Two Vital Needs of Every True Ministry
The older I get the more I appreciate simplicity. I find myself more and more drawn to what are sometimes called ‘epitomizing texts’ where numerous strands of biblical truth are brought together in a single passage. For some time now I have been meditating upon 1 John 2:1 as the text which most fully describes the heart and soul of pastoral ministry. It is not an ‘either or’ text, it is a ‘both and’ text. John’s purpose in writing his epistle is to help professing Christians to evaluate their condition based on a series of test. Do they walk in the light? Do they keep God’s commandments? Do they love the brethren? Do they confess orthodox views of the person of Jesus, etc. In the midst of this John writes, “ My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Here we have the two things that should mark a pastor’s heart and ministry. The first is a desire that the people of God not sin. Seriously? Yes, seriously. John will go on to tell us regarding Jesus that in Him there is no sin (1 John 3:5). God is light and in Him there is no darkness. To say that he writes unto the end that the people of God forsake their sin is to say that he wants them to be like Jesus. Daily. Truly. Practically. Commandment are not merely given to show us how sinful we are and to point us to Christ. They are given that Spirit empowered people might actually do them. He wants them to forsake every known sin. He does not want them to shrug their shoulders about their sin, to throw in the towel, to compromise. He wants every sin forsaken and every Christlike virtue pursued. He wants to see the liberating power, the transforming power of God’s word and grace operative in the lives of God’s people.
That were sin once marked their lives, grace and Christ likeness will now be manifested.
Where there was hatred there is now love, where there was lust and infidelity, now purity and faithfulness, where there was selfishness there is now a giving away of ones self, where there was greed there is now contentment, where there was a life focused on self there is now a life focused on the glory of God.
Sadly what can occur when a believer embraces the first part of this text is that they heavy laden, burdened, focused on their sins and defeated. They view God has perpetually displeased with them, constantly disappointed that they have failed again to be like Jesus. It is here that the second part of our text must be equally and vigorously preached to the Lord’s people.
Not only must we proclaim real and true holiness unto the end that there is Spirit wrought likeness to Jesus, we must regularly hold before the striving and failing saint the reality of an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. In the context the term ‘advocate’ (paraclete) carries with it the notion of the courtroom. Our defender, the pleader of our case.
Our advocate is not our pastor or our parents or our friends. Our advocate is not Abraham the friend of God or Moses the mediator of the Old Covenant. It is not a great prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah, nor an apostle like John the beloved or even Paul himself. It is Jesus–the propitiation for our sins (see 1 John 2:2). Our generation seems to have produced ministries which focus on one side of the equation or the other. They see duty or they see grace. The wonder of grace does not negate the necessity of obedience and the failure of the saint does not overshadow the beauty of our Advocate.