Bible reading: 1 John 1:8 – 1 John 2 : 2
Summary of 1 John 1 vers 5-7 Walking in the light.
Last time we saw that the apostle emphasized that God is light to indicate his holiness, purity and truth. It was a message that he had received from the Lord Jesus himself (verse 5). God is the source and measure of all that is true. Nothing is truly understood until it is understood in the light of God (cf. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7). For many people life is like walking in an unknown landscape in complete darkness. They don’t know where they are, where they come from and where they go. They just live. When the light of God shines in their life, they begin to see where they are and where they need to go. It is as if they are put on a tower and newly discover the landscape of their life. The truth about their life and life destination is revealed.
There are important consequences: if we say that we have fellowship with God, but still live a self-centred life we don’t speak the truth. Walking in the light means living in intimate fellowship with God and in close fellowship with our brothers and sisters. The light of God exposes the darkness: that what is unreal, unjust and unloving in our life and in the Christian community. So we cannot continue with that. Walking in the light means that we see things the way Gods sees it. We have received new eyes to discover the beauty of the living God and the fellowship with one another. The Christian fellowship helps us to stay in the light. But there are main obstacles by the apostle summarized in one word ‘sin’. How do we deal with sin?
What is sin?
In this passage (1 John 1:8 -2:2) the word ‘sin’ and ‘sinning’ frequently occurs. Not only that, it also mentions clearly how Gods deals with sin and indicates what the ‘dear children’ (the members of the congregation) have to do with it.
Sin and culture
There are many differences in cultures about what is considered as sin. Western culture is rather a ‘sin’ culture in the juridical sense – you act against the rules and you need to be punished for that. Eastern culture rather is a shame culture – you put shame on the community and you need to be punished or excommunicated. When I travelled in the Middle East I experienced this many times: a man in the street never says that he doesn’t know the road when you ask him. Actually he does some trials, or he goes to ask his nephew…etc. Western people tend to react to this with: ‘he fakes, he lies!’ Easterners should never say that: they don’t want to put you to shame. In the Bible both sin and shame are addresses frequently. Ps. 25:2 ‘Do not let me be put to shame’; Ps. 51: 5 ‘Surely I was sinful from the time my mother conceived me…Cleanse me and create in me a pure heart’.
Different aspects of sin
One of the important Hebrew words for sin means: missing the mark, like you aim at a target and you miss it (in shooting an arrow, or with darts). When you are in the dark, you never will hit the target. To have a fuller understanding of ‘sin’ from the Bible, we need to discern 4 aspects.
Sin as breaking a law: transgressing a limit (boundary) that is set. E.g. the fourth commandment is: you shall work six days and rest one day. If you break that law and work 7 days a week, you finally will pay for it with exhaustion, stress and maybe a heart attack. If you continue on this way, you are walking in the darkness, because the light of God’s truth is not shining in your life.
Sin as breaking a covenant or a close relationship. In Genesis 3 we see that breaking the confidential relationship with God causes brokenness in all kinds of relationships: (a) with our self and our own body (Adam and Eve discovered that they were naked), (b) between man and wife (Adam accused Eve), (c) jealousy and hatred between brothers (Cain and Abel), (d) relationship with nature ‘your labour will be in pain’ Sin is causing separation because love has faded away.
Sin as pollution, of dirt. We need cleansing (Ps. 51- David knows that he is unclean, far from pure in his actions and in his motives). In the Old Testament the blood of an animal was shed and used to purify from the uncleanness. The animal paid with his life. So the apostle John says: Jesus paid with his life, with his blood, and that is why it has cleansing power. For Japanese people in particular this is difficult to understand, because blood makes you dirty, it is unclean in their culture. But we have to understand the life-giving act behind.
Sin as ‘sinful nature’. (1 John 1:10 indicates this). It is a deep-rooted inclination and a reason why we cannot stop sinning. So here sin is a power. It makes us a prisoner, we are bounded to it and we cannot escape.
You all can summarize it in this: sin means that we aren’t living according to the target for which God has designated us: to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever (that is what the shorter Westminster Catechism calls ‘the chief end of man’!). Compare it with a fish when it is taken from the water, it is still a fish, it still can live some moments, but it is taken out of its ‘element’, to enjoy the water and to take oxygen and food from it. Sin takes us our of our ‘element’: to live for God and to live with God.
What God does with sin
The apostle John has said: God is Light. He is purity and truth. So how can He tolerate sin? No He cannot. He is not simple love or a kind of Santaklaus who overlooks or condones everything. But He forgives because of Jesus His son, who has given his life to bring us back to him. He mentions this in chapter 1 verses 7 and 9, and in chapter 2 verse 2. Many people question why the blood of Jesus was needed. This Father, wanted He to see the blood of His own Son? We have to be sure: God does not breaking his universal law: where there are trespasses, there should be payment. And we all now that. When my son kicks a ball through the glass window of one of our neighbour, he has to pay the reparation. If he cannot pay, his father has to pay. If his father doesn’t want to pay, our neighbour has to pay. If he doesn’t want to pay, the whole family pays because of getting a cold and becoming sick because of the broken window.
In verse 9 John says: He is faithful and just. God is not harsh, simply applying rules. No, He wants to bring us back into life, because of the One who speaks to the Father in our defence. He is called the Advocate (1 John 2:2). He is with the Father now and shows: ‘ I have paid for them, and You have promised to give them power to become your children’. And the Father accepts because that is what He agreed with the Son.
Summarizing verses 1:7b, 9 and 2:2:
* The blood of Christ gives acquittal and eternal acceptance, nullifies our sins. So here is the experience of being justified Cf Rom 5: 9 and Eph. 1:7. This justification relates to past present and future.
* The blood of Christ gives power to conquer temptation. This is an ongoing sanctification. He wants to make us pure and holy (3: 8, 9). This is an continuous process. That’s why the apostle also says:’ I wrote this to you that you will not continue to sin’ (1 John 2:1).
* Jesus’ blood is sufficient for the sins of the whole world. It is a complete and full redemption. John doesn’t mean that every single human person is saved, because the Bible is very clear that it relates to those we really accept him and believe in him. We may nevertheless say: what Jesus has done when he gave himself to suffering and the cross is a sufficient guarantee for the renewal of the whole world. And God will bring a new heaven and a new earth full of his peace, his righteousness and his joy.
What we have to do.
Sin-consciousness, not ‘sinlessness’
Johns message could be a reason for the so-called perfectionist teachers to say: after your conversion you become holier and holier. A Christian should be without sin finally. This confused many people and it still does today.
We should not deceive ourselves and say that we don’t have sins. It is not a theoretical point. If you are an honest Christian, you try to do your best. You don’t want to sin and if something happens that burdens your conscience. You feel attracted to another woman while you are engaged or married. All of a sudden you speak angry words to one of your beloved ones. You discover that your old selfish pattern didn’t disappear completely. Etc. Then you try to do your best to be a better Christian. Young Christians can be very disappointed when they discover: there is an old self that is stronger than I thought. Years ago a student said to me: ‘I want to be a better Christian. I want to do more for Jesus. I want to be without sin.’ I understood his remark, but it caused him a lot of depression. I reminded him to a word of the reformer Luther: ‘Let Jesus do everything for you. Dare to be a sinner!
The question is not whether you can be without sin (John says: you cannot), but whether you are aware of it (not sinlessness, but sin-consciousness). The sense of brokenness for sin is a great sign of maturity in Christ is.
Confessing our sins
What means to walk in the light? It means letting the truth of God shine in all aspects of our life. Actually ‘walking in the light’ means ‘confessing our sins’. Time and again we say: here I am, just as I am. ‘Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come’ I come with all the practical mistakes, the inclinations, the bad attitude, the rough words, the nervosity, the unclean thoughts. It is related to all aspects of my life. Nothing is excluded. When you come, you may know: God is faithful and just to forgive you. It doesn’t mean that you experience forgiveness in the first place, but that you believe and know that forgiveness has been given to you already.
Expressing thankfulness for what God has done
We should express our thankfulness to the living God because He has completed everything. Everything has been done! God doesn’t need anything more. If you may live at the basis of that faith, it actually brings a great joy. It gives new courage, new perspective, new love for you colleagues, endurance in painful situations, hope for Gods suffering earth. This is the great comfort of walking with God in every aspect of your life. It is the source of energy for your work, a fountain of joy that is noticed in your environment. This renewed life is a sign of real hope for the future of the world.
Let us walk in the light of the Lord and let us do it together!
Rev. Niek Tramper, 23 February 2014