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1 John 1:5-2:2: Sin and the Believer Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 08 November 2009

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The relationship between sin and the believer is not always as clear in our minds as it should be.  We here Christians saying all the time, ‘I’m not perfect, just forgiven.’  That is true enough I guess.  Yet, it is not all there is to say about how we should consider our sin.  If we are not careful, we can surely oversimplify our approach and miss what the Bible has to say about sin and the believer.

The opponents of John have apparently made some gross errors concerning sin.  He writes to correct these errors throughout the letter and particularly in our passage this morning.  Yet, before we look at these errors, we must begin where John begins, namely with theology.  Look at 1 John 1:5.  John tells us that God is light.  What exactly does John mean by this?  In context, the reference to ‘light’ here refers to God’s moral perfection.  John adds in the verse: and in him is no darkness at all.  Thus, he is contrasting darkness and light.  Jesus does this in His discussion with Nicodemus in John 3.  He equates darkness with those whose deeds are evil and light with those who do what is true.  There are ethical statements.  Since John goes on in our passage to speak of walking in darkness and walking in light, it seems that his description of God being light is a reference to His complete moral purity. 

So then, John begins with the theological truth that God is light.  John bases his ethical instruction for his readers upon the sure foundation of God’s character.  Because God is light, certain things will be true about His followers and their relation to sin.  It seems that John’s opponents were not making these connections and so he writes here to correct their errors.  He states their errors in three ‘if…then’ clauses (v. 6, v. 8, and v.10).  Since the final two clauses are very similar, I want to treat them together.  Thus, I want to identify from the passage two errors that we make concerning sin.  Likewise, I want us to look at how John corrects those errors.

First error: ‘My sin will not impact my relationship with God’ (1:6-7, 2:1).

We could also call this the error of thinking that sin simply does not matter.  It is the error of simply taking sin too lightly.  Look at what John says in verse 6.  Apparently, his opponents were still claiming to have fellowship with God.  Yet, John’s point is clear: you cannot have fellowship with God, who is light, and walk in darkness at the same time.  To think otherwise is to live a lie and to not practice the truth.  This is strong language and John will use such in describing the mistakes that his opponents are making.  Since they are walking in darkness, they cannot have fellowship with God.  Of course, this begs an important question: what does John mean by ‘walking in darkness’?  One of my commentators notes that it refers to habitually living in sin, which I think is a helpful definition.   We cannot be living content in our sin and expect to have fellowship with God.  The commentator goes on: “Sin is always a barrier to fellowship with God…”   This is a grave warning indeed.  We cannot take our sin lightly.

John corrects this error by exhorting us to walk in the light.  Look at verse 7.  Instead of remaining in continual sin, John tells us that we should be walking in obedience and openness.  What are the results of walking in the light?  First, we have fellowship with one another.  We expect John to say that we have fellowship with God to contrast what he said in verse 6.  Yet, since he has already linked our fellowship with God and our fellowship with one another, he states here that walking in the light will lead to fellowship with one another.  He will speak more of this in the letter when he talks about the importance of believers loving each other (see 2:8-11).  Second, we have cleansing from sin.  At first glance, this may seem out of place as well.  If walking in the light means not sinning, then why will we need cleansing for sin?  Simply stated, John does not teach sinless perfectionism for believers.  He will make some strong statements concerning sin and the believer, but he does make it clear in this passage that believers will still occasionally disobey.  Yet, as they walk in the light, they can know that these sins are forgiven by the death of Christ and His shedding of blood for their sakes.

John does not want his readers to take their sin lightly.  In fact, he tells them that he is writing so that they will not sin.  Look at 2:1a.  What he has written is staggering.  He begins with the theological truth that God is light and moves to the obvious implication that we cannot be walking in darkness and have fellowship with the Light.  By the blood of Christ, may God grant us the grace to walk in the light, as he is in the light.

Second error: ‘I do not struggle with sin’ (1:8-10, 2:2).

This error could be called the ‘sin is not present’ error.  Look at how John describes it in the two clauses found in verse 8 and verse 10.  Again, it seems the opponents were making claims that they had not sinned (or at least not since they were ‘enlightened’).  One way to get around the first error is to simply deny any struggle with sin.  If you do not struggle with sin, then you do not have to worry about not having fellowship with God.  Yet, no matter how much we claim to be innocent or claim that it’s everybody else’s fault, we cannot escape the simple truth: we are sinners.  We know what is right and we knowingly do what is wrong.  We sin.  To believe anything else is to deceive ourselves and to make him (God) a liar.  It means that we are devoid of the truth and his word is not in us.  Again, strong language to combat these errors.

So then, if we cannot claim to be sinless, what are we supposed to do with our sin?  Look at verse 9.  We confess.  We tell others that we have sinned.  When it is appropriate, we get specific.  Did you lust after a woman this week?  Find someone and confess.  Did you try and find your security in something other than the Lord?  Let someone know about it.  Did you gossip, did you speak in anger, did you covet, did you struggle with pride or lack of patience, did you ignore the Lord, ignore His Word, ignore the lost around you?  If you did, then be honest and confess.  Why?  What results from such confession?  John tells us: he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Did you hear that?  Brothers and sisters God does not want you to try and hide your sins.  Christianity is not a bunch of people trying to convince each other how good they are.  No, may it never be.  Christianity is a bunch of people who freely confess their sins to the God who is faithful and just to forgive them.  O my soul, worship the Lord!!  Be amazed at our great God who welcomes sinners like us to His table.

Yet, an important question still remains: how can God be just (or righteous) in forgiving our sins?  We have already seen that He is light and that He has nothing to do with darkness.  But we are sinners, so how can God forgive us without compromising His purity?  John answers for us in 2:1b-2.  John tells us that Jesus is our advocate (or helper) before God.  He represents us and John notes that He can do this because He is righteous (same word that is translated ‘just’ in 1:9).  Jesus, the righteous, is our advocate before the Father. 

But what does He plead?  He cannot plead that we are innocent, for we have already seen that we are sinners.  What defense can be given for our darkness?  How can we have fellowship with the Light?  Jesus pleads His own death, which propitiates (or turns away) God’s righteous wrath against our sin.  Since God is light, He must punish our sin and darkness.  He cannot just gloss over our sin like it is no big deal.  No, a penalty must be paid.  And glory to God, Jesus paid it in our place.  He took our sins and the wrath that they deserved upon Himself.  He did not make a sacrifice, He became the sacrifice.  This is what our Savior has done.  And since our sins have been paid for by Christ, God is just in forgiving them.

John adds that Christ is the propitiation not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.  This is not universalism (or ‘all will be saved’).  John is not saying everyone’s sins will be forgiven because Christ died for them.  Yet, he is saying that Christ died for them.  The free offer of the gospel is a genuine offer to anyone and everyone.  Only those who repent of their sins (confess) and trust in Christ will be saved, but John does not limit Christ’s propitiatory work in this verse.  We can preach the gospel knowing that Christ died for the sins of the whole world.

The call on our lives from this text is to avoid these errors concerning our sin.  We cannot make the mistake of thinking that our sins do not impact our relationship with God and with one another.  That is a lie.  Likewise, we cannot claim that we do not really struggle with sin.  As believers, we must not think that our sin is too little or too great.  If we think they are too little, then we do not understand that God is light and that He can have nothing to do with darkness, a serious theological error.  If we think that our sins are too great, then we do not understand the work of Christ as our propitiation.  To claim that our sins are too great is to claim that His sacrifice was too little.  No, we must avoid these.  How do we do this?

John has told us.  First, we walk in the light.  We make war on our sin because we believe and know that our God is light.  We stay as far away from the darkness as we can.  We fellowship together for the purpose of encouraging one another in this fight.  Our new covenant reads: “Knowing the deceitfulness of sin, we will be quick to repent and make every effort to put to death the sin in our lives.”  We covenant together to not take sin lightly, to fight hard against it, and to walk in the light.  Yet, how can we do this?  What hope do we have in this battle?  We look to our Savior, whose blood not only paid for our sins but it cleanses us and breaks us free from the power of sin.  Since Jesus is our master, sin will never be.  We look to Him as we labor to walk in the light. 

Second, as the statement says, when we do sin, we are quick to confess and repent.  We do not lie to each other about our struggles.  We do not try to ‘keep up appearances.’  No, we come clean.  We openly confess.  And what is our hope in such confession?  Our hope is that our Savior has indeed paid for our sins.  God is faithful and just to forgive us.  John wrote that we would not sin (2:1a) and that if we do we would look to Christ as our advocate (2:1b).  As believers in such a faithful Savior, may this be our approach to sin.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 17 November 2009 )

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