A sermon based on 1 John 1:5-2:6 preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.
What is sin? Well, isn’t it obvious? Sin is doing something bad. We can all probably recollect a time when we did something that was pretty bad. Perhaps not requiring legal intervention, but still something that you are not proud of.
The closest I came to getting into real trouble at school happened when I was in grade five. Someone brought some Exlax chocolates into school. He handed a bunch out to some of the students and dared us to give them to another student. I gave three chocolates to one student and then met up with the others, only to find out that everyone else had second thoughts and never gave them out. You can imagine that none of the adults were impressed with my actions, much less the student I gave them to.
That would probably qualify as a sin, not to mention stupid. But what kind of things should be considered sin? Are they only things that harm another person? Much of contemporary morality would lean in this direction?
Often within the church, there is distinction among sins. There are those sins that are serious and those that are not so bad. The problem with this is that there is no biblical distinction.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Notice that in this list there are things like discord, jealousy and selfish ambition that would be tolerated in most churches. But lumped in with these “acceptable” sins are things like witchcraft and orgies. What we need to realize is that sin is much more complicated than just doing a bad thing.
The word for sin literally means missing the mark. In this case, the mark is the will of God. The moment sin entered into the world, we were immediately separated from God. We began to go against God’s will and that built a wall between us and God.
The only way for that wall to be broken and for our relationship with God to be restored, is through what Jesus Christ did on the cross. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice through faith, our sins are forgiven and we are adopted into God’s family.
But what happens after we are Christians? What are the effects of sin after we have believed and have been baptized? I find that John’s first letter is particularly helpful in addressing these questions.
Sin is Unacceptable
John begins his letter with some pretty strong statements about sin. They all stem from the nature of God. God is light. That is not just a theological statement, it is something that must impact Christians. If God is light, it is unacceptable for us to walk in the darkness. How we live must reflect who God is. This goes back to the Old Testament where we are told that we should be holy as the Lord our God is holy.
The Apostle Paul addresses this topic in his letter to the Romans. Paul spends a lot of time preaching about salvation by grace. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, it is only by the grace of God. After hammering this idea to his readers, he anticipates their reaction. If there is nothing we can do to bring about our salvation, it does not matter what we do. Since God saves us in our sinfulness, it does not matter if we continue to sin. Paul makes it clear that is not the case. Salvation by grace is not a license to sin, as if with each sin we were giving God another opportunity to be glorified by his grace. Sin is unacceptable.
Think about how our sins are forgiven in the first place. We are forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus suffered terribly, paying the price for our sins. What does that mean to us? Do we care at all? If we take Jesus’ suffering seriously, we should hate sin. We shouldn’t need God’s condemnation of sin, our own love for Jesus should make us hate sin. Sin is absolutely unacceptable.
Sin is Inevitable
Did you feel uncomfortable at all as I talked about how serious sin is? I know I did. There is one problem with sin being unacceptable and that is that I know that I still sin. While I try to keep things within the “acceptable” sin category (which unfortunately doesn’t exist), I know that I sin.
Does this mean that I just happen to be a particularly sinful Christian? John tells us that if we say that we do not sin, we are a liar. Notice he says “we” and not “you.” John, one of the twelve apostles, includes himself as one who continues to be a sinner.
This is the problem, everyone sins, including Christians. There will be a time when we are free from sin, but it will not be until Jesus returns and we receive our resurrection bodies. Until then, we live with the consequences of being a sinful people living in a sinful world.
Hopefully, this gives us some grace toward one another. We are never the perfect looking down at the really bad sinners. We are all sinners, in that we regularly do things that are against God’s will. This leaves us in a really bad spot.
Sin is Forgivable
We should be feeling some frustration right now. If sin is both unacceptable and inevitable, there is a very serious problem. Unless something radical takes place, we are left in a place of condemnation. Thankfully, something radical has taken place and that is the appearance of Jesus Christ.
We have already said that it is the sacrifice of Jesus that first grants us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That happens at our conversion. But Jesus is not done with us at that point. I once heard a minister say that he never wanted to be born again because he never wanted God to be done with him. That is a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be born again. No parent thinks all the work is done after a baby is born. It is the same with the spiritual birth. We give plenty for our God to do.
There is a place for forgiveness of sins even after our conversion and baptism. But there is a misunderstanding about what this means. Some Christians think that remaining in God’s family requires confession of every specific sin that is committed. There are two problems with that. One is that it is not biblical and the other is that it is not possible. We sin in ways that we are often not consciously aware. And the biblical message is that we are not saved by our good works and so we cannot be ‘unsaved’ by our bad works. So we should not fear that if we get hit by a truck after coveting some nice car that we are going to hell. That is not the purpose of confessing our sins.
So why should Christians confess our sins? We should do it because we want the closest possible relationship with God. I apologize to Amanda when I have done something wrong, not because I’m afraid she will divorce me, but because I want us to have a healthy relationship. It is the same thing with God. Sin leads to separation from God. Faith in Jesus means that we need not fear eternal separation from God. But we are still in danger of experiencing barriers in our relationship with God in this life.
I have experienced this in my own life. When my thought life has gotten out of control or I get focused on gaining material things, I sense my relationship with God to be strained. He seems more distant when in fact it is I that am more distant. Ironically, it is in moments of confession and repentance that I have felt the closest to God. When the confession is sincere, I can feel the restoration in the relationship with God.
Confession of sins is meant to be something positive. The Christian life is not to be a life of self-condemnation for all our faults. Yes, we should regret our sins, but we should also rejoice that we have a loving and gracious God who longs for us to experience an intimate relationship with him.
What do we need to know about sin? Sin is unacceptable. We should never get to the point where we are comfortable with sin. We should not just shrug it off as being acceptable since we are only human. Sin is serious and it is the reason why Jesus went to the cross.
Sin is inevitable. If we ever get to the place where we are satisfied with our own holiness and we cast a judgmental look on all the sinners out there, we are in trouble. If you are a living and breathing human being you are a sinner. They may be the respectable sins, but they are still sins.
This leaves us in a difficult position with sin bot unacceptable and inevitable. Thank God, and I mean that literally, that sin is also forgivable. We can confess our sins, not out of a fear of hell, but out of a love for God and a valuing of our relationship with him.
Live a life in which you take sin seriously, seeking to live a holy life, and confessing our sins to a God who will always love us.