Our Helper -- Our Substitute
Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million of enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference; He is praying for me!”
What greater help could anyone ask for, what greater privilege could anyone desire, than to have Christ Jesus as helper and friend? True Christians, who walk in the light of the Lord’s gospel have just that. The apostle John wrote: “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:1-2).
The apostle John wrote to Christians to urge them to avoid sin. Sin is the most destructive plague ever to set upon mortals. It is one plague that has never yet been defeated. It continues to wreck the lives of men and women, boys and girls, throughout every generation of time. Long ago, the wise man Solomon wrote, “Surely there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20). Paul wrote, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) and concluded, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). This universal fact has been true since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. The important thing is that it applies to you and me now. No one is exempted from the infection and corruption of sin. No more serious danger exists than the damning results of sin in personal lives. Sin is a terrible thing.
John’s statement, “... these things I write to you, that you may not sin” reveals several things to us. We are all solemnly reminded of our liability toward sin. With all of our power we ought to fight the tempter. Peter wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). In our previous lessons we learned that John told taught readers how to come into fellowship with God and how to be sure they maintained spiritual cleansing through Christ’s blood. He told them to confess their sins. If anyone in fellowship with God sins and ignores it, fellowship is broken and cleansing from sin is never realized. One cannot stay in contact with the cleansing power of the blood of Christ and deny sin. John said, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). Anyone who makes God out to be a liar is in sin.
The purpose of all divine revelation is to help mankind. The greatest obstacle for man to master is posed by sin. Without divine guidance, it is utterly impossible. Recall the unforgettable words of the ancient prophet, Jeremiah. “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O Lord, correct me, but with justice’ not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24). There is no way out of sin other than through the proper reception and application of divine revelation. John wrote to Christians in his day, and to all Christians of all ages, “that you may not sin.”
One tragic error often repeated is to relegate the written word to a place of irrelevance. This is done so frequently by those who either have no interest in reading the precious words of the Almighty, or simply are unconcerned about the great book. Those who want it read at their funeral often know little of what it really contains. But those who do devote the time and effort to reading this matchless message from heaven, have the greatest advantage in avoiding sin. They have the written message, the deterrent to sin.
Reading the Bible, hearing it taught, discussing it with others and being well acquainted with what it says, is not enough. There must be more. Those who would shun sin and please God must apply what it reveals. An unknown poet, led by the inspiration of God wrote, “With my whole heart I have sought you, Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Thy word have I laid up in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:10-11). Notice the exact phraseology, “might not sin ...”
The one who hides the word in the heart has it ready for application when temptation to sin appears. Paul wrote to the weak Corinthians, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it”
(1 Cor. 10:13). The word of God offers a way of escape from the strongest temptations the Devil offers. The one with God’s word in his heart is the one whose whole heart is devoted to seeking the favor and blessing from the Almighty. His expressed fervent craving is to remain in the straight and narrow path that leads to life everlasting, never to “wander from the commandments” of God.
The great writer and orator, Alexander MacLaren said, “Evil cannot flow from a heart in which God’s law is lodged. That is the tree which sweetens the waters of the fountain. But the cry, ‘Teach me Thy statutes’ would be but faltering, if the singer could not rise above himself, and take heart by gazing upon God, whose own great character is the guarantee that He will not leave a seeking soul in ignorance.” (The Psalms, Volume III, Klock and Klock, pages 248-249). It is manifestly true that both good and evil cannot issue forth from the same source simultaneously. Where the word is honored in the heart there is no desire to sin. Where sin is the ruling principle in the heart, there is no influence from the word from God. The two cannot peacefully coexist. They are mutually exclusive of each other.
There is however, always the liability to sin. Because we have a weakness of flesh we will sin. Jesus said, “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Recognizing that all will sin, John adds, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” An advocate is a helper, a confidant, a true friend. We might think of the term advocate in a legal sense, as one retains the services of an attorney-at-law to help in legal matters. There is a sense in which that idea is in the word, but there is much more. Jesus is more than just an attorney for us. The word suggests a person who “stands along side in order to comfort and aid.” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, page 111).
Notice the wider meaning. It is used of one who can not only provide help for one who is helpless, but who also understands, empathizes, and feels for the helpless. This kind of advocate is able to identify with one who needs help. Listen to the Hebrew writer’s description of our Lord. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).
There is nothing a human experiences, good or bad, that Jesus Christ is ignorant about. He knows our weaknesses and he is constant in His advocacy. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Whatever one experiences in this life, Jesus knows what it is like. In that, Christians ought to find great comfort. He is a helper the likes of which no one has ever been able to duplicate. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).
There is a bit of sadness to all this, however. Not all of us will benefit from the great help Christ provides. Some, in fact, the majority, will completely reject Him. The strength and help the Lord offers is, to the greater number of people, of no benefit at all for the moment. There may come a time when, through desperation and hopelessness, some will turn to Him for his help. It may or may not be too late. None of us knows the future. None of us knows how much mercy and longsuffering Jesus will extend. The only course of real wisdom is to realize the help we need.
To summarize briefly: (1) A confession of our sins is the way to maintain fellowship with God, and enjoy cleansing by the blood of Christ. (2) Sin is warded off through storing up divine truths in our hearts and using them when temptation comes. (3) And finally, we can lean on Christ, rely on His advocacy and help when things are otherwise impossible. But all of this is a promise only to His people. Those who are no part of his church, his body, his cause, are outside the perimeter of salvation and must enter in before He stands by their side. Jesus asks you to make the first move -- come to him in simple trusting faith and obey him unreservedly. He remains with all on the condition of their continued faith and obedience to his word.
Obedience issues from the spring board of faith. Repentance is an about face in life, a rejection of sin. And obedience that brings salvation confesses faith in Christ and culminates in water baptism, into the sacred name of the Divine Three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of sins. Please carefully weigh this today.
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