“(12) I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. … “(3:1) See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are….” (1 John 3:1, ESV)
Christmas is over and a new year has begun. The focus has probably shifted from the Christ as a babe in a manger to Him as Lord and Savior. For that brief time we celebrate the early parts of His coming and then we shift to the benefits of being in a relationship with Him and the Father as we are indwelt by the very Spirit of God.
It is the priority of this relationship out of God’s great love for us that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins and to draw us back to Himself. The apostle John, who referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, saw his readers as his “little children.” This is not because of their immaturity, but because of the love he had for them as a father would for his own children. John understood the great and awesome love of God, and he purposed to love others in that same way. As such He wrote to them with the affection of a father writing to his children to encourage them in the security of their relationship with God and to encourage them to continue to walk with Him in His light.
We read in verse 12 that John refers to his readers as little children. This was true of them no matter how old they were. As one of the original disciples and an apostle appointed by Jesus, John was a spiritual father to them even if he had not met them before. This is true because of the continued work of the gospel as faithful believers shared it with others and continued to bring them up in the faith. It was a multi-generational spiritual encouragement.
What these “little children” had in common and what it was that knit them together was the assurance that their sins had been forgiven. By Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for them they had be given salvation and complete forgiveness of sins. They were assured of this, and it was the foundation from which they could then grow in their faith. They did not have to look over their shoulder and fear it being yanked away if they faltered too much.
In 1 John 1:9, John spoke to this assurance when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV) This verse does not speak to a continued process of having to have our sins forgiven as we commit them, but a process in which we are honest with God about our sins and keep our relationship fresh. It reflects the fact that we will continue to sin, but when we do that we can take it to God, confess it, and rest assured in His forgiveness as we commit anew to walking right before Him. It is a constant reminder of what God has done for us in Jesus.
It is this walk that John refers to in in this letter as he contrasts our walking in the light and doing those things which are reflective of who we are in Christ against that of our former way of life when we did not know the light and we walked in darkness according to the ways of the evil one. For those of us who have been Christians for a very long time, and maybe don’t even remember not ever being a Christian, this contrast might get a bit lost. But even those of you who were raised in the church I am pretty certain that there have been times in your life when your walk did not match your identity and you did the things that you should not have done.
The reality is that we all have sinned and that we still battle with it in our lives. The difference is that as we grow in Christ we have more and more opportunities to experience the deep reality of God’s forgiveness and the incredible love with which He picks us up, dusts us off, and moves us along.
In verse 1 of chapter 2 John gives us a primary reason for his writing, which is that we may not sin, and to remind us that when we do that Jesus is seated there with the Father as our Advocate—as our perfectly righteous representative of the righteousness which He has personally credited to our account. We read, “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.” (1 John 2:1, ESV)
Moving from verse 1 of chapter 2 to verse 12 we read that he was writing this letter to encourage us to not sin and then in the same verse reminding us that we have Jesus ourselves as our Advocate. We are beloved children of God who even when we do sin our sins are forgiven by the same Jesus who is our Advocate. Jesus did this for us and then He returned to sit at the right hand of the Father to serve as the constant protector of the work He had accomplished—defending us against any who would bring an accusation.
We read in Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34, ESV) Satan’s claims are futile against the righteousness of Christ credited to us. And we know that he is very active trying to bring us down. We read in Revelation 12:10 that this is something that he does day and night, but we also read that one day he will be thrown down from forever access to God. “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Revelation 12:10, ESV)
John laid out for these believers a firm and unshakable foundation that was true of every single one of them and us that regardless of age or spiritual growth. If we are saved then we are secure—we are children of God.