“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” ~ 1 John 2:12
Explanation of the Text: As he did in verse 1 of chapter 2, John addresses his readers as little children. John’s writing is not to young children, but to everyone whom he addresses as children. In verse 1, he uses the word ‘my’ to indicate a closeness that he has with them, perhaps as their spiritual father. However, this verse also indicates something more. In this particular verse, he is singling out those who are new in their faith or a bit ‘weak’ in it. In these he sees the need to instill some of the foundational Christian truths into their lives in order that they may grow.
There is also a small shift in focus here. John Calvin notes the shift saying, “having faithfully spoken of good works, lest he should seem to give them more importance than he ought to have done, he carefully calls us back to contemplate the grace of Christ” (1). Obedience is important. It is an evidence of assurance of salvation. It demonstrates a commitment to God and ultimately it will point back to His glory. However, John is also emphasizing the Gospel. Sometimes the Christian worker can emphasize obedience too little. It is also true though, that a Christian worker can emphasize obedience too much. I tend to fall in this category. Like our Early Church Fathers, I lean heavily on the side of ‘doing’ the Christian life. This is not to support a salvation by works theology (although some of the Church Fathers did) because Scripture is quite clear that salvation is a gift of God. However, I do believe in a salvation that works. Concerned about the spiritual welfare of our people and their lack of resistance to complacency, I see the need to emphasize obedience. However, this must always be balanced with God’s grace that was ultimately revealed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must dwell on this extraordinary Gospel and place it at the forefront of all that we do and all that we are! The Gospel is a motivating factor that compels us to Christ, brings us to God, and urges us to live. To this end, John brings his teaching back to the very premise of Christianity, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
It is important to realize that the focus of forgiveness is different here than what is seen in 1 John 1:9. In that section, John writes of the continual forgiveness received for those failing moments when we sin against God, while in this verse, his focus is on that particular moment of overall forgiveness that is received from God at the point of salvation (2). Upon calling on the name of the Lord and turning from this world, we come to God through Christ. In that moment we are reconciled to God and the forgiveness of our sins is received (as John mentions here). There is still the aspect in which we live between the already and not yet. It is a battle between our spiritual selves and our fleshly selves. In those moments when we give into the flesh, we are called to confess to God in repentance (thus the emphasis of 1 John 1:9).
Finally, John notes that forgiveness is for ‘his name’s sake.’ It is important to recognize that forgiveness is not for our sake only, but also for the glory of God. Our forgiveness points back to who God is. It demonstrates a loving, personal God who is intimately involved in the lives of His children and in this we should rejoice and give Him praise! However, there is a second aspect to notice in this verse. Quite literally, the verse could be rendered ‘on account of his name.’ The point is quite simply that forgiveness comes because of Jesus Christ. “The basis of forgiveness, on account of which it becomes possible, is the activity of God in the person and ministry of Christ” (3).
Explanation & Application of the Text: There is hope to be found in the Gospel. In it we find our way to eternal life with God. In it we find reconciliation with God. However, the only accurate Gospel is one that is founded in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What joy there is to know that sins are forgiven. Even more, forgiveness releases us from the burden of sin. Sin encamps and tries to enslaves, where as forgiveness can be found that frees us from its stronghold. In other words, we find freedom to obey because the shackles of sin no longer bind us.
If anything, rejoice in the fact that you can obtain forgiveness. Rejoice in your salvation in the Lord. And may that be a comfort to each of us to know that we have the permanent status of being forgiven. It is an opportunity to be thankful to God for the provision of forgiveness given through His perfect plan.
Questions to Consider:
- Have you found forgiveness of sins through a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?
- If you have found true life that exists in Him, spend time in prayer to thank God for that and dwell on how that is reflected in your life to others?
- If you have not found forgiveness or do not have a relationship with Him, what is holding you back? Perhaps you need someone to share with or discuss it with. If that is the case, please feel free to use the contact form in the links on this site to send me a message. I would love to dialog about it.
(1) John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 182.
(2) I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 138.
(3) Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1989), 72.