Real Christians Really Sin (and Confess It)

Original Date: 
Sunday, June 3, 2012

1 John 1:5-2:2 Real Christians Really Sin (and Confess It)

Brian Welch testimony
(Welch is the former lead guitarist for the heavy metal band Korn and a hardcore partier and drug user. In this clip he tells how love for his daughter and the faithful witness of some Christian business partners led him to Christ and changed his life.)

The Question
The Brian Welch story is a vivid illustration of just how great the redeeming grace of Jesus is. Even from the deepest depths of sin, Jesus can rescue and change.

But here’s the question for today: what’s the relationship between a Christian and sin?

We know that when we put our faith in Jesus all our past sins are erased. “There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1, paraphrased). But what does that mean for our relationship with sin moving forward? Because Jesus died for all our sins, does that mean we can live however we want? Should we sin more so that grace may abound more? (cf. Romans 6:1)

Or, does it mean the opposite? Does Jesus pay for all our sins prior to our conversion, but after that we’re on our own? We better stop sinning, or at least find some way to pay those future debts off ourselves?

We’re in a series called Real Christians. The point of the series is to look at basic Christianity. The beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that the Bible says will characterize true followers of Jesus Christ. We’ve talked about the gospel and mission and loving God and loving people and prayer and Bible reading. And today I want to talk about sin.

What’s the relationship between a real Christian and sin? For an answer, we can turn to 1 John 1:5. Our text today will be the final 6 verses of 1 John 1 and the first 2 verses of 1 John 2:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense —Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Again, the question we’re trying to answer is: What’s the relationship between a real Christian and sin? The answer comes in three parts from our text:

Brightfeet
First, Real Christians Fight Sin. If you are follower of Jesus, then you will hate sin and seek to eliminate it from your life. This is verses 5-7:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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.
This speaks to the idea of “easy” or “cheap” grace. Apparently, there were some people in John’s audience who were saying: “If Jesus pays for all our sin at the cross, then it doesn’t matter how we live. We can live like Hell, and Jesus will forgive us.” To these people, John says: “Whoa, wait just a minute.”

To counter this idea, John uses the metaphor of light. God is light. And light represents what is good and pure and true. Another way of saying this would be to say that light is the absence of sin. As the hymn says: “There is no shadow of turning with thee.”

Darkness, on the other hand, represents sin. And John’s question is: if you’ve been won to God, who is light, why would you want to keep stumbling around in the darkness?

So He urges us, in verse 7, to “walk in the light.”

Now, I was channel surfing the other day when I came across one of those “As Seen on TV” special offers. I did something of a double take, because it’s for a product that is a perfect illustration of what John is getting at here. Take a look:

https://www.asseenontv.com/bright-feet-lighted-slippers/detail.php?p=305858

Now, I sure hope nobody is related to the guy who invented those things. I’m sure he’s a good guy and all, but I think that is one of the sillier things I’ve ever seen. My favorite part is when the guy calls them “smart slippers.” It makes me want to go home and throw all my dumb slippers away. I’m sure now you all know what to put on your Christmas wish list. For that matter, kids, it’s not too late to order some of those for your pop on Father’s Day.

Obviously, that’s not what John is getting at. Instead, what he means when he says that we should walk in the light is that we should be fighting against sin. If we have been found and saved by Jesus, then we should want to be in the light as He is in the light.

If we don’t, in fact, then there’s good reason to question whether we are real Christians at all. Look again at verse 6. “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” Basically, if we say we are believers, yet continue to deliberately, willfully, repeatedly and consistently choose to sin; then we are liars. We can’t claim to love God and yet curse the light.

You cannot separate belief from behavior. You cannot claim to have fellowship with God while continuing to love what He hates. If we are not walking in the light, we have no warrant for believing that our sins are covered. There is no assurance of salvation while you are living in disobedience.

Christianity is not simply a game of words. The gospel of Jesus Christ on the cross is our only hope of salvation—there’s nothing we can do to add to what Jesus has done—but the gospel will change us. If we really grasp what Jesus has done for us on the cross, then it will tug us out of the darkness and into the light.

Real Christians fight sin. Real Christians see sin for the horrible darkness it is and they hate it.

Perfection?
But there’s another side to this coin. John recognizes that sin does not automatically disappear once we accept Jesus as our savior. So the second point is: Real Christians still sin. Even real followers of Jesus will never be completely free from sin in this life. Verses 8 and 10:
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
Apparently there were other people in John’s audience who were claiming to be free of sin. Because they believed in Jesus, they said, sin had been completely eliminated from their lives.

The same error will still pop up from time to time today. It’s called “perfectionism” and it teaches that Christians can reach a point of sinless perfection in this life. Often, churches that teach this sort of thing will be highly legalistic and repressive. Those who do mess up will be quickly and quietly shunned. But sometimes—in more cultic situations—those who claim to be without sin will live very hedonistic and profligate lives and justify it because, as a person who is “above” sin, normal rules no longer apply.

Either way, John says it is nonsense. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” “If we claim we have not sinned, we make God into a liar.” As long as we draw breath on this planet, our sin nature is something we will have to deal with.

Martin Luther had a Latin phrase that he liked to use to describe a Christian. It was “Simul Justus Et Peccator!” Anybody got an idea what that means?

Simul = Simultaneously
Justus = Righteous
Et = And
Peccator = Sinner

Real Christians are simultaneously righteous and sinful. Real Christians are saints and sinners at the same time. We all live in the tension between the already and the not yet.

If we use the analogy of light, it’s like the early morning dawn. When the sun first crests the horizon, the land is flooded with light. Most of the darkness disappears. In the same way, when you first come to Christ, you make a break from a lot of your sin. Just like Brian Welch did.

But at the same time, there are still a lot of shadows. I’ve seen a lot more dawns than I ever expected since I’ve started running, and I know it takes a while before all the shadows go away. In fact, no matter how brightly the sun shines, you can always find a few places that are still in shadow. In the same way, even when Christ is shining brightly in your life, there a still going to be some corners that stay in shadow.

Our job, as people who are walking in the light, is to let God’s light shine on those areas that are still in darkness. John Piper says: “The mark of the saint is not sinlessness, but sin consciousness.” (Feb. 3, 1985)

Agreeing with God
Which leads to the third point: Real Christians confess sin. The recognition that the fight against sin is ongoing should lead us to be honest about our struggles. Verse 9:

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

There is an enormous promise in this verse, and it is built on the foundation of the cross. Jesus promises to forgive us and purify us. He will cover each and every one of our sins. Both the sins of the past and the sins of our future.

But we must confess our sins. Confession is the way we show that we are walking in the light. Owning up to our sin is the way we show that we are aware of the darkness that still resides in us, but also how we show our desire to be rid of it. Seeking forgiveness is the way to receive it.

The most important answer to the question of how a Real Christian relates to sin is this: A real Christian confesses sin.

So allow me, in the time I have remaining, to give you some application steps. What does confession look like? How can we best practice confession? Let me suggest a six-step process:

Begin with preparation. Go to the Holy Spirit and ask for help. Confession without the guidance of the Spirit is dangerous. We might condemn ourselves for things that we don’t need to feel guilty about or gloss over things that truly need our attention. So ask God to help.

John Ortberg, in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted tells a story about Charles Steinmetz, a genius electrical engineer for GE in the early 1900s.

On one occasion after his retirement, when the other engineers around GE were baffled by the breakdown of a complex of machines, they finally asked Steinmetz to come back to see if he could pinpoint the problem. Steinmetz spent several minutes walking around the machines, then took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and made a cross mark on one particular piece of one particular machine.

To their amazement, when the engineers disassembled that part of that machine, it turned out to be the precise location of the breakdown.

A few days later, the engineers received a bill from Steinmetz for $10,000—a staggering sum in those days. This seemed exorbitant, so they returned it to him with a request that he itemize it. After a few more days they received a second, itemized bill:

Making one cross mark: $1.00
Knowing where to put it: $9,999.00 (p. 130-131)

The hard part of confession is knowing where to put the mark. Begin by inviting the Holy Spirit to come and lend His expertise.

Then, move to examination. This is where we prayerfully do a mental review of our thoughts, words, and deeds to see where we have sinned. Historically, this has been called the “prayer of examen”.

There are several ways to do this. One is to think through various categories of sins. Martin Luther liked to review the 10 Commandments. Others use the seven deadly sins: pride, anger, lust, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony. Where have these things been evident in my life?

Another way to do the prayer of examen is to do a mental review of your day. Like a day planner in your head. Where did I sin at breakfast? When I first got to work? When I got home? And so on.

The next step I’ll call perception. By this, I mean we need to strive to see our sins as God sees them. In fact, that’s a pretty good definition of the word “confession”. Confession means to completely agree with God about our sins.

Completely. That means taking appropriate responsibility for what we have done. Not: “The devil made me do it!” Not blame-shifting: “The woman you gave me God, she made me do it!” Not excuses: “Well, I was having a bad day.”

That’s not completely agreeing with God.

Completely agreeing is: “Lord, what I have done here was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. It was against your law. It wasn’t walking in the light. And it wasn’t glorifying to you. I’m sorry.”

True confession means seeing your sin the way God sees it, and owning up to the fact that you made a deliberate choice. A choice that needs to be forgiven.

From perception, we move to clarification. It’s a good idea to be as specific as possible when you are confessing your sins. Admitting to God that you lied to your wife about feeling sick so you wouldn’t have to get out of bed is a much better confession than saying: “I have trouble being truthful.”

Being specific, concrete and particular about your sins is much more likely to bring about repentance and change than just vague admissions that you aren’t perfect. A generalized confession might be less embarrassing, but it isn’t likely to bring inner healing.

Plus, being clear about what you did wrong will help you understand better why you do the sins that you do. For instance, in the example I gave just a bit ago you might realize that your problem isn’t honesty, so much, as it is laziness. If you admit to the specific reasons you gossip you might discover your underlying issue is jealousy or insecurity.

Then, next, contrition. True confession is not just mentally agreeing that something was wrong; it also involves entering into the pain of the person we have hurt as well as God’s pain over sin. It means feeling bad. Not just feeling bad that we’ve been caught or found out. But truly feeling the horror and darkness of sin.

What is needed is Godly sorrow. Richard Foster, in his classic book Celebration of Discipline, writes:

Sorrow as it relates to confession is not primarily an emotion, though emotion may be involved. It is an abhorrence at having committed the sin, a deep regret at having offended the heart of the Father. Sorrow is an issue of the will before it is an issue of the motions. In fact, being sorrowful in the emotions without a godly sorrow in the will destroys the confession. (p. 152)

And that leads, finally, to intention. Confession is not complete without a determination to avoid sin in the future. Implicit every time you confess your sins is a kind of promise to not repeat it in the future. Part of confession is asking God to change us. To take the desire for this kind of sin away from us and to give us the strength to stand up to temptation in the future.

This also includes the effort to set right what we did wrong, as much as that is possible. That’s what happened to Zacchaeus. After the Lord came to his house and he repented of his sins, Zacchaeus announced his intention to repay everyone he had cheated.

It’s hard to take someone’s apology seriously when they just go back and do the same thing over and over again. We all go back on promises from time to time. The darkness is hard to shake. But at the very least, we should come with a sincere intention to sin no more.

The Old, Rugged Cross
And so, that’s a Christian’s relationship to sin. We should fight sin, at the same time realizing that sin is something we continue to struggle with. And when we do, we should confess it. Specifically, concretely, honestly, clearly, sorrowfully and with the true desire to change; we must agree with God about our sin.

And let me remind you of the way verse 9 is written: If we do confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us. That promise is huge. If we confess, God will forgive us.

How does He do that? Go to the first two verses of chapter 2, the perfect lead in to communion:
2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin [that’s the goal, John wants us to walk in the light, he wants us to fight sin]. But if anybody does sin, [he’s a realist, he knows that sin happens] we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense —Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
These verses obviously point us to the cross. Jesus Christ—the Righteous One—the one in whom there is no shadow of turning—took on our darkness and was crucified for it. The atoning sacrifice for our sins. He took the punishment we deserved.

And so now, Jesus is our advocate. Verse 1 “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense!” That’s what makes it “just” for Him to forgive! Because He’s already paid for our sin. There’s nothing left for us to pay for. By giving our sin to Him, we are free.

Real Christians are those who have put all their faith and trust in what Jesus did for them at the cross.

The Cross is so powerful! Sin is powerful. We almost always underestimate the power of sin. But the Cross is so much more powerful.

Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Anyone, anywhere who puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice can be forgiven! No more condemnation...because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s what we celebrate in communion. That’s what we remember. When we come to the table to eat the bread that represents His broken body and drink the cup that represents His blood, we have the opportunity to agree with Jesus about our need for forgiveness.

In the moments while we wait for the elements to be distributed I want to invite you to do some serious business with God. Confess. Ask the Holy Spirit to mark the areas of your life that need changing. Examine your heart and find your sins. See those sins as God sees them. Be clear and specific about the wrongs that you have done. Express your sorrow for you sin. Determine to change.

And then eat the bread and drink the cup with joy, knowing that Jesus has fully paid for all your sin.

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