Talk to anyone who doesn’t think much about Christianity and they will invariably say that all religions are the cause of conflict.
They point to Northern Ireland, the Crusades, central Africa and even the Middle East.
For these people, Christianity is merely another religion that causes conflict, suffering and death.
Unfortunately, their claim can be backed up by the history of the church
- even in recent times.
In Indonesia, Christians have responded to persecution by attacking Moslems.
In America, Fundamentalist Christians have used violence against homosexual groups
and against Doctors who practice abortions.
But what has been happening recently is not new.
Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have been at each others throats for hundreds of years.
Even during the reformation 500 years ago, war between countries and even within countries was the result of religious opinion.
Add all these up with the conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Moslems, Hindu groups and tribal cultures and the result seems to be quite simple - religions cause conflict.
Therefore, to reduce conflict, we need to reduce religion.
Sounds good from a non-Christian point of view, but the argument is flawed.
Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao-tse-tung were the three greatest dictators of the 20th century, and together they killed more than 100 million people.
And these people were atheists (note - incorrect. Hitler was not an atheist)
There is, however, still a problem for us as Christians.
Why is it that Christianity has not changed society for the better?
Why is it that Christians over the years have been as violent and as unforgiving as other people?
Why is it that homosexuals, adulterers, wife beaters, child abusers and greedy embezzlers have not only been regular churchgoers in our society,
but are even in positions of power and are even in the ministry itself?
For the cynical non-Christian, the church is not the solution, it is part of the problem.
When I was here last time I pointed out that the letters of 1, 2 and 3 John were circular letters sent by the apostle John to churches throughout the world at that time.
These churches were having some serious problems
- a new understanding of Jesus was being taught by some false teachers.
These false teachers were saying that Jesus could not have had a physical body, and that he was just a spiritual being.
John wrote this letter to the churches to point out their error.
But John was not just an intellectual.
He was not just concerned with the finer points of theology.
John saw this problem as a serious departure from the faith.
And he also saw the consequences of it.
John saw that there is a link between what a person believes and how that person lives.
John realised that if people began to believe the Jesus did not have a physical body that it would lead to some strange conclusions.
John did his best, but the church did divide in this period, and remained divided for hundreds of years.
The people who were part of this movement are known by historians as “Gnostics”.
And they believed that the physical life was evil and did not matter as much as the spiritual life.
Basically there were two groups of Gnostics.
The first group denied their bodies by abstaining from certain foods, abstaining from sex and cutting themselves off from the world.
The second group, realising that their physical nature was unimportant, went in the opposite direction.
They indulged in as much food and sex as they wanted, and were no different to anyone else in society.
John was justified in writing these letters, because he knew that this wrong understanding of Jesus would lead to wrong behaviour.
And this is why John’s letters mean so much to us today.
I put it to you that the reason why the church is full of people who claim to be Christian but who behave in such a sinful fashion
- is because the church has lost an understanding of true Christian belief.
It is of great comfort to know that John’s message to the church in the first century is just as important to the church in the twenty-first century.
Let me read to you 1 John, Chapter 1, verses 5-7.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by 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, purifies us from all sin.
1. God is Light (1.5)
The First point I want to make is that God is Light.
John was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles.
He was there during his ministry.
He was there when Jesus was arrested
and he was there when he appeared to them after his resurrection.
John considered himself “the disciple that Jesus loved”.
So when John says here that “This is the message we have heard and declare to you”, he is not speaking about some strange mystical experience.
He is teaching them what Jesus taught him - simple as that.
And what is that message?
It is that God is light.
Now John is a bit of a poet here, he uses a poetic device to really emphasize his point.
He says that God is light, but then goes on to say that “in him there is no darkness”.
All this does is say the same thing but in a different way
- on the one hand, God is light;
on the other hand, in God there is no darkness.
Now John isn’t just doing this to look smart, he does it for a reason.
The first statement is a positive one - God is light.
The second statement is a negative one - God has no darkness in him.
On your handouts I have included a part of John’s Gospel that helps us understand this statement.
Let me read it out:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
The idea here is that light represents good while darkness represents evil.
When there is light, evil deeds are exposed.
When there is darkness, evil deeds are hidden.
When John says that God is light, he is saying something about both his character and his purpose.
God by being light, is good.
There is no darkness or evil at all in God.
God is not evil, nor does God commit evil acts.
Instead, God, by being light, exposes evil and sin.
This gives the idea that God can see everything.
When God acts in the world, he acts to expose evil, to destroy it, and to promote goodness and love.
We’ve just moved into a house with polished floorboards.
In every house I have lived in since childhood I have been able to walk on carpets
- but now I have to walk on floorboards.
One thing I’ve realised is that they are very noisy
- one particular floorboard is slightly cracked and makes a sharp noise whenever anyone steps on it.
This is okay normally, except when Anna and Aiden are in bed asleep and I need to move from one end of the house to the other in total darkness.
When I do this, I step on all the wrong floorboards, walk into any boxes on the floor (we’re still unpacking) and, as result, wake up everyone simply by going to bed.
So I’ve taken to using a torch to help me get through the house without waking anyone up.
The torch shows me where to step, where not to step and what to avoid.
Being in darkness means I am unable to function properly.
In order to walk normally, I need a light to guide my way.
So God is light.
In God, there is no darkness.
This simple fact helps us to recognise that we serve a good God.
God does not promote evil.
God does, in fact, promote good.
How does God work for the good of the world?
How does God shine his light onto the world to expose and destroy evil, and to promote good?
The first way is through the Son. In John chapter 8, Jesus says of himself
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Jesus came to destroy the power of sin.
He came into the world to die for us.
By dying on the cross and taking our sins, Jesus takes away the power of sin and death.
People often wonder why God does not intervene in history and prevent wars and hatred. Well, God has intervened.
God sent his Son. Jesus Christ came into the world because God loved us, that whoever believes in him will not perish and die, but have life eternal.
The basic problem of humanity is that we have rejected God as our ruler
- that is what sin really is.
Jesus is the light, and anyone who follows him follows the Father.
The second way is through us - the church. In Matthew 5, Jesus says of us
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
It seems incredible, but God can even use us to shine his light of salvation.
Our faith in Christ is not a hidden, secret faith, but a confident, open and loving faith.
Our faith in Christ has so changed our lives that people will see how great God is.
We are all witnesses of how great God has been to us, and we have the natural responsibility of sharing that with those who don’t know Christ.
It is through our words and our deeds that people will see and understand how great our salvation is.
God’s light shines through us.
2. Walking in Darkness (1.6)
So we are witnesses of Christ.
But I’ve already pointed out that the church has not exactly done well in this has it?
There appears to be a gap between the idea of what the church is, and what the church actually does.
The second point I want to make concerns “Walking in Darkness”.
Let me read verse 6 again.
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
I find it very comforting that the apostle John had to deal with a situation so similar to ours today
- how to deal with hypocrisy and sin within the church.
John is very clear here
- if we claim to have fellowship and friendship with God, and yet at the same time “walk in darkness”, what happens?
We’ve already seen that God is light.
If we have fellowship with God, therefore we walk in the light too.
But what happens if we walk in the darkness?
What happens if we profess to be a Christian, but not live in obedience to God?
What happens if we call ourselves a Christian and do not love our brothers and sisters in Christ?
John here is attacking the false teachers.
He is saying that these false teachers claim to have fellowship with God but actually walk in darkness.
At this point I need to remind you of what I said earlier about the link between a person’s belief and a person’s actions.
In our society today we like to divide these two ideas - as though belief and action are separate.
We like to call them “theory” and “practice”.
The Bible makes no distinction at all.
What you believe is important.
What you believe affects the way you live your life.
John was concerned that these false teachers had the wrong idea about Jesus.
Their theology, their belief, was incorrect.
But John didn’t see this as a minor problem.
He saw it as a major one.
So serious was this problem that he immediately declared these people, not just to be wrong, but to be walking in darkness
- that is, living in sin.
John says that such people are liars.
They claim to be in relationship with God but their beliefs and actions show that they are walking in darkness.
The only conclusion John comes to is that these people are lying.
They are living a lie.
John is poetic again at this point
- he says that such people on the one hand lie, and on the other hand not live by the truth.
He’s saying the same thing twice, but it adds emphasis to his message.
If you lie, you therefore do not live by the truth.
These false teachers would have been very persuasive.
The Gnostic movement lasted a few hundred years before it eventually died out,
which shows just how influential they were in the early church.
The false teachers that John was attacking here would have been quite interesting to listen to, they would even have sounded quite reasonable.
But this was not important.
What was important was that they were denying some of the basic beliefs of the Christian Faith.
Some of you might know a bit of the history of the Presbyterian Church in Australia.
It is a history which is not very long, and not very glorious.
The most influential person in the Presbyterian church of the 20th century was a man named Samuel Angus.
He was a lecturer in New Testament in St Andrew’s college, Sydney, in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Angus was a kind and gentle man, by many accounts.
He was intelligent, he was persuasive and he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
As his teaching grew in influence, a number of Bible believing Presbyterians wanted him put on heresy trial for denying the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
My memory of the history is hazy at this point, but I think he died before any trial took place.
However, the damage had been done.
A whole generation of Presbyterian ministers had gone through theological training with this sort of influence.
Around this time, Methodists and Congregationalists were starting to train together with the Presbyterians, which spread the influence even further.
The influence of Samuel Angus on the Presbyterian church was immense.
By denying the resurrection of Christ, Angus opened the door for other basic Christian beliefs to be denied.
As a result, the church lost its way for decades.
Its influence can still be felt today within the Uniting Church.
Please don’t think that I’m having a go at Presbyterians or the Uniting Church for their inglorious history.
I can easily point to the Anglican Church which has suffered similar problems for just as long, and is also in serious decline.
Even the Baptist churches today are having similar problems - a number of their Bible colleges have lecturers who deny basic Christian belief.
I can’t emphasize enough just how important it is to hold onto the basics of our faith.
One of the saddest stories I read about Samuel Angus was about a young Christian who went into theological college in the early 1930s.
He had heard about Angus and had resolved to stay strong in the faith.
After three years he had turned his back on Biblical Christianity,
and went into the Presbyterian ministry committed to teaching a more contemporary version of the faith
- one which denied that Jesus was God.
The basic beliefs of our faith are the foundation for our lives.
Without them, our faith and our lives flounder.
What sort of beliefs are they?
Belief in the Trinity,
the Virgin Birth,
and the death of Christ as a sacrifice for our sins.
We cannot be a Christian without believing in these basic beliefs.
But obviously John’s words here can apply to more than just our theology.
They also apply to our actions.
As we go through John this year we’ll discover that love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the most important things to do.
John goes as far as to say that if we have no love for our brothers in Christ, we are not Christians.
3. Walking in the Light (1.7)
The third point I want to make is about how to walk in the light.
Let me read to you verse 7 again.
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, purifies us from all sin.
We’ve already seen that walking in darkness involves both a rejection of Christian truth along with evil behaviour.
What we now see is the opposite to that.
Walking in the light really means walking with God.
This means we accept that truth comes from God, and that our lives are changed to live in love for God and other people.
One thing which is quite noticeable is the similarity of this verse to the one we just looked at.
Notice that verse 6 and 7 include walking, fellowshipping and something about sin.
In verse 6, we have walking in darkness, In verse 7 we have walking in light.
In verse 6 fellowship with God is mentioned, in verse 7 fellowship with each other is mentioned.
In verse 6, we have the sin of lying. In verse 7, we have sins being purified.
As an English teacher I’m constantly having to remind my students that poets and authors deliberately write things in certain ways for a reason.
What we have here is another nice poetic technique that John uses.
But the question is, why did he include it?
Again, John does this to emphasize the point.
He starts off talking about God as light in verse 5, and then moves on to talking about both walking in the darkness and walking in the light.
He starts with the idea of God being light, and then applies it to our lives.
The false teachers he was warning against did two strange things.
First of all, they claimed to have fellowship with God.
Secondly, they cut off their fellowship with the rest of the church.
Their new teaching was so radical that it actually cut them off from the rest of the Christian community.
So what John is saying here is that those who walk in the light
- those who hold onto the basic beliefs of the faith and live in obedience to God
- these people have fellowship with the rest of the church.
And remember here that fellowship is more than just friendliness.
It involves having the same mind, the same purpose, the same mission.
If you walk in the light, you therefore have the same purpose, mind and mission as everyone else who walks in the light.
But one of the greatest things about the fellowship we have with each other is that we also share in the same salvation.
Walking in the light means that our sins have been taken away from us through Jesus.
The words that John uses are “the blood of Jesus, God’s son, purifies us from all sin.”
Walking in the light is actually an act of faith.
When we place our trust in Jesus as our saviour and lord we are putting our faith in him.
And when we do this, we commit our lives to serve God.
This is what walking in the light means.
God blesses everyone who has fellowship with him - and this blessing is the gift of salvation.
And this salvation is achieved through the death of Christ on the cross.
John says that Jesus’ blood purifies us from our sins.
When Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment for our sins.
When we eventually reach chapter 2, we’ll see that Jesus is an atoning sacrifice
- his death was sufficient to appease the wrath of God towards us.
As I’ve said earlier, Anna and I have moved into a house with polished floorboards.
They weren’t always polished.
The house was actually our grandparent’s house for many years and had carpet on the floor.
In order to get the floorboards polished, we had to pull up these old carpets and pull out all the nails.
As we pulled them up, we discovered that, many decades previously, someone had painted the boards with a substance called “Black Japan” I think.
Anyway, the result was that the floorboards looked horrible.
They were rough, there was this black substance over some of them, and there were bits and pieces of plaster everywhere and splashes of paint from the recently painted walls.
I had real doubts about the polishing.
Then the polishers came in and cleaned them up.
They cleaned them, polished them and varnished them.
Remember this was all new to me, and I was very surprised to see the result.
The boards look great.
We’ve scratched them a little bit when we moved in, but the polishers removed the top layer of grime and stain and brought out the natural colour and look of the original timber.
Our sin is like that grime.
It sticks to us and we cannot get rid of it ourselves.
When we become a Christian, Christ washes all that muck off.
All our sins have been taken away.
Jesus doesn’t use a polisher, he uses his own blood to wash us.
When we become a Christian, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, when we walk in the light, we are purified from all sin.
And this is not just the sins from our past, but also the sins in the future.
There are a number of applications of this verse I’d like to discuss.
The first is that sin is something that everyone has.
John has spoken about two sorts of people here - those who walk in darkness and those who walk in light.
Sin is common to both.
The difference is that those who walk in the light have been purified from their sin.
John does not expect us to be perfect and to stop sinning once we become Christians.
What John is saying is that those who walk in the light do not hide their sins from God.
Look, we’ve all done things we shouldn’t have.
We’ve all got skeletons of various shapes and sizes in our closets.
But if we have faith in Christ, if we trust in Jesus as our saviour and Lord, if we walk in the light, we will not hide those sins from God.
We acknowledge them.
Sure, we feel guilty about them, but we don’t try to hide them from God.
But the fact is that if we are walking in the light, then we can know that these sins have been forgiven.
If we are Christians, we know that Jesus’ blood has purified us from these sins.
And we can also know that any sins we commit in the future are forgiven as well.
This doesn’t mean we go ahead and sin as much as we like.
No. We are ashamed of these sins, and we are able to talk to God about them.
Why? Because we walk in the light.
We don’t hide them from God.
Secondly, what we have here is a clear understanding of what the gospel message is.
There are basically two sorts of people in the world
- those who walk in the darkness and those who walk in the light.
Even those John attacks for being false teachers are no more than unbelievers in the end.
Thirdly, we need to tell others about this.
I stated earlier that because God is light, we have the joy and the responsibility of being God’s light in the world.
As Christians, we walk in the light, and we need to tell others about walking in the light.
God is more powerful than we are, and it is a miracle whenever a person places their trust in Christ.
But they can’t do this unless the church does its job in proclaiming Christ.
And this really comes down to individual witness.
We all have to use the gifts we have as well as the opportunities that God gives us.
But we also have to remember that being the light of the world means we walk in the light -
our actions as well as our words together act as a powerful witness to the greatness of God and communicates to the world the message of forgiveness
- that Jesus can purify us from all sin.
Let me conclude.
I started off by talking about how some people have concluded that all religion causes conflict.
Not only that, but that the Christian church is full of people who seem to be part of the problem, rather than the solution.
I hope I’ve been able to point out that Christianity is a belief of the heart,
and that the problems of the church today have come about because it has lost touch with that fact.
Our faith is more than coming to church on Sundays, or reading the Bible and praying occasionally.
It involves an understanding of the great beliefs of our faith, alongside a desire to love God and love one another.
It involves a commitment to serving God with our whole lives, as well as a trust in the blood of Christ to purify us from our sins.
It involves an understanding that God is light, and that those who walk in the light have the responsibility of obedience as well as the freedom that comes from forgiveness.
And it involves the understanding that those who do not walk in the light are separate from both God our Father and from the fellowship of believers that we are a part of.
The gospel of Christ transforms our hearts, transforms our minds and brings us into the light of God.
What more can we do than to offer our lives in his service?
Let me pray.
You are light. In you there is no darkness at all. We thank you for sending your son to die on the cross and purify us from every sin. We thank you that through your son we can walk in the light and have fellowship with each other. Convict us, Lord we pray, when we sin. Give us a heavy heart and a broken spirit to come to you in repentance. And give us a sure knowledge and joy in knowing that we have already been forgiven. We ask that you shine your light through us into the world, as we share the light of Christ with those who walk in darkness. And we ask that you use us in some small way to further your kingdom in this world.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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