’ (Psalms 119:9).

‘Fathers.’ Most children refuse to learn, most young men are occupied with other pursuits and most older people excuse themselves because they are weary. But the fathers in Christ have known him that is the Ancient of Days, the eternal I Am! There is no growing old in Christ, but an eternal youth (Psalms 103:5). Christ grows sweeter every day, and the fellowship with him causes us to lose interest in the things of the world. The more we walk with Christ, the less interested we are in the fashion of this world.

Verses 15-20

Love not the world

1 John 2:15-20

v.15. ‘Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world.’ The believer loves relatives and friends in the world, he loves and pities all people in the world, he loves the blessings of fellowship and the good things that God gives to us and enables us to enjoy in the world, but he does not love the world nor the things of the world above God and Christ. He doesn’t take satisfaction or contentment in them, nor make idols of them, nor prefer them to heavenly and spiritual things! His citizenship and interests are in the kingdom of God. His true family is the family of God and he knows that the fashion of this world passes away. He prefers nothing and no one in this world to Christ.

If a man’s affections and interests are set upon the world, the things of the world and the companionship of the worldly people, it is clearly evident that he does not have the love of God in him. No man can serve two masters (2 Timothy 2:19; Luke 14:25-33).

v.16. All that is in this world, connected with it, or identified with it (under three headings), will pass away.

1. ‘The lust of the flesh’ or the body all carnal and sensual desires, unchaste thoughts, intemperance in food and drink, costly apparel, luxurious and wasteful living, fine homes and indulgence of our fleshly appetites toward materialism and self-satisfaction.

2. ‘The lust of the eyes’ after unlawful or unspiritual objects, covetousness after gold, silver, land and the possession of visible things. Achan said, ‘I saw it, I coveted it and I took it.’

3. ‘The pride of life’ ambition, honour, worldly fame, the chief places and the high seats. Seek not the honour and praise of men, for these things are not of the Father but of the world (John 5:44).

v.17. There is nothing in this world or connected with it that is not temporary and will not finally pass away. The word ‘lust’ means that which is coveted or desired, or that which captivates the desires of carnal men in this world. That which is most precious, important and valuable in this world is marked for destruction. But those who seek God, his kingdom and his righteousness shall abide for ever. Our spiritual family will never die, our heavenly home shall never decay, our new body shall never grow old, the glory of Christ will never fade and we shall be for ever satisfied in his likeness (Psalms 17:15).

v.18. ‘It is the last time.’ So many ages have passed since the death of John that one might say his prophecy is not true, but we must understand the design of the apostle!

1. All things are accomplished; nothing is prophesied, typified, or promised concerning redemption that is not fulfilled in Christ; nothing remains except the coming of Christ to gather his own. This is indeed the last dispensation.

2. If the eternity of God’s kingdom is kept in mind, both prior to Calvary and afterwards, the time between Christ’s death and Christ’s return will appear to us as a moment.

‘You have been warned that antichrists shall come.’ Those who suppose that would only be one man are mistaken, for John says, ‘Even now there are many antichrists.’ Some day this evil defection will prevail through the whole visible church (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8). From the day of our Lord’s death, we have moved steadily toward that day of apostasy and the day of his return. These are indeed the last days.

v.19. These false professors, antichrists, find and have found their way into the church and for a time keep up their masquerade, living and acting under false pretences. But sooner or later they will fall away and depart from the fellowship of the gospel and the church. Their departure clearly reveals that they were never members of the body of Christ, never truly regenerated and in love with Christ; or they no doubt would have continued in the faith and fellowship! If their hearts had been right with God, they would have remained steadfast to him, his gospel and his church (Job 17:9; Jeremiah 32:40).

God permits these trials, for they are useful and necessary to his church. The church is like a threshing-floor the chaff must be blown away while the wheat remains. The tares will grow among the true grain, that it might be more evident to us that salvation is of the Lord. Nothing will reveal more clearly to us that salvation, sanctification and righteousness are the work of God in us and for us that to observe those who try to do this work themselves (Ephesians 2:8-10).

We have been taught by the word and by the Spirit of God that it is the Lord who chose us, called us, revealed Christ to us, keeps us by his power through faith and works his will and grace in us (Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 4:7). This truth is more clearly revealed to us when we observe first-hand those who try to establish their own righteousness, merit the approval of God by their own works and faith, and forever boast of their decisions, experiences and personal spirituality. They all finally fall, wilt under trial and depart from the faith. As we watch them depart, we are impressed to cry, ‘Salvation is of the Lord!’ ‘I am what I am by the grace of God!’

‘If one true sheep of Christ could fall away;

My weak soul would fall a thousand times a day.’

v.20. ‘You have the anointing of the Holy Spirit; you are the Lord’s anointed ones, true believers, and you know the truth.’ His anointing is not only a quickening one but a teaching one! It enlightens the understanding. You know the living God, you know the nature of fallen man, you know the grace of the Lord Jesus, you know the true gospel and you can discern false teachers and their message!

Verses 21-29

Jesus is the Christ

1 John 2:21-29

v.21. If these believers had not known the Father, who is the God of truth, Christ, who is truth itself, the Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth and the gospel, which is the word of truth, there would have been no reason to write to them about antichrists, false prophets and false professors who would infiltrate the visible churches. But because they did know the truth, it was proper to establish them, to encourage them and to warn them against these deceivers.

Sometimes a lie is so mixed with an element of truth that it is difficult to discern, but if you will remember, nothing false, no deception, no compromise, nor part gospel is of Christ, the Truth!

1 John 2:22-23. ‘Jesus is the Christ.’ He is the true, eternal Son of God. There cannot be a father without a son, or a son without a father. He that honors not the Son as such honors not the Father. He is the very Christ and true Messiah spoken of by the prophets, typified in the sacrifices and looked for by Old Testament saints. He is the God-man, Mediator and Saviour. He is that Prophet, our great High Priest and sovereign King. He is our sin-offering, propitiation and atonement! Anyone who denies this, no matter what high office, position, or praise he gives to Jesus Christ, is a liar, an antichrist, and does not know the Father or the Son. Jesus of Nazareth is either the Christ and all that is written, promised, prophesied, typified and expected of the Christ, or he is an impostor! If he is the Christ and we compromise, deny or take away any aspect of his total deity, humanity, office, work, or glory, then we are impostors, liars, antichrists!

v.24. This is the gospel which they heard from the apostles, for the apostles began their ministry with the deity, sonship, lordship and messiahship of Christ (Acts 2:36). We believers have been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son, standing in such a relationship as Father and Son to one another and we in Christ (Acts 9:20; Acts 8:37).

‘If this gospel of truth remains in your heart and you remain in this gospel, you shall continue, accepted in the Beloved by the Father.’ Here is the fruit of perseverance, that they in who God’s truth remains remain in God! (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14).

v.25. ‘This is....eternal life.’ We cannot live apart from Christ. The Father put this promise of life and all other promises into the hands of Christ. Christ himself is life, and the sum of the gospel is that all who believe in him have eternal life. John insists that the beginning of life is to be found in Christ, the continuation of that life is continuing in the faith of Christ and the ultimate perfection of that life is in being made like Christ eternally (1 John 3:2).

v.26. God’s elect may be staggered, tossed to and fro and subject to doubts and fears but they cannot totally and finally be deceived. But some will try to seduce them. These people lie in wait to deceive, walking in craftiness and handling the word of God deceitfully. Therefore, that they might be known, shunned and avoided, the apostle points them out and shows who they are.

v.27. ‘The anointing which you have received’ is the ‘unction from the Holy One’ (v.20), or the grace of the Holy Spirit, who quickens us, convicts us, teaches us and abides in us (Romans 8:9; 1 John 3:24). His spirit abides in us, it is an eternal abiding and can never be taken away. ‘Ye need not that any man teach you’ does not deny pastors and teachers, for John himself taught them and this very epistle was teaching them, but man is not our authority! The teaching of men which is contrary to the word of God (inspired by the Holy Spirit and revealed to our hearts) is to be rejected (John 16:12-15; Acts 17:11). The Holy Spirit of truth; abide in his teaching.

v.28. ‘Abide in Christ’ (John 15:4-7). Exercise faith in him, hope in him, walk in him, look to him, that when he shall appear the second time, we shall not be put to shame as those will be who refuse his lordship and redemption. We have this confidence that if we are washed in his blood and clothed in his righteousness we shall stand before him without spot, fault or blemish.

v.29. Christ is righteous as God in his nature, as man in his obedience, life and work, and as Mediator in faithfully discharging the work he undertook. He is the author of eternal righteousness, which is revealed in the gospel, imputed by God and received by faith. So everyone that lives upon and by the righteousness of Christ and is obedient to his words is born of him!

Verse 29

Six arguments for holiness of life (1)

1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:6

This passage has a twofold theme. Believers will live holy lives and they will love one another. Faith is always connected with a righteous life (James 2:20) and a spirit of love for all men, especially all believers (1 John 4:7). Several arguments or reasons are presented for godly living on the part of believers.

1 John 2:29 . The first argument for holiness of life is that if you know that Christ our Lord is absolutely righteous (obedient to the Father’s will in his thoughts, actions and words), you know that those who are begotten of him (in like manner) will seek to be like him in righteousness and obedience to the Father’s will. To be born of God is to have the nature of God, the grace of God and the presence of Christ formed in us, causing us to love and desire the will and ways of God.

1 John 3:1 . The second argument for holiness of life is the love of God which has been bestowed upon us. ‘Behold’ take notice with wonder and astonishment, what matchless, amazing and wonderful love the Father has given freely and graciously to us! The more abundantly God’s goodness has been manifested to us, the greater are our obligations to him (Romans 12:1). ‘That we should be called sons of God.’ This is a privilege and blessing that exceeds all others. Children of wrath are now children of love; rebels and traitors are now sons; enemies are now heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. How can we serve self and sin when we are recipients of such love and grace?

The reason the people of this world do not recognize and acknowledge us as children of God is that they do not know God. They did not know Christ but treated him with ridicule and contempt. It cannot be inferred (by natural men) from our present condition and state that God is our Father (John 6:42).

v.2. Though the world may not recognize us as sons of God, though our present condition is very short of God’s glory, though our bodies are flesh and death is before us, though we are subject to many miseries, temptations and trials, though we are aware of the sin and evil within us now, at this very moment, we are the sons of God! We are foolish to estimate what we shall be by what we are now. But we know from his word of promise that when Christ comes again, we shall be changed into his glorious image! (Romans 8:29; Joh 17:24 ; 1 Corinthians 15:45-54; Philippians 3:20-21).

v.3. The third argument for holiness of life is that every person who has this hope in him (that he will one day be like Christ, perfectly conformed to his image), who has a real desire to be like Christ (Psalms 17:15), will make every effort to be like Christ now! It is foolishness for a man to say, ‘I want to be like Christ some day, but not now! I want to fellowship with God in eternity, but not now!

v.4. The fourth argument for holiness of life is that every person who practices sin (designs a course or life of sin, ‘for there is no one who doeth good and sinneth not’), who excuses or justifies himself in the liberty of sin unrestrained and unregulated by the commands of Christ, is lawless and hateful to God, for sin is the breaking and violating of God’s law. No true believer can be happy outside the will and fellowship of God.

v.5. The fifth argument for holiness of life is the office and work of Christ to take away our sins.

1. In Christ, the believer has no sins (John 1:29; Romans 4:7-8).

2. But the main thought of this verse is that Christ came to destroy the reigning power of sin in the believer (Romans 6:5-16; Romans 8:5-14).

v.6. The sixth argument for holiness of life is that those who know Christ and abide in him do not habitually and deliberately practice a life of sin. They hate sin in them and about them. They grieve over their falls and their lack of grace. They desire and strive to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in word and deed.

Those who live in sin and continue to practice hate, intemperance, indifference, covetousness, greed, drunkenness and dishonesty have not seen the redemptive glory of Christ with eyes of faith and have never known Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 2". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/1-john-2.html. 2013.
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