As we consider the first two verses of the second chapter of this letter, John’s position on sin might seem a little confusing. Previously he said, “If we say we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves…,” after which he states, “…I am writing these things so that you may not sin…,” followed by “…if anyone sins…”. In order to sort this out in a reasonable manner, one must understand that his intention is to provide a proper view of sin in contrast to the distortion being advanced by Gnostic thinkers. In short, the branch of Gnosticism that was threatening the truth taught that all behavior was acceptable if one was spiritual (had fellowship with God). This amounted to saying there was no sin, nothing that is morally right or morally wrong for those who were spiritual. John declared this to be a deception.
Having emphasized that a denial of the existence of sin (moral right and wrong) is incorrect, he proceeds to indicate that God’s redemptive provision (which involves Christ coming in the flesh – another thing the Gnostics denied) is designed to free us from the power and practice of sin. Sin does exist but salvation in Christ is designed to give us victory over sin.
Sadly, there is a very common teaching in the Christian community that emphasizes that we can expect to sin everyday (in word, thought and deed – in a comprehensive manner). It is often accompanied with the idea that to think otherwise is an expression of pride. If a person assumes that victory is in themselves, this is, in fact, a problem. The victory, however, is in God’s redemptive provision, to the glory of God. To assume that sin is more powerful than God is atrocious.
Some professing Christians look to Ro.7 to describe their Christian experience but this passage is a description of Paul’s pre-Christian, Jewish experience sandwiched between Ro.6 (sin shall not be master over us) and 8 (Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death), both of which reveal a Christian perspective.
Having acknowledged that God has provided for victory over sin, and that sin is not necessary, he acknowledges that committing an act of sin (as opposed to living in sin, practicing sin, or walking in darkness), is possible in the lives of those walking in the light. If (a word of possibility, not necessity) anyone commits an act of sin, a provision has been made in Christ for being reconciled to the God that we have offended with our sin. This is not to lead to a careless, flippant attitude toward sin as the writer of Hebrews warns, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (He.10:26-29).
Finally, he indicates that this provision has been made, not only for those that had currently embraced its benefit, but for the whole world. However, Scripture teaches that this provision must be embraced through repentance (denying self-supremacy and surrendering to the supremacy of God) and faith in Christ (living with a trusting attitude and approach toward life that recognizes the sacrifice of Christ).
Within the development of Christian doctrine, there have been three dominant suggestions regarding this propitiation (atonement).
Universalism assumes that everyone is saved solely on the basis of the atonement. In other words, the moment Christ died on the cross, all people were justified and pardoned. This is not a Biblical perspective.
Limited Atonement states that the atonement is sufficient for all people but is only made for and applied to a special class / group known as the “elect” who had been previously identified by God while choosing to not apply this sacrifice to others. This, as well, is not Biblical.
General or Universal Atonement (not Universalism) states that the provision has been made for and is sufficient for all people but is not applied until one responds to God’s calling in repentance and faith. This is a Biblically defensible position.