Tuesday, December 3, 2013

First Sermon - 1 John 1:5-2:2

On December 1, I preached my first sermon from a pulpit. All of my prior preaching has been on street corners to unsuspecting college students. The Word was graciously received by the First Congregational Christian Church of Phenix City, AL. You can listen to the sermon here. 

     1 John 1:5-2:2                      


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 

The beloved disciple, John, is saying that the content of this book is a message from Jesus. And we believe that the Holy Spirit is carrying John along as he writes to ensure a legitimately God-inspired letter. The message of this book as a whole and this passage in particular is an incredibly relevant word for the Western church in America and especially here in the Bible Belt South. 

Today’s passage is particularly relevant for those who struggle with doubt and assurance of salvation. If you really want to grow in understanding who God is, what Christ has done, and how to know if you are in Christ, then hear the word of the Lord. 

John tells us something of the nature of God, what God is like. He says the God is Light. Now light here is functionally synonymous with Truth. Recall our favorite passage from the Gospel that John wrote: 
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)
So, there is an association between God’s Light, His Presence, His Truth, and our sinful tendency to distance ourselves from Him. In a way, to say that God is Light is to reiterate that God is Holy. 

John is also saying that God is consistently God. He never changes. A.W. Tozer has said that God is not the perfect balance of parts, He is the perfect absence of parts. What he is saying is that God is not a more loving in one scenario and more just in another scenario. This means that God is not moody. He is always right. This also means that we do not have to pit God against Himself. We do not have to compromise in our love for God. He has no negative qualities, He is good and righteous in all of His ways. We do not have to fear in fully embracing God. When you bite into an apple, you may find a worm, so you eat slowly and hesitatingly. Or when you are married, you never know when your spouse may let you down, so you might withhold your FULL love. We do NOT have to have that kind of uncertainty about following Jesus. HE WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN. He is absolutely Light, in him there is NO darkness at all. There is no shadow (James 1). He has no ulterior motives. We do not ever have to fear being disappointed. 

Why would you try to hide from a God like this? God is light and God is good. He drives away the shades of night, and death’s dark shadow puts to flight. His light pierces the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Come into the Light of God’s truth today. When we come to an end of ourselves and admit our brokenness, He makes us whole. We all like cockroaches flee for the shadows. Our flesh hates it, but the way to godliness is to be exposed by the light.


John gives three “If we say” statements of error followed by three “If” statements of correction. He diagnoses three sinful tendencies that Christians fall into regarding their own sin. 1) There is a tendency to speak like we know Jesus without actually knowing Jesus. 2) There is a tendency to think that we no longer struggle with sin as a believer. 3) There is a tendency to minimize and cover up our past sins. 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But 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 cleanses us from all sin. 

We all know people who “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk.” This is the person that John addresses here: those who claim to have fellowship with God but the pattern of their life is not characterized by the Light of Christ, but rather by the darkness of sin. John says that such people are liars; they deliberately and consciously lie. In the quiet of their own bedroom at night, there is a storm of trouble in their conscious because they know that they are living a lie. 

Salvation is more than knowing the right answers to the questions. Galatians 2:16 says that by works of the Law, no one will be justified. In the same way, by mere profession of faith, no one will be justified. HAVE YOU BEEN CHANGED BY THE GOSPEL? Have your priorities been rearranged? Jacob wrestled with the Lord in the wilderness and he never walked the same way again. How has the truth of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection and ascension impacted your life? If you claim to know Christ but you walk in the same old way of life, you are a liar and you will be judged on the final day. I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God! (2 Corinthians 5:20) If we come into the light of Christ, fully exposed in our need for Him, the blood of Jesus covers us and cleanses us; he makes us pure and blameless before God. And because we have unimpeded fellowship with God, we can have unhindered fellowship with one another. Is your life marked by strife and drama and conflict with your brothers and sisters? Come and walk in the light and he will make your paths straight. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

There are some who deny that they struggle with sin since coming to know the Lord. These people are more than liars, they are self-deceived. They have persuaded themselves that they do not have any sin to confess. They deny that sin corrupts the human heart and needs daily renewal in God’s truth. The confirmation of assurance is NOT that you no longer sin, but that you know where to go when you do. Assurance of salvation can be had as we daily confess our sin and repent, as we daily cast ourselves on the cross of Christ. But these false teachers to not do that. How can they know the forgiving mercy of our Father if they deny their need of Him? If we confess our sins, God is faithful to do exactly as He has promised; HE WILL FORGIVE AND PURIFY. Do not fail to come to God by way of the cross for fear of God’s acceptance. He has promised to be faithful. The new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” So I plead with the hymn “Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.”

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 

The third lie of the false teachers is to deny past sins. Romans 3:23 says that all people sin and fall short of God’s glory. We have all inherited a sinful nature and we live in a fallen world. So, to say that we have not sinned is to contradict God and to call Him a liar. I am sure you hear the silliness and danger of disagreeing with God about the reality of sin. 

John changes his tone by addressing his readers as, “My little children.” His tone changes from a professor’s teaching about false doctrines to that of a loving father warning his children of the danger of sin. He states that the whole point of teaching them about sin and false doctrines should motivate them to avoid sinning all the more. But, consistent with his argument, he says that if a Christian does sin, Jesus is there. We have only to cry out to him for forgiveness and grace. We can trust that his grace is greater than all our sin. Moreover, Jesus is our advocate. He pleads for us. He argues our case before the Judge like a defense attorney. And he is Jesus Christ the righteous one, he has never lost a single case. Listen to these precious truths from the hymn:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.
My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Here is the climax of this text, God’s solution to the problem of human sin, the cross-work of Jesus Christ. The word propitiation may sound intimidating, but it is the richest word in all the Bible and is worth the mental effort to understand. In short, it means atoning sacrifice or wrath appeasement. It means that Jesus, by his death on the cross, has satisfied the Father’s wrath that was coming toward sinners. 

God created man in His image so that we might enjoy fellowship and communion with Him. But Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and so has every person since. We all deserve God’s righteous judgment. Away with all the complaining about the doctrine of divine wrath! Of course God loves us, and it is precisely because He loves us that He hates sin and desires to punish it. He has a holy, controlled, and settled antagonism toward all evil. He will not stand for anything that destroys worship. We all deserve the wrath of God for all eternity because of our sins. 

So, when John says that Jesus is the propitiation, he says that Jesus satisfies and absorbs the Father’s wrath toward sin and sinners. Jesus died on the cross in the place of sinners, as our substitute. He makes the Father propitious, or favorable toward those who deserve His punishment. This is what drove Jesus to sweat great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was not mere thorns and nails that caused him to quiver, it was the full fury of the wrath of God that led him to ask his Father to let the cup pass from him. Praise God for Jesus’ resolution to say, “But not my will but yours be done.” Jesus of Nazareth literally endured Hell for his sheep. 

Jesus lived a perfect life that each of us are called to live, and he died a death that you and I deserve. His perfect righteousness is sufficient for the whole world, but is made efficient only for those who turn from sin and trust in him for salvation by faith alone. Would you go on in sin when there is a clear and sufficient way of redemption for your soul? What is there in Christ that you would not desire in a Savior? Praise him for the beauty and glory of propitiation! Go no longer in sin. Come into the light by way of the cross. I implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.

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