A number of weeks ago, an American EP-3 surveillance plane was flying in international waters of the coast of mainland China.
Its mission? To gather electronic data from China’s military and civilian activities.
The Chinese responded by sending up a couple of fighter jets
- not to threaten it or shoot it down, but to just let them know they know that they are there.
America has been sending spy planes up for years, and China has sent up fighter jets to escort them for years as well.
So what happened a few weeks ago was fairly routine.
And everything was running that way until, somehow, there was a collision between the spy plane and an escorting fighter.
Now the Americans say that the Chinese were to blame
and the Chinese say that the Americans caused the crash.
Personally I find it hard to believe that a slow, heavy, prop-driven plane could deliberately collide with a small and highly maneuverable supersonic jet fighter.
But then, the US has covered up incidents like this in the past.
The upshot was that the Chinese fighter crashed into the South China Sea and the pilot was never recovered.
The American plane, crippled and far from home, was forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese military airstrip on Hainan island.
What the Chinese did then was demand that America apologise for killing one of its pilots.
For a while, things were tense.
The Chinese were not willing to let the American aircrew come home until America formally apologised.
America was demanding that China return their airmen and were refusing to admit they were at fault.
Cooler heads finally prevailed, and the US issued a statement of regret.
China released the airmen, but has yet to return the spy plane.
Since then, America has continued to state that it was not at fault.
They regret the death of the Chinese pilot, but they have made it clear that they are not responsible.
There’s two simple facts we need to understand when it comes to apologising.
First of all, it’s very hard for people to apologise for something they haven’t done.
Secondly, it’s even harder for people to apologise for something they HAVE done.
When a person apologises for something,
they not only admit that they have done something wrong,
but they are also allowing the other party to have some sort of power over them.
Because people - even countries - don’t want to lose their freedom, they refuse to admit their wrongdoing.
To admit you are wrong also involves making some sort of restitution to the person you have hurt.
To apologise is humbling.
It can be humiliating.
It can be painful.
No wonder hardly anyone does it.
But a christian is a person who has apologised.
A Christian is a person who has not just turned to God in faith, but has confessed their sins to him.
In these verses from 1 John. we’re confronted with the idea that Christians have to confess their sins to God.
1. The Arrogance of False Belief
So let’s move onto the first point “The Arrogance of False Belief”.
Let me just remind you again that John is writing this letter because the church at the time was being influenced by false teaching.
As I’ve already said, these people had strange views about Christ.
But what this passage teaches us is that they also had a strange view about sin.
The first thing we notice about these false teachers is their claim about sin.
Let me just read to you the first few lines of verse 8 and 10.
verse 8 says “If we claim to be without sin”.
Verse 10 says “If we claim we have not sinned”.
What we see here is that the false teachers claimed that they no longer had sin living inside them and, naturally, that they were not sinning.
We need to realise here that these teachers were not claiming to be perfect.
But what they were claiming was that they had been converted,
and since their conversion they had no sin in them, nor had they sinned.
How could they do this?
Well, because they had a low view of the physical world, anything they did in the world didn’t really matter either to them or to God.
Since God is not concerned with the physical world, anything that happens here is not really sin at all.
The only sin they saw occurred at a spiritual level.
The second thing we notice is their true attitude.
In verse 8, John says that such people “deceive themselves”.
In verse 10, he says they “make God out to be a liar”.
So what we have here is a twofold action.
To refuse to believe that you have sinned means that you are actually lying to yourself.
More than that, you are actually accusing God of being a liar.
How do we know this?
In Psalm 14, the psalmist says
The Fool says in his heart “There is no God”. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
So God, through the psamist, is telling us that everyone has sinned.
John therefore tells his readers that if you deny being sinful, you are saying that God is wrong.
And if God is wrong, then he must be a liar.
So while these false teachers may feel perfectly happy with their beliefs, John is saying that they are in error.
Because they refuse to see their sinful behaviour, they are actually lying to themselves.
Their own attitude has deceived them of the real facts.
The third thing we notice is the result of their attitude.
In verse 8, it says that “the truth is not in them”.
In verse 10, it says that “God’s word has no place in their lives”.
John is saying, yet again, that such people are not fellow Christians.
They do not have the truth.
God’s word has no place in their lives.
We need to be clear about John’s attitude.
We might think that John is being a bit harsh here, but he sees this whole situation as being very serious.
If a person claims to be free from sin, they are actually unbelievers.
So what we have here is a important process.
There is firstly the claim that they have not sinned.
Following on from this is the attitude that God is a liar, when in fact they have actually deceived themselves.
The result is that such people do not have God’s truthful word in their lives - they are unbelievers.
A number of years ago I had a falling out with a work colleague.
She was a non-Christian, and she had made some fairly nonsensical accusations about me.
I was naturally offended and I asked her to apologise.
She responded by saying that she was sorry that I felt that way.
In other words, she felt sympathy for the fact that I felt bad.
She did not apologise for her accusations - not then nor at any period after that.
For the 12 months that I worked with her after that, I never felt totally at ease.
We never made up at all.
What sin does is break relationship.
If sin is not acknowledged then the relationship is broken.
This is what happened to me and my work colleague.
This is what happens between us and God when we don’t acknowledge our sin.
To believe somehow that we are without sin shows an incredible arrogance.
Not just arrogance about ourselves, but an arrogant attitude towards God.
The Bible is very clear on this issue
- we’ve read a number of verses today that prove this fact,
and there are many verses we haven’t looked at which prove it.
There are a number of applications that we look at here.
The first is that we need to be wary of people who deny sin.
- especially people within the Christian church -
Now some so-called Christian leaders do this explicitly - they come right out and say it.
Robert Schuller, of Crystal Cathedral fame, said to Time Magazine in 1985 that
“nothing has been done in the name of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and to evangelism than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition”.
Now that was 16 years ago and I understand that Schuller may have changed his position,
but you can see where this can lead.
Other so-called Christian leaders, however, simply remove sin from their vocabulary.
They may not go out and say that we are without sin.
But they might just simply remove it from their teaching.
But even the non-Christian world is against this idea.
Advertisers constantly prey upon people’s self-centredness.
Sociologists all agree that humankind is basically good and that a person’s upbringing and environment cause him or her to react in unpleasant ways.
And philosophers have determined that truth is relative, and we cannot judge a person’s actions or thinking as wrong because that would be intolerant.
Satan wants us to believe that we are not sinful.
He communicates this to us through the world around us,
as well as through elements of the so called church who have abandoned the truth and embraced worldly thinking.
The second thing we need to take to heart here is that we cannot be arrogant about our faith.
By this I mean that we shouldn’t always be pointing the finger at everyone else
when we really should be pointing the finger at ourselves as well.
Just because we recognise human sinfulness does not make us superior to the world.
If we are true Christians, we must always be mindful of the sin in our lives
as well as in the lives of everyone else.
The third thing we need to realise here is also our equality with the rest of the world.
Although we acknowledge sin in the world, we are really no different to anyone else.
We are no better or worse than the non-Christians around us.
1We are all equal in our sinfulness, even though we may not be equal in the actual amount of sins we commit.
Theologians over the years have called this belief “total depravity”.
This doesn’t mean that we are as bad as we can be, but it does mean that sin has affected every facet of human nature.
What unites everyone who has ever lived is our common fault - we are all sinners.
2. The Humility of True Belief
So we are sinful.
How does that affect the way we relate to God?
Those who truly believe are humble, and that is my second point.
Let me read to you verse 9 again.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Now when we were looking at verses 8 and 10, you would have seen on your outlines the structure of the argument.
That is, the claim, the attitude and the result.
John uses the same structure here in verse 9, but changes it into a positive one.
So the first issue is what is being claimed. Verse 9 says “If we confess our sins”.
Instead of claiming to be without sin, we are confessing it.
We acknowledge that we are sinners before God.
In contrast to the false teachers of the time, John talks here about an ongoing confession.
This suggests that not only were the false teachers wrong about their so called spiritual lives, but that John actually expected Christians to sin.
Of course the difference between real Christians and false ones is that real Christians confess their sin
while false ones think they have no sin in the first place to confess.
What we see then is attitude - not the attitude of the confessing Christian but the attitude of God.
Verse 9 says that God “is faithful and just”.
These are two aspects of God’s character which are mentioned briefly, so let me discuss them quickly.
God is a faithful God.
In other words, God keeps his promises.
God will never let us down.
He is also just.
In other words, God is never anything but impartial.
He judges fairly.
Because God knows all things, his judgements are pure justice.
How does a just God deal with sin?
God must punish sin.
But how does a faithful God deal with sin?
He forgives it.
How can God be both faithful and just?
He does this through Christ.
Jesus dying on the cross for our sin.
God, the just God, punishes sin.
God, the faithful God, forgives sin.
Which brings us to the third part of this point - the result.
Verse 9 says God will “forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness”.
The sins we have committed have not only been forgiven, but cleaned from us.
In verse 7 we saw that Jesus purfies us from all sin.
The same is being spoken of here.
So what we have here is a person who has confessed to God their sins.
God, who is a just and faithful God, then forgives this person and cleans them from sin.
But confession of sins is one of these things which people have trouble dealing with.
What happens when you sin after confessing your sin?
Are you then out of relationship with God until you confess them again?
What about the sins you don’t confess?
Are those sins unforgiven?
And who do you confess your sins to?
Should you just confess them to God or should you speak to someone else about them?
A Christian is a person who is assured of their salvation.
If we sin, we know that we have been forgiven.
Why then do we confess them?
We have to because we are Christians.
We are truly and deeply troubled by our sins against God.
Confession is a natural response to our wrongdoing, even though have forgiveness.
So any sin committed after becoming a Christian does not break our relationship with God.
What about sins we fail to confess?
I don’t think we need to understand this passage to mean we confess every single sin we commit.
What we need to confess is our failure to follow God’s laws.
We confess to God our failure to love and serve him.
Part of this involves talking to him about our individual sins, but we don’t have to do this with every single sin we commit.
Apart from anything else, the fact is that we can’t remember everything we’ve done wrong.
And who should you confess you sins to?
Obviously we’re talking here about our sins against God, so we need to go to him in prayer.
Our sins against other people are sins against God too,
but I think there is something to be said about confessing our sins to those who we have hurt.
It’s a hard thing to do, especially when there is no guarantee of forgiveness from the other person.
But if we remember that sin breaks relationship, then it is a good thing to do
because it will promote honesty and forgiveness within any relationship.
Now when it comes to confession, we have two possible false directions that we can go.
The first one is the route of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Catholic church, the ordained priest is the one who not only hears a person’s confessions, but actually acts as God’s agent to forgive that person.
In other words, when the priest pronounces forgiveness, at that moment God actually forgives that person.
That in itself is a serious problem - there is nothing in the Bible which backs it up at all - but there is more.
Catholics must confess all of their sins.
Sins that are not confessed and forgiven need to be made up after you die.
Purgatory is a place invented by the Catholic church, where Christians go to have their sins purged before going to heaven.
What this means is that God’s forgiveness is not fully available to Christians.
Thus, committed Catholics live in fear of the afterlife, with no assurance that their sins have been forgiven.
But the second route is just as frightening.
Some Christians believe that because their sins have been forgiven, it is quite unnecessary for them to confess their sins at all.
This, in turn, leads to the false teachers we see in verses 8 and 10.
We must realise that although our sins have been forgiven, that we always need to continue confessing them to God
- not to gain forgiveness, but to show our love for him and as an expression of our sorrow in disobeying him.
Last week we looked at the idea of “walking in the light”.
I’m sure you’ll understand that confession of sins is a natural part of walking in the light, while refusing to acknowledge our sins is walking in darkness.
And of course, if we have fellowship with God the Father and his Son, we must be ready to confess our sins against God as a natural part of our fellowship with him.
There is one more thing I need to discuss before I conclude,
and that is something called the holiness movement.
The holiness movement became popular in the mid 1800s and its effects are still felt today.
Many followers of this movement have made a shipwreck of their faith
because they have been taught things that are not only unbiblical but also unrealistic.
It’s a very popular movement, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you have encountered it during your Christian life.
The holiness movement encourages Christians to surrender their whole lives to God.
God will in turn root out all sin so that the Christian can live a victorious life without any sin whatsoever.
This movement was started by John Wesley, and gained popularity with teachers like Oswald Chambers and Andrew Murray.
This movement has branched into a number of different forms,
of which modern pentecostal and charismatics are a part of.
Obviously there are a number of problems with this movement.
One problem is that there are two sorts of Christians:
Those who have fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit,
and those who have not.
This encourages a sort of spiritual elite, where you have one group of blessed people and one group of ordinary ones.
However, in the context of what we’ve learnt from 1 John, we see a more serious problem.
What we have is the belief that the Christian can go through his or her life without falling into sin.
John infers otherwise.
John says in verse 9 that Christians confess their sins - not just once but as an ongoing attitude.
Obviously John expects Christians to sin, but also that they confess them.
The holiness movement teaches that through one act of complete surrender on our part, we are totally free from the bounds of sin and its effects.
Naturally, many Christians who have tried this experience have failed to go on with it.
Sure, a number of Christians have had their lives changed, but I would say that many have felt like a failure as a result.
Imagine, you have surrendered your life to God and are committed to living a victorious Christian life, only for you to fall back into sin.
You then recommit yourself, live victoriously for a while,
but then fall back into sin.
The pattern continues.
I need to stress here that the followers of the holiness movement are Christians.
Wesley, Oswald Chambers and everyone who has been involved in this movement have not departed from the basics of the Christian faith.
They believe that salvation can only be found in faith in Christ.
Another thing to realise is that they have encouraged people to live their lives to serve God, which is good.
However, I do have to say that the main point of their teaching is not just unhelpful, but also unbiblical.
Especially when we examine what John says here in these verses.
The fact is that the normal Christian life is one in which we struggle with sin.
We never have victory over sin.
Jesus, however, has victory over sin.
As Christians we may struggle with the sin in our lives, but we also have the assurance that these sins have been taken away.
The Christian life is a life of both sorrow and joy - sorrow that we have offended God, and joy that through Christ, our sins have been fully forgiven.
Let me finish up.
There are two sorts of people who live in the world today.
There are those who live without confessing their sins to God,
and there are those who have.
If we have not confessed our sins to God, then we show ourselves to be unbelievers.
We call God a liar, and we are deceiving ourselves.
But if we have confessed to God our sins, then God is faithful and just.
He deals with our sins by placing them upon his son, Jesus, so that he can take the punishment we deserve.
As Christians we have the absolute assurance of forgiveness.
But we have the responsibility to continue coming before God in repentance, not because we have sins unforgiven, but because we love him.
A Christian is simply a forgiven sinner.
Let me pray.
We come before you now knowing that we are sinners, and that you are an angry God. We confess to you that we have not lived the way we should have. We have sinned in our thoughts, our words, our deeds and in what we have failed to do. Lord God, have mercy on us. Thank you that you promise forgiveness to all who turn to you in faith. Thank you that, even though we sin, we have the assurance of eternal life always before us. We ask that your Spirit continues to convict us of our wrongdoing, and we pray that your love for us will motivate us to live our lives for your glory. And we ask, Lord, that you send your son back to us soon, that we may no longer live in these sinful bodies, but reign with you in perfection in the new heavens and the new earth.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.