I’m ashamed to admit that I once stood before a judge to plead guilty and hear my sentence. It was a tense moment, the kind that makes your bowels do backflips. I secretly hoped the judge could empathize with a lowly criminal like myself. Maybe she’d been in my shoes before and think, His crime is minor enough. I’ll just let it slide.
A friend of mine, however, did experience the miraculous in a similar situation. The police charged him with a crime that should have meant jail time. They had him dead to rights as they say. But through some clerical error or perhaps the judge’s benevolence, they unexpectedly dismissed the case against him. An officer escorted him into the courtroom, he waited his turn, and the judge said, “You’re free to go.” Decades have passed, and he still doesn’t know why or how it happened, but it always makes him think of the gospel.
The Bible often uses legal jargon and imagery when relating the details of our salvation. We are encouraged to think of God as a judge presiding over our case. We, of course, are the defendants. The prosecution’s evidence against us is overwhelming. Beyond the faintest shadow of a reasonable doubt, we are guilty as charged. We know it. The judge knows it, and he’ll slam his gavel against the bench any moment now to make it official.
Only something else happens.
We assume all hope is lost. We can’t imagine our court-appointed public defender will be much help to us. Not only is he working for free—we can’t afford to pay him anyhow—but he also happens to be the judge’s son. He’s the squeaky clean type who has likely never even jaywalked. How can he relate to us? Why would he go out of his way to help?
So we wait, heads down and hands cuffed, when our lawyer interrupts the proceedings. “Your honor,” he asks, “may I approach the bench?” The judge nods. We don’t pay much attention. Why bother? Daddy and his boy are probably making lunch plans.
Minutes later, though, our lawyer returns to our side. He places a hand on our shoulder, looks deep into our eyes, and asks, “Do you believe in me?” Strangely enough, we do believe in him. His touch and disposition are suddenly compelling as though someone has flipped a switch in our brains. He is much more than we thought. He’s our paraklētos, our Helper and advocate (Jn 14:16; 1Jn 2:1). We trust that he is on our side, genuinely defending us, though he and everyone else knows we’re guilty.
“Yes, I believe in you,” we manage to say despite our surprise and confusion.
“Okay then,” he says. “I will set you free” (Jn 8:32). With that, he turns back to the judge as his face falls. He now appears terribly troubled. “I’m ready, your honor.”
The judge gives a quiet signal to the bailiff who approaches us and removes our restraints. The officer, then, places the handcuffs on our lawyer, escorting him out of the courtroom.
While we are still trying to process what’s happening, the judge says to us, “I’m well aware you have committed these crimes, but your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (1Jn 2:12). He points toward the exit through which our lawyer just walked.
“I am letting you go because my son has agreed to accept the consequences for what you’ve done. And I’m allowing it because he, unlike yourself, is perfectly righteous (1Jn 2:2). He’s never committed a single crime. If he had, I’d have to punish him for his own crimes. He wouldn’t be qualified to bear yours. But he is wholly innocent.
“When you leave here today, you’ll probably feel extremely grateful. You may vow to never break the law again, but chances are, you will. And frankly, I’ll have to discipline you from time to time when the need arises, but it’ll be nothing compared to what you deserve (Heb 12:6). You are leaving here with complete freedom. Who shall bring any charge against you? (Ro 8:33). No one.
“Even so, I am instructing you to start living like a decent citizen of society. Stop breaking the law. But when you slip up as I know you will, come to me immediately and confess your sins (1Jn 1:9). I promise to forgive you.
“To be clear, you are a criminal, and I’m not giving you a free pass to commit all the crimes you want. But what good is your freedom if you spend the rest of your life always looking over your shoulder, crippled by a fear that you could be arrested and charged all over again. Double jeopardy applies here. Not only do you have an advocate with me, you also have a propitiation, an atoning sacrifice for your sins through my son (1Jn 2:1-2). He is covering your past crimes and every crime you will ever commit. And I can’t punish him, then punish you for the same crimes. It wouldn’t be fair.
“I am telling you these things … so that you may not sin. But if you do, you have an advocate, and he is the propitiation for your sins always and forever” (1Jn 2:1-2).
Perhaps my courtroom analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough to illustrate John’s point.
God’s people are not saved because we lack sin. In fact, we are the only people in this world who readily confess our sins (1Jn 1:9). In turn, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness time and time again.
We possess a paraklētos both within us and another who is with God, continually interceding for us (Ro 8:34). The Helper, the Holy Spirit moves us from within to practice the truth while an advocate, that is, Jesus Christ the righteous, acts as a mediator between God and men (Jn 14:26; 1Jn 1:6; 1Ti 2:5). The born-again Christian has a penitent heart, desiring to leave his sin in the past thanks to the Helper.
Thanks to our advocate … Jesus Christ we can pursue righteousness without fear of future condemnation, though we surely deserve it.