Title: Saying ≠ Being Part 2
Text: I John 1:8-9
FCF: We often struggle in our relationship to sin.
Prop: Because our disposition toward sin is evidence of our nature, we must inspect our disposition toward sin.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John chapter 1. Last week, John began his less than 200 word presentation of the gospel. He began with God being light, which is the anchor for everything He is about to say. God is holy and God is wise. Therefore those untied to Him ought to also be holy and wise. But while explaining the gospel he is also refuting false teaching. He refutes the notion that a person can be united with God yet still have a lifestyle characterized by sin. These people are liars and they do not live the truth. But John, along with presenting the gospel and refuting error, is also encouraging his readers. And so he tells them that if they are walking in holiness, if they do, generally, pursue God’s ways, then it is evidence that they ARE part of the fellowship and that they ARE being cleansed by the blood of Christ. So in a very real way, although they are not yet perfectly holy, they are being made holy.
And so, here in verse 8-9, we will find John’s continuation of the gospel message, his refuting of error, and his comfort for his readers. And I can’t tell you how excited I am to show you what these verses mean. Why? Because they are often misinterpreted, and often they lay a weight of legalism on our shoulders that ought not be there.
I am in verse 5 of chapter 1, reading again the entire thought of John to 2:2. You can follow along in the pew bible on page 1372 or whatever version you prefer. If you don’t have a bible, please take a pew bible home with you today.
We have so much to cover and I can’t wait to show it all to you. So let’s dive in.
I.) Disagreeing with God about our sin means we are liars and do not have the truth, so we must inspect our disposition toward sin.
a. [Slide 2] 8 – If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
i. John just left off by saying that Jesus is continuing to cleanse us from all sin.
ii. Then John moves on to his second example of what is said vs. what is. What is a lie and what is the truth.
iii. The literal translation would be, if we say we do not have sin. But the word for having is the same word for when he talks about having fellowship with God. It is a state of being. It is talking about who we are rather than what we do.
iv. Therefore, the NET translators have elected to try to spell this out by saying, if we say we do not bear the guilt of sin. Perhaps we could translate it thus:
v. “If we say we no longer are capable of sin”
vi. Looking at this statement in that light, we can see a correlation to Gnostic teaching. The Gnostics would say that sin committed in the flesh is merely a symptom of the flesh existence.
vii. Basically, this might be an objection posed against John’s first critique. Those saying they have fellowship with God, but still walk in darkness are lying. They would answer by saying that, since being united to God, they are they are no longer capable of committing actions that can displease God. In fact, they probably are incapable of sin altogether.
viii. John confronts this teaching head on by saying that if we say we do not possess sin, or that we are no longer able to sin, then we are deceiving ourselves.
ix. It is a lie whose primary destruction is upon the one who uttered the lie.
x. Indeed there could be nothing more damaging than to think you are incapable of sinning.
xi. Such a belief can only lead to two ends – self-deception or self-destruction.
1. Either you deceive yourselves and in your arrogance you actually believe you are perfect,
2. or you grow so frustrated at not being perfect that you become libertine and sin with reckless abandon having no hope.
3. If you remember, this was the case with the Galatians. The Judaizers convinced them that they were missing something in their faith because they were not yet perfect and still struggled against the flesh. Their solution was to be circumcised and submit to Judaism along with Christ.
4. The Gnostics’ solution was that they needed the secret knowledge to gain perfection from God.
xii. But John says that perfectionism is a lie that is self-defeating. And he will explain that in a moment. But first he has a little more to say.
xiii. If we say we don’t have sin, then we don’t have the truth. Literally – the truth is not in us.
xiv. You can’t find it in us in any cell. Truth has escaped us. So not only are they destroying themselves with their lie, but they have missed the truth. They are not genuinely in fellowship with God at all.
xv. Although broadly, the language of this statement is the same as the one found in verse 6, the particulars are slightly different.
xvi. In verse 6, John says that a supposed relationship to God with no life change is a lie. As we pointed out last week, your lifestyle is evidence for who you truly are, regardless of what you say you are.
xvii. John is essentially saying the same thing here. But the relationship in question has changed and it takes a little more work for us to see it fully.
xviii. Here they are claiming to have no relationship at all to sin. That they have outgrown it, and have permanently overcome it.
xix. John calls them liars for this. But what is missing?
xx. Before in verse 6, John calls them liars because their lives do not demonstrate fellowship with God by how they live. But here, John calls them liars for saying they have no relationship with sin – yet provides no evidence. What is the proof that they are lying?
xxi. We’ll save that question for later. Just keep that in the back of your mind for now as we wrap up verse 8.
b. [Slide 3] Passage Truth: So what is John communicating to his readers? That the false teachers are lying to themselves and are not inheritors of the truth. And what is their lie? That they have no ability to sin any longer because they are united to God. This is a lie. Unfortunately, sin can still affect those who are united to Christ.
c. Passage Application: So the application is a little difficult to see just yet, but perhaps we can guess what it might be. First, of course, it is comfort to the readers of I John. To know that they do not have to be perfect to have confidence that they are of the truth. In fact, if they ever think they have reached perfection, they are lying to themselves. The second application is more introspective. What relationship do I have to sin? If I am dead to sin, but sin is clearly not dead to me, what then should be my relationship to all that God hates? What should be my response? This question should ring in their ears, at least until verse 9.
d. [Slide 4] Broader Biblical Truth: Holistically, from the whole of scripture, we know that sin is not something that those in Christ can ever truly be completely free of in this life. How do we know this? Peter ate exclusively with the Jews, which Paul rebuked him for. Paul had difficulty relying on God to deal with his thorn in the flesh. Paul called himself the chief of sinners. Not that he WAS the chief of sinners, but that he IS the chief of sinners. And let me ask you this… if Christians are truly free from sin in reality – what is church discipline for? Why does the New Testament encourage Christians to continue to repent of sin? Why does the writer of Hebrews say God will chasten those He loves? Why does Galatians encourage us to help those who have been overtaken in a sin? And why does Paul address this specifically in Romans 6 where he says we are dead to sin, so therefore, we must consider ourselves dead to sin? The truth is proven over and over again. Even in a New Covenant perspective, sin’s effect on us endures.
e. Broader Biblical Application: So how are we to respond to something like this? First, from all of scripture, we understand how we are to address those who are false teachers. we need to understand that these people who say we are no longer capable of sin are liars. They are deceivers. They are deceiving themselves and destroying themselves in their lie. In my office, I actually have a translation of the New Testament, translated by a man who claims that he no longer sins. And this book, I John, is the primary book he uses to defend such a position. Any who claim that Christians are able to sin, he derogatorily refers to as “sinning religionists”. I have seen, first hand, the damage that this false teaching has done. Men and women living in constant confusion and endlessly lacking assurance, thinking that they are followers of Christ, but still sinning. So they are left to wonder… did I fall from grace? Did it not take? Am I truly redeemed? Then others who have been shipwrecked by these teachings, work to redefine what sin is. If it is no expressly forbidden in scripture it is not a sin. So being irritated with someone is not a sin, even though it shows a lack of love toward that person and a heart of pride. We must reject this idea that Christians are unable to sin. We must reject it because it is a lie. It is a lie that destroys everyone who claims it. And it is a sign that they do not know the truth of the gospel of Christ. It is a sign that they do not understand sin. That is why his translation of the New Testament sits in my cults and false religions section in my office. Where it belongs. Secondly, as we apply this truth, we are also left to wonder, if we are not unable to sin – what should our disposition toward sin be? If we are not made untouchable to sin’s charms, then how should we relate to it?
[Slide 5(blank)] We are also still wondering what evidence John has to call those who would claim such a thing, liars. How do we know they are lying? So many questions to answer. All of which are answered in the next verse. A verse we often abuse and misuse.
II.) Agreeing with God about our sin proves we have been changed, so we must inspect our disposition toward sin.
b. [Slide 6] 9 – But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
i. So in this second couplet, John starts his comparison of what is said vs. what we are, with – if you say you have no capability to sin then you are a liar.
ii. John’s counter point to that is a different disposition toward our sin, which is confession.
iii. But before we analyze what it means to confess our sins, we need to work backward in this verse. You may be wondering why.
iv. We so often mess this verse up. And I say we – because I too have messed this verse up.
v. So let’s start from the back half of this verse. He is faithful and just.
vi. The he in the phrase seems to indicate either God or Jesus. And in looking for the most recent subject, we might think that it is Jesus from verse 7. However grammatically, Jesus is not the last subject. Jesus is being referred to as God’s Son. So clearly either this He is God the Father, or more likely, it is referring to the triune God.
vii. So what does it mean that God is faithful and just?
viii. God being faithful means that He is trustworthy. That He keeps His word.
ix. God being Just means that He deals righteously with men and enforces true justice upon the earth.
x. Certainly, these are true characteristics of God, always.
xi. In your translation the next word is probably to, or in order to, followed by forgive and to cleanse. The Greek language is tricky here. These verbs (forgive and cleanse) are in a tense that not only suggests past tense, meaning it was an action completed at some point in the past. Furthermore, the verbs are in a subjunctive mood, meaning they represent potential activity. If we translate the Greek in this raw form we come away with “He is faithful and just, in order that he may forgive our sins and may cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This doesn’t seem to be in any translation we have come across. Why do you suppose that is?
xii. There is a practice in koine Greek where the word we translate “in order that” when used the exact way it is used here, turns subjunctive verbs into infinitives of result. In other words, by Greek use, this is not indicating potentially completed action, but rather, something directly resulting from what preceded in the sentence.
xiii. What does that mean? It means He is faithful and just to forgive and He is faithful and just to cleanse. Or if we word it another way we could say that “God is faithful and just, which results in forgiving our sins and cleansing us from unrighteousness.”
xiv. What initially looked like a possibility of God doing something, now becomes a certain result of His very nature.
xv. But I have a question for you then. If it is a certain result, based on God’s faithfulness and justice, that He is forgiving our sins and is cleansing us from unrighteousness, what sense does it make that all of this is contingent on whether or not we confess our sins?
xvi. We’ll look into what it means to confess our sins in a bit, but I want us to think for a second.
xvii. Traditionally we see this conditional phrase as a cause-effect relationship – but is that true?
xviii. If His forgiving and cleansing is a result of His faithful and righteous nature, when has it ever been true that God’s faithfulness and His justice are dependent on our actions? Is God faithful only when we do something? Is God Just only when we do something? The forgiving and cleansing are a direct result of the character of God – this is very clear in Greek. So our actions can’t produce these outcomes because they are results of him being who He is.
xix. If this is a cause-effect relationship condition, our only option in the sentence grammatically is that our actions produce the character of God. Is that… true?
xx. We, and again I say WE, have painted this verse in such a way so as to make the forgiving of our sins and cleansing of our unrighteousness a result, not of His character, but rather, our works.
xxi. Friends, do you remember what John said before – “If we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” – We saw that John did not mean we do something to get something. Instead he was talking about evidence. That if we evidence walking in the light, it proves we are in fellowship and being cleansed by Christ’s blood. Can I suggest to you that John is doing the same thing here?
xxii. John is not saying that we do something to get something. But rather that we evidence something that proves something.
xxiii. With that little thought in your mind, let’s see what the evidence is, so we can put it all together.
xxiv. But if we confess. Confess is in a verb tense that indicates it is either something we do, or continue to do. So either it is part of our character or our practice. Either sense produces a similar effect. If we are people characterized by confession of our sins.
xxv. But what is confession?
xxvi. It is a compound word in Greek. It means to say the same thing. It means to make a covenant or an agreement with someone, and since there is no other subject identified, that agreement is with God.
xxvii. So we must agree with God concerning our sins. What does God say about our sins? That they are unrighteous, wicked, abomination, works of death, filthy, unclean, perverse, and worthy of judgment. God hates sin. And more specifically, God hates our sins. So much so that He sent His Son to die for them. So to agree with God, we too ought to hate our own sins. And I mean hate in the strongest sense of the word.
xxviii. So now that we have all the pieces, let’s begin putting all this together. The evidence is, we continually agree with God about our sins. We continue to hate our sins as He hates them. We continue to pursue holiness as He is Holy. We continue to recognize the destruction of sin and work to undo its effect on others, as God has commanded in His law. In short, the evidence produced is a person whose perspective and disposition toward sin has radically changed from loving it to hating it. From pursuing it to fleeing it. From being its slave, to being free of its power. And what does that evidence prove? That God is faithful and righteous.
xxix. How? How does our agreement with God about our sin prove that God is faithful and righteous?
xxx. God’s Faithfulness is found in His kept promise to His elect that in a New Covenant with us He would forgive our sin and write His Word on our hearts and that our hearts would be circumcised and made new.
xxxi. God’s Righteousness does not forgo the justice of the law, but applies the penalty of the law upon Christ.
xxxii. And so the Faithfulness of God and the Righteousness of God offer to His people the setting aside or cancelling of sin’s penalty, the breaking of sin’s power and the cleansing or purifying of its presence or effect.
xxxiii. Therefore, it is not when we confess that God forgives and cleanses… but rather, God forgives and cleanses us because He is faithful and just. What does that produce in us?
xxxiv. If the penalty of our sin has been cancelled, and its power broken, and its effect is being purified… what does that produce in us?
xxxv. A person who continues to agree with God about their sins. Why?
xxxvi. Because it is only by God’s mercy and in God’s grace that a person would EVER agree with God about their own sin.
xxxvii. Therefore, the evidence that the false teachers are liars is this. They do not have the same opinion of their sin as God does. They do not agree with God. That is how John knows they are lying. Because God hates sin – and they have redefined it. God hates their sins, and they have convinced themselves they are no longer capable of sinning.
xxxviii. But God’s mercy toward us has forgiven all penalty of sin and broken the power of sin. His grace toward us is at work cleansing us from sin’s presence. And that produces in us agreement with God.
xxxix. We who are redeemed have a new relationship toward sin, not that we deny its presence in us, but rather, that we hate its presence in us and in the world! This is the fruit of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. That our nature has changed and our view of our own sins has been flipped upside down.
b. [Slide 7] Passage Truth: The truth John attempts to communicate to his readers is this. That it is not the lack of sin in a person that proves they are God’s child, but rather, a Godly view of their own sin that proves they are God’s child. Loving sin, ignoring sin, excusing sin, or pursuing sin are all attitudes of people who do not know the truth.
c. Passage Application: So as with the previous couplet from last week, John is not telling his readers to go and produce the evidence. Because that is something, they cannot do without being truly redeemed. What he is telling them to do is inspect their disposition toward sin. Do they agree with God about their own sin? Are they continuing to view their sin the way God does? If so, this is evidence that God is faithfully and righteously forgiving their sins and cleansing them from unrighteousness.
d. [Slide 8] Broader Biblical Truth: From the whole bible, we understand that God makes us a new creation in Christ. That what is old is gone and what is new has come. Before, we excused our sin, ignored our sin, pursued our sin and ultimately loved our sin. But God changed our hearts, revealed the truth to us, and we could never view our sin the same way again. Now just because we agree with God concerning our sin, that doesn’t mean that we cease sinning. We know that. But what it does mean is that we hate our sin, and continually seek to be free of it. When we sin, the Spirit works out of us biblical repentance. [Slide 9] Biblical repentance expresses itself in 7 fruits which we can find in II Corinthians 7. First earnestness – meaning that we quickly react against our sin. Second is vindication – meaning we seek to clear ourselves of guilt, not that we did not commit sin, but rather than we want to be restored to innocence. Third loathing – a deep hatred of how we failed God and others. Fourth Fear – meaning a fear of God and His Holiness and Chastening. Fifth Longing – meaning a desire for renewed communion with God. Sixth zeal – meaning a desire for God’s ways of righteousness. Seventh avenging - meaning undoing what sin destroyed. This is what repentance looks like. And when we agree with God about our sin, this is our disposition toward sin. This then, is evidence that God is faithful and just toward us, in that it proves that He is forgiving us and cleansing us. Because those who are not forgiven or being cleansed do not view their sin this way. They harbor it, hide it, embrace it, love it, and flaunt it. But if you are God’s child, you no longer view your own sin in this way.
e. [Slide 10] Broader Biblical Application: Friends, for me, this verse, when interpreted correctly, radically shatters the traditional paradigm of confessing my sin to God. It forever alters how I pray to the Lord. It lifts the legalistic yoke off my shoulders of having to sit on my couch and rack my brains to think of all the sins that I committed in that day hoping that I think of them all so God can forgive me and cleanse me of them. This. Is. Not. What. This. Verse. Means! It is so much bigger than that. What it means is that if I am God’s child – If God is faithful to keep His promises to me, and Just to apply my sin to Christ, then He will forgive my sin and cleanse me from unrighteousness. And how do I know that I am one whom these promises apply? That my relationship to my sin has been radically altered.
[Slide 11(blank)] What does this mean? How does this change our Christian walk?
Martin Luther is said to have spend hours confessing every single sin he committed to God in prayer. Yet it is curious that every time confession of sin is mentioned in the New Testament (which is only 4 times) it is always publicly before the entire assembly or before the elders of the church. Never in the new testament do we see admission of specific sins to God.
We can turn back to the Old Testament and we see that under the old Covenant people did admit specific sins to God. David is a prime example. Yet even then, it is less about admitting what you have done to God and more about forsaking what you have done to pursue God and His ways.
Confession then speaks less to our action and more to our nature. It speaks less to what we say and more to what we are. Confession is our agreement with God that our sin is revolting and should be crucified. God hated sin so much He sent His Son to become sin for us and to suffer His wrath for sin. Confession then has nothing to do with admitting all the ways we failed God. But confession has everything to do with eagerly, aggressively, and even violently cutting sin out of our lives at all costs. Even if we must suffer for it to be so.
So if you spend hours on your knees admitting every way you have failed God, your time would be better spent thanking God for His forgiveness and begging Him for His grace to kill sin in your life and produce the life of righteousness in you. Your time would be better spent begging God to deliver you from sin’s temptation today and to give you victory to be holy for Him. Your time would be better spent reflecting on how devastating sin is and how Great God’s grace is that He has freed you from sin’s penalty and power, and that He has promised to continually deliver you from sin’s presence until He completes that work in His Kingdom.
If you are God’s child it is silly and self-defeating to try to rack your brains thinking about all the ways you have failed God. Rather you should be busy going about mortifying your flesh and pursuing God’s holiness. This more accurately captures what it means to confess our sins to God.
That is not to say that when you fail, you don’t cry out to God for mercy and grace. Of course, you do that. That is part of genuine repentance and that is part of agreeing with God about your sin. But confession is not sitting in a booth talking to a guy in a robe. It is not sitting on your couch admitting all the ways you messed up.
What is confession? It is a lifestyle characterized by the killing off of sin and the raising up of righteousness in you – all of which is a work primarily of God that we obey by faith. We believe God about our sin. The same way we believe Him about His Son. We believe Him about our sin. And we agree. Fully.
So this point naturally divides in two. One is extremely convicting and the other is extremely encouraging.
Friends, if you live your life indifferent to your own sin. If you live your life unaware that you do sin. If you live your life holding on to sin. If you live your life loving your sin. If you live your life flaunting your sin. Then you are lying to yourself if you claim to be of God. This view of sin is natural man’s view of sin.
You need to take a calculated look at your life since you made a decision, got saved, or however you want to put it. Because if your disposition toward sin has not changed. If you do not see sin the way God does. Then nothing happened when you decided to follow Jesus. You have been falsely converted.
Furthermore, if you are deeply sorrowful over your sin, but have not considered its elimination from your life of paramount importance. If you will not take every possible step to cut it out of your life, then that also proves that you do not agree with God about your sin. God sent His son to die to free His people from their sin. If you won’t unplug the internet, ask your wife to rebuke you when you are irritable, quit your job, find an accountability partner to confess sin to, or do whatever is necessary to rid yourself of sin – then this is all proof that you are not in agreement with God about your sin. And if you are not in agreement with God – you have absolutely no reason to think that you are His child.
The fruit that God’s forgiveness and cleansing produces in us, is a forsake-at-all-costs kind of disposition toward our sin.
You ask, well how can I change my disposition toward sin? How can I hate it like God hates it?
You can’t. But God can change your heart. Beg Him for this. Seek Him, Ask for this and continue to do so – and He will answer.
The second path of application is extremely encouraging. There is freedom here. What is that freedom?
Friend if you hate your sin. If you desire greatly to forsake it, and have taken steps to do so. If you would do anything to be considered innocent again in God’s sight, to restore what your sin has broken, to make the relationship with God right and to pursue His ways, His holiness. If this is in your heart. Then it is evidence in and of itself that God has redeemed you and is currently cleansing and purifying you of your sin.
Friends if your life is your confession, your agreement with God that sin is against Him and Holiness is what you are pursuing… then it is a sign that something has happened to your heart. And it isn’t that you spend hours every day listing everything you’ve ever done, but it is a genuine hatred and forsaking of your own sin. Is that true of you? Do you see, over the course of your life, a forsaking of your sin and a pursuit of His righteousness?
Furthermore, have you discovered, now that you have received gracious victory over sins you once thought were big, that you have uncovered larger sins buried underneath of them? Sins more difficult to uproot? Friends if this is you… It is evidence that God is keeping His promises toward you. That God is acting Righteously toward you. To the result that God is forgiving and cleansing you.
Praise the Lord!
So you have some questions to ask yourself before you leave.
What is my disposition toward sin?
Do I agree with God about my sin, or do I take a slightly different position than He does?
Am I person who sins sometimes, or am I the chief of sinners?
If we agree with God… He is actively faithful and just toward us.
If not… we are liars who do not have the truth.