1 John 2 – Atonement and Love

We had a great discussion last Tuesday. For this week, please read 1 John 2.

In every bible study in which I have participated, we read a verse (or an individual word) and discuss that verse individually. In no other work of literature would we do this. The biblical writers, of course, did not write in chapters and verses, and did not use punctuation, paragraphs, or even spaces between words. Therefore, when we do bible studies, the translation we are reading not only translates words and concepts but the very structure of the writing itself. This is evident in the readings for this week.


For this week, 1 John 1:5-2:17 is best read as one long run-on thought. We should all know Jesus’ teaching in John 3:16-17 (for God so loved the world) and John 13:34-35 (a new commandment I give you). These two teachings form the basis of John’s introductory teaching in his letter.

In 1 John 1:5 – 2:2, John speaks about sin, but John does not define what is “sin.” In 1 John 2:3 – 2:8, John implores his audience to keep God’s/Jesus’ commandments, but John does not define what “commandments” we must obey. Read in isolation, these verses could very easily be interpreted that we are to obey the Ten Commandments of Moses or even the entire 613 commandments of the Torah, and our failure to do so constitutes a sin.

John gives us his interpretative answer key in verses 9-11. That answer is Love. Love/Hate, Light/Darkness, and Father/World are equivalent. When we Love one another, we walk in the Light, and are with God. When we Hate our brother, we walk in Darkness, and are of the World. For John, this is sin – the falling away and separation from God and from one another. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son who gave us a new commandment to love one another. Therefore, when we are without love for another, we break the Lord’s commandments, and when we hate another, we walk in darkness. For John, Christ is the atoning sacrifice (v.2) who cleanses us when we fail to love so that we can return to that at-one-ment with God and with one another.    

We all know, and we have all experienced, what it means to walk in darkness and hatred on a personal level. We all know, and we have all experienced, the weight and the emptiness of being that accompanies walking in this darkness. If we go deeper into John’s teachings, we can see the unity within John’s teaching of how we are brought out of this darkness.


The Greek word translated as “world” throughout John’s gospel and letters (cf, John 3:16, 1 John 2:2) is kosmos. John’s teaching is truly cosmic or universal. John tells us that “God is Love.” 1 John 4:8b. For John, this does not mean that God loves us but that “God” and “Love” are perfectly synonymous so that we can say “In the beginning, Love created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) or “In Love we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28a). Therefore, when we fail to love, we turn our back on creation and return to the pre-creative ex nihilo (Gen. 1:2) which is formless, void, dark, and non-existent. When we fail to Love, we move away from that which brings about our life, gives us our movement, and sustains our being.

In this respect, sin is not about morality or ethics. Sin is not some behavior that violates a rule which needs to be either punished or pardoned. Rather, sin is ontological and existential – it is about our beingness and being fully human. Sin is about our failure to participate in God, and therefore our loss of beingness and our loss of our full humanity. The problem is not that we did something wrong, but that we have become disunited with God, with others, and with ourselves. The best modern example of this is C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce where the residents of “grey town” are described as transparent ghosts who build their houses far away from each other and who are in the process of simply fading away into nothingness.  

The solution for John is Christ’s atoning sacrifice (v.2). Our disunited human nature becomes united in the Incarnation (which is why John will insist that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. 1 John 4:2). As we looked at earlier this year in our discussion of the Lifting Up of the Serpent in John 3:12-21, the Cross is not a sign of God’s judgment and condemnation, but a sign of God’s love and absolution. Therefore, our repentance (i.e., our return to God) is because of our awareness of and response to God’s love for us. And the sign of this repentance, the sign of our return to Light and Life, is that we embody this same Love for one another.

(A deeper read on this topic is HERE or in Oliver Clement’s book On Being Human.)

Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is Dominos Pizza. Discussion at 7:30 followed by Compline. Hope to see you here.

If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:1b-2

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