We are on a mission in our study of 1 John. We are in pursuit of authentic discipleship. Our goal is to become “real deal” followers of Christ. In a world of pretenders, we want to be genuine.
In our first two studies we have seen two characteristics of a real deal Christian: 1) such a person is convinced of the truthfulness of the Gospel 2) this person understands that any true Christian life must start with God who is Light and in whom there is not darkness at all.
This morning we are going to discover another trait of real deal followers. We will see that a true follower is one that sees his or her own failures clearly. There are at least four things we can learn from verses 6-10.
Christian Belief Has a Practical Impact (6-7)
6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 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, purifies us from all sin.
John speaks to us in a very direct manner. He tells us that a person who is a true believer will show that fact by the way they live their lives. The unchanged Christian is a contradiction in terms. We cannot walk in the darkness and have fellowship with the One who is Light.
If someone tells us that they love us, we expect to see evidence of that fact in the way they treat us. We don’t expect a person who loves us to abuse us, lie to us, betray us, speak ill of us before others, or be unfaithful to us. When we see these kinds of behavior we are justified in questioning the genuineness of their love. On the other hand, a person who is kind, giving, sacrificial and attentive give evidence that their love is genuine.
Likewise, a person who claims to be a follower of Christ, yet lives like the Devil, give evidence that their profession is not true. We are saved by God’s grace apart from our works BUT true faith leads to Christ-like works.
Walking in the Light Makes us Aware of Our Sin (8)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
John says a true believer has come to grips with his or her own sinful heart. The true believer does not see sin as “the other guy’s problem”. They understand that under the right circumstance they themselves are capable of the most despicable evil. The true believer sees the sinfulness of their own nature.
Having said this, we must admit that we live in a society that rebels against taking responsibility. I love Anna Russell’s “Psychiatric Folk Song”
I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat and blackened my husband’s eyes
He laid me on a downy couch to see what He could find,
And here’s what he dredged up, from my subconscious mind.
When I was one, my mummy hid my dolly in a trunk
And so it follows, naturally, that I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer from kleptomania
At three I had a feeling of ambivalence towards my brothers
And so it follows naturally, I poisoned all my lovers
But I am happy now I have learned the lessons this has taught
Everything I do that’s wrong, is someone else’s fault.
It happens all the time.
- Overweight people blame the fast food restaurants
- Kids who shoot their classmates blame the bullies of their class
- Criminals blame their parents
- Cancer patients blame cigarette manufacturers
We blame doctors, teachers, employers, and the government. We even blame God! We blame him for our personality types and for the circumstances we have encountered. Terrorists justify their barbaric actions by saying they are only doing the will of God!
Think about it this way. Every year children done costumes and masks for Halloween. They pretend to be superheroes, cartoon characters, pirates, princesses, athletes and even produce (pumpkins!). It’s fun to pretend. But it is dangerous when someone begins to believe that they are what they are pretending to be. The child who really thinks they are superman and jumps off their roof is going to get hurt.
Many people live their lives wearing a mask. They pretend to be something they are not. They pretend to have it all together. They pretend to have no problems or no struggles. They are wearing a mask, playing a part, but they think it is real.
Before we can be right with God we have to take off the mask. We have to look in a mirror and see ourselves clearly. In Brennan Manning’s book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel”, Manning tells his own story about a time in an alcohol treatment facility. Early on in the treatment program he recounts how they had to sit in a circle with a leader and tell the truth to themselves, and to the other people in the group, about the extent of their drinking.
So they went around the circle and they all told the truth, except for one guy named Max. When it came time for him to reveal the extent of his drinking, he said, “I never really drank that much.” They said, “Max, you’re in an alcoholic treatment center for a month. You weren’t sipping cokes. Tell the truth to yourself.
He said, “I’m being honest with you. I’ve never really had all that much to drink.”
The leader of the group put a speakerphone in the center of the circle, and said, “I’m going to call the bartender close to your office and we’ll just find out how much you drank.” He called the bartender and said to the person on the phone, “Do you know Max So-and-So?” The guy says, “Oh, like a brother! He stops in every day after work and has a minimum of six martinis. He’s the best customer we have—a prolific consumer of alcohol.
The rest of the people in the group all looked at Max. And finally Max finally took off his mask and told the truth to himself. He said, “Yes, I’ve had a lot to drink.”
A little later on in the group, they asked everyone, “Have you ever hurt anybody, a friend or family member, while you were drunk?”
Once again they get to Max, who says, “I would never, ever hurt anybody. Not when I’m sober, not when I’m drunk. I have four lovely children. I’d never hurt my wife, I’d never hurt my kids.”
The leader says, “We’re going to call your wife.” The leader says, “Mrs. So-and-So, has Max ever mistreated you or anyone in the family when he was drunk?” And she said, “Well, yes he has. It happened just this last Christmas Eve. He took our 9-year-old daughter shopping on Christmas Eve because she wanted a new pair of shoes. He gave her $60.00 and told her to buy the best shoes in the place. She did, and was thrilled with her new shoes. On the way home, our little girl was sitting in the front seat enjoying her new shoes, and Max passed the bar and saw the cars of some of his buddies.
“He pulled in. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was a cold, wintry day, 12 degrees, with a high wind chill. He made sure all the windows were rolled up snugly. He left the car running so that the heater was blowing, and he said to our 9-year-old daughter, ‘I’ll be right back. You just play with your shoes; I’ll be right back.’
“He went in the bar and started drinking with his buddies. He lost track of time and didn’t come out of the bar until midnight 9 hours later). In that time, the vehicle had shut off and the windows had become all frosted over and locked up tight so she couldn’t get herself out of the car. When the authorities opened up the car and rushed her to the hospital, she was so badly frostbitten that her thumb and forefinger had to be amputated. And her ears were so damaged by the cold that she’ll be deaf for the rest of her life.”
As the wife described this to the group, Max fell off his chair and started convulsing on the ground. He couldn’t bear telling himself the truth about what he had done. He couldn’t face it. He was content to live the rest of his life in some fantasy world of denial about what he had done. (pp. 126-129)
We shake our head at Max’s story but it is also our story. We look at our lives and we say, “I’m a pretty good person”. What we don’t understand is that the sin of our lives, the “little things” as we call them, are really are just as offensive to God as leaving your child in a car for nine hours in the winter is to us! Any recovery program starts the same way. A person needs to take off their mask and face the truth. We must face the truth about our sin.
To Finding Relief We Must be Seek Forgiveness (9)
So what do we do once we have recognized the sin in our lives? Is there any hope for people who are so addicted to rebellion and selfishness? John gives us the prescription
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
There is a wonderful promise here. John states that even the most horrible of sins can be forgiven! The damage we have done can be overcome. We can start new. We can be friends of God even though we have spurned Him in our living.
There is a condition: confession. The Greek word for “confess” means “to say the same thing, to agree”. To confess our sin means that we say the same thing about our sin that the Holy Spirit says about it. It means we must see our sin as hideous and ugly, because we measure it as God feels about it. Confession is not merely saying, “Sorry!” It is grieving over the sin of our hearts and how it offends God. We must call our sin what it truly is (greed, hatred, lust, rebellion, selfishness) and confess it before God.
John tells us if we will confess and seek His forgiveness, “He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful in extending mercy but He is also just. This means that God doesn’t shrug our sin off as if it doesn’t matter. He addresses our sin at the cross. Our debt is paid from Christ’s resources. Jesus bore the punishment that we deserved. As a result, the past no longer has any bearing on our relationship with God any more. We are not only forgiven but we are also cleansed. The slate is wiped clean.
It’s like some children who get in trouble with the law. When they turn 18 their record is sealed. Their conviction is no longer on the books. They are given a fresh start. That is the kind of forgiveness God extends. In Isaiah we read,
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
God’s promise is that if we truly face our sin with genuine sorrow and confess it before the Lord we will be forgiven. The stain will be removed. In God’s eyes we will become as if we were unblemished.
I need to be clear on something. God forgives us and makes us clean before Him but we may still have to live with the consequences for our actions in this world. Just as David, though forgiven, had to face consequences from his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. So for you there may still be consequences.
- There may still be a baby to raise
- There may still be jail time to serve
- There may still be a relationship to rebuild
- There may still be physical effects we have to live with (like liver problems for the recovering alcoholic)
These things are hard, but we will be right with God. And once we are right with Him, He will work in us to restore the other areas of our lives.
There are NO Exceptions (10)
10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
John’s message is pretty simple: if you refuse to admit your own sinfulness then you are calling God a liar (He says “all have sinned”) and you show that His Spirit is not in you. If you cannot admit your own sinful nature, you are not really a believer at all. This is the way it is. There is no exception.
The Christian life begins when we make our initial confession of our sin before God. It is maintained by our continued confession of sin which will helps keep us in the fellowship of God.
There are several different conclusions we can draw. First, there is a warning to the smug and arrogant. If you are feeling you are better than another you are deceiving yourselves! You don’t understand the nature or the depth of sin. You are most likely hiding behind a mask. You are living in a fantasy world. You think you are better than others but you are not. You are like Max. You have convinced yourself of something that isn’t true.
You can’t be a true follower of Christ until you admit your own sinful heart. A real deal disciple has take off their mask. They have stopped pretending, making excuses, and blaming others. They understand their need for God’s forgiveness.
Second, there is a message to the broken. You may feel distant from God today. You may believe deep down that God could never forgive you for what you have done. You see the hurt you have caused. You mourn over the darkness of your soul. You may feel like you have no right to be here in this church. You may live every day in fear that someone is going to learn what you are really like.
You have a choice: you can find a mask and hide behind it and hope that no one finds out the truth. You can live in denial, tell yourself it’s not your fault, and convince yourself that you are pretty darn good. You might fool yourself. You might even fool others. But that won’t help you when you stand before God.
The other alternative is to be honest before God. You can take the broken pieces of your life to Him and say, “Lord, look what I have done. Look at the people I have hurt. Look at how I have ignored your warnings and rebelled against your authority.” Take responsibility for your sin and lay your wickedness at the cross of Jesus. Seek His forgiveness. Then, dare to take God at His word. Dare to believe this promise in 1 John. Dare to believe that He will, He does, and He has forgiven you. Trust Him to make you new.
Third, there is a reminder to all. It is important that we remember what a great debt has been forgiven us. We shouldn’t dwell on the past or live in the past, or even continue to beat ourselves up over the past. But we must never forget the debt that has been forgiven. We must remember so that we will be filled with the continuing wonder of His grace.
And if we continually recall this grace that has cleansed us and made us new, perhaps we will stop pretending, we will stop being afraid of the past, we will stop being “surprised” and horrified by the sin of others and hopefully, we will stop beating each other up and begin extending the grace we have received to others.