Last Sunday, Pastor Grant reminded us so powerfully of our responsibility as believers to one another in order to truly “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) – and he added that we do this not just for our own sake, but for the cause or for the sake of Christ! (Phil. 2:4)
Over nearly 60 years in ministry, I’ve had the privilege of meeting wonderful men and women of God. Among these, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of the historic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago and prolific author. Several years ago he wrote a little booklet entitled, “How on Earth Can I be Holy?” – wrestling with the challenge that many of us face, wanting to truly live for God while fully aware of the constant downward pull in our lives…
This is not a new challenge. The Apostle John addressed this issue in his Epistles to first century Christians, and true believers have struggled with it in each generation since then.
Notice the Prologue and Declaration of Johns first Epistle (1 John 1:1-4) which states:
“We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (vs. 4)
Today I want to look at the practical implications of what it means to live a consistent Christian life in the face of our natural tendency to sin. This is a lifelong process, which is also described as “walking in the light” (1:7) or “walking as Jesus did” (2:6)
Let’s start with a focus on a true understanding of God, as expressed in terms of opposites or contrast (in 1 John 1:5):
The Biblical Message of the Light:
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and in Him there is (absolutely) no darkness at all.” (1 Jn. 1:5) NIV
• The positive truth concerning God: “God is light”
Thomas F. Johnson (NIV Biblical Commentary) suggests: ‘This is both a theological and a moral statement, i.e., it describes the essential moral nature of God, as well as God’s character in relationship to humanity.’
The emphasis is on the character of God as good, pure, and holy. The notion of light implies integrity, truthfulness and authenticity. It is the very nature of light to shine, to penetrate darkness, to manifest itself and to reveal – God has done this and is doing this in the world through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is also called “the light of the world” (John 3:19; 8:12; 9:5)
The author asserts that this is the same message (Gk: ‘angelia’), which Jesus taught and which the first generation Christians “heard from Him”, is now being proclaimed to those who follow.
• The contrasting reality about God: “there is absolutely no darkness in Himl”
The last part of this verse is a very strong affirmation, as if to refute any claim to the contrary. John asserts that ‘there is absolutely not even a hint of darkness in God!’ It is clear that darkness stands for evil, sin, and impurity. It implies deceit and falsehood. Light and darkness are ultimately incompatible, and while in all human character and behaviour there may be grey areas – in God there can be nothing unworthy or morally ambiguous – God is light!
NB: By His very nature, God must be good all the time!
Three sets of “IFs” which challenge Consistent Christian Living:
In order to help his readers to better understand the challenge of consistent Christian living here and now, in contrast to God’s absolutely impeccable moral character – the fact that “God is light” – John introduces three contrasting pairs of “IF-clauses” to reinforce this truth.
In their biblical-historical context, each of these three pairs of “IF- clauses” answers a specific claim from false teachers. It seems that these false teachers left the Christian community of faith, but continued to visit individuals or house churches, trying to lure or persuade them in order to win them over to their false doctrines. Notice that John phrases his statements in a way to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. He uses the familiar “we” – “if we claim…” – rather than “if they claim…” This may indicate that these false teachers were no strangers, but present or former members of the church who excluded themselves by their attitudes and false beliefs.
Let’s examine each of these three issues which are raised here, staring with the first of these sets of “If” clauses which deal with Dishonesty vs. Truthfulness:
• The Issue of Dishonesty vs. Truthfulness:
“If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
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, purifies us from all sin.” (1. John 1:6-7) NIV
Dishonesty: The first claim of false teachers is that they have “fellowship with God”; yet at the same time they clearly “walk in darkness” (vs. 6).
To have fellowship means “to live in communion with” or “to be in a right relationship with” – which would mean that they are part of one body (the local church), unified, at peace, and sharing the same life – but these false teachers are not! Therefore, their claim is a lie and they are not being truthful. Not only are their words false, but their very lives are a lie. They are dishonest, living a lie.
When the Apostle John wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the norm was that new believers were baptized and joined the local church – usually immediately! Check out what happened on the Day of Pentecost – the birthing of the church (Acts 2:38-41). When people were convicted of their sins (literally: “pierced to their hearts”) through Peter’s powerful sermon, they asked: “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37) 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” 41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them. (Acts 2:38-41)
That was the norm. Don’t you think we’ve got it all wrong in western Christianity? – Where people may make “a decision for Christ”, but often wait years before they become obedient and get baptized and settle into a church? That’s not true Christianity! It’s a watered-down consumer version. Let me say this as kindly as I know how. If you consider HBC your home church, how are you demonstrating your sense of belonging? Are you a member? Are you truly contributing or just along for the ride?
But let’s get back to our text. Using the little word “but” or “yet” as a bridge to indicate the contrast to the first statement, John depicts the positive alternative to dishonesty which would be truthfulness, i.e., to “walk in the light”:
“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, purifies (cleanses) us from all sin. (1 John 7)
The literal reading is: “If we keep on walking in the light” (present continuous tense) = living, thinking and acting in a way which is consistent with our on-going and growing relationship with God – or as Brother Lawrence might say, ‘practicing the presence of God who is light!’
Truthfulness: “If we walk in the Light…” This would have two very important consequences:
o First, it would lead to true fellowship with the faith community – “we have fellowship with one another”
We might expect the writer to tell us that walking in light results in fellowship with God, which would be perfectly true. But their lie has also cut them off from fellowship with other believers. Therefore, walking in the light keeps one in fellowship with other faithful believers.
o The second result of walking in the light is spiritual cleansing – “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses (purifies) us from all sin.” (vs. 7) – Again, the literal translations is “…keeps on cleansing” (present continuous tense). The closer our fellowship with God and with godly people, the more aware we will be of sin in our own life. In this environment and context we find forgiveness and cleansing from sin – not by fleeing from the light.
The second set of “IF” clauses deal with Self-deception vs. Transparency.
• The Issue of Self-deception vs. Transparency:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:8-9)
Self-deception: The second claim of these false teachers was that they are without sin: “If we claim to be without sin” – literally, “we do not have sin” – Somehow, the false teachers believed that they had reached a state of ‘sinless perfection’. Therefore, they did not need the cleansing blood of Jesus. John states, they were self-deceived, i.e., they believed something about themselves which did not correspond with truth. Being self-deceived, means “the truth is not in us.”
Transparency: The positive alternative to self-deception is transparency, i.e., to acknowledge and confess our sins. This also has two important consequences:
o God, who “is faithful and righteous (just) will forgive us our sins” – He will not hold the results of our sinful attitude or action over our heads, but will erase the record.
o In addition, God will “cleanse (purify) us from all unrighteousness” – This results in a clean heart and live – first, a clean slate in our relationship with God and secondly in our relationship with fellow believers!
Now, to the third and last of these sets of “IF” statements which deal with Denial vs. a Trust Relationship:
• The Issue of Denial vs. a “Trust Relationship”: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1. John 1:10 – 2:1)
Denial: The third claim of these false teachers seems to go even a step further. These self-deceived opponents of true faith claim to have “no sin” in their lives. Therefore, they do not need redemption by “the blood of Jesus” (1 John 1:7)
Such a claim (“we have not sinned”) has serious consequences:
o First, we would expect John to respond that they are liars, yet he goes beyond this and states that their claim actually “makes God out to be a liar” – This is blasphemy!
o A second serious consequence is that they cut themselves off from God’s truth, His word (‘logos’): “His word has no place in us” – D. L. Moody: ‘This Book will keep me from sin, or sin will keep me from this Book.’
A “Trust Relationship”: A positive alternative to Denial is contained in John’s benevolent parental counsel. He suggests a Trust Relationship with Jesus:
“My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one. 2 He himself is the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
• “Good News!” – There is a way out of our sin problem!
God made provision for our sin in Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Holy Son of God, who is the solution to our problem!
“He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1. John 2:2)
This is “Good News” – There is a way out of our dilemma with sin! Jesus Christ is Himself the atoning sacrifice for our sins!
How foolish to pretend that we have no sin in our lives and thereby deny and miss the gracious provision of forgiveness from God! As you reflect on God’s truth today, you may be asking: “What should I do?” (Acts 2:37) or: “What has to change in my life and how can I change it?
Here is the simple “Good News” of Salvation through Jesus (as simple as ABC):
o Admit your need (“I am a sinner”), and turn from your sins (repent):
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” (Acts 3:19)
o Believe that Jesus died for you on that cross and rose from the grave:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)
o Confess your sins to God and let Him know your heart:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify (cleanse) us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
o Finally, invite Jesus Christ to come into your heart to forgive your sins and to control your life through the Holy Spirit:
“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
• If this message has touched your heart, don’t miss the opportunity to make things right with God!
• Come to the front for prayer during the singing of our final song. We’ll be pleased to meet you at the front and pray with you.
• Let me invite anyone who needs prayer this morning, please come forward now…