Turn with me now please if you would in your copies of God’s Word to the first epistle of John chapter 1. 1 John chapter 1 on page 1020 in the church Bibles. Then once you have your Bibles open let’s bow our heads and pray together.
O Lord, would You open our eyes that we might behold marvelous things out of Your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.
1 John chapter 1 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
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.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant, and sufficient Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Sometimes our image of Christianity is terribly killjoy, severe, interested primarily in divesting you of your happiness and spoiling your fun. Well that may be an adequate portrait of a Scotsman, but it is hardly a fair description of Biblical Christianity. In fact, it’s the argument of the apostle John in the passage we read together that Jesus Christ came for your joy. He came for your joy. The Gospel is for you joy. Even the painful task of confessing sin is for your joy. In a famous passage in his book, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis makes John’s point rather well I think. Listen to C. S. Lewis: “It would seem,” he says, “that the Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.” The Christian Gospel calls us from inadequate, empty, sinful pleasures for which we too easily settle, to find instead infinite joy; what John calls “complete joy,” in fellowship with Almighty God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s John’s message to us.
Would you look at the passage with me please and let’s see together how he makes that point. In verses 1 to 4, he tells us about the source of joy, where it comes from - fellowship with God. Then in 5 to 10, the path to joy. How do we enter into this joy? Confession of sin. And then finally chapter 2 verses 1 and 2, the basis of joy - the cross of Christ. The source of joy - fellowship with God. The path to joy - confession of sin. The basis for joy - the cross of Christ.
THE SOURCE OF JOY
The source of joy, first of all. Would you look at verses 1 to 4 please? In the first three verses John reminds us that he was an eyewitness of the coming of Jesus into the world. He was there; he saw it. He’s been writing, he says, about “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and manifest to us.” He’s writing to churches that are besieged by various strands of error and false teaching, all of which has in common a string of errors regarding the person of Jesus Christ. Some said that Jesus only appeared to be human; He was actually a pure spirit. Others went to the opposite extreme. Jesus was merely a man but nothing more. And John’s design is to highlight the danger of those mistakes and so you’ll notice, on the one hand, how John insists here on the physicality and historicity of Jesus Christ. “We saw him, we heard him, our own hands touched him. He’s real, tangible, solid, human. “
But He’s more than merely a man. Verse 3 calls Jesus, “the life.” “The life was made manifest,” and so the message John proclaims concerns, he says, “eternal life, which was with the Father made manifest to us.” The Life and Eternal Life, I think, should be capitalized there because they are titles for Jesus Christ who was with the Father from eternity. Eternal life here is not something merely that the Father gives but is identified by John with a person. The embodiment of life, the Life, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal second person of the blessed Trinity was made manifest to us and we saw Him and heard Him and touched Him. So Jesus is God and Man in two distinct natures and one person forever, John is saying - the very heart and essence of the Christian message. That is what he is proclaiming to his readers.
Now why is he so insistent about getting that message about Jesus clear and correct? What is at stake? Verse 3 - “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you too may have fellowship with us.” What is at stake, do you see, is fellowship with the apostolic church. What you believe about Jesus matters. Orthodox doctrine, particularly orthodox doctrine about Jesus, opens fellowship to the true church, the apostolic church, on behalf of which the apostle John here writes. To stray from the truth about Jesus is to break fellowship with the true church. Well there’s more at stake merely than the severing of human relationships within the church, the breech of fellowship within the church. Look at verse 3 again. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you that you may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” Believing in Jesus, do you see, opens more than the door to the church and to fellowship with God’s people within the church merely. It also opens the door to fellowship with Almighty God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. John wants them to have fellowship with his churches because their fellowship is not merely human; it is also divine in its essential character. Our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why he’s writing to them. He wants them to stay in communion with the apostolic church and in fellowship with that church to enjoy communion with God Himself.
That’s why we come together Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, you know, not merely to enjoy the company and friendship of familiar faces, as wonderful and precious as that is. Our fellowship is not merely horizontal with one another. We have fellowship as we hear the apostolic Gospel about Jesus Christ proclaimed again as John proclaimed it to his readers here. We have fellowship with one another and together with Almighty God Himself. That is what is going on as we hear His word and as we gather on the Sabbath Day. Gospel fellowship in the church of Jesus Christ is not merely horizontal among ourselves; it is also vertical between ourselves and God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And if that’s not stunning enough, look how John sums all of this up. Here is the impact John wants us to understand of everything he’s been saying. Here’s why he’s writing. This is the target he is aiming at in his argument. Verse 4 - “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” So that our joy may be complete. As we have fellowship together in the church on the Lord’s Day, as we commune together with the Lord our God, what is the result? What will the outcome of this message be if we take it in and live it out? It will be joy, John says. Joy. “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Complete joy. I wonder if that reconfigures and rearranges your thinking about church at all. Here is why you come to church, John says. You come because when you meet together under the Word of Life, the good news about Jesus, you meet God. He comes to you in the Gospel and He does it for your joy. God comes to you for your joy. That’s what’s on offer in the good news about Jesus - joy.
THE PATHWAY TO JOY
The source of joy is fellowship with God, then secondly the pathway to joy - verses 5 to 10. There is a problem, a threat to our joy, that John wants to tackle. It has to do with our attitude to sin, with the way we respond to its presence and its power in our lives. Two wrong responses in particular to notice here. The first in verses 5 to 7. It is to say, sin doesn’t matter; that is, “I can have fellowship with the church and with God and I can have a life of unrepented sin. I can have them both. I can have my cake and eat it.” “Well,” John says, “this is the message we’ve heard from him and proclaimed to you. God is light and in him there 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.” You see John’s point, don’t you? Light and darkness are antinomies, they are opposites. They are antithetical. They cannot coexist. A life lived like a pagan Monday to Saturday is utterly incompatible with a profession of faith in Jesus Christ on Sunday. There are no such things as Sunday Christians. You can’t walk in the darkness and have fellowship with God. You cannot say, “Oh yes, I’m a Christian,” and look indistinguishable from the world.
The second wrong response to sin is not to suggest that sin is compatible with fellowship with God, it is simply to claim, “I am not a sinner at all.” You see that in verse 8. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Now sometimes non-Christians will say of believers to dismiss them, “They think they are better than we are. They are holier than thou. They think they’re without sin.” And sometimes our pride and our judgmentalism can give some credence to that. It can give that impression that that might be our attitude. But the truth is, John says, a real Christian would never claim to be sin-free. In fact, to claim not to have a sin problem is to demonstrate that you do not yet know Jesus. Everyone who knows Jesus knows how much more of Him they still so badly need. They know they are sinners. Jesus says, “I’ve not come to call the healthy but the sick. They’re the ones who need a doctor. It’s not the righteous that I came to call but sinners.” Those who come to Jesus know they have a sin problem. Those who say they do not have one do not know Jesus.
If those are the wrong responses to sin, what’s the right one? If unrepentant sin will rob us of joy and if the way to fix that problem is not to play at religion while living like a pagan, nor to pretend you don’t have a sin problem when you really do, if those are the wrong responses, what is the right one? Verse 9 - “If we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Well now you’re saying, “I want joy and I see that my sin shatters joy but you’re telling me that if I want joy back or if I want to taste real joy for the first time and fellowship with God I have to face it and own it and wear my sin as my own? But all I want to do is run from it! I am ashamed! I’m ashamed. I don’t want to face my sin.”
When I was a child growing up one of the most traumatic things, you know, was to get a splinter in the palm of your hand. And in Glasgow they call it a skelf, get a skelf in your hand. And admitting to mom that I have skelf in my hand it was pretty bad news. She would immediately go and get her sewing kit out and grab my hand with a grip like a vice and she would start digging in there to get this thing out until all of it was gone. And I would squirm and try to pull away because, more because of fear actually. The skelf, the splinter, was worse than the needle and it needed to come out. But there were times, I have to confess, when I was so afraid of the cure that I’d keep the problem to myself.
Repentance, the call to repentance is like that. We will never get clean until we own our sin, humbly and honestly before God. Never. But facing it is hard and we want to pull away. We think it’s going to hurt. It hurts to face our helplessness and our inability and our guilt and to wear that. But you know, if you keep the splinter of sin to yourself it will not get better; it will get worse. It will fester until one day, unless the Lord in His grace deals with it, you will not receive cleansing mercy but eternal wrath. If it’s joy that you want, fellowship with God that you need, there is only one way - you must turn with Judgment Day honestly before God and confess. And for some of you, the Lord has placed His finger on patterns of besetting sin in your life and you’re running, you’re pulling away, you’re avoiding. The Lord is calling to you to get real at last and to face the truth, to come clean that He might make you clean.
THE BASIS OF JOY
The source of joy is fellowship with God. The path to joy is to confess our sin. It’s hard. But here again the assurance of the apostle John, “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And thirdly the basis of joy. That promise in verse 9 has a surprising turn of phrase. I wonder if you noticed it as we read it together. Verse 9 - “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and” - what? We expect faithful and merciful, faithful and kind, faithful and gracious. What does John say? “He is faithful and just.” Cleansing and forgiveness, John says, are not merely a matter of grace. It is matter of justice now. How that can be so is the point of chapter 2 verses 1 and 2. Let’s look there together. “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.”
How can forgiveness and cleansing be a matter of justice? Sin deserves condemnation not cleansing, right? That’s what sin deserves. It is a matter of justice, John says, because in the heavenly courtroom Jesus Christ is our advocate and His one infallible argument in our behalf is His own atoning blood. He is the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation, you may know, means a sacrifice that satisfies the just wrath of God against our sin. Jesus has paid the debt for sinners that all who come to Him seeking cleansing may receive it free. That is wonderful news. Wrath has been forever satisfied, taken away, borne by Christ in your place if you come to Him seeking cleansing, believing and longing for pardon.
So now picture the scene - Jesus stands in the heavenly courtroom before the throne of God and He points to the nail marks in His hands and He says, “Father, I died for her. I bore her sin. I have made full payment for her every transgression and now Father, justice requires her pardon.” “Five bleeding wounds He bears received on Calvary. They bore effectual prayers; they freely plead for me. ‘Forgive him, O forgive!’ they cry. ‘Forgive him, O forgive, nor let that ransomed sinner die!’” We have an advocate with the Father, one who has paid that you might be clean. If sin will shatter your fellowship with God and rob you of joy, if sin is the great joy-stealer, come to Jesus seeking pardon and cleansing because He died to secure it for you, for every believing sinner as a matter of justice. That means no one who ever came to Christ looking for pardon ever went away still in their sins; no one.
“He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” That means this - there is room at the cross for you and you and your neighbor and your world. There is room in the mercy and grace of God to make you clean. The Advocate’s blood cleanses all and any who come to Him. Maybe it’s time this morning to own your sin at last and flee for cleansing to Jesus. He can make you clean. I wonder if you’ll come to Him. That’s actually the path to joy. It may seem counterintuitive to face it in all its ugliness and shame, but will you really stay settled with mud pies in the slum, messing about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to you? What possible logic can justify such an argument? Come to Christ, confess your sin, and He will make you clean. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we bless You for the Gospel of grace and for the Lord Jesus our Advocate who is the propitiation, the sacrifice that settles and satisfies Your wrath. Help us to cling to Him and rest in Him and as we come to Him would You wash us clean, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Turn with me in your Bibles to hymn 455 - in your hymnbooks, rather, to hymn 455 as we conclude our service with Wesley’s great hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain.”
And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
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