The Lord's Day Evening
September 26, 2010
1 John 1:5-2:2
“Bunches of Ifs”
The Reverend Mr. Billy Joseph
1 John chapter 1 and we’ll begin reading at verse 5. And then let me ask you to keep it open, okay, because we're going to spend some time in it tonight and looking at it very closely.
Let's pray as we come to the reading of God's Word.
Father, to You do we give thanks for the reality that Your Spirit is the one who teaches us whenever we open Your Word, whenever we hear it proclaimed. Even in our daily quiet times or our private times, even just thinking through Your Word, it will always be Your Spirit that makes it effective in our lives and gives to us hearts that hear. Father we pray that tonight, as we come to Your Word, that You would teach and that You would instruct that we might enjoy You and that we might fellowship with You and that we might be Your children. And these things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God from 1 John chapter 1 beginning at verse 5:
“This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Marian and I live in a wonderful place. Now we live near the Baird's so you can kind of get an idea where it is, but we live in a wonderful place. We live on the edge of a golf course. I never thought that I would happen — I'm not a golfer, so don't worry about that. But we have, out the door, we have the water hazard that's there on the seventeenth green. And it's a pond. We call it the lake. But it is so pleasant to come home in the afternoons and see water. It's just like being at the beach all the time — right, okay. We love it. But at night, it's a very interesting place to be.
One night, just recently, we heard somebody moving around outside. And it was dark, and it was late, and they knocked a couple things over outside, so we knew that it had to be somebody of size. And so I took out my flashlight and I took out, yes, my pistol — I know you didn't think that, but anyway! And I walked out and I opened the door and I started looking. And all of a sudden I heard a noise, and I turned, and there he was — dressed in gray with a mask on. Of course he was a raccoon, but a weird raccoon, a raccoon who had obviously been hit by a car at some part in his past and could only drag himself around by his front paws. Well I don't know about you, but I don't trust a raccoon any further than I can throw one, much less pick one up to throw one, and so I shooed him away. And of course he crawled up under our deck but I didn't think much about it the next day.
And then I got to talking to my neighbor. And my neighbor has a relationship with the raccoon. He feeds the raccoon during the day! He likes to take that squeeze Cool-Whip or whatever it is with the nozzle on it. You know, you do the nozzle over and the Cool-Whip comes out. And what he’ll do is, he’ll take the Cool-Whip and he’ll stick it in the raccoon's mouth and he says the most interesting thing is to watch the raccoon eat the Cool-Whip that's all in his mouth! (laughter) Two different kinds of relationships with a raccoon — one at night in the dark, and one during the day in the light.
Our passage comes from 1 John where the discussion has been, in the previous verses, about fellowship, fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And this fellowship is a fellowship that will result in joy, a complete joy. But tonight as we look at this passage we're going to see that this fellowship with the Father must be on His terms and not on what the terms that we would dictate. If you and I are to have fellowship with the Father it must be on His terms.
So what does our passage tell us? The first thing that it says is that this message begins with the God who is — “God is light.” Look at it there in verse 5 — “This is the message.” This is John speaking and he's saying, “Here is the message.” And what kind of message is it? It's a message that we have heard from God. John talked earlier about being a witness of the things that Jesus had taught, being an eye-witness, and so he's coming with that authority. And he's saying these are the things that we have heard from Him, from the Lord, from God. But notice, it's also that we have “heard from Him” and that we “proclaim to you.” This isn't a sharing session. This isn't a session where men are exchanging ideas about what fellowship with God is about. This is a sermon in which John is declaring who God is and what fellowship with God is and what those terms are for that kind of fellowship. My neighbor has determined that his relationship with the raccoon is one in the daylight, one of feeding, and he's even had rabies shots, my neighbor has. Where mine is, uh-uh — we set the criteria. Here is John setting the criteria, proclaiming what God says about the nature of His message. It's the message that he has received and it is the message that he proclaims. It's God, the God who is, revealing Himself, revealing Himself.
And what is it that He reveals? He reveals that God is light, light. Now I used light to find the subject when I heard the noise outside. It opened up the darkness. It opened up the realities of what Rocky Raccoon or whatever his name is. I don't know what my neighbor is calling him. I just call him the raccoon. But whatever he was doing, the light revealed it. The light showed it. John here is using a very interesting three word description of God. John is the only one who does that. Three places John uses three words to describe God. This morning in the Inquirers Class, Ligon covered how we describe God and it took us a while to get through it. But here's John, and three times John says these things. He says first in John chapter 4 verse 24, “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” There, the emphasis is on God's nature, God's God being God Himself and what He is like.
But then he comes along in 1 John chapter 4 verse 16 and we hear these words — “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love.” In other words, the emphasis there is on the relationship that God has, the sacrifice that God makes for His children.
But here he says, “God is light,” and then defines it even more by saying that there is no darkness in Him. In other words, he's pointing to the holiness of our God, that God is separated from us, that we are not even able to come into His presence apart from His permission. God is separate, holy, so much so that the rest of Scripture describes Him as “holy, holy, holy,” the superlative description of God. That's what John has done here. He is reminding us that this God, who we are going to have fellowship with, is one who dictates the terms. He decides whether it's a night relationship or a day relationship — talking about the raccoon. Whether it's a feeding on or a shuttling away relationship. He is the one who sets forth the requirements and the emphasis here is there is no darkness at all. Why? Because our God is holy, separated from sin. Sin cannot even enter into His presence. A holy God who, as His Son approached taking our sin upon Himself, was in agony in the Garden because of what He was about to do. This is not a God who excuses sin. This is not a God who ignores sin. This is a God who must deal with sin and to whom sin is an important issue.
Secondly, John begins with a bunch of “ifs.” You get a bunch of “if” statements here, conditional statements. And what is interesting about these conditional statements is that they are — there are some bad “if” statements here and then there’re some good ones. So let's look at them a little bit in detail. Let's look at the bad ones first, okay? Verse 6 — “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” There's the first one. Look at the second one, verse 8 — “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And then the last one, verse 10 — “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us.” Now what do those all have in common? Did you notice the subject of the “if”? It's we; it's us. It's us saying to God, “These are the terms of what we think fellowship should be. We say this, we say that, the things that we say are — we have fellowship with Him even though we are walking in darkness. God, being the holy God, if He cannot even allow sin into His presence, how can we have fellowship with Him if we're walking in darkness, if we're putting up with sin, if we're coddling it, if we're holding it to ourselves?
John is saying here, notice, we lie. We lie. When a person says they have fellowship with God but their lifestyle is such that it's contrary to God's holy nature, we are lying. Not only are we lying, but we're not even practicing the truth. It's it nice that he just says practice? I always love it when it says practice. It's one of those things that reminds us, you know, God doesn't even demand perfect practice. He demands perfection and He meets it for us, but these people who say that they have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, they’re not even practicing the truth.
The second one, verse 8 says, again, “If we say” — if this time “we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And let's practice a little bit about what Ligon talked about this morning. Have y’all met people who say that they have no sin? Now on the college campus I ran into a bunch of them who told me that they had never sinned. And I can tell all of you would believe them. No you wouldn't, why? Sin is deceitful. Sin is so deceitful that you and I can fool ourselves when it comes to sin. Maybe that's how powerful our own suggestion is to ourselves that we really are people who say that we're God. We think that we are in charge of the truth and what is right, and so we go around in many times and many circumstances and situations, not just point to others and say this is for them, but we look at ourselves and we deceive ourselves and we don't see our own sin. And so the truth is not in us.
And then in verse 10 again it begins again — “If we say we have not sinned” — that's pointing to the past — “If we say that we have not sinned,” look at how bad it's gotten, “we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us.” It goes from practicing the truth to what? That the truth is not in us, all the way to that we call God a liar. It's kind of like Psalm 1. You know, those who do what? “Walk in the counsel of the wicked, who stand in the way of” — I've lost it; I can't even remember what it is, but anyway — “and who sit in the seat of scoffers.” In other words, as you play around with sin it gets worse and worse and worse. We don't get good. We don't get better. We get worse. It's a progressive nature.
But now, let's look real quickly at the good “ifs.” In verse 7, well verse 7 begins with the word “but.” It's contrasting because what you find is that the three bad “if” statements are interspersed with two good “if” statements. Verse 7, “But if we walk in the light” — now you see that's the direct contrast to verse 6 where it said that we walk in darkness. “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, cleanses us from all sin.” Now listen in verse 9 — “If” — okay, I think you could probably quote verse 9. Probably everybody here could but, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the positive natures of these two. In both of these there you see something different. We’re not saying something; we're doing something. We’re not saying something that's contrary to our actions; we're doing something.
What are we doing? Here in the first one in verse 7, we're walking in the light. But the second part of that is not — well, go back to your others. I have to find where I am in my notes. I know I've got them here somewhere. If you go back to verse 6 it says, “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness” — okay, you hear the “we”? But in this one, instead of it saying, “If we walk in the light” and then begins to talk about “we,” it instead talks about “He.” What does it say? “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” and what? “The blood of Christ, of Jesus His Son, cleanses us from all sins.” The first part is talking about something that we do, but the second part talks about what Jesus, who Jesus is or what Jesus has done.
Same is true in verse 9. Verse 9 you clearly see it. “If we confess our sins” — there is confession. But look at the assurance. The assurance comes from the fact that “He is faithful and just,” and then look at the fulfillment. What does He do? He does two things. “He forgives us of our sin and cleanses us from unrighteousness.” Here are the “ifs.”
Now I don't know about you, but whenever someone starts a conversation with the word “if” it always drives me to start looking at somebody. And here's the hard part about these. John is addressing you and me and he is talking about what is required by God for fellowship with God. And so the question becomes not a question that John just throws out to the generations, but a question to each of us that we have to answer. If you are living this way, what does it say about your relationship with God? God's attitude towards sin are the terms whereby we walk and have fellowship with God. And so look. You see it right here in front of you. That if you and I are saying things about our Christian life but living in darkness, we're lying to ourselves and we're lying to each other and we're calling God a liar. And yet if we are walking in His way, if we are practicing the things that He wants us to do, even if we are confessing our sins, He has done something, not us. The “then” statement of the conditional statement is not us, it's Him. Even in these “if” statements, the positive statements particularly, you and I are driven to look at Jesus and what He has done.
Now you’ll also notice there are more negatives than there are positives and you will also notice that they are mixed together. Now I think — this is entirely Billy so you can throw this out with the bath water — but I think that's God recognizing the fact that His children will struggle with sin and I think the context points to that, because here is a fellowship with God on His terms and it depends on an impossible goal and an impossible “if.” You and I can confess our sin. You and I may even walk in the light at times, but you and I also know the reality of fooling ourselves, don't we? Of saying, “Oh, I've not done that,” the reality of saying, “Oh, I didn't do that in the past.” Even in this room we know the reality of calling God a liar. But God gives us an impossible goal.
Look at chapter 2 verse 1. “My little children I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” John isn't writing this for any other purpose but that you and I become people who may not sin. He wants us to hate sin and avoid it. He wants us to be people who choose not to sin at times. Knowing that we will, he sets before us an impossible goal. If we're going to have fellowship with God it has to be fellowship in the light. It has to be fellowship that's according to God's terms. Our enjoyment of God has to be on His terms and His terms are no sin.
And then look too at the impossible “if.” It's actually a very possible “if.” It says, “But if anyone does sin.” If anyone does sin — when we repent of sin, we have to acknowledge it. We have to agree that when God declares something wrong, yes, we have transgressed that. We have to turn then, 180 degrees, and repent and begin to move away to hate our sin and to move back toward our God, to turn away from sin and to turn to God, but we have to acknowledge that sin. We have to see our sin and we have to understand that our sin hinders, hurts, our fellowship with our Father. Does it mean we will quit sinning? No. You can't say you will quit sinning, because if you start saying you’ll quit sinning you’ll start breaking one of those negative “ifs.”
What then is our hope? Well, we see it as we look back at the positives again. Listen. In verse 7 it said, “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 cleanses us from all sin.” Look at 9 again. Again you have the hint of how this occurs. “If we confess our sins” — “If we keep on confessing our sins” as the translation is — “He is faithful and just.” One of the hardest things to understand is we're not forgiven because we confess our sin. We’re forgiven because we have an advocate with the Father. We’re forgiven because we have one who is faithful and just. We have one who is the propitiation. The proof that we are in fellowship with Him is that we deal with our sin. Why? Because we are in love with our Father and with our Savior the Lord Jesus. We are aware of what He did for us in our place, taking our penalty upon Himself. And therefore when we find sin in our lives we're aware that His grace is greater than our sin, that His goodness to us far exceeds our sin. And so we become a people who remember that we have an advocate.
What a place to preach on advocates — First Pres. Let's see, I’ll be we have a lawyer on every pew. (laughter) I taught law school Bible study at Alabama for several years, fifteen of them actually, and I'd always take them to Zenas the lawyer. Now Zenas the lawyer is real interesting. We don't know anything about him. But the passage says, “Help Zenas the lawyer on his way.” And it's obviously implying that you help the lawyer. That's an interesting idea. Think about a minute. Helping him on his way — now that was the interesting part. But it doesn't have a bad — lawyers, I'm going to tell you something lawyers, you have a job that both the Spirit of God and the Lord Jesus are the perfect examples of. We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. We have an advocate, and what does He do? Well goodness, you go to Romans and you get this picture in Romans 8 — “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is it that condemns?” You hear the judge language, the language of the courtroom? Who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, more than that, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us, pleading for us, being our advocate. We have fellowship with the Father because we have an advocate, not because we've confessed our sin. But because we have an advocate who has taken our sin on Himself, we run to confess our sins. We long to clear our lives of those things that hinder our fellowship with the Father because we have an advocate.
But we don't just have an advocate. We don't just have someone who intercedes. We've got someone even better. What does it say? Chapter 2 verse 2 — “He is the propitiation for our sins;” the atoning sacrifice. I like to say, I use this illustration a lot — He's the umbrella against God's angry, wrathful hail. He covers us and takes the wrath of God on Himself, who takes the separation from God that should have been due to us, that we could not have survived, and He is separated from the Father for us. That the holy God takes our sin on Himself so that we might be made the righteousness of God? Our fellowship with the Father is a fellowship not only on His terms, but on the terms that He has satisfied Himself. If we long for fellowship with our Father, then why is it that we don't confess sin? Why is it that we don't look at our lives to find the things that hinder that fellowship, to run into His presence knowing full well that His righteousness has been given to us and His righteousness pleases the Father to the fullest extent? He allowed God's full, unadulterated wrath that was due to every sin that I have ever committed, every sin that we have ever committed, to be punished completely and totally, He did it to His own Son.
And we want to sit and waddle and stay in our sin? And we want to not confess it? It's been dealt with! The sin that you and I hold to and refuse to deal with is sin that our Savior died for. Why not, then, agree with Him that that sin deserved death? And why not agree, even before one another, that that sin is in our lives? The Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another as well. We don't confess it to berate it in front of each other saying, “Well, I'm worse than you are.” Actually we could get into that. You know we could start talking about how bad we are. Every one of you that joined this church, that's how you started. You said you were a sinner, justly deserving the wrath of God and without hope except in His sovereign mercy. No. we are those who, yes, have been saved by His grace. And so what sin is there that we would hold on and not confess in light of what our advocate and our propitiation has taken for us?
Fellowship with the Father has to be on His terms, but the glory of the Gospel is that He met those terms for those that He wants to have fellowship with. He wants to have fellowship with His children. He longs for us. And He wants us to have a complete joy in that relationship. Therefore, let us confess our sins. Let us remember that we have an advocate. Let us remember that our advocate took our sin upon Himself so that we might not have to go through eternally the wrath that we so justly deserve. What a great God. Why would we not want to confess our sin and to run to His mercy and to lean on His arms and to enjoy fellowship with Him? We’re going to do that for all eternity. We are going to be those who, like we read this morning, for all eternity “praise His glorious grace.”
O Lord God, we have sinned against You and we have even held onto our sin rather than enjoy the fellowship with You that has been purchased by our Savior. Lord, forgive us for holding onto things that are not important any longer, that You have dealt with. Thank You for giving us Your Spirit so that we long for that fellowship. Father, may we be a people who quickly, who fiercely confess our sin so that we can again remember the great grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Let's stand and sing together this last verse.
Receive now the benediction. And now may grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be and abide with each one of you both now and forever. Amen.
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