This month we are taking a look at what the Bible says about forgiveness. Last week we studied the great flood and Noah’s ark – God’s disappointment in the wickedness of humanity, the destruction of creation, and the forgiveness offered from to God Noah in the covenant.
Today we move into the New Testament, specifically to 1st John. It’s a message written to the Johannine early Christian community. The church at this time is struggling with the humanity and divinity of Christ. People are leaving the church because they’re not sure Jesus is necessary for their salvation. So, with that context in mind I invite you to listen now for the word of God for you.
New International Version (NIV)
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our[a] joy complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from Christ and declare to you: God is light; in God there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with Christ and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] 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 is not in us.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
We can’t very well talk about forgiveness unless we address the concept of sin.
In your opinion, what is sin?
- missing the mark
- the opposite of good
- denying or rejecting God’s grace (Daniel Migliore)
- hurting someone else
- not obeying God
- veering away from God’s desire for our life.
- acts of immorality
Our scripture passage today addresses the concept of sin. In two ways.
(1) Sin as action.
Sin, according to this writing, is the act of “walking in darkness.”
If God is light, then sin is darkness. And choosing to walk in the darkness is choosing to live in ways that are against God.
Sin is the act of disobeying God’s will for our lives. It is turning away from God, casing our own shadow of darkness.
The writer of first John begins by sharing his or her authority. She says, “We write according to what we have seen, heard, and touched with our hands – Jesus Christ.”
And what we have learned is this – God is light and those who walk in the light, walk in fellowship with God.
Light here is not an intellectual or cosmic symbol, but an ethical one. God’s light is THE truth.
This imagery of light echoes back to the creation of the world, when God created light and declared that it was good.
Light and dark are key themes in the gospel of John to illumine between the choice between what is good and what is evil.
Anyone who commits a sin is making a choice. Choosing darkness over light. We are choosing not to be in right relationship with God.
But there is another dimension to our sin that is stressed in first John and that is the deception of sin. Beyond our committing the act of sin, there is another layer at which we deceive ourselves by denying our sin.
Listen to these last three verses again:
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, God 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 Christ out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
(2) Sin as deception.
We’ve sinned and then we’ve tried to hide that sin. From God. From others. Even sometimes from ourselves.
If we take a look at scripture, sin is first recorded in the Garden of Eden. With the very first humans – Adam and Eve commit an act of sin by eating fruit from the tree God forbid them to eat. They sin by disobeying God’s will and by trying to BE GOD.
But then they sin again when they tried to hide from God in the garden. They know they’ve messed up, but instead of coming clean, instead of telling God what they did and saying sorry….. they hid.
The trouble in our hiding is that God is light.
God’s light illumines and God sees all of us.
…Even the dark parts.
In this passage, the writer is convicting the Johannine community to pay attention to the ways that we sin.
Both the acts of sin. And the ways we try to hide it.
I’m going to tell you a story:
One morning I woke up at 6:30 AM with a start! I panicked realizing that I parked my car on a street with street cleaning. From 6-8 AM. How many of you have had this same panic?
I grabbed my glasses and my keys and ran quickly out the door. And my heart dropped when I saw that little white piece of paper tucked under my windshield wiper… mocking me and my rush to avoid it.
I pulled the ticket out and opened the door to my car.
Realizing that they couldn’t sweep the street yet, I decided I should probably move my car.
But as I pulled out, I hit the car behind me. Like really hit it. I let out a few words of frustration and got out of the car to see the damage.
There was a mark. One long one on my car and a few small ones on theirs. Immediately I started to run up the cost of this accident. We’d need to pay to get our car fixed as well as theirs. And then insurance will probably punish me and not really cover it.
I wondered…do I leave a note for this car owner or do I walk away?
I called my husband Tim.
He was in China, so I woke him in the middle of his night’s sleep. With FaceTime I showed him the marks on their car and asked for his advice in whether or not I should leave a note. We talked for a while. I’m sure much longer than he liked and finally got of the phone saying that it was up to me.
I started justifying it.
You know how it is. It’s San Francisco. People bump each others cars all the time! It’s what you sign up for living in the city.
I hemmed and hawed. Finally, I got back in my car and moved it to another street.
I didn’t feel good so I changed and went to the gym. I spent an hour on the elliptical, pumping my arms and legs faster than usual…thinking through the events of the morning and justifying my decision to leave the car without a note.
We’d have to fix OUR car anyway. Wasn’t that enough punishment for my mistake? People hit each other all the time. They might not even notice.
But THAT GUILT (pause)
that growing guilt kept gnawing away at me. Little voices in my head… Do you really intend to get away with this? What about that driver who leaving for work will realize someone has hit them and run off? What would people in your congregation say? The pastor running away from her sin?
I kept trying to move through the guilt. Work it off. Move on with my day.
And I just couldn’t.
Eventually I did go back and leave a note with my confession, name and number.
The hard part about needing to be forgiven is that you have to admit you’re wrong.
You messed up. You caused harm.
And it is SO HARD for us to admit this.
It’s hard let go of our pride… and to admit that we are not perfect.
It’s hard to confront someone with our weakness. And so we do everything we can to avoid it.
We run away.
We blame someone or something else.
We justify it.
We hide it.
We don’t confess it.
We could talk all day about our resistance to confession. And we could come up with all sorts of examples involving us and other people.
But…I wonder about our relationship with God.
Do we even think about how we are sinning against God…
and more so, how we are hiding from our sin against God?
In scripture, we find the law.
Lots of ways God asks us to obey.
And a lot of what God asks of us is hard.
– Sell everything you have and follow me.
– Leave your family and your friends and follow me.
– Worship the Lord your God with all your heart and your mind and your spirit and love your neighbor as yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I sure fall short of God’s will. I am one that gets caught up in finding my success in my career or my money or my relationships or my intellect.
Not so much in my identity as a child of God. Or my purpose to glorify God.
The last three verses in our scripture passage are convicting words for us today.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
God will forgive us, but not if we do not first admit that we are wrong. We are in need of God’s forgiveness.
I struggled with the theology of this text all week.
These three verses at the end say God’s forgiveness of us is conditional on our confession of sin.
I wonder if I really believe that…
It can’t be, right? I mean that was the WHOLE POINT of Jesus dying for our sins so that it’s not up to us to save ourselves.
Jesus spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
We are forgiven because of Jesus. Not because of our ability to know and confess our sin. Right?
Then I stumbled upon the story of Cain and Abel.
After the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis there is the story of their sons, Cain and Abel, and their relationship with God.
Cain and Abel are brothers. Cain is the eldest. Abel is younger. Cain works in the fields and Abel tends to the sheep. Both brothers make offerings to God and God finds Abel’s offering pleasing, but not Cain’s.
Cain is angry at this perceived injustice and God calls him out on it. God asks, “Why are you angry? Why are you downcast?”
There is radio silence from Cain. No engagement with God. One can only assume he is fuming when God says, “If you do well, will not your face be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must master it.”
It’s as though God knows what sin Cain is planning in his heart.
Cain and Abel go out into the field and Cain rises up against his brother. Cain kills his brother, Abel. Cain walks away.
God says to Cain, “Where is your brother?”
And Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I realized in this story that confession isn’t needed for God….
Confession is needed for us.
God knew all along what Cain was going to do. God could see the darkness of Cain’s thoughts and jealousy way before the act of his sin in killing his brother.
And God pines after Cain’s heart. Reminding him of right and wrong. Coming to him afterwards as he tries to deny and hide from his sin. And asks, Cain, where is your brother?
God prompts the confession not for God’s sake, but for Cain’s.
God desires Cain to walk in the light. To lift his face to God. God DESIRES Cain to be in fellowship. To receive God’s forgiveness.
But first Cain has to confess.
Cain has to realize the harm he has created in killing his brother. The harm against God. HIs own need to hear God’s forgiveness.
If WE say we have no sin, we deceive OURSELVES.
We don’t deceive God.
We deceive ourselves.
“Unless we recognize the role that our sinfulness plays in our lives, the ways in which our actions and gestures affect those around us and offend God, we CANNOT really accept forgiveness. – James D. Freeman
Beloved, we confess so that WE MIGHT BE FORGIVEN.
God’s forgiveness is a gift. A free gift to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s a gift that will make you whole. A gift that will set you free.
But you won’t understand or receive God’s gift of forgiveness unless you confess. Unless you are honest about your sin.
It starts with ourselves. Coming clean to ourselves.
Then to God.
Then to each other.
Then, the gift of forgiveness begins to bear fruit. In our lives and in the world around us.
Thanks be to God for the gift of forgiveness.