November 22, 2020
There are many things that divide us as a nation, but one is quite foundational – it is the very definition of truth. Indeed, what is right, and what is wrong. Both major political parties claim to be on the side of right – so who to believe? And the truth is, much of the discussion is so politically nuanced that it is, at times, difficult to decide.
So here’s the question: is there a standard of clearly-defined moral truth by which we can frame the discussion? Because if we don’t share a standard for truth and morality, who decides? The loudest voice? The majority?
Further, is there even such a thing as truth? Maybe Pilate got it right, what is truth? You see, we keep hearing, there is my truth and your truth – as if I or you are the standard bearers of what is true – even if my truth and your truth are contradictory. How can this be? Can we both be morally and absolutely right? Which leads to another question – is there such a thing as absolute truth? Something that is true for all times, for all people? Or is truth relative; does it change, according to times and circumstances? I know – I’m asking more questions than I can perhaps answer.
Let me give you some examples. The first one is rather obvious – but becomes challenging when each side argues the merits of their respective positions. Let’s talk abortion. One side argues that abortion is killing an unborn child – murder, if you prefer. Biblically, that is clearly and strongly my position. The other side argues the rights of the mother, or the woman if you prefer, over her own body trump – maybe I shouldn’t use that word – supersede the rights of the unborn child. So, each side is arguing for personal rights – the prolife position for the rights of the child, the prochoice position for the rights of the woman. What happens when those two rights come against each other? Two conflicting truth claims. For me, the matter is clear – and yet, both sides claim to be on the side of right. Dare I say, truth. Am I right, because I think I’m right? Or is there an external standard of truth to which I should appeal and submit? To which I should govern my beliefs, words and actions?
Interestingly, the highest judicial body in our land would say yes – and they would suggest that external standard of truth is the US Constitution – variously interpreted. Is there, however, another standard of right and truth that supersedes the Constitution? You see, before 1973, abortion in our country was largely considered wrong and therefore against the law. But then with the landmark Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision, what was once considered wrong and illegal was now at least legal. And the morality of the decision has grown. Which leads to another question – is something legal in our country of necessity then right, true and good?
Let me give you another example. Adultery is defined simply as extra- marital sexual relations. One or both parties is married and engage in physical relations outside the marriage covenant. Such activity was for millenniums considered morally wrong, and therefore, legally wrong. It was actually considered a very serious crime, subject to severe punishment. No longer.
In our country, adultery was once considered grounds for divorce. But now, in no-fault divorces, adultery is no longer even in the discussion. Now, 19 US states still have laws against adultery, but most are merely misdemeanors and rarely prosecuted. Here’s the question – as more in our country decriminalize adultery – that is, it’s not against the law between two-consenting adults – does that make adultery morally right? While it may be frowned upon, does it violate any standard of morality?
Of course, we could talk about how homosexuality was largely viewed as immoral until recently. Laws allowing same-sex marriage have greatly normalized what was formally wrong – the question is, while now legal, federally so in all 50 US states, is it morally right, or is there an external standard to which appeal is made to settle the issue – at least for Christians?
I could go on. I’m not just trying to hit hot buttons – those were just low hanging fruit. I could certainly talk about any illicit sexual relationship, pornography, pride, drunkenness, self-centeredness, boastfulness, lack of love, etc. We are a church, so I’m sure most know where I’m going, whether you agree or not. The Apostle John wrote three letters or epistles to churches in Asia Minor to deal with challenges being raised in the church regarding, among other things, morality – sin and righteousness. Truth. Is there a standard to which Christians are subject? He started, as we saw last week, saying that he had been an eyewitness to the Word of Life – that is, Jesus and His gospel. He had heard, seen, and touched Jesus. And what He had heard with his ears, seen with his eyes, and touched with his hands he was now proclaiming to his readers.
It’s very interesting – he will say this is the message we have heard and declare – that God is light. Really – that’s the message of Jesus? Yes – in three simple words. God is light – and you are not – so you need salvation. Unless, of course, you deny that you are in darkness.
I’ve suggested the readers were struggling – troubled. There was a group in the church that had separated from the church, claiming they had the truth – which was contrary to what the church had believed and taught. That God is light, and people are not. So, who was right? Who had the corner on truth? Let’s read the text – I John 1:5-10.
Who has the corner on truth? His name is God. This matter of truth is a big issue – not only in our country, but in the church of Jesus Christ. The question is, who is going to regulate what we believe and practice – the culture or the Bible? Because in years past, cultural morality in our country was largely consistent with the Bible – no longer. We are now the ever- increasing minority. It’s not fun to be in the minority – but historically, Christianity has always been the minority. So how do we respond now that culture no longer believes like we do? Do we bend to the whims of culture? Many are.
How? Well, sin is being redefined – we don’t actually use the word sin in our culture anymore. Because, inherent in the word sin is the idea of moral transgression against God ultimately, and others generally. It’s a strong word with implications of accountability to a God – and so we don’t use it – it’s offensive. We hide it. What used to be defined as sin is now called a mistake, a blunder, an error in judgment – or worse, my rights – don’t tell me what you think is right and wrong. You have your truth, I have mine.
Who’s to say you’re right? As if rights make right. If we hold an objection to certain behaviors and call it sin, we are intolerant. Bigoted. Phobic.
Isaiah 5 said it this way, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
Paul said it this way in Romans 1:
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,
30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;
32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Way to go – way to stand up for your rights. There is a standard outside us individually and collectively – and that standard is God, who is light.
John is dealing with false teachers. We’ve seen they were denying the full humanity and deity of Jesus; who were saying that sin did not matter – either that they could sin with impunity or were sinless; who were not loving brothers and sisters, but looking down on them. All three of these must be held rightly in order to even be a Christian. You must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh. You must seek to obey His commands, and confess your sin when you don’t – not deny them, confess them. And you must love other Christians.
And the basis of all that is the fact that there is a God who is altogether good and right and true – He is light. He is the standard – not our culture. Let me give you the outline of the text:
- God is Light – and therefore, the standard of all truth and morality. (5)
Then, there are three, “if we say” statements which John then refutes.
- If We Say We Have Fellowship (6-7)
- If We Say We Have No Sin (8-9)
- If We Say We Have Not Sinned (10)
Notice how all of these have to do with how we walk in relation to God, who is Light. These statements treat the fact of sin, and therefore separating us from God. There is some suggestion these are the statements of the false teachers – probably in some sense true, but we can’t know for sure. The point is, they were false statements, because of their failure to recognize this ultimate, glorious, infinite standard of all that is true and right and good and moral – God Himself. It is to forget two basic, fundamental truths – there is a God, and you are not Him.
You know, every once in a while, people ask the question, is sin wrong because God said it’s wrong – He declared it so; or is it wrong because it just is? That’s actually nonsensical – a false bifurcation. All that is good and right is because God is all that is good and right. If you could take God out of the equation, those things would still be sinful and immoral, because they are evil. But they gain the depth of meaning because God is not absent.
Sin is a violation of God’s character. So what is right and wrong finds their source/truth in God. God is true and good and right – God is Light – and what is wrong violates that which found in God as true and good and right and moral.
And so, because that is true, people do this all the time: they want to engage in certain activities that God through the Scripture says is wrong, so they just leave God. I don’t believe in God anymore. Why? So that I can do what I want, thus denying the reality of sin.
You understand what I’m saying. You cannot have good and right and moral and true apart from a God who is all those things – perfectly so. John Stott says, God’s revelation of Himself is of “perfect purity and unutterable majesty.” Absolute moral perfection. So to ask, is murder evil only because God says it’s evil, is foolish. Of course it’s wrong – it violates God’s character because He and He alone is the source of all life. Is sexual immorality wrong because God says it’s wrong? Of course, because He is our Creator and the designer of the marriage relationship and its intended monogamous covenant – intended, by the way, to picture the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church – and to violate His good and perfect design is sinful.
So, God is light – this is a statement of God’s perfect, glorious, moral character. He is perfectly light, such that John says, in Him there is no darkness at all. That’s actually a double negative in the Greek. While a double negative in English is improper, it was used in Greek for emphasis. Literally, the phrase is, “in Him is no darkness, none.”
And light has as its quality a necessity, to be seen – it’s visible, right? This is true of God – He has made Himself known – first generally in creation.
The first thing He said in Genesis 1 was, let there be light. This is most reflective of My character. And all creation points to the glory of God and His invisible attributes. Then of course, He revealed Himself specially through His Word – Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.
And God has revealed Himself most specially and perfectly through His Son the exact radiance of His being. John says over and over in John 1, Jesus was the light. “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness…” Jesus said of Himself, I am the light of the world. So you can come into the light, or remain indarkness.
By the way, we should remember this truth when we read the Scripture. In God, there is no darkness – nothing wrong, nothing evil, nothing immoral.
So, when you read passages that cause you to struggle, wonder, question – remind yourself – God is always Light. Nothing even remotely wrong.
God is light – no darkness at all. So, point 2, if we say we have fellowship with Him – that is, with God who is light, and walk (walk is a manner of life) in the darkness – the opposite of light and truth and good – we lie and do not practice – literally, do not do the truth. Please notice – truth is not only something we know and believe – it is something we do. What we know produces changed, ethical behavior. Now remember last week, we saw John is proclaiming the message they heard, saw and touched – so that we can have fellowship with one another, and with God and His Son.
So to be in fellowship with God requires we have a unity – a bond of life that unites us. It requires that we be like Him, who is light. We cannot say we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, that is, sin. What fellowship does light have with darkness, Paul asks. John said it this way in John 3:
19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
21 But he who practices the truth (notice again, we do truth) comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
If we say we have fellowship with God and walk in sin as a way of life, John says, we are lying, and not doing truth. Again, truth is to be expressed in ethics – in the way we live our lives. You can’t say, I know the truth, I’m a child of the light – and not live the truth. Don’t miss the picture John is painting. God is light, and so if we are in fellowship with God, we walk in light. We can see where we are going. But if we walk in sin, we are in darkness – unable to even see. Christianity without morality, a holy walk, is an illusion.
Instead, verse 7, if we walk in the light – in purity and truth and goodness – as He is in the light because He is light, then two things will happen. First, we will have fellowship with one another. That’s a surprising statement.
You expect him to say, if we walk in the light, as God is in the Light, we’ll have fellowship with Him. But he doesn’t say that. He says, we’ll have fellowship – a bond of life that unites us with one another. Again, this takes us back to verse 3 – the reason Christians can have fellowship is because we have fellowship with God as we walk in the light of His truth – and we then walk with one another.
I think the implication is, if we are walking in the truth, there will be common commitments and unity among believers – even love among us. John will get to this – if we say we love God, we will love one another.
Secondly, if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. This is the clearest reference in this letter to the death of Jesus as the atonement for our sin. By walking in the light, it is evident that we have been saved – that Jesus’ blood cleanses us – purifies us from the stain of sin is the idea.
It’s interesting – it’s in the present tense, and he’s writing to Christians. Meaning, the work of Christ continues to cleanse us as we walk with Him in the light. In other words, John indicates at the outset what he’ll make clearer in the next few verses. We will not reach sinless perfection – that is, we will still on occasion sin – but as we walk with Christ, His blood will continue to do its cleansing, purifying work.
We won’t be perfect, but the overall character of our lives will be doing the truth. Our next point, John says, if we say that we have no sin (again, present tense), we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. These false teachers, for whatever reason our however they said it – were saying we have no sin. Perhaps this was a claim they had reached sinless perfection. Perhaps they were saying by their enlightenment, they had come to understand that while in the body, they sinned, in the spirit they were perfect. The physical didn’t affect the spiritual. Either way, they were claiming to be without sin – which means, there was no need of Christ’s redemptive work.
If we say we are good, in no need of Christ’s saving work – we are deceiving ourselves – God’s truth is not in us. Instead, the true believer will recognize the ongoing need of the work of Christ in his life. If we confess our sins – not denying them – He is faithful to His promise to forgive our sins – to cleanse us from the unrighteousness – the impurity sin brings. To forgive is to remove the guilt of sin; to cleanse is to remove the pollution or defilement of sin. I want to be clear – the need of forgiveness is ongoing in the life of the believer. That implies we will occasionally sin – that sin is not only possible, not only probable, but inevitable. But the good news is, the gospel continues to be operative in our lives.
That’s what John says in verse 9. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Instead, if we don’t deny sin, but confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous or just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse or purify us from all unrighteousness. This is a very familiar verse – and it should be. When we sin – not giving us permission to sin – but when we sin, we confess. And God is faithful and righteous. Why does John say that – faithful and righteous?
He is faithful to His promise to forgive those who confess their sin. The promise of the New Covenant is Jeremiah 31 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
That’s why He’s faithful to forgive – He said He would. But He’s righteous to forgive because Jesus bore our sins on the cross. The penalty for our sin was paid. He is therefore just to forgive our sins, because justice was met at the cross.
Leading to our last point and conclusion. The last if we say statement is in verse 10. Now, John expands on his answer in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2, but we’ll save that for next time. But here, he says, if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. Catch the flow of these statements:
If we say we are in fellowship with God even though we live in darkness, in a lifestyle of sin, we lie and we don’t practice the truth.
If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves – we are lying to ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we say we have not sinned, we make God liar. Notice, we go from lying, generally, to lying to ourselves, to calling God a liar. How do we make God a liar? Because His word is clear – everyone who has ever lived is a sinner. To claim that we have not sinned is to contradict what God has declared – all are sinners, in need of a Savior.
And so we go from not practicing the truth, to the truth not being in us, to His word not being is us. The condemnation of such claims is complete. So, what does this mean for us today?
Very simply, many deny sin. I’m not that bad. We believe the lie that people are basically good. I may occasionally slip up, but my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds. Besides, God is a God of love and love wins. We dismiss the egregious nature of our rebellion. Further, we hear some say something like, I was born right the first time – not all who wander are lost. The implication is, I don’t need to be born again. I’m okay, you’re okay.
We’re fine – everything will be alright.
Again, there are those who have redefined sin to not be sin. That which the Word clearly condemns as sin, they say, no – God’s Word is wrong. But I would remind you, we are not the arbiters of truth – God alone is. It really doesn’t matter if we like it or not – whether we agree or not. Sin is anything contrary to God’s nature and character. It doesn’t matter if it fits our character and nature – we are depraved – without the work of Christ, we walk in darkness. There is an external standard of truth to which we must appeal and submit. Don’t be surprised when you’re in the minority.
Christianity, historically, has always lived on the fringe. We must not bend to the whims of culture.
So I would simply say to you today – if you have never recognized your own sinful condition and need of a savior – one named Jesus Christ – then you are in a most dreadful situation. Recognize the depth of your sin – repent, and ask God to forgive you through the work of His Son, who will forgive you, purify you, cleanse you.
Christianity is the only religion in the world which clearly defines God as Light, humanity as dark and sinful and beyond hope within ourselves – thus requiring that we take sin seriously. Having declared us hopeless, Christianity alone provides the remedy for our sin problem. The way to know sin forgiven and have fellowship with God, who is light, is not to deny sin, but to confess it, and accept God’s remedy through the gift of His Son.
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. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.