If Any One Sins
April 8th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
1 John 2:1-2
IF ANY ONE SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 2:1-2
4-08-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled If Any One Sin. Actually, it refers to the saints who sin; maybe that is what we ought to call it. In the Bible, "If any one sin," it is addressed to the saints, so maybe we can say "When the Saints Sin," when God’s children sin. In our preaching through the Book of  John, the first epistle of John, the text is  John chapter 2 verses 1 and 2; and the context is this:
And the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. But if any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
And He is the propitiation – the hilasmos – the atoning sacrifice.
[1 John 1:7-10; 2:1-2]
The hilastērion is translated in Hebrews 9:5, as "the mercy seat." On the ark of the covenant, with the cherubim looking full down upon it, was the golden lid that covered the ark; and that was called the hilastērion, the mercy seat [Exodus 25:17-20]. And when a sacrificial animal was killed, the blood was taken inside the Holy of Holies; and there, once a year, the high priest would sprinkle the blood, atoning blood on the mercy seat [Leviticus 16:14]. Now the sacrificial victim is called an hilasmos – hilasmos, an atoning sacrifice – and the blood was sprinkled upon a hilastērion, the mercy seat [Leviticus 16:14]. And so Jesus is the hilasmos. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sin, "And not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" [1 John 2:2].
I’ve never been able to understand how the Calvinists, some of them, believe in a "limited atonement." That is, the sacrifice of Christ applied only to those who are the elect, but there is no sacrifice of Christ for the whole world – when John expressly says He is the sacrifice, the atoning, dedicated gift of God in our lives for the whole world [1 John 2:2]. And it is just according to whether we accept it or not as to whether the life of our Lord is efficacious for us in His atoning death.
Now, let’s take the text and expound it, what God is saying to us through His inspired apostle John. First, that the saints are still sinners, "If any one of us sins" [1 John 2:1], this is addressed to the church and I would suppose at Ephesus, for the apostle calls them, "My little children." Now, John must have been something like a hundred years old when he wrote this epistle, and he had been pastor of the church there at Ephesus, say, thirty-one or two or three years. When the war broke out in Judea and Galilee against Rome in 66 AD, somewhere in that period of time, the apostle John left Palestine and went to Ephesus and there ministered as God’s undershepherd to the congregation of Christ in Ephesus. So he, being so aged – almost a centenarian – and being pastor of the church beyond thirty years, he looks upon his congregation as his little children. "My little children, if any one sin," [1 John 2:1]. The saints are still sinners; as long as we live in this body of death, we shall always feel the drag of transgression and shortcoming. Sin mars our repentance; we never repent just right. Sin stains our tears; even our prayers are not perfect before God. Even our faith has in it some measure of unbelief; no one of us is righteous in God’s holy presence. Isaiah says that, "Our goodnesses in God’s sight are like filthy rags" [Isaiah 64:6].
"There is none righteous," the Book says, "no, not one" [Romans 3:10]. In the presence of God we are not clean. Job has in it an unusual thing; in the Book of Job it is written, "For the heavens in Thy sight are not pure [Job 15:15], and thou dost charge the angels with folly" [Job 4:18]; the creation of God, even the angels are not measuring up to the holy purity of the infinite God Himself. And then Job cries, "If this is true of the angels and of heaven, how much less is a man born of a woman clean in the sight of God?" [Job 25:4-6]. Sin permeates all that we do: our faculties, our emotions, our minds, our wills, our deeds. Even the little eccentricities and little personality characteristics that set us apart as being individual, even sin enters into all of those little separations that make us what we are.
For example, some of us are very sensitive; and that’s not bad. To be insensitive would be like a clod, like a pebble. But to be sensitive is to be quickened; and yet, how easy that sensitivity can move over into dereliction and fault. There is a dear woman in this church, one of our sweet members, who said to me one time, "Pastor, why do you always turn your back on me?" I said, "My dear madam, I never turn my back volitionally on anyone in my life, much less would I do it to you."
"Oh, but," she said, "many times you pass me by, and you turn your back on me and do not speak to me." No, no such thing as that could ever obtain in my life; she is too sensitive.
Or, sometimes some of us are volative and our anger rises. A man without spirit, without the capability of anger, of indignation, would again be like an inanimate object. The ability to be aroused and the gift of temper is a quickening of the life itself. Who wants to be phlegmatic, and lethargic, and dull, and dead, and indifferent? And yet, so easy is it possible for our temper to move over into unjust and merciless anger.
Or, some of us are inclined to be pessimistic; we have a tendency to be depressed and to look on the dark side of life; if we are on a mountain, we think the wind surely will blow us away. Or, if we are down in a valley, we think that an avalanche will certainly cover us; it is so easy for the spirit to fall into blackness and into despair.
Or, ambition: without ambition a boy would never strive, he would never learn, he would never excel, he would never work; but how easy it is for ambition to fall over, to move over into areas that are unkind, or greedy, or avaricious, or unsympathetic with others.
Whatever it is that characterizes us, that makes us us – that makes you you, whatever it is, there is in it an aura of wrong, of sin and it is so easy to fall into it. We let our visor down, and no sooner is the armor lowered than our foeman flings a devastating rock into our very faces. He finds niches in our armor, and he cuts us to the quick. And we are hurt, and the scar stays sometimes the rest of our lives, "If any of the saints sin" [1 John 2:1], we do sin; he just wrote, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves [1 John 1:8]. If we say that we have not sinned we make God a liar" [1 John 1:10]. The saint is still a sinner. We sin every day of our lives in the way that we do, in the way that we don’t do. There are omissions and commissions against Jesus and against the Holy Spirit, and against God the Father, and against the work of the Lord in the earth that daily characterize us.
Did you ever get up in the morning and in the room see perfectly clear, just clear as this room is to me now and then suddenly, there will be a strong sunbeam that will find an aperture and pierce the room; and in the sunbeam you will see millions of little motes and spores and particles that are dancing in the sunlight? We breathe them into our lungs all the time, which is what I have done. So sin permeates everything that we do. But somebody says, "They are just little things." Yes, but little grains of sand will sink a barge just as certainly as an overload of iron, and in God’s sight, all sin is sin. Now, we may boast of ourselves to other people; in comparing myself with another man, I may doctor myself up and touch myself here and there and present a fine specimen or spectacle, but in God’s sight I am not really that way. If I can get somebody to listen to me and extol my virtues, why, I sound pretty good if, in turn, I let him glorify himself as I listen to his virtues. But that is not the way with God; there’s not a thousand witnesses or one witness that could ever prove me righteous in the sight of the Lord.
Do you remember how the apostle Paul begins the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans? "Now what will we say about Abraham? If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God" [Romans 4:1-2]. That is, Abraham might boast of himself before his fellow herdsmen and his fellow nomads, but he certainly couldn’t boast of himself before God because God knew him, just as God knows you. And we may boast of ourselves to some others, but we don’t boast of ourselves before God, because God knows us. So, "My little children, if any one of us sins," the saints are still sinners [1 John 2:1].
Now, there is a great difference between the sin in the life of a saint and the sin in the life of an unregenerate, unconverted soul; they are in two different worlds, and I want to show that to you, if God the Holy Spirit will help me. The difference between the sin of an unregenerate man and the sin of a redeemed, regenerated Christian: first, the difference lies in the enthronement of sin. In the life of an unregenerate man, sin is on the throne. But in the life of a regenerate man, Christ is on the throne, and sin comes in obliquely, in a tangent – always. May I illustrate that with something that I found in Dallas when I was called pastor here, almost twenty-nine years ago? I came from a state where it was not lawful for a man to sell liquid pot. And if you wanted to buy liquid pot, you did so illegally; you bought it from a bootlegger, you bought it clandestinely, secretly, furtively; underneath the counter, or in an alley, or in the back somewhere. But when I came to Dallas, the thing that impressed me most when I came to this city was that the pot, the liquid pot, the liquid drugs were sold in beautiful stores, advertised with flashing neon lights, and the people invited in. There was a big difference. And that is the difference between the sin of the unregenerate and the sin of a saint. In the unregenerate it is enthroned; but in the life of a saint it is clandestine, it comes in obliquely, it is not enthroned.
I want you to look at that again: the difference between the sins of a regenerate man and the sins of an unregenerate man. Never in the life of a regenerate man, never is the enormity of boasting over his sins found – never, never! He sins, but that egregious effrontery of boasting about it, "his shame is his glory," is never found. Now, may I illustrate that?
When I was a boy in the Panhandle of Texas growing up, I won the declamation contest for all of West Texas; and I was sent to the University of Texas in Austin, there to compete for the state prize in the interscholastic league. And when I was down there, and I stayed several days, I stayed in a fraternity house. And late at night, those boys would get together, and then the next morning at breakfast they would get together, and they would talk about – and it seems to me that is all they would talk about – they would talk about their sexual conquests. And especially would a boy gloat and glory if he had seduced a virgin girl. And the boys would compare notes, and they would give the names of the girls to the other boy, and the boy would write it down and he would go after that girl the next night. And those boys did that incessantly, and boasted, and were proud of their sexual promiscuity.
A gambler, who is a sharp gambler, will boast of his conquests and of his successes. He is a successful gambler; he knows how to take advantage of this man who is less adept at say, poker, than he is. And he doesn’t hurt, and he is not cut to the quick, knowing that possibly the man whose wages that he won has taken bread out of the mouths of little children, and shoes off of their feet, and rent payments from his wife at home; he is boastful of his gambling conquests.
Or take again, when I was a boy in high school: I worked in the summertime in Saxtine’s grocery store, delivering groceries. I was trying to save enough money to go to college. And I remember one time in Saxtine’s grocery store, that there happened to meet about the same time three or four of the representatives of wholesale grocery houses, selling groceries. And those men knew one another, and had for a generation apparently. And as I was a boy there in the grocery store, and listened to those men, they would describe rendezvous in other cities where, say, four of them would get together and they would hire four women, and the four men and the four women would engage in a sexual orgy all night long and all day long, trading the women around and doing all kinds of things. And they laughed, and they gloried, and they boasted in it. That is the difference between a regenerated man and an unregenerated man. For a regenerated man could not do that – he would find himself incapable of doing that. And least of all would he boast of it and glory in it. The sins of the saints come into his life obliquely, not frontally. It is exactly as if you were driving down the road, a swine, a pig and a lamb, and you come to the mire, and the dirt, and the filth. And the hog wallows in it and likes it; but the sheep will shun it and escape from it. It is that exactly with the saints who sin, compared to the unregenerate man who sins: there is a difference in their glorying in it and in their boasting of it.
"My little children, if any one of you sins" [1 John 2:1], then what? When the church member sins, when the child of God sins, when the saint sins, when we fall into error and transgression and wrong, "If any one of us sins," then what? Do we thereby forfeit our right to a place in the heart and the kingdom of our Savior? Does it say that? Does it say that only by being godly, and holy, and pure that we have any right to an advocate, and a pleader, and a mediator in heaven? Does it say that? It says the opposite:
If any one of us sins, if any of God’s children sin,
we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
and He is the hilasmos for our sins.
[1 John 2:1-2]
In other words, our hope is built not upon a covenant of works, "Do this and thou shalt live" [Deuteronomy 4:1], for there is no man that can do that – therefore he cannot live. "Keep these commandments and thou shalt be saved," but there is no man that can keep those commandments; he falls short, he’s human, he’s full of error. He cannot do it; it is a sentence of death, "And the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], and he dies, "And the soul that sin shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4]. And he dies; he cannot escape that. But our hope and our salvation is not built upon the shifting sands of a covenant of works, for we would surely perish. But our hope and our salvation is built upon the covenant of grace: the mercy of God, the loving kindness of God, the goodness of God in the blood, and sacrifice, and atoning grace of our Lord [Ephesians 2:7-9]. And it is on that covenant that we stand; and that covenant is immutable, and unchanging, and forever [Matthew 26:28]. "If any one of God’s children sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" [1 John 2:1]. And the covenant of grace is always inclusive, and it never changes.
Now I want you to look at that just for a moment. Whatever the saint does, whatever the regenerate man does – whatever, he is still in that immutable, unchanging covenant. "He that believeth on Me shall have everlasting life" [John 6:47]. "This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:28]. When a man is in that covenant, he is saved forever and forever. Now look at that: I had never seen this before and it’s strange how you can read and read and read and read, and then you just suddenly see it. You look and look and look, and then you see it. In the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew and the tenth verse, the Lord is raised from the dead and here is what He said to the women who met Him. He says to them, "Go tell My brethren that I go before them into Galilee, and there shall they see Me" [Matthew 28:10]. Look at that, "Go tell My brethren." Well, that is the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew; the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew [Matthew 26:56] it says, "And they all forsook Him, and fled." Not only that, but one of those disciples that was a spokesman for the rest of them, Simon Peter, cursed and denied that he even knew Him [Matthew 26:69-75]. That is the twenty-sixth chapter, "They all forsook Him, and fled" [Matthew 26:56], and Peter cursed and denied that he even knew Him [Matthew 26:74]. But in the [twenty-eighth] chapter it says, "And go tell My brethren, My brethren" [Matthew 28:10], they are still His brethren, though they all have forsaken Him, and fled [Matthew 26:56]. Their denial, and their transgression, and their cursing didn’t change His attitude toward His brethren; they are still His brethren. Same thing as the prodigal son: the father looked down the road, waiting, I would suppose praying and hoping. "For the boy is still my boy, though he is in a far country," does not change the relationship; it is just the same.
Or, let’s look at it again in another way: 1 Corinthians 12:13, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ," we are made members of the body of Christ. Now there is no such fanciful, theological revelation as this in the Bible: that the members of Christ’s body are put on Him and then they are taken out, and then they are put on Him and they are taken out, and back and forth, and back and forth. If you are ever baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, if you have ever been added to the body of Christ as a member of His body, it is that way forever: they don’t take off His leg and put it back on, and they don’t take off His arm and put it back on again. And they don’t take out His lungs and put them back again; they are there forever. And however, however the members may be, yet they remain members of the body of our Lord [1 Corinthians 12:14-26].
All right, let’s take it in another way: we compose, as a people, the bride of Christ; and Christ loves His bride, and He clothes her with a God kind of righteousness, in garments that are pure and white [Revelation 19:7-8]. Are we actually pure and white? That is what the apostle is saying: we all have sinned, the saints still sin; but in Christ our garments are washed pure and white [1 John 2:1-2]. In God’s sight, we are holy [Ephesians 5:27]. The Bible calls it "justified." Not that we are just, but that God receives us as being just, righteous.
Now, the Christian sins day by day – every day there is something wrong; and that is why we must come to the Lord day by day, every day and ask the Lord to forgive us our sins. Every day we ask Jesus to cleanse us for the sins of that day [Matthew 6:11-12]. That is the great, theological meaning of the apostle in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. He came to Simon Peter to wash Simon Peter’s feet and Simon Peter said, "Lord, You are not going to wash my feet!" And the Lord said, "Simon, if I do not wash your feet, you have no part with Me." And the volative Simon said, "Lord, then do not wash my feet alone, but wash my head and my hands and all over, wash me!" [John 13:8-9]. And the Lord said to Simon, "Simon, he that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet" [John 13:10]. Now, John said these things that Jesus did are parabolic signs; that is, they represent tremendous theological doctrinal revelations [John 20:30]. And this is what Jesus was saying:
Simon, when a man walks through the day, the pilgrimage of this life, the wilderness of this world – when he walks, his feet get dirty.
But he does not need to be saved again, to be cleansed all over again; He that is cleansed needeth not but to wash his feet.
When I sin, and I do, I don’t need to be saved again, to be washed again, but what I need is for Jesus to keep my feet clean, where I walk through the earth. I must come to my Lord day by day and ask Him to forgive me my sins [Matthew 6:11-12]. And the Lord does that.
The apostle – and I must close, "If any one of us sins we have a paraklētos" [1 John 2:1]. In the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth chapters of John that is translated Paraclete, "Comforter," and refers to the Holy Spirit. We have a Paraclete, the Holy Spirit pleads with us down here, comforts us, is our helper, down here in earth [John 14-16]. We have got One in heaven, and the One in heaven is the Lord Jesus, "We have a Paraclete with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" [1 John 2:1]. And He says all those words with such tremendous meaning; we have an Advocate, a Pleader in court, and His name is Jesus [1 John 2:1]. And remember, He is always our friend, always. Jesus is never against us, He is always for us; He is on our side, and He is pleading for us [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].
Jesus, Jesus, He came down here to be tried and tempted as we are, that He might be a sympathetic Advocate and High Priest, Christ, Jesus Christ [Hebrews 4:14-15], appointed officially of the Father [2 Corinthians 5:21]; He is anointed of God for the purpose. The righteous, what He says in his case, as He presents his cause in court, what He says is, "He is a sinner, yes. He is a sinner; he is a sinner, yes. He is a sinner. But, I was obedient to the law and kept it perfectly for him. Every commandment of the law did I faithfully keep for him. I am his Substitute and Advocate and Helper. I have paid every debt that he owes; I died in his stead" [Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. And if a man’s debts are paid, he doesn’t pay it, does he? And if a man dies for a crime, there is no such thing in the courts allowed as "double jeopardy," therefore he is tried for it again; it’s been paid, it’s been paid. Jesus paid it all, all of it. And the Lord says, "He is not to be judged, and condemned, and damned; for he, before Thy presence, O God, he is washed, he is cleansed, he is forgiven, he is free, he is at liberty, he is saved." That’s why the gospel will avow:
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There’s life at this moment for thee;
Then look sinner, look, unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
["There is Life for a Look at the Crucified One"; Amelia M. Hull]
The gospel is: wash and be clean [Revelation 1:5, 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10]. The gospel is: believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31]. The gospel is: look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. For Jesus Christ is our Advocate, our Helper, and our Redeemer; and He is always for us [Matthew 28:20].
Now, we have gone beyond our time. In a moment we stand to sing our appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord, to come into the fellowship of the church, to join with us who love Jesus; would you do it today? In that balcony round, you; on this lower floor, into the aisle and here to the front, you; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, will you come? Will you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.