Reactions To The Light
Tim Temple

Introduction

We have been looking at the ministry of John the mender, the apostle whose particular function it seems to be to call the men and women back to the fundamentals of the faith. This ministry that John had was hinted at, I think, in the work that John was doing when he was called by Christ to be a disciple. The Scripture tells us that he was mending his nets when Jesus found him. It seems that his ministry during his life, particularly his writings, had to do with establishing those important fundamentals of the faith and calling people back to those important fundamentals of the faith, mending various attacks that God had allowed but that Satan had brought on His Church.

John's writings came at a time when the church had begun to have problems. It had begun to be infiltrated by various false concepts, false ideas. Jesus had been gone from the earth long enough that by now some false teachers had sprung up and there was strong persecution that had developed in the Roman Empire toward the Christians. John lived during the reign of Domitian, the Roman Emperor whom historians consider to be probably the worst, the most wicked of all of the Emperors, exceeding even the more famous Nero in his wickedness and evil. The church was under great stress when John wrote these letters from the violence of that direct and frontal attack from the Roman Empire. It was shortly before the time Christians began to be thrown to the lions and burned at the stake, but it was also under attack from a subtle and dangerous attack of various false teachings that had arisen in the church.

Whether you realize it or not, we live in that same kind of day. Today much of the church of Jesus Christ is under direct frontal, physical attack. Here in America we are more free from that than in other parts of the world, thank the Lord. We ought to give thanks for every day of our freedom as Christians and as citizens of the United States, but even here in the United States we are exposed to very a powerful barrage of attack by many devious errors that do exist today that attack the truth of Christianity, the truth of God's Word.

The Christian faith is also threatened not just by false teaching but also by attitudes that we can allow to creep into our lives and hearts that bring about a very subtle undermining of our Christian faith and that rob us of the vitality and the happiness and the joy and the fulfillment that God wants us to have in the Christian life. So this letter of John's should have tremendous significance for us because those are the things that he attacks. Those are the things that he singles out and that he writes about and that he warns us about here in I John. John is writing to Christians and pointing out that their great need above everything else is fellowship with Jesus Christ.

Fellowship Is Keynote of I John

We talked about the word fellowship in the first few verses of chapter 1 and the fact that it means to have things in common. Jokingly, we talked about being two fellows in the same ship, and that is the true sense of that word. It is to have things in common, to hold things together with each other. Particularly, John is writing about the fact that we can have all things in common with Jesus Christ because he said that our fellowship is not just with each other, but with God and with Jesus Christ, His Son. So fellowship is the keynote of John's letter to us.

He is not talking about just talking about fellowship. He is not writing to us about what an interesting concept that is; he is talking about having that fellowship as a real thing. It is easy to say that we have fellowship, but what is needed is to really enjoy that fellowship, really experience that fellowship, actually enter into that experience of having all of our resources in common with Christ's resources, having all of His resources in common with us, to have that union, to be aware of that union between us and Christ that God has provided for us as His children. In other words, it is to turn from reliance on methods, programs, systems, pronouncements, goals and projections and to turn to the power of Jesus Christ Himself, to the power of genuine Christianity, of having things personally and individually and commonly with Jesus Christ and, through Him, having things in common with God.

Key To Fellowship

That needs to be made clear because there are many Christians, I think, who feel like this fellowship that we talk about, and with many of us unfortunately it is mostly talk, is kind of automatic and that it is just going to fall into place, and we usually take it for granted. But there is a key to fellowship and the key, John says in verse 7, is: “to walk in the light.”

We have talked about the first six verses and so if you will notice in verse 7, he says:

I John 1:

7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Walking in the light, as we have already seen, means to see and treat things exactly as the light reveals them to be. Suppose that you and I were in this room and neither of us had ever been here before. The lights were off and it was dark outside and we were in a completely dark room. As we tried to find our way around, we would probably sooner or later stumble over each other, but we might stumble over the end table or into the piano. That would be understandable in the dark. That is what happens in the dark, but once the light comes on, it would be ridiculous in that light if we were to call the piano a table and the table a piano. That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? The light reveals those things for what they really are and so for us to call them something else is foolish even though if we didn't have light it might be understandable.

John takes that illustration and he applies it to our Christian life. He says that God is Light, and as we walk with Him in that light, He reveals Himself to us in His Word. As we walk in that light, we see life like it really is. We see Him in the light He really is and we act accordingly—what he calls “walking in the light.”

Adjust yourself to what you see. Treat things as they really are. That is walking in the light—openness, honesty, and obedience. Those are the characteristics of walking in the light spiritually. That is the key to fellowship John says, and fellowship is the key to having that alive kind of Christianity, to have the power of Christ working in us. As we walk in that light, John says, God keeps on cleansing us from our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Confession Of Sin

That brings us to the third section of the chapter, verses 8-10, which has to do with confession of sin. Here is another vital factor in walking in the light of this fellowship with the Lord.

The first thing that John points out in that section is that confession is not an easy or a natural thing to do. It is a difficult thing to do. He deals in verse 8 and again in verse 10 with alternatives to confession because our normal tendency is to not want to confess our sins. There are two of them. First is the denial of the presence of sin, in verse 8. Then skipping over verse 9 and going to verse 10, he says another way to avoid confession is the denial of the practice of sin. If we are not extremely careful, one or the other of these things will keep us from having that fellowship with God that is ours by confession of sin.

Denial Of The Presence Of Sin

Let's look first at the denial of the presence of sin. Look at verse 8:

I John 1:

8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

First, I want us to notice this word sin . “If we say the we have no sin…” Notice that is singular. We talk a lot about sins , plural, but John is addressing here sin , singular, and that is a very important distinction to make. The distinction is between the root which is sin , singular, and the fruit which is sins , plural. We do sins because we have sin.

Let's think about that for a minute. Sin, singular, is that fallen twist in man which makes us want to be in control of our own lives, wants to make us God in our own lives. We want the world to revolve around us. We want things done our way; no matter what the cost, no matter what anyone else may want, we want to be the center of everything. Now most of that is subconscious. We would probably deny it if somebody pointed it out to us, but if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that there is that in us which has a tendency to say, “I am going to do things the way I want to do them regardless of what God or anybody else says about it.”

It goes by other names. You can call it pride; you can call it rebellion; you can call it self-centeredness, selfishness, independence. Theologians call it the sin nature, that tendency that we have, that knowledge that we have, of how to do things in ways other than God wants us to do.

Sins, plural, are the things that come from that sin nature—sin, singular. There are many kinds of sins, but they all come from that one root, the sin nature. That is what John wants to zero in on here in verse 8—that self-centeredness, that playing God in our own world. He says that there are people who say, “Well, I am not that way. I do not have that sin nature.” He says, “If we say that we have no sin, if we don't have the capacity to commit sins, if we deny the very possibility of sins, then we deceive ourselves.” Do you see that in verse 8?

I John 1:

8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Other people can usually see that we do have a sin nature, so we are really only deceiving ourselves if we tell ourselves this. But it is extremely difficult for us to see it in ourselves and therefore we can go for long periods of time walking in darkness. If you are thinking with me, you may say, “Are there really people who try to say that they really don't have a sin nature? Are there people who call themselves Christians who want to tell themselves that they are not sinful?” Well, unfortunately it does happen in our day and for several different reasons; and whenever it happens, the one who makes this claim loses this fellowship with God that makes Christianity so vital and so different from everything else about life.

There are primarily three ways this can happen. First, a Christian can become a victim of one of the cults because may of the cults teach along this line. These include groups such as Christian Science and Unity School of Christianity and Religious Science and various New Age forms of worship. A part of all those groups is to say “We're not really sinners. We just need to readjust our thinking. We are not really fallen creatures. In fact, we are gods in our own way.” It is also widespread in non-Christian religion such as Theosophy and Hinduism and Buddhism , and they teach this concept that sin really doesn't exist, that it is just something that people get in their minds and that people really aren't sinful after all. They say that truth exists and that good exists, but that evil is just something that doesn't have objective reality.

Unfortunately, there are many people who call themselves Christians, and I think some who genuinely have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, who fall into this trap and believe that sin just kind of calls for a readjustment of our thinking. But John says that if you believe that, then the truth is not at work in you and you are in a very dangerous situation. The truth is that sin is a very objective reality. It does exist, and it is always a present possibility of coming to play in our lives. There is nothing more pathetic, I think, than the person who denies the reality of sin. So that is the first way that people fall into that trap. They come under the false teaching of one of the cults or one of the other religions or some version of the New Age teaching.

There is a second category of people who make this mistake, and these are people who usually are very devout Christians. They are very faithful in church attendance, very involved in church activities, but they have come to believe that yes, they do have that sin nature, but that in coming to know Christ, usually through what they refer to as a “second work of grace,” God eradicates that sin nature in the Christian. Non-Christians have a sin nature, maybe new Christians have a sin nature, but at some point in time, Christians can come to the place of maturity, usually through some second work of grace much like salvation but after salvation, that takes away the sin nature. There are considerable numbers of Christians who follow this teaching today. They group themselves in denominations that usually have the name holiness somewhere in their name. Many groups, though not all groups, of charismatics believe this.

That kind of person reminds me of a story I heard about D.L. Moody, the great evangelist of a previous generation and founder of Moody Bible Institute. The story goes that somebody came and told him about someone they knew who had had this second work of grace and no longer had a sin nature and no longer sinned. Mr. Moody, in his very practical, very down to earth way, said, “I would like to ask his wife about that.” When we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. No matter how sincere and godly a person may be, he still has a sin nature and he is self-deceived, so he walks in darkness.

If you have reached the place where you say or think that there is nothing more for the light to reveal, that all the sin has been taken care of in your life and there is nothing to look at any more, then you are deceiving yourself and you are walking in darkness. John says that always results in the loss of fellowship with the Lord.

There is a third group of people who make this mistake and it is even more subtle than the first two, but in a way more widespread, and it occurs among well-taught Christians and is something that we in this church need to be careful of because it is based on something that I have taught repeatedly and correctly, but it can be carried too far and that is the wonderful truth of Galatians, chapter 5, verse 16, which says:

Galatians 5:

16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

There are Christians who think that they have done that so consistently and so effectively and it has become so much a part of their lives that in effect they no longer have a sin nature. They probably would not specifically say they don't have a sin nature any longer, but I have personally heard a man say, “I have not committed a sin since 1966 because I walk at the direction of the Holy Spirit so consistently.” I was one of several thousand people who heard him say that. If he had said it to me personally, I hope I would have had the courage to say, “I think you just committed the first one since 1966 in saying that.” The Scripture says that we never reach the place where we simply are not bothered by sin any more, but there are people who grasp the implications of Galatians, chapter 5, verse 16, and they believe that they can consistently walk long enough that they no longer have to give any thought to sin.

Theoretically, it is possible for any given period of time, for any successive series of steps, that to walk at the direction of the Holy Spirit is to be obedient to what the Holy Spirit reminds us of as we face a decision or as we face a crisis. The Holy Spirit always reminds us of the truth of His Word that we have studied in the past as we face these situations and if we say, “Yes, Lord, I am going to do what You have told me to do,” we take a step at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Just like human walking, walking spiritually is a series of individual steps and theoretically it is possible to go for some period of time consistently never missing a step and doing what the Lord tells us to do, but because that sin nature is still there, we sooner or later are going to miss a step. Then, of course, comes into play what we do if we stumble. We just don't give up and say it is hopeless to live this Christian life any more than we would if we stumble while we are walking physically. If you fall down physically, you don't say, “Oh well, it is hopeless. I can't walk. Other humans can, but I just can't do it, so I guess I will forget that walking business.”

There are a lot of Christians who do that spiritually. Even though we stumble from time to time, the Lord gives us the strength and the power and the ability to get up and take the next step and go on with Him. So even if theoretically you might conceive of walking at the direction of the Holy Spirit to the extent that you really never did sin any more, experience shows us and the Word of God says that we still have a sin nature that shows us that even that is not going to eradicate that tendency to sin.

It is interesting to notice as you read the pages of the New Testament that no New Testament writer ever makes this claim. In fact, just the opposite. The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 12:

I Corinthians 10:

12Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

He wrote in I Timothy, chapter 1, verse 15, that he regarded himself as the chiefest of sinners. I think in the context of I Timothy, chapter 1, that he meant that literally and he said that toward the end of his life. Again and again the testimony of the Word of God is that we do have a tendency to sin. In fact, the Scripture does not promise us that we will get away from that. It warns us very carefully that we need to be able to continually walk at the direction of the Holy Spirit, continually stay in fellowship with Him, so let's not make this mistake. “If any Christian says that he can't sin any more, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him,” John says.

The Practice Of Sin

We have been talking about the person who fails or refuses to confess sin because he thinks he no longer sins denying the presence of sin in verse 8, but skip over verse 9 and look at verse 10. There is a second kind of avoidance of confession and that is the person who denies the practice of sin. We have talked about the presence of sin, but now he focuses on the practice of sin. Look at verse 10:

I John 1:

10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

At first glance, it seems to be saying the same thing, but here the reference is not to the sin nature, but to those individual sins that we commit because we have a sin nature. Here is the person who rationalizes sin away. He doesn't deny that he has a sin nature, but he just excuses the sins that come because we have that sin nature. I sincerely believe that this is the most common failure in the Christian life, to rationalize sin and to lose our fellowship with the Lord because we don't call sin what God calls it.

We talked last week about the man who doesn't do what the light reveals because he doesn't like what it reveals and he finds ways from ever admitting that the light is revealing that. We have just now been talking about the person who says there is no need for light because he doesn't sin any more, but in this case the person is saying, “Well, of course I can sin. I understand that. I am a sinner, but when I stop and look at my life I just really don't find any sin there. I find weakness, maybe, failure yes, but not sin. I may have to admit that I am weak, but I haven't sinned in doing this particular thing.”

That is what John is talking about here in verse 10. Essentially, this is just an evasion of reality. It is the exercise of that amazing power that all of us humans possess which we call rationalization. Let's face it. We are all experts at rationalization, aren't we? We know very well how to invent reasons to do whatever we want to do and how to invent equally good sounding reasons for avoiding what we want to avoid and all of the time we make it sound as though there really is nothing we can do about it. We can talk ourselves out of the fact that we are sinning. What the Scripture calls sin, we call a weakness or we call it an inherited tendency—that kind of thing just runs in my family. If you do it, it is probably sin, but not me because that is just the way it is with me.

To do that would be just like going to the medicine cabinet and taking out the prescription drugs that are prescription drugs because they are very dangerous if they are not taken in a specific way and labeling one bottle of prescription sleeping pills “aspirin,” and another prescription drug that is a potent medicine and labeling it “Tylenol”—labeling these dangerous drugs in some non dangerous way. What we have done, of course, is change the labels, but we haven't altered what is inside the bottles at all. That is what we do as Christians when we say, “Well, I wasn't lying; I just was not telling the whole truth,” or “I wasn't cheating my employer; I just didn't have time to do what he wanted me to do.” We rationalize what God calls sin, and when we do that, it is just as dangerous and foolish as changing the labels on the medicine bottles.

I want to say again that in nearly thirty years of ministry, after hearing about all kinds of problems and difficulties and pressures, I think that I can say that this is by far the most widely spread kind of weakness that Christians have. The biggest tendency we have is to excuse ourselves from our sins, and that leads to all kinds of problems.

Look carefully at what John says. In the latter part of the verse, he says that when we do this, it is not only an evasion of reality, but it is also a direct accusation against God. You see what he says. “We make Him a liar and His Word is not in us.” Think about this: Would you have the audacity to look God in the face if you could or even in a time of prayer when you sense His presence to say, “God, You are a liar.”

Of course, we wouldn't consider that, but did you know that every time you see something that God calls sin in your life, and we call it something else, John says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we are calling God a liar. If you call it exaggeration and God calls it a lie, you might as well go to the place where you had your prayer time and say, “God, You are a liar.” It is extremely serious. We shift the blame from ourselves to God. We are not putting it on some other member of our family; we are not shifting the blame to some other unknown person; we are shifting the blame directly to God, John says.

At the simplest, most basic level there are only two people in your life—you and God. There are many other very important people, but at the simplest basic level, it is just you and God, Me and God. There are only two of us and that is true for all of us. If I say something is not my fault, then basically I am saying that it is God's fault. I am talking about the area of sin now. Of course there are things that are other people's fault in terms of our human relationships, but if we say some sin is not our fault, then the only other person that it can be the fault of is God . We are saying, “God, this thing is Your fault. It is not my fault. These circumstances You have allowed me to be involved in, I had to lie my way out of. I had to take that thing that did not belong to me, because I am in these circumstances and there was no other way to get out of it, and You put me in these circumstances. It is Your fault, God.”

Think about the enormity of that charge. Here we are human pygmies, standing in the presence of God, the unchanging, faithful God Who has revealed Himself to us, Who has demonstrated His power and His might and His ability as well as His love, standing in His presence and accusing Him of being faithless to us.

You know, that is an interesting thing, too. We take great comfort in the power of God in times of need, in times of stress, don't we? The changelessness of God, the compassion of God, the love of God. We love to speak of the unchanging God, the refuge from every kind of pressure, but how strange it is that we stand before that same God in a time of our failure, a time of our sin, and defiantly say that the reason for our failure is not our sin, but His faithlessness to us. The blunt truth is that we sinned because we don't like the situation that we are facing and we don't like the solution that God has offered to us for that situation. We don't like where God has put us. We don't like the people or the pressures that we live under. We don't like the circumstances that surround us; we just refuse to accept them and we make for ourselves some other way to get ourselves out of that situation that God has allowed us to be in. We are not interested in Christ's power to stay there and live in those circumstances and find what He has for us to learn through those circumstances, and we say it is God's fault that we are not going to do it that way.

Let's just be honest and admit that we failed because we do not choose to meet our circumstances, our needs, our pressures with the strength that He has promised to give us. Instead, we try to meet those circumstances with our strength. We run away from the provision that He would make and take matters into our own hands and do things our own way. No wonder we lose fellowship with God. No wonder there are so many Christians who feel like God is against them when He has said in His Word that He is for us. No wonder things go wrong so much of the time.

An Analysis Of Confession

Those are the alternatives to confession: number one, saying that we don't sin any more; number two, saying that yes, we may sin, but this particular thing is not a sin. What is the remedy for that? Thank God, John gives us the remedy in the verse that lies between these two alternatives, verse 9. It is always the same thing. It is to walk in the light. It is to face reality; specifically, as John puts it, it is to confess our sins. Since that is the alternative, it is fascinating that He gives us an analysis of confession in verse 9. Notice in verse 9:

I John 1:

9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

First, in the first part of verse 9, he makes an assessment of confession. What is confession anyway? Then in the last part of the verse, he will give us great assurance about that confession. So let's look first at his assessment of confession. “If we confess our sins…,” he says. What is that? Most people would say that it means we cry and we get down on our face before God and we say, “Please, God, forgive me. I will never do it again. I am so sorry I did it.” That is not confession. Most of you know that the word confession is a translation of two Greek words. One of those words is homo which means “the same,” and the other is logeo which means “to say.” When I was studying this passage again this week, I found that the same thing is true of the Latin derivatives or the Latin background of the English word confess . It is also a combination of two Latin words that mean “to say the same thing.” So in Latin and in Greek, unfortunately not as clearly in English, the word confess means “to say the same thing.”

We don't have to ask and plead and beg and promise things to God to get Him to forgive us because Christ's work on the Cross secured our forgiveness. God forgave us when Christ died on the Cross. What God wants us to do is to look at the sin that is before us, look at the sin and Let the light of His Word shine on our lives and agree with Him about what it is. Call it what He calls it. Confession of sin is simply to say the same thing that God says about that sin.

Don't misunderstand me. If you honestly come to the place where you can look at your sin the way that God looks at it, there may be some tears. If you understand the enormity of your sin and how frustrating it must be to God, you may sincerely promise God that you will never do it again. Those kinds of things that we think of as confession in the proper place may be all right, but that is not what confession of sin is. That might be a good response to sin. It might be a good result of confession, but those things are not confessions of themselves. It is to look at that sin the way God looks at it and to agree with God that that thing is sin.

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that is sometimes heard in Christian circles. I remember hearing it a lot and maybe some of you do, too. It said: “If I have wounded any soul today, if I have caused one foot to go astray, if I have lived in my own selfish way, dear Lord forgive.” I want to tell you that that is not confession at all. The ifs in that little chorus, popular as it was, takes it out of the realm of confession. Don't say, “Lord, if I have caused some soul to go astray.” Don't say, “If I have caused some foot to go astray.” Say, “Lord, I have. I have done this,” whatever it may be. It may not be wounding a soul or causing a foot to go astray, but whatever it is, don't just make a blanket statement. “Lord, if I have sinned today, please forgive me.” No, it is to examine our hearts and our lives and say, “Lord, I said this to so and so, and You say that that is sin to say something that is not true. Lord, I agree with you. I have sinned. I lied when I told that person that. Lord, I took this thing that I know doesn't belong to me. I had a good reason for doing it, but Lord, You say that that is sin and Lord, I agree with You that that is sin.” That is what confession is, and that is what brings the restoration of our fellowship with God.

Assurance About Confession

Look at the last part of the verse where we have an assurance about confession. What happens when we agree with God about these things? He says in the last part of the verse:

I John 1:

9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This cleansing of sin is not based on God's mercy. It is not based on His kindness. It is not even based on His love. Notice what it says: “He is faithful and just.” Do you know what that means? It means that God is not going to forgive you of that thing that you are agreeing with Him about because He loves you so much. Though He does love you more than anybody else does, He is not going to forgive that because he is kind and He likes you and you are doing the best that you can. He is not going to forgive you because of His mercy, and even though you have blown it many times before, He is a merciful God and He is going to let you get by with it again. Listen, He forgives that sin because He is faithful and just. He is faithful to what He promised Jesus Christ. Philippians, chapter 2, verse 5, says that in eternity past, God the Father said to God the Son in so many words, “If You will go and pay for the sins of these fallen, sinful human beings, I will give them to You as Your inheritance. You will be their Lord and they will worship You throughout eternity. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that You are Lord.”

You see, God forgives us because He promised Jesus that He would forgive us. He forgives us and lets us have fellowship with Him because He told God the Son that if He would pay the penalty for our sins and bring us into fellowship with Him, we would be His children. We would be His inheritance. You don't need to worry whether God is going to forgive your sin or not because God is faithful and just. Listen. I say this as respectfully and as carefully as I can, but if God did not forgive your sin and my sin when we agree with Him about that sin, no matter how serious it may be, if God did not forgive us, He would be an unjust God. He would be an unfaithful God, not because we are so good, certainly not because we finally confessed it, but because He promised His Son He would forgive us if His Son would pay for our sins, and God is faithful to His Son.

It wouldn't surprise us if He wasn't faithful to us, would it? I mean after all we are so unfaithful to Him, why would we dream that He would be faithful to us? Well listen. God is not going to be unfaithful to His Son. He is not going to be unfaithful to us because of what His Son did for us.

Conclusion

If you know Christ as your Savior, the most important thing that you can do as far as pleasing Him and walking in love with Him is to stop denying your sin, stop rationalizing it away, call it what it is, agree with God about it, say that it is sin and come back into that fellowship with Him that He wants you to have and that He gave His Son to provide—the most important thing in the Christian life.


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