1 John 1.5 - 2.2 Our Sinfulness
May 8, 2011 Series: Letters of John
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 John 1:5–2:2
John’s and His Letters
Last week we introduced the 90 year old loving pastor AND “Son of Thunder”, John the Apostle, and his three letters to the churches around Ephesus. At the time he is writing, the churches are under attack from false teachers, many whom have left the church to start their own little fellowship rooted in “secret” new doctrines with promises of powerful spiritual enlightenment. Some have left to join them but many others remain with their faith shaken, uncertain if Jesus really lived, uncertain of their own salvation, uncertain of what it means to live the Christian life ALL because of this popular new movement.
With his letter, John intends to comfort the sheep, and to condemn the wolves once and for all. The letter begins with John’s declaration of authority as the only living eyewitness to the person Jesus Christ, whom he saw, heard and touched unlike the false teachers whose only real authority rests in their charisma.
A letter of contrasts
Though this new “fellowship” claims to be a God-centered community, John declares, without apology, that true fellowship with God, and true joy in God, can only begin with the true teaching of God. He writes to uphold the CORE BELIEFS of CHRISTIANITY, so as to protect the purity of the true name of Jesus, the purity of the apostles truth, and the purity of the pillar of truth, the church. And in doing so, John makes a series of different contrasts between those who believe the true Jesus, the true Gospel, and the true Spirit AND those who believe different demonic ones. Through his letter, various images are offered: those with eternal life and those condemned to eternal death; those who love God and those who love the world; those who follow Christ and those who follow the anti-Christ; those who love their brothers and those who hate their brothers; those who have fellowship in God, those who just have fellowship apart from God.
The Doctrine of Sin
Here John begins to elaborate on the content of the gospel message by contrasting light and darkness. The contrast is John’s method of addressing the doctrine of sin and the position that some of these men have wrongly taught. The doctrine of sin is fundamental to the gospel of Jesus. The gospel is one of grace, grace that is freely offered but grace that was not cheaply acquired; it is a grace that was expensive because of our sin—it cost the Son of God his life. There can be no grace or mercy without sin. In the words of Dietrick Bonhoeffer, "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without required repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." wrong understanding of the doctrine of sin will impact all our attitudes and all our actions. The doctrine of sin we hold to will, more than anything, will govern our relationships: with God, with ourselves, with the church, and with the world.
The Nature of God (v. 5)
Misunderstanding man’s sin begins with misunderstanding God’s holiness. It makes sense then, that John begins a statement about the nature of God. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
God is Light
In the Old Testament, light is a common symbol for God. The Bible says that God is clothed in light and the he dwells in unapproachable light. We see God reveal himself in both bright light and blazing fire. Light is associated with revelation, of God himself and of His way. Light is God’s tool for leading men, who live in darkness, toward himself. The Bible describes God’s commands, teaching, and spoken Word as light. Job warns against rebelling against the path of the light, and Solomon describes God’s’ light lighting men’s paths. Light is God’s means to open the eyes and hearts of men to SEE his paths, but also the power to enable them to walk in them. But here light is associated not only with what God does but who God is, contrasted with who we are.
No darkness at all
John says, “IN HIM THERE IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL” which is another way of saying, there is nothing evil, sinful, impure, broken, nothing unrighteous at all in God’s character. Here, as he does often in his gospel, John uses light to describe God’s holiness, his righteousness, and his perfection. God does dwell in unapproachable light, but that is more than a extraordinary level of illumination. It refers to his blinding goodness. It refers to his complete otherness, his perfection, his purity, his righteousness, his holiness. God is not just “lit up” with good stuff, HE IS LIGHT, HE IS GOODNESS, meaning, he sets the standard by which all other lights are measured—perfect love, perfect justice, perfect patience, perfect joy, etc. It is only logical that anything less than the perfect light of God is darker. Our love, our justice, our purity will never be the light, it will always be less light than God. It ALWAYS and FOREVER fall short.
#1 THE PRETENDERS. We have fellowship
Having defined a key aspect of the message, GOD IS LIGHT, John proceeds to refute three different claims, from three different kinds of liars in the church: PRETENDERS, DENIERS, REDEFINERS. These lies and these liars are still causing trouble in the church today with their CLAIMS. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
Pretending to walk in the light
Some of these false teachers claim to be basking in the light of God YET everyone knows they are walking in the darkness. Though these people claim to be living in “true fellowship with God” they are enjoying fellowship with sin. John describes people we are all familiar with: PRETENDERS, people in the who claim to know God, label themselves as spiritual, identify themselves as someone who loves Jesus, even speak authoritatively about God and His Word. Meanwhile, like Adam and Eve, they foolishly stand behind little fig leaves believing they can hide their sin from everyone. “Walking” is not a moment; it is a series of moments. This is not just a slip up, a mistake, or even some sinful habit hard to break. No. This is deeper than behavior; it is an overall heart disposition toward their sin and God’s holiness. They love their sin more than God all the time—while pretending not to. Though this person may not manifest their love of sin in the most terrible of ways, their lives are self-centered, self-absorbed, self-glorifying—even if they don’t look selfish, do good things, or are nice people. It is not occasional stumbling; walking carries the sense of moving with intent, a way of living whereby you pursue the world than the Word.
Living and lying
Perhaps you have met people like this. I have. They are non-believers who hate the light, but proclaim with all passion that they love it in an effort to gain the approval of men of something else that’s not God. I have listened to self-proclaimed Christians sit with me and say with such flippancy, “I know we are living in sin”. I remember at the time being somewhat shocked. What I should said, so you’re not a Christian. To which they would probably respond, “Yes we are.” To which I would respond, you’re a liar. Why does that seem harsh to us? Why are we so reluctant to simply tell people you cannot live in light and darkness at the same time? They are not people struggling, they’re rebelling. A “Christian” who says they are walking in the newness of life with God and yet continue to walk in oldness of sin is, lying about being a born-again Christian.
Walk in the Light
John doesn’t offer a solution as much as he describes the difference between those over in the “new church” who claim to have fellowship and those who truly do in the church. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Walk in the Light
Those who do not love God, hate God’s light and hide from Him. Those who love God, love God’s light, and desire to walk in it. This is not a matter of walking perfectly balanced along God’s light beam, rather, it is a matter of walking humbly so as to be exposed to the radiance of His light. And that walk will lead you into genuine fellowship with others—true gospel community. Those who do not walk with God, remain in darkness, isolated, full of shame, because they don’t want to be exposed. John 3.19a-21 … the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
Fellowship with one another
Those who walk in God’s light, come into a fellowship with others walking in God’s light. Living in the light is difficult at first. Moving from complete darkness to bright light is a slow process, a painful process, an embarrassing process, and a confusing process. The longer are hearts are exposed to the light of God, the more the holiness of God reveals the ugliness of our sin. Like the progression from a campfire tothe bright light of the sun, proximity to God causes us to see the scope and depth of our sin. This is a lifelong process; ours eyes never fully adjust (never see the depth of your sin), things become more clear to the extent where we can say like Paul, “I am the greatest of all sinners” (1Timothy 1.15).
Exposure to God’s light will not only transform’s one’s disposition toward sin, but also their disposition towards community. They will not see community as a place where they have to pretend their deeds are not there, rather, a place where they admit that they are sinners saved by grace—a genuine gospel community. It is not just a place that is “REAL”, but a place that is as serious about sin as they are about grace.
#2 THE DENIARS. We have no sin. V. 8
John then addresses another false claim, and another kind of person. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
We have no sin.
There are those who hide their sin; then there are those who deny that they are sinful, that there remains no sin to hide! What these wolves were teaching exactly is difficult to determine, but it seems like they are claiming to have arrived at some sort of sinless perfection—that they were fully sanctified once they came to Jesus—perfectly loving Jesus and perfectly hating sin. Somehow, they have come to the very wrong conclusion that being clothed with Christ and having been given a new heart means that the sinful flesh suddenly disappears. They must have never heard the Apostle Paul’s confession in Romans: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (7.18). This is the kind of individual whose relationship with God is a like a guy who gets married and believes that the ring on his finger, and his signature on a paper, guarantees a loving fruitful relationship. Perhaps you have met someone like this. They are difficult to do life with because it’s like being in community with Captain Purity. They may have sinned at some point in the past, but now that Jesus has saved them, lust, loving enemies, praying for presidents they hate, lying, idolatry, jealousy, envy, fits of anger, pride—not a problem! The problem is that this person is a delusional liar who refuses to admit their sin. Needless to say, these people drive me nuts.
Confess your sin. V.9
John says that, for one who is walking in the light, the proper attitude toward sin is not to deny it is there, but to confess it regularly. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Admit you’re dirty.
Do you confess daily? Like my children, I think I spend more time and energy hiding my sin, denying my sin, or justifying why it wasn’t sin. Without regular confession you deny your own faithlessness and reject Jesus’ faithfulness. Confession is an active humility, an expression of dependence, our means of claiming forgiveness in Jesus again and again and again; it is not a new sacrifice at the altar for cleansing, but claiming the one sacrifice that has cleansed. This is not a matter of making sure you confess every little sin and fear being rejected if you miss one. We are talking about confession and forgiveness between a Father and a son. No matter what my boy does, he will always be my son. The Christian is an adopted child of God, forever in his family. Your confession is not an attempt to gain Dad’s approval, it is a response to already having it. A Christian who never asks God the Father for forgiveness for his sin does not have a clue about the ways in which sin grieves Him. One’s commitment to confession is directly connected with our attitude toward our sin. And your disposition toward sin is directly connected with your understanding of God’s holiness.
Life of Repentance
Repentance, which is verbally confessing our idolatry and actively turning to God, is NOT a one-time event that happens at an altar call. Christians are to live a life of repentance. And, though our goal is to not sin, the fact remains that even as we walk in the holy light of God, we will never be separated from our sinful flesh until we die. As believers, we will get dirty. Sometimes mud is thrown on us, and sometimes we are making our own little sin-filled mud pies. But Christians accept their identity as a dirty saved sinners, committing to a lifestyle of repentance and seeking forgiveness from Jesus who died for our sin. Confess.
#3 RE-DEFINERS. We have not sinned. v. 10
The final claim John deals with echoes the same claim that we heard in verse 8. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. Now he addresses what I call, the REDFINERS—those who claim to not have sinned at all. This sounds similar to those people who believe they have not sinned since coming to know Jesus, on some perverted theological basis. The REDEFINERS are the people who leave the church all together, especially when confronted with their sin, and redefine sin to fit whatever suits their lifestyle, personality, or desires. In other words, what you’re calling sin John, isn’t sin at all.
John doesn’t tell them they are liars. Worse. He calls them unbelieving slanderers…making God himself out to be a liar. They have moved from making false claims about their own heart, to making false claims about the heart and truthfulness of God and His Word. This is the person whose truth becomes defined by their experience or the experiences of others. God’s Word is no long authoritative, culture and circumstances are. For the re-definers, the question: How much Scripture do you have to deny in order to hold to your doctrine?
Conclusion: Why I write: V. 2.1-2.2
John concludes this first argument by shifting his tone from a SON of THUNDER to a loving father. He writes: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
May not sin
John concludes by clarifying exactly what he means and what doesn’t mean. He has just told everyone to stop kidding themselves, admit what God already knows and confess you are a sinner. At the same time, John wants to make sure they know he isn’t giving them some kind of cheap grace license to sin. So, he tells them, I he is writing, so you may not sin. And that is why I preach—so you will stop sinning, stop dishonoring God, stop believing the lie that something other than God will bring true contentment.
Then, he speaks encouragement into the discouraging reality that we will sin. He simply wants people to recognize that they sin and confess it. And confess it with confidence, knowing that Jesus stands as our divine lawyer, our legal advocate with the Father defending us us from God’s wrath. God’s wrath is real. The PRETENDER wants to hide from it, the DENIER thinks they are fasted enough to dodge it, and the REDEFINER says there is no wrath to deal with. The Christian guilty plea, recognizes there is a punishment to pay, admits that they do deserve it, then looks in silence to Jesus who will plead the case. And praise God that his case does not rest on me or my behavior then, now, or ever.
Jesus stands, does not argue to God about the EXACT definition of sin, he doesn’t argue for God to change the rules, he doesn’t even ask God to declare me innocent—there is too much evidence that I have sinned. Instead, he atones for my sins and ensures my pardon by his own blood. These verses provide us both a hope and caution. The hope is knowing that, when we sin, we ALWAYS have Jesus to save us from God’s wrath. The caution is that, if and when we sin, we ONLY have Jesus to save us from God’s wrath.
Benediction Psalm 32
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah