Second Reading: 1 John 2:1-5a
The Measure of the Christian Walk
1 My children. I am writing these thoughts down for you so you will think twice before you sin. But if any of us should sin, we have someone who will beg God for us. That person is Jesus Christ, the person who never sinned. 2 He wiped our sins and the sins of the entire world clean away! 3 We are sure we really know Jesus when we follow his commands. 4 The person who says "I know Jesus" and does not follow his commands is a liar. This person really does not know the truth. 5 But, God's love is really present in the person who does what Jesus wants.
1 My children, I am writing these (things) to you so that you might not sin. (But) if some might sin, we have a Paraclete with the Father, JESUS CHRIST the righteous (ONE). 2 HE is the expiation for our sins, not only for ours but also for (those) of the whole world. 3 In this, we know that we have known HIM, if we should keep HIS commands. 4 The one saying "I have known HIM" and not keeping HIM commands, (he) is a liar and the truth is not in this (person); 5 but, whoever keeps HIS Word, the love of God has been truly perfected in this (person).
2:1 "Paraclete" is "the person called along side." In legal terms, a paraclete was an advocate or defense lawyer. In this context, our Savior Jesus is our advocate before God the judge. In the gospel of John, Jesus promised "another Paraclete" in the Spirit.
2:2 "expiation" was a theological term that came from the Latin for "satisfaction." Expiation "satisfied" the condition for restoring God's covenant with his people. Notice expiation focused upon the act of sin, the act of breaking God's covenant. In this sense, Jesus and his mission restored the covenant, as they took away the estrangement of sin.
Expiation should not be confused with "propitiation," a legal term from the Latin "to favorably influence." As a legal term, propitiation focused upon the transgressor, not his act. In this case, the death of Jesus "favorably influenced" God to forgive those who deserved punishment. Jesus would be the one who "replaced" the sinner in the eyes of a wrathful God. Such an understanding presupposed the unwavering anger of God until the death of his Son (or until the sinner accepted the offer of grace). Expiation, by viewing the act, not the sinner, does not presuppose the wrath of God in the salvation of sinners.
How do we know we walk with the Lord? Both feelings and insights can fool us. But, when our actions match our interior life, we can have a better measure of our spiritual journey. When our actions surprise us, when we act out of character for the better, then we know that God is in control.
The author of 1 John addressed these issues. His struggle with Gnosticism (the belief that salvation was based on secret knowledge) has been documented in other studies in this series. Unlike those who believed salvation was the release the spirit (i.e., feelings and insight) from an evil material plane, the author stressed a practical spirituality. Growth with the Lord was rooted in charity, a love that was expressed in service.
The author seemed to define sin as indifference to the Lord's commands, as much as it was breaking those commands. Of course, the author would define the Lord's commands in terms of charity ("love one another," see 1 John 4:7). In other words, the Christian really knew God when he or she served others. Those who ignored or actively rejected service did not know the Lord. They were "liars," a code word for those in league with the Anti-Christ. But, those who did sin had an advocate, a paraclete, in the person of Jesus Christ. Repentance was always possible.
Implicitly, the author did not discriminate in service. It was easy to serve those who loved us. But, if we refused to serve our enemies, we were "liars," just as much as those who rejected Christianity. So, the real test of the Christian journey fell to charity toward enemies. We are to serve, just as Jesus did in his death of expiation.
How do we know we walk with the Lord? How do we treat our enemies? That is the real test. When we serve those who we would rather not serve, when God surprises us with such opportunities, then we know we walk with the Lord. It is then, we know that He is in charge.
Reflect on your service to others. How does your service include those who you dislike? Or, of those who dislike you?