We began to study the letters of the Apostle John last Sunday when we looked at the first four verses of his first letter. And do you remember what his subject was in those first four verses? His subject was the Word of life, which is his title for Jesus Christ our Saviour. And what did he want to tell us about the Word of life? He wanted to tell us that he was from the beginning. And he was from the beginning because the Word of life is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, who is eternal: without beginning and without end. And therefore, in the beginning, before the world was created, there was the Word of life. And the Word of life appeared on the earth when God the Son became one of us and was born in the flesh as a baby in Bethlehem.
And after he appeared, the apostles heard him and they saw him with their own eyes and they looked upon him and they touched him with their hands. And after they heard him and saw him and looked upon him and touched him, he appointed them to be his official eye-witnesses and to testify to all that he had said and done and to proclaim him. And the Lord appointed them to testify to these things and to proclaim him so that all who believe may have fellowship with one another and with God the Father and with God the Son as members of Christ’s church. And the Lord appointed them so that our joy may be complete. Right now, in this life, we have the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven and we have the joy of knowing that God loves us and that we have fellowship with him. And one day we’ll come into the presence of God in the life to come where we will receive fullness of joy, perfect joy, never-ending joy.
That’s what we were thinking about last week when we looked at the first four verses of John’s first letter. In today’s passage, John refers three times to what some people were falsely claiming about sin. Take a look at verse 6:
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and not not live by the truth.
Then take a look at verse 8:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
And then there’s verse 10:
If we claim we have not sinned, we make him our to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
So, those are the three false claims. And after referring to each false claim, John contradicts each one and he makes clear that sin matters. Sin matters. But God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. And God is able to forgive us our sins because of Christ who offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
But before we get to the false claims and how John contradicts them, we have verse 5 where John tells us one of the things he learned from the Word of life and which he wants to declare to us. And it’s this: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
Sometimes the image of light is used in the Bible to convey to us the idea of God’s perfect knowledge. Light represents knowledge and darkness represents ignorance or error. And since God is light and knows all things perfectly, then nothing is hidden from him. Nothing is concealed from him and God is never ever in the dark about anything at all. He knows all things perfectly. His word, therefore, is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path, because in his word he enlightens us concerning his will and the way we should go. So, the image of light can convey the idea of God’s perfect knowledge and how he gives us light.
However, the image of light is also used in the Bible to convey to us the idea of God’s moral purity and holiness. When that’s the case, darkness represents wickedness. On the other hand, light represents all that is good and pure and pristine. And this is the image which is at the forefront in verse 5 when John tells us that God is light. He’s referring to God’s holiness, his majestic purity. And when John tells us that there is no darkness in God at all, he means there’s not a hint of anything impure in him, because he is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably holy and good and pure and perfect. This is our God.
The first false claim
And that leads us then to the first false claim, which we find in verse 6. John says:
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
Now, John was not making this claim for himself, but he was presumably quoting what other people were saying. And what they were saying can be put in a nutshell. They were saying that sin does not matter. Sin does not matter. Disobedience to God’s holy commands does not matter. And it doesn’t matter how anyone lives.
So, here are people who claim to have fellowship with God. They claim to be believers and to have a relationship with God and to be members of his church. They claim to have fellowship with God. But they walk in darkness. In other words, they do evil. They aren’t trying to keep themselves from sin and they aren’t endeavouring to live a holy life. And their attitude is: it doesn’t matter. I can have fellowship with God and keep on sinning. I can have a relationship with God and live an immoral life. And this is possible because sin does not matter.
Those who think like that and who make that claim about themselves are lying, says John. They’re lying, because what they’re saying is not true. And they’re not living by the truth, because the truth is that sin does matter to God.
Now, there are lots of obvious examples of this kind of wrong-headed thinking, aren’t there? There are lots of examples because nowadays we’re used to hearing about people who claim they can be members of the church and at the same time live openly gay lives, even though God’s word is clear that homosexual desire and behaviour is wrong. But while that particular thing may be modern, it’s always been the case that people have believed that they can worship God on Sunday and do whatever they like from Monday to Saturday, because they believe that sin does not matter.
But sin does matter. Sin does matter. It matters because God is light. He is pure. He is perfect. He is morally excellent. And if we’re to walk with him, if we’re to have fellowship with him and if we’re to have a relationship with him, then we have to step out of the darkness and we need to live in the light, because he is in the light. So, if we want to have a relationship with God, if we want to have fellowship with God, then we can’t continue to live an immoral and sinful life, but we have to leave our old, sinful life behind by stepping out of the darkness. And that’s why both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus preached the same message of repentance. Repent, they said. Turn away from your life of sin without God and begin a new life of obedience to God and walk in his ways.
And when we turn away from that life of sin without God, we not only have fellowship with God, but we have fellowship with one another. Do you see that in verse 7? Our sin not only separates us from God, but it separates us from one another, because sin always leads to broken relationships when we sin against one another. But when we step out of the darkness and turn to God, we’re drawn together. And we’re drawn together as those who have been cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus. Do you see that in verse 7 too? The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, which he shed on the cross cleanses us from all our defilement and sin and guilt and shame.
Once we realise that sin matters to God, then we begin to wonder how can I be cleansed from the stain of sin in my life? I want to have fellowship with God. I want to have a relationship with him. I want to know him. But how can I when I’m such a sinner and he’s so pure and perfect in every way? Well, I can trust in Christ, who gave up his life on the cross to pay for my sins and shortcomings, and who shed his blood to cleanse me.
The second false claim
Sin matters to God. We can’t claim to have fellowship with him and continue to live a sinful life. And so, we must turn from our sin and walk in his ways, trusting in Christ for forgiveness.
Let’s move on to the second false claim which John refers to in verse 8:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
So, the first false claim was that sin does not matter. The second false claim is that I am not a sinner. I have no sin.
How could someone claim to be without sin? John Stott suggests that some of the people living in the days when John wrote this letter might have been infected by the idea which I mentioned briefly last week that whatever is material or physical is evil and whatever is spiritual is good. And so, while I might sin with my body, the real me, the spiritual me, my soul, is not affected by sin, because my soul, the real me, is wholly good. That’s perhaps what some people were claiming when John wrote this letter.
We’re perhaps more familiar with people who deny the sinfulness of sin. I remember hearing someone make the argument that since we always act according to our nature, then everything we do is natural. And how can we say that something natural is evil? Well, if that were the case, then parents could never discipline their children, because whatever their children do is natural and therefore good. Is your toddler kicking his big sister? Don’t stop him, because it’s only natural. It’s nonsense, isn’t it?
And then there are always those who say that there’s nothing wrong with what they do. What the Bible calls sin, they call good. So, there’s nothing wrong with my lifestyle; and who are you to say it’s wrong?
And so, there are those who claim to be without sin. They say: I’m not a sinner, because there’s nothing wrong with what I do. Well, says John, such people are deceiving themselves. They’re deceiving themselves because the truth is that we are all sinners. We are sinners by nature. We are sinners by birth. Everyone descended from Adam in the normal way is born into this world as a sinner. And do you know what comes naturally to sinners? Sinning comes naturally to sinners. And so, we are sinners who sin continually. We disobey God continually.
And so, we need to stop deceiving ourselves and we need to acknowledge what is true, which is that we are all sinners who have done wrong. And we need to confess our sins to God. Now, we’ve all come across people who come to us and say sorry. And perhaps you’ve done this yourself. You go to someone and say sorry because of something you did to them. And then you add a ‘but’. I’m sorry, but…. And the ‘but’ always leads to some kind of excuse, something to explain away what you did and to justify your actions and to make clear that while you’re sorry, you’re not really to blame. That’s not what the Bible means when it says we’re to confess our sins to God. It doesn’t mean saying sorry to God and then adding an excuse. Confessing our sins to God means we acknowledge that what God says about us is true: we’re sinners who sin against him continually and there are no excuses for what we have done. So, I’ve done wrong. I’m guilty. I’m blameworthy. I have sinned against you. I deserve to be condemned and punished. We’re to confess our sins to God.
But here’s the good news. When we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness. Our natural inclination is to hide our sins. Our natural inclination is to conceal them. But here’s God telling us that when we bring our sins out into the open and confess them to him, he’ll forgive us our sins and he’ll cleanse us from unrighteousness. So, he’ll pardon us and he’ll cleanse us from every stain of sin.
And John says he does this because he is faithful and just. So, he’s faithful to his promises to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and to remember them no more. God will not go back on his word and he will not break his promise to his people. He has promised to forgive us; and he’ll remain faithful to his promise.
And he will forgive us because he is just. It’s just or it’s right that God should forgive us, because Christ our Saviour has paid for our sins with his life; and he shed his blood to cleanse us. And since Christ has paid for our sins in full with his life, then God will not require any further payment from you. If Christ had paid for 50% of your sins, then God would require you to pay for the remaining 50%. But since Christ has paid for all of your sins, then God cannot demand any further payment or punishment from you. And so, being faithful, God will keep his promise to forgive whoever trusts in his Son. And being just, he will not demand any further payment or punishment from those who trust in his Son.
The third false claim
The first false claim was that sin does not matter. The second false claim was that I am not a sinner. The third false claim is in verse 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.
He’s now thinking of those people who admit that sin matters and that we’re all sinners in theory. However, these people claim that they themselves have not sinned. So, other people might sin, but not me.
And we’ve all met people who say that they live a good life and they haven’t harmed anyone and therefore they haven’t sinned. Around Northern Ireland, you come across people who think that since they don’t drink or smoke and since they haven’t harmed anyone, then they haven’t sinned. And because they don’t drink or smoke and they haven’t harmed anyone, they they expect to go to heaven when they die. This is how people think. Perhaps it’s how some people here think.
But what does John say? He says that such people make God out to be a liar, because doesn’t God tell us in his word that we have all sinned and have come short of the glory of God? We have all sinned. We have all broken his commandments in thought and word and deed by the wicked things we have done. And we don’t just sin when we do the wrong things, because we also sin when we fall short of doing the right things. We’re all meant to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. And none of us has loved him like that. We are all sinners.
And so, the person who claims not to have sinned is making God out to be a liar, because God says in his word that we all sin. And God’s word has no place in their lives, because they’re rejected what God’s word says about them.
So, that’s the third false claim. And how does John respond to it? He tells us in verse 1 of chapter 2 that he’s writing this letter so that we will not sin. He doesn’t want us to sin. He knows that everyone does sin and that it’s incorrect to say that we don’t sin. But he wants us not to sin. So, we’re not to throw up our hands in resignation and say to ourselves that there’s nothing we can do about our sin because we all sin. No, he wants us to resist sin. He wants us to overcome it. He wants us to stop sinning. When the neighbour’s cat keeps coming into your garden and makes a mess, you try to stop it. But when everything you do fails, and the cat keeps coming, you might decide to live with it. But we mustn’t ever decide to live with our sins. We must resist sin continually.
However, if anybody does sin — and we all sin — we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence. He’s referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. The phrase ‘one who speaks in our defence’ is really only one word in the original Greek text. It’s a Greek word which is sometimes translated ‘Counsellor’ or ‘Advocate’. In Bible times, your Counsellor or Advocate was your best friend who accompanied you to court in order to help you. So, you’ve been accused of wrongdoing and you’ve been summoned to court. And you bring your best friend with you to help you. He’s at your side when you face your accuser. And he’s there to speak up on your behalf and to defend you and to offer advice and to encourage you. He’s the person you turn to for help and support. And according to John, when we sin, we can rely on the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s able to defend us and to speak up on our behalf.
However, if you’re ever taken to court, you might ask someone for a character reference, because you want to convince the judge that you’re not so bad, and you’re really an up-standing member of the community and you’ve done all these good deeds. But the Lord Jesus doesn’t do any of that, because what can he say about you except that you’re a sinner who has done wrong? So, how can the Lord Jesus defend you? He defends you by referring to what he himself has done for you, when he offered himself on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for your sins. Do you see that in verse 2 of chapter 2? What’s an atoning sacrifice? It’s the sacrifice which Christ offered on the cross which turned God’s wrath and curse away from you and on to him. He took the blame and the punishment for all that you have done wrong, so that you could be pardoned by God.
And so, that’s how he defends you. He defends you by referring to what he himself has done for you when he offered himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for your sins. And, of course, the Father, who loves you and who sent his Son to save you, is completely willing to accept what Christ has done and to forgive you.
And John adds that the Lord Jesus is the atoning sacrifice, not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. He doesn’t mean that in the end everyone will be saved. The Bible is clear that when the Day of Judgment comes, all who did not believe in Christ will be condemned and sent away to be punished. And so, he doesn’t mean everyone will be saved. He means that Christ offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people who are throughout the world. It’s for people throughout the world who trust in him as the only Saviour.
And so, there you are. People falsely claim that sin doesn’t matter. People falsely claim that they aren’t sinners. And people falsely claim that they don’t sin. All three claims are false, because sin does matter and we’re all sinners and we sin against God continually. But the good news is that the blood of Christ purifies sinners; and that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins because of Christ who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And having provided for our salvation, God who is light calls on sinners everywhere to trust in Christ for forgiveness and eternal life and to leave the darkness behind and to walk in his ways and to do his will each day.