Three false claims; One true remedy

1 John 1:5-2:2

16 April 2009

Woodley Baptist Church

Thursday lunchtime service

Note that I have also preached a fuller version of this sermon.


In his first letter, the apostle John has two great themes that he unpacks. He makes two great summary statements: God is Light, he says, and God is Love.

Now, I suspect that we are happier with the latter than the former. "God is love" is a nice, warming, unthreatening theme for this day and age.

However, it is with the former that John begins, and which we are looking at today: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.ref

God's blinding holiness and purity is not really a familiar or comfortable theme in today's world, or even in today's church. But John chooses to start his letter with God's holiness, and our sinfulness. Although we may prefer not to hear it, it is a message that we certainly need.

Light and dark

Having made his headline statement, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all, John goes on to examine three false claims in the light of it.

Now, false claims are easy enough to make. Here are some real adverts from a hundred or so years ago.

As I said, false claims are easy enough to make, and John attacks three false claims that are being made about sin, each one just as outrageous as these false claims in advertising.

False claim 1: My sin does not matter

The first of these is a claim that our sin does not matter, If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness.... We claim we know God, but the way we lives our lives shows that we have excluded him: we are continuing to walk in darkness.

John says that we cannot do this. We cannot claim to be in the light, yet be content to leave parts of our lives in darkness.

Now, John is not talking about isolated acts of sin that we all commit every day. He is talking about "walking" in the darkness. In the Bible, "walking in" something is a lifestyle choice. It is habitual and on-going commitment, a way of life.

So John is talking about persistent sin in our lives, that we are not fighting. Perhaps we are nurturing and cherishing it instead. If there are dark areas of our lives that we won't let God shine his light into, dark corners that we would rather keep in the shadows, then we are walking in darkness.

Perhaps we have a long-standing grudge against somebody. Perhaps there is a family dispute that has gone unresolved for years, and we feel a real sense of bitterness about it. Perhaps we have judgemental feelings, or angry feelings about someone. Perhaps we are withholding forgiveness from somebody. If we continue to nurture these things day after day and never bring them to God, then we are walking in the darkness.

And if so, then there is no point coming to church, there's no point saying your prayers, there's no point singing the songs if there is some sin in your life that you are tolerating or cherishing. We cannot have fellowship with God if we continue to walk in darkness.

The remedy, John says, is to walk in the light. We need to be ruthless about finding all the dark corners of our lives — all the things we are ashamed of; all the things that we would rather remained hidden — and we need to let God shine his light into them.

My favourite Puritan, John Owen, said "Be killing sin or it will be killing you" . To walk in the light is a commitment to rooting out every last bit of darkness in our lives and letting God's light shine in.

False claims 2 & 3: I am not a sinner

If false claim number 1 is that, My sin does not matter, false claims 2 and 3 can be summed up as, I am not a sinner.

John says If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in usref, and again, If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar.ref

This is to deny our sin. We say of the things we do, that's not really a sin, is it? And, by redefining sin like this we gain a high opinion of ourselves, and we assume that God shares that high opinion.

But, in doing this we only deceive ourselves. God has told us what sin is, and we make him out to be a liar if we say anything different.

So we might want to say, "Oh, gossip isn't really a sin. How can I be a sinner simply for sharing that tasty bit of news?" . But his word quite clearly tells us otherwise. Or we might say, "Anger isn't really a sin. Anyway, I had a right to be cross with that person" . But again, his word tells us otherwise, doesn't it?

One True Remedy

In the end, neither hiding our sin nor denying our sin is going to help us. John says we must confess our sins: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousnessref.

The antidote, John says, to both hiding our sin and denying our sin is confession. He says that we should confess not our sin (singular), but our sins (plural). So, we need to confess not our general sinfulness, but the actual specific sins that we have committed.

Our sin is like a stain on our souls. Hiding the stain or denying it's there do not really help.

What we need is a stain remover. As you know, different kinds of stains need different remedies. Apparently, lemon juice is effective at removing rust stains. Methylated spirits is good for grass stains, and white spirit for shoe polish.

When it comes to the stain of sin on my soul, only one treatment will do: the blood of Jesus, [God's] son, purifies us from all sinref. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sinsref. When we confess our sins to God he applies the stain remover: he purifies us from all unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus.

So, let us be careful neither to hide our sin nor to deny our sin. Let's make sure that we bring our sin into the light by specific detailed confession day after day. When we bring our sin to God he will purify us from it by the sacrifice and blood of Jesus. Then we can have fellowship with our God, who is light.


I want to finish this address by reading the prayer of confession from the Prayer Book. Let's pray.

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.

We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.

Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee in newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.