A person who is a sprinter has to learn how to start the race. They take a great deal of time learning how to position themselves in the “blocks” so they can get the most fluid and efficient start. A good start is often the difference between winning and losing a race.
I am not very talented when it comes to constructing things. One of my problems is the fact that I don’t know how to begin. I don’t know what to tear out, what to replace, or even what I should do first. Starting is a prerequisite to moving forward.
As we continue our study of 1 John we are working to learn how to become “Real Deal” Christians. We want to be real followers of Christ rather than mere pretenders. Like everything else, we have to know where and how to start. This morning we are going to learn how to start by focusing on 1 John 1:5,
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1:5)
REAL DEAL FAITH STARTS WITH GOD
I think it is significant to notice that John begins his discussion of real Christianity starting with the character of God. John understood that we cannot live right unless we think right. John begins his letter talking about theology just as Paul and Peter do. They understand that you have to have a good foundation on which to build or the structure built will be unsteady and even dangerous. People who say theology doesn’t matter, are just kidding themselves. What you believe about God will determine how you relate to Him, and how you follow Him.
So, it is vitally important that we begin our quest with a right and true understanding of God. This is different from the way we normally approach things. Most cults and offshoot religions start with a simple question, “Who Am I?” They come to their understanding of faith and religion based on what they believe people need. This is why they are so popular. They are giving people what they want.
John takes a different approach. His first question is this: “Who is God?” Man is not the center of the universe (even though we think we are). God is the central character in the universe. Once we find and understand (as much as we are able) God, we can work from there to understand what our life is meant to be.
Think about it. The same is true of a relationship. We can go into a relationship with another person focusing on the question: “What do I need?” or we can go into the relationship asking, “What does it mean to love?” If we go in primarily concerned about our needs, our relationship will be selfish, demanding, and sometimes even abusive. I know that as I look back on my dating relationships when I was in high school and college these relationships were often superficial. Much of the time I was self-absorbed (much more so than now) and often I just wasn’t very nice. Now, I realize this was largely because I was asking the wrong question. I was asking “what do I need?” (which was always changing depending on the situation and my mood) rather than saying, “what does it mean to have a loving relationship?
Likewise if we want to have a vital relationship with God we shouldn’t ask, “What kind of God do I need?” we should ask, “What is the true God like?” This of course raises an important question: How do we learn about God?
We seem to have three choices. We can say it is too difficult to understand who God is and simply give up. This isn’t helpful at all. Second, we could be quiet, think and ponder and come up with ideas about God. However, when we do this we are actually creating our own God. Truthfully, people do this all the time. We hear people say things like, “My God is not like that” or “I have a God who is more tolerant of . . . “ Their God may be comfortable, but is most likely an illusion.
Third, we could learn about God from what God tells us about himself. This is what John does. He says he is telling us the message that he heard from “him” (Jesus). John, learned about God from the God-Man, Jesus. Do you understand that the main reason we read the Bible is not so much to learn how to live as much as it is to listen to what God is telling us about Himself and His desires for our lives.
WE MUST START WITH THE HOLINESS OF GOD
In telling us about God, it is interesting that John does not give us a long list of the characteristics of God. He makes a simple but very significant statement. He says,
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
This is different from what we might have expected. We would have expected that John would focus on God’s power, his knowledge, His mercy or his love. Instead he told us that God is Light. This is a good metaphor for God. It reminds us that God
- Is brilliant and beautiful. At times, God’s character is painfully blinding.
- He reveals Himself. Things in the light are visible.
- He guides us. When we travel a dark road a light can help us find our way.
- He convicts us. Light exposes what is in the dark. When the lights are on we see obstacles and dangers but we also see the hidden truth and sin in our own lives.
John balances this by saying “in him there is no darkness at all”. This is a contrast to our lives. We all have areas of darkness in our lives. We all have a hidden part of our character; the things we don’t want anyone to see. We would all be horrified if our hidden thoughts, and deeds were made public. This is why we are so often cynical. We don’t trust people because we believe they are hiding their true selves just like we are. We have a tendency to distrust God because we feel there must be a “catch”.
John wants us to realize that there is no inconsistency or weakness in the character of God. He is pure. He is consistent. He is unblemished and is uncompromised in His character. Theologically we say: God is holy.
If we do not start with the holiness of God we will be wrong on the other attributes of God. We will see God’s love as something that is sentimental. We will view Him as one having a warm smile even though we sin and ignore Him. God is loving, but He is also just and pure. God does not compromise with evil, even when that evil is found in us. He hates the sin of our lives.
If we don’t start with holiness we may believe that the bad things that happen in the world are evidence that God doesn’t care or that He is powerless. God does care. God can do whatever pleases Him. However, God is much more concerned about our character than He is our comforts. He often allows us to live with the consequences of our decisions as individuals and as a society. God sometimes sends difficult times in order to test and strengthen us. Because God is Holy we know He does what is ultimately right.
WHY ARE THESE THINGS IMPORTANT?
At this point you may be asking, “Why is any of this significant?” What difference does it make whether or not we understand that God is holy. Perhaps I can explain why this discussion is important by using a bicycle tire. Imagine that the spokes of the tire represent the various areas of our lives: our life at work, our private thoughts, our words, our life at home, our various hobbies and activities, our spending, our television habits and so forth. The outer rim and the tire represent our life. When everything is together, we roll along smoothly.
Now suppose this wheel had no center; no axle. Imagine that the spokes just dangled, attached to nothing. In this case there would be no strength for the wheel and as soon as pressure was placed on the tire the wheel would bend. Or maybe you can imagine the spokes going from one side of the rim to the other. The wheel would be sturdy; it would look good. We might even say it was a good wheel. But it would be useless. You would be unable to use it for anything.
Suppose the center was somewhere else other than the center. In this case your ride would be bumpy, perhaps unbearably so. It would be characterized by endless ups and downs.
Maybe the wheel had a number of “centers” depending on which spokes (parts of our lives) were involved. For example, the entertainment parts of our lives had a center of pleasure. The business part had a center of money. The spiritual part of our lives had a center that was the church. What would happen to the wheel? It couldn’t move forward! All the centers would be fighting against each other.
The only way to truly center your life is to build your life on the character of God. Then and only then can we move forward to becoming “real deal” believers.
We will be protected from Error
If we understand the true nature of God, we will recognize those teachings that are contrary to the nature of God.
- We will see that those who tell us that God will overlook our sin have not understood the holiness of God.
- Those who tell us that it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we are sincere, have lost sight of the absolute holiness of God.
- Those who tell us that we will become gods have no concept of what holiness requires.
- Those that teach us that God promotes violence against others does not understand the consistency and holiness of God.
We will have an accurate understanding of who we are
When we understand the holiness of God we will also come to understand ourselves. We will see that we are sinful people. We will understand that there is no such thing as a ‘little sin’. Don’t get me wrong; some sin is more heinous than other sin. However, all sin is a big deal because it disqualifies us from the presence of God. God is absolutely holy. There is NO darkness in Him.
Sin brings darkness into our lives and makes us unable to dwell with God. We become God’s enemies when we,
- Tell a little lie
- Think a lustful thought
- Do something “good” to enhance our own reputation rather than to honor God
- When we are ungrateful
- When we are discontent
When we understand God, we stop thinking of ourselves as good people who are simply having a bad day. We start to realize that we are sinful people who need radical help from God.
We will understand the true nature of salvation
When we understand God’s holiness and understand the sin stain in our own lives we will begin to see that we cannot possibly earn salvation. There is nothing that we can do in our own strength to become holy. In fact, every act we do in an attempt to “save ourselves” is actually heaping up more sin because we are presuming upon the holiness and justice of God. We are acting, if you will, like we can “buy God off” by doing something good. We are acting like we can bribe God!
We need help! We need someone outside of ourselves to pay the penalty for our sin. The problem is that that someone would have to be someone who does not have sin in his/her own life (this narrows our options considerably) and it would need to be someone who’s life is so valuable that it could serve as a sufficient and just payment for millions of others. With those requirements, that “someone” could only be Jesus.
Salvation is not a sequence of things we do; it is putting our trust in someone. It is not a resting on our best efforts, it is a matter of trusting His grace.
Do you see that when we understanding God’s holiness, we lose all our cockiness. We have no reason to feel that we are better than the person sitting near us. Each of us has the same need: salvation. Each of us must throw ourselves on the mercy of the court and receive the gift of God’s grace. We have nothing for which to boast; everything for which to be grateful.
We will have a new focus for our living
John tells us,
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (v.6)
John argues like this: If God cannot be tainted by evil. If He will not compromise with sin even a little (as He has told us about Himself); then if I am compromising with evil I am not walking with God. If I truly want to be in fellowship with God then I must live a holy life.
Our focus for living changes. We are no longer trying to earn God’s favor; we are trying to live in the light of His love. Do you see the subtle difference? Our goal in living now is no longer focused on pleasing ourselves. We understand that we need God’s strength in everything we do. Our focus is pleasing God. We seek to please God so we can live in the Light. And when we live in the Light we can see where we are going; we can enjoy the sights, and we can experience fellowship with God.
I know doctrinal teaching is difficult. But it is also important.
May I go back to the wheel illustration again? You can have the right center. You can have all your spokes in place, and still not be able to get very far. You still need air in the tire.
Likewise, you can know the right information. You can pass the theology exam. You can define holiness perfectly. However, if God’s Spirit is not living inside of you, if His breath is not filling you, you are still unable to move forward with God.
Once you understand who God is, once you realize that the sacrifice of Jesus is your only hope for forgiveness and new life, you still must decide whether or not you will act on what you know. You must still make it personal. You must still turn to Christ with YOUR sin and trust Him as YOUR savior.
Have you done that? Have you taken that step that goes beyond mere knowledge? Have you in essence “bet everything” on Jesus? That’s what is required. That is what God commands us to do. He says we must stop trusting ourselves, and put all our trust in Him.
Trust, faith, belief. These are all matters of the heart. These things are between you and God. I can’t make you believe. I can’t teach you faith. It is what happens when we are willing to dare to believe that the true God is who He said He is. Faith is taking God at His Word. True belief is putting all your confidence in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.
When we do this, the Bible tells us that we are given God’s Holy Spirit. God comes to live inside of us in a staggeringly wonderful way. It is the “air in our tire”. You don’t see it, but you know it’s there. You know because you are able to start moving forward.
So, what God are you following? The God of your own imagination (or someone else’s imagination) or the God of the Bible? Are you still trying to save yourself or are you trusting Christ alone to save you and make you new? Are you living your life in light of His holiness or are you presuming on His love?
These are important questions. They aren’t the only questions of faith, but before you have any hope of winning the race of life, you have to get a good start.