The Truth About Forgiveness - 1
THE TRUTH ABOUT FORGIVENESS
1 John 1:1-10
Today we begin a new series on 1 John.
It's called Assurances: What God Wants You to Know.
1 John is a book of certainties.
The word "know" appears frequently throughout its pages.
The key idea is that the Christian life is a life of knowing—a life of assurance.
John states that we can know God,
we can know where we stand with God,
we can know what God expects of us,
we can know God's will,
and we can know that our prayers are being heard.
He describes it this way:
The Christian life is a life of walking in the light.
We'll spend the next five weeks exploring exactly what it means to walk in the light.
Today, we begin with chapter one:
The Truth About Forgiveness.
Do you remember playing with an Etch-A-Sketch when you were a kid?
You try to sketch out your name or a house or a portrait of George Washington —
and when you mess up the masterpiece, you turn it over, shake it good and hard, and like magic you start over with a clean slate.
1 John 1:9 is the Etch-A-Sketch verse of scripture.
John said (v. 9)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
It's a simple no-nonsense promise stated in plain language for anyone to understand.
The condition is that we confess our sins.
The promise is that God wipes the slate clean.
It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?
It can't be that easy.
When we hear about God's generous attitude toward forgiveness, we often come back with the question—
"If God guarantees my forgiveness, does that mean I can commit any sin I want, and God will forgive me?"
It's like the bumper sticker I saw once that said,
"How many sins can I commit and still get to heaven?"
The person who asks this is approaching the Christian life from the wrong direction.
That person understands very little about what it means to be a Christian.
The main focus of the Christian life is not about getting your sins forgiven so that you can go to heaven.
That's part of it, but not all of it. God has more in mind for us.
It's like having a job.
Everyone who works is entitled to get paid —
but no customer or no employer wants to deal with a worker who is only there for the money.
We've all known people like that.
They don't like their work, they don't like who they work with, they don't like who they work for — they just want a paycheck.
We can agree amongst ourselves that this person isn't on the fast track to advancement, right?
With that attitude, they won't be effective in their job performance.
In fact, can you imagine taking that attitude into a job interview?
You say to your perspective employer,
"I don't really care about your product, or the goals of your company,
I just what to know what is the least amount of work I can do here and still get paid?"
And yet, some people think that way about the Christian life —
"What's the minimum I have to do and what's the maximum I can get away with?"
And though most people would never say it that way, if we're honest, we catch it ourselves thinking that way from time to time.
Today, as we explore 1 John 1, I want to challenge you to think the opposite way:
How can I maximize my relationship with God, and how can I minimize my sinful behavior?
A relationship with God is compared to "walking in the light."
As we will see in this series, this includes knowing where you stand with God,
knowing that you are forgiven,
knowing that your prayers are being heard,
knowing that you have the power to overcome temptation,
knowing that God is with you, and on and on.
This is what happens when you walk in the light.
Today we'll look at how to begin consistently doing this.
There are three areas we'll discuss.
First of all, to consistently walk in the light...
1. YOU MUST COME TO GRIPS WITH YOUR SIN
There's an old joke about a children's Sunday School teacher who asked his class,
"Children, what we must we first do in order to be forgiven of sin?"
One little boy raised his hand and said,
"Well, first, you have to sin." That's true.
First you have to sin, and we've already accomplished that step.
Second, you have to acknowledge it. You have to face it.
The truth is, we tend to be better at step one than we are at step two.
We often try to deny the existence of our sin.
Of course, few would say, "I'm not a sinner, I've never sinned" — generally speaking.
But when we begin to talk about specific sins, we start making excuses.
"I know I lost my temper, but let me tell you why it wasn't wrong.
You made me do it...
I'm under so much stress at work...
I haven't been feeling well...
and you really deserved it."
When it comes to our specific sins, we have a tendency to try to explain them all away.
"There are extenuating circumstances," we say, "so it's not really a sin."
That attitude prevents us from experiencing God's forgiveness.
In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller tells the story of his atheist friend, Laura.
She had been struggling with the idea of God for sometime, and was now on the verge of believing. Don was trying to persuade her to take that final step.
He said to her, "God is wanting a relationship with you and that starts by confessing directly to him.
He is offering forgiveness."
His friend said, "You're not making this easy, Don. I don't exactly believe I need a God to forgive me of anything."
Therein lies the problem.
This is the obstacle to walking in the light—our unwillingness to face our sinfulness.
Don said to his friend, "The entire world is falling apart because nobody will admit they are wrong.
But by asking God to forgive you, you are willing to own your own [part of the mess]."
This is where walking in the light begins.
John said, (v. 8)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
And then he said, (v. 10)
If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
In one verse John is talking about sin, as in our sinful nature.
In the other verse he is talking about sin, as in sinful behavior. We must come to grips with both.
Do you know what that "coming to grips" is called?
Confession is pivotal to walking in the light.
John said, (v. 9)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Confession is coming to grips with your sin and admitting it to God.
Confess means "to agree."
The word is homologeo —
it means literally "to say the same thing."
Confession is saying the same thing about your behavior that God says about it.
Confession means that you stop deluding yourself, you stop excusing yourself, you stop justifying yourself — and you come clean about who you are.
I am always a little intrigued by corporate lawsuits in which a large settlement is paid to the claimant with the stipulation: "XYZ Company admits no wrongdoing."
They're cutting a check for $5 million dollars, but they say they didn't do anything wrong.
Rather transparent, isn't it?
So are we.
We say to God, "I will pray certain prayers.
I will sing certain songs.
I'll show up Sunday and try to be good—
but there's no way you're going to get me to admit that I'm not just a little bit better than everyone else.
There's no way you're going to get me to admit that my wife is not responsible for most of my problems.
There's no way you're going to get me to admit that maybe I short-change my boss..."
and on and on.
That attitude — I'll pay the fine but I'll admit no wrong-doing — keeps us outside a dynamic relationship with God.
If you want to walk in the light, take a long hard look at yourself.
See yourself as God sees you.
Come to grips with who you are and what you've done.
Confess it to him.
Do you know what happens next?
2. YOU CAN RELY ON GOD TO CLEANSE YOU
(v. 9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Who deserves forgiveness?
Certainly not you.
Certainly not me.
But here's the good news.
Forgiveness is never given on the basis of who deserves it.
It's given on the basis of God's faithfulness.
You can't earn God's forgiveness, you can only receive it.
Christians who grasp this fundamental biblical truth begin to experience the transforming power of God's presence.
Once we get past trying to earn that which he is willing only to give, we experience freedom.
Many Christians doubt that they're forgiven because they're not sure they did a good enough job of repenting:
"Did I really convince God that I was sorry?
Did I cry loud enough?
Did I feel guilty bad enough?
Did I confess earnestly enough?
Did I earn God's forgiveness?"
I can assure you that you didn't.
You didn't feel guilty enough. You didn't cry enough. You didn't confess earnestly enough. You don't deserve God's forgiveness.
But you can have it, because he is faithful and just.
He said, "I will forgive you."
That's all the guarantee you need, because...
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! (Deuteronomy 32:4 TNLT)
...for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. (Romans 3:26-27 NLT)
Hebrews 6:18 says that it is impossible for God to lie.
He said he will forgive you; that means that he will forgive you.
He makes it plain:
He will forgive you of all unrighteousness.
Every sin you've ever committed —
every sin you will ever commit —
God's mercy can cover.
As Erwin Lutzer says, "There is more grace in God's heart than there is sin in your past." Or your future, for that matter. John said...
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
The sins of the whole world.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, it was enough. It was enough to pay for your salvation, for your full forgiveness.
You don't have to earn it.
There's no "co-pay" option. You can only receive it.
This is where people often stumble.
"If forgiveness is freely given, and all I have to do is ask, what's to prevent me from sinning with wild abandon?"
First, the consequences should be enough to prevent you from doing it.
If you're still entertaining the idea that sin is fun, then you don't yet know the rest of the story.
What seems at first in sin to be an indulgent pleasure becomes, ultimately, an inescapable prison.
Ask someone who has sinned with abandon how it worked for them.
I'm not just talking about sex and beer and the party lifestyle.
Take a look at those who thought they could gossip with abandon, and see the price they paid for it.
Take a look at those who thought they could indulge their temper, and see what consequences they faced.
That's why the Bible says "the wages of sin is death."
Sin indulged only brings about destruction.
But there's a second, deeper, reason why we don't indulge sin.
It's because fellowship with God is dependent on our walking in the light—
on our walking in obedience to him.
Walking in the light—in close connection to God—is such a great experience, that the so-called pleasure of sin pales in comparison.
Sin just isn't worth the price you have to pay for it.
Let's say a person loves to gossip.
He loves to talk about people.
He gets a certain pleasure when he hears something bad about someone, and gets an even greater pleasure when he has a chance to pass the news along to someone else.
Now, this is a sin, and the Bible makes it clear that it's a sin—it's on the same level as fornication and murder.
But it's a sin that many people think they can indulge.
So, day after day this guy—who is quite pleased with himself spiritually—looks for bad things to say about others.
Day after day he takes secret pleasure in the misfortune of others.
And day after day, little by little, the light fades from his existence.
He loses the joy of fellowship with Jesus.
He loses the joy of fellowship with others—people don't trust him and don't like him.
He breaks hearts and even ruins lives with his careless words.
His prayers are powerless.
He doesn't get answers.
He lacks the wisdom to make good decisions.
He becomes jaded and bitter because he sees Christianity working for others, but it doesn't seem to be working for him.
He spends his days running his mouth and stumbling around in the dark.
Now, if he asks forgiveness, will God forgive him?
But what if he goes out and gossips again the very next day, will God still forgive him?
But if what he does it again?
Will God still forgive him?
But isn't he getting away with something?
Take a look at his life.
He's not getting away with a thing.
He's miserable, and he's accomplishing nothing with his life.
That's not beating the system, folks. That's getting beat.
And by the way — for those of you who say,
"If he's really sincere in his confession, he won't gossip again."
Hmmm. Is that how it works for you?
You confess a sin once (sincerely) and you never do it again?
If so, you should be getting pretty to close to perfect now.
But you're not, are you?
Even when we're sincere in our confession, we sometimes fall back into the same destructive behavior, but God is faithful and just to forgive us, according to his word.
Now, this guy is miserable, but compare his existence to another person whose sole desire is to walk in the light of God's truth.
She struggles with sin from time to time, and it breaks her heart.
She wants to get rid of the sin in her life, because she understand that sin can only destroy:
it destroys her fellowship with God and her relationship to people.
For her, sin is not a question of "I can get away with this because God will forgive me."
It's a matter of "I don't want anything to do with it, because I want to be closer to God."
Her life is spent in the light.
She has good relationships with Christian friends.
She has a dynamic devotional life.
She sees prayers answered on a consistent basis.
She receives direction from God and wisdom to make important decisions.
She is accomplishing something with her life.
She lives in the light.
See the difference?
This is what God wants for us.
His whole purpose in fixing the sin problem was not so that we could beat the system, but so that we could live in friendship with him.
God will forgive you as many times as you need to be forgiven—
because his ultimate goal is that you become so at home in the light of his love, that sin loses its appeal for you.
Immediately after John wrote about God's blanket forgiveness, he said,
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin." (1 John 2:2)
That's the goal.
"But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:3)
The truth about forgiveness is that God forgives you totally, completely, without reservation.
His goal is that you learn to walk in the light—to become like him in the process.
There's a third principle that I want you to notice.
3. FORGIVENESS BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER
(v. 7) 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, purifies from all sin.
John says that walking in the light goes hand-in-hand with fellowship and forgiveness.
There's a stereotype that you've probably seen on TV.
That sanctimonious person that thinks that because he is right with God, he's better than everyone else.
You know who I'm talking about?
Guess what. That person doesn't exist. Not really.
Now, I've known religious people who think they're better than everyone else, but I can assure you: they're not right with God.
They're not walking in the light.
They are, in John's words, deceiving themselves and making God out to be a liar —
and they are stumbling in darkness.
When we experience God's forgiveness, it affects the way we look at others.
When we realize that our relationship with God is based on mercy, it helps us to treat others in a more merciful manner.
Forgiveness creates a bond that unites believers, because being forgiven helps us understand that it's all about mercy,
it's all about grace, and without God's help we would doomed to the darkness.
When believers who are walking in the light get together, there's an immediate connection.
Forgiveness from God brings people together.
The problem of sin has been solved by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ —
not only the sins of your past, but the sins of your future as well.
And not only your sins, but also the sins of the whole world. Jesus paid the price for them all.
You can be forgiven.
God will forgive you as many times as is necessary, because his goal for you goes far beyond merely wiping the slate clean—he wants you to learn to walk in the light.
He wants you to live in a right relationship with him and in a right relationship with his people.
He wants you to experience his power,
his fullness —
he wants you to walk in the light as he is in the light.
Once you've become accustomed to living in his light, it's no longer a question of "how much sin can I get away with?"
It becomes a question of "How much sin can I get rid of?"
That's because nothing in the world compares with the brilliance of walking in the light of God's love.