See Through Saints

This last week, we have been reminded of those tragic events that took place ten years ago in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the thousands of lives that were lost.  We need to remember.  But human nature tells us that as time passes, so will the memories.  Many of us remember the shock and horror of the assasination of John F. Kennedy, fewer remember the terrible day on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  And the time will come, when these events are a part of our history, but the vividness of the memories will have faded.  Unfortunately, the same holds true of our memories of the cross of Christ, the most significant event in the history of the world.  It means so much to us, and yet as time passes, the vividness fades.  And John wants to help us avoid that by reminding us of the importance of our personal relationship with Jesus.

In the first four verses of 1 John, the apostle John wrote “what we have seen, heard, touched we proclaim to you.” What is it that John saw, heard, touched and proclaimed? The word of life, Jesus, the Son of God. And his promise? A first-hand faith, a personal relationship with Jesus.

But what does that mean? This letter from John will ask that question several times in various ways. If you really have a relationship with Jesus, how does that affect your life? This isn’t a mind game, this isn’t a theoretical play with words – this is the real thing – this makes a difference where you live.

And here is where John begins – vs. 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.” We could fill up a chalkboard with ideas about what that means – “God is light” – describes his glory, brilliance, truth, purity, honesty, how he gives guidance, penetrates and exposes sin, illuminates the way – and every idea we could come up with concerning light would find its reality in God.

John tells us something about this personal relationship that he began with. In order to be in relationship with God (John calls that “fellowship”) you have to walk in that light. You can’t walk in darkness and expect to have a relationship with God. Darkness and light are incompatible. They are mutually exclusive. Where God’s light shines, there will be no darkness. Where there is darkness, God will not abide.

We don’t care much for this idea of exclusivism. Our culture doesn’t believe in absolutes and truth. It believes in relativism and tolerance. It demands options and insists on having alternatives. But John is very clear. He doesn’t have many shades in his world – there is black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. And because that’s the kind of world we live in, John says you have to make some choices – tough choices. Listen to some of John’s tough choices: either you walk in the light or you walk in the darkness. You can’t straddle the line. In ch.2, you either love God or you love the world, you can’t have both. In ch.3, if you are a child of God you will do what is right, you cannot let sin rule your life and be his child. In ch.4, if you love God you must love your brother. You can’t hate people and say you love God. In ch.5, if you love God, you will obey his commands. Obedience is not optional.

You need to know that John’s letter is very simple. If you were to study the Greek language, this is the book you would start with – simple vocabulary, simple grammar. And his message is just as straight-forward and simple. In fact, one preacher has boiled the whole book down to this: Be real Christians by living right and loving people. That’s it. If you want to do a quick pulse check on your Christianity ask yourself if you pass that simple test.

But there are some folks out there who fail the test before we ever get into the letter. John says there are some folks out there who are lying to themselves. What he says is they are making claims that just aren’t true. Let’s look at those three lies that people are telling.

The first one is in vs. 6: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” That’s bold-faced hypocrisy. It’s the man or the woman who goes around claiming to be a Christian but whose lifestyle is godless. You ask them, “Are you a Christian, do you believe in God?” Their answer? “Absolutely!” But you look at how they live and what they do, and it doesn’t fit their claim. They’re walking in darkness, and John has already told us there is no darkness in God. Who is he talking about?
• The man who comes to church and everybody thinks he’s a great guy and he goes home and physically and verbally abuses his wife and kids.
• The woman who teaches a Bible class on Sunday morning, but has a regular Thursday afternoon meeting at a motel with a man she’s not married to.
• It’s the teenager who comes to church and puts on a show of being real spiritual, but everybody knows he’s out on Saturday nights drinking and partying.
• It’s the Christian businessman who keeps a Bible prominently displayed on his desk at work, but cheats on his income taxes and compromises his integrity for a couple of thousand.

A few years ago, a man wrote to Dear Abby: I am having an affair with two different women. I can’t marry them both. Please advise what I should do, but don’t give me any of that morality stuff. Abby responded: The only thing that separates us from the animals is morality. Write to a veterinarian.

Very simply, John writes and asks, “If you claim to be a Christian, but don’t live the life, don’t you see what you’re doing?”

The first lie is “We’ll go to church and we’ll wear the name, but we won’t live the life.” Why do people do that? I guess it’s the same reason as the very first lie that was told – it’s out of pride – the desire to be seen as being right – when in our hearts and in reality we are not.

It’s a simple lie, but it’s a lie told every time we open our songbooks and sing, Take My Life and Let It Be, or My Jesus, As Thou Wilt. It’s one thing to come into a church building and sing, “Take my life and let it be…” But the problem isn’t here in the church building. It’s out there – on the job, in the home, at school, after work, in the evenings, dealing with people. And John tells us, if we think that sitting in a church building and singing songs and listening to a sermon are going to make us right before God, we’re lying – to ourselves.

Let’s listen to Jesus’ take on this conflict between words and lives – Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

These were religious people, but their talk and their walk were inconsistent. This is the person who lives one way when people are watching, but another when they are in private. This is the person who really thinks he can mix light and darkness, who thinks he can come to church on Sunday morning and live anyway he wants during the week.

There’s a second lie John talks about. The first is the boldface hypocrite. The second is blindness to self – the person who convinces himself what he is doing isn’t sin – vs. 8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” I think this is where so many of us find ourselves. It’s not the premeditated, “I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway,” but the person who finds himself doing things he knows are wrong, but convincing himself, it’s no big deal. We rename sin by calling it a mistake or an error in judgment, or a character flaw. We make excuses, we salve our consciences. Like the bold faced hypocrite we are involved in sin, but we turn around and say, “Who, me? That wasn’t really sin, you’ve got the wrong guy!”
• Have you ever found yourself in Gehazi’s shoes in 2 Kgs 5?
• When you claim to be without sin, John says you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you. The one you are lying to is yourself. The truth is missing from your life when this is going on. The truth isn’t always pretty or pleasant, but it is always best.

There is still a third lie which John describes in vs. 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.”

I want to make sure you hear the seriousness of what John is saying. This is not the person who sins and thinks it doesn’t matter, or the person who sanctifies his sin by calling it something else. This is the person who says, “I’m not a sinner. I’ve never sinned.”

What’s so serious about this claim is the implication that we have no need of a Savior. And this is where we read, “we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

It’s one thing to lie to yourself. It’s another to call God a liar. God says, “You do sin, you are a sinner, you need a savior.” But John says there are some folks who get caught up in the rhetoric of the day and the spirit of the age who say, “what’s all this talk about right and wrong – sounds awfully judgmental. There’s not really a heaven or a hell, salvation is just an old fashioned idea for uneducated people who need a crutch.” Do you hear what they are saying? “I’m perfect just the way I am.”

Not only are you calling God a liar, but you are cutting yourself off from the one thing that can make a difference in your life – “his word has no place in our lives.”

Let me move quickly to the cure. First, John says that if you are walking in darkness, stop it! Not that simple? Yes, it is. It is simple, but not easy. Set your feet on the right path, start doing what is right. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, it means you have to want to do what is right. He says, “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.” It is not our perfect obedience, but God’s perfect sacrifice. If we are in Christ, God continually cleanses us from our sin. Not just one time at baptism, but constantly as we are bathed in the blood of Christ – as we walk in the light.

Second, vs. 9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We’re not very good at confessing. Brother Joe comes forward and writes on his card, “I haven’t done what I ought to do.” And we say, “Welcome to the club, Joe. We’re all in the same boat. For a minute we thought you were going to tell us the truth!”

A couple of things about confession: 1) I do not have to confess my sins to you in order to receive forgiveness from God. 2) I do have to confess my sins to God in order to receive forgiveness from God. 3) I do believe the Scriptures encourage us to be open and willing to confess our sins to one another that we might pray for one another.

Before there is any public confession made, there must be a private confession to God in absolute honesty and transparency. (Is God ever surprised when you confess a sin to him?...) He wants us to be transparent – “see-through saints” – nothing hidden from him.

There are times when we need to confess our sins to one another. Sometimes it is with a brother or sister, one on one. We need someone in our life who knows us warts and all and lovingly holds our feet to the fire. There are other times when we do need to come before the congregation and make a specific confession of sin. When a sin has been so public or has affected so many people, I just believe it is essential. Sometimes we hide behind our private confession – “this is just between me and God.” Everybody is aware of the sin, but nobody knows how to treat us or how to act, because we’ve kept them at arm’s length. And so the sin continues to affect the people around us, and Satan continues to use it as a stumbling block.

But it doesn’t just have to be a public sin to be confessed publicly. And anytime we find ourselves struggling with a sin, it is always appropriate to come forward and ask for our spiritual family to pray for us. But that implies we act as a family – we treat confession as a sacred trust, not public fodder for gossip.

And I want to say that some of the most incredible, life-changing moments I have ever seen in an individual’s life and in the life of a congregation have taken place following public confession of sin. It changes the relationship when we let down the walls and are transparent with each other. It changes strangers into family.

The point of confession is that we are putting ourselves back under the penetrating, healing light of God. In his Gospel, John recorded Jesus’ words: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)

It is the first step to walking in the light. Find some time today to simply go to God in prayer of confession – take some time, be specific. Take an honest inventory, and you will find that we not only don’t do we confessing to God or to each other, but we don’t even know how to confess to ourselves.

One thing that you are going to find is that the list is longer than you thought. It’s also going to keep you from falling into the lie of thinking you’re without sin, or above sin. But most important, you will find the truth of what John says in vs. 9, “… he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Satan uses the darkness to keep us in slavery to sin. Confession is the key to the shackles to free us from it.

And that really brings us to the most powerful point of this entire passage: 2:1-2 My dear children, I write this 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. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. God doesn’t want us to sin. But he knows we have, and he knows we will. And that is why he sent his Son. He has already paid the price. He has already extended his grace. The question is, will you accept?