When was the last time you said sorry to someone for something you did. Have you wronged anyone recently? When was the last time you said sorry to God? Have you wronged God this last week? In today’s passage, we have one of the clearest, most beautiful promises in the Bible: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)
At first, this might sound too good to be true. Free forgiveness from God himself. Is there a catch? It sounds straightforward, so why aren’t more people interested in this promise? There’s no catch; however, this is a conditional promise. Forgiveness is not given to all, but only for those who confess their sin to God. Sadly, confessing sin is something many are unwilling to do.
John mentions people who have a totally different attitude to their sin – they deny it (verse 8). Each one of us in this room has a choice to make about our wrongdoing, we can deny it and gloss over it as if it’s no big deal, or we can take it seriously and confess it to God.
We have three headings on this topic, and to help us remember, each on is connected to the colours of a traffic light: red – stop; amber – get ready; and green – go.
1. Red – stop! Stop denying you have wrong thoughts and actions.
Humans are experts in denying our mistakes. ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8)
It’s a scary part of the human condition – all of us are capable of deceiving ourselves. We can end up believing something that’s just not true. For example, someone might have a few pints, and think: ‘I’ll be fine to drive home tonight. The roads are quiet’. We fool ourselves and end up endangering ourselves and others on the roads. We have made a wrong assessment. The worst thing human beings can deceive themselves about is the state of their own hearts, morally speaking. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are basically good people. We can end up convincing ourselves that ‘sin’ is a word which might apply to terrorists, or drug dealers, but not to us.
“He who cannot find water in the sea is no more foolish than the man who cannot perceive sin in his members.” Charles Spurgeon
It might be foolishness, but that doesn’t stop us denying our sin. In John’s day, there were those who claimed to be ‘without sin’. This is sometimes called ‘perfectionism’. It was part of the false teaching connected with Gnosticism. Gnostics denied the relevance of bodily acts, so they could, for example, have affairs but claim this had no bearing on their relationship with God, because he was not interested in the deeds of the body, but only in the spiritual side of life. They were totally wrong. We don’t often hear that kind of false argumentation today. But one thing is the same: people continue to claim that they don’t have a sin problem.
How do we manage to fool ourselves into thinking of ourselves as far better than we actually are? We play the blame game: blaming someone else – we might call this ‘Adam and Eve syndrome’- The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ (Genesis 3:12-13) Can you relate to blaming others for the mess in your life?
‘It’s not my fault I’m living like this- it’s the way I was brought up.’ (blame our parents).
‘Yes, I lost my temper. But he was provoking me. What else could I do?’ So, we rationalise our sin. When it comes to wrongdoing, we can see the faults of others with 20:20 vision, but when it comes to our own sins and faults we have a blind spot. Blind spots in driving are dangerous, but when we are blind to our own flaws and sins, they are deadly.
We blame our genes or our circumstances. Nowadays, sin is no longer the wrong things people do but just actions caused by internal weakness we can’t help (something genetic), or external forces out with our control, our environment. In the past, we spoke of people as moral individuals responsible for their actions. But now, people are more likely to say: ‘It’s not my fault. I couldn’t help it’.
“Modern fallacies claim that sin is a disease or a weakness, something due to heredity or environment, necessity or the like; people come to regard sin as their fate, not their fault. Such people deceive themselves.” Leon Morris
In other words, we say, in effect, there’s no such thing as sin!
We think we are much better than we actually are: we over-estimate ourselves. The rich young man listens to Jesus recounting the Ten Commandments – ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy.’ He was deceiving himself. The truth was, he had not even kept the first commandment, ‘Have no other gods before me’; his god was money.
One of my friends said to me recently: ‘I don’t need any God to forgive me’. In others words, he’s telling me that he is a good person. He is blind to the lust, pride, greed, and bitterness in his heart. He is deceiving himself. And this is the way most people think.
There’s the lady who does her bit in the community, helping to raise funds for the local primary school and volunteering at the food bank. ‘How dare you call me a sinner’, she thinks sitting in church. It’s good that she is helping the community. But that does not make up for the fact that she has not given God his true place in her life, and the true place for God is first place.
We also deceive ourselves by relabelling sin, and calling it something else. When we relabel sin, we use other words – euphemisms – for those sins, and then they don’t sound like such a big deal: termination, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia
It happens all the time in our culture and in the church. Adultery is called ‘having an affair’. Theft is ‘helping myself to perks.’ David Jackman
Selfishness is ‘standing up for my rights’. The last thing we human beings will admit is that we ‘sin’.
We try to sanitise the sinfulness of sin. We can be like the proverbial ostrich, and bury our heads in the sand, and act like we don’t have a problem with sin, but that won’t make our sins go away. It’s not a good strategy. Verse 10 reminds us that by denying our sin we are calling God a liar! Because again and again, God tells us sin is a universal problem. ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’ (Romans 3:23) and if undealt with, we will have to pay for our own sin in Hell. What about you this morning? Are you making excuses? Do you think you have a problem with: greed, jealousy, envy, bitterness, or an unforgiving spirit? Red- stop making excuses and instead acknowledge your sin and guilt before God.
If you say ‘I’m fine on my own – I don’t need God’s forgiveness.’ then you are deceiving yourself and have lost touch with reality. The reality is given by Jesus. ‘For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’ (Mark 2:21-23)
2. Amber – Get ready! Instead of making excuses – get ready to confess your sins.
‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins…’ (1 John 1:9)
Confession recognises that we are personally guilty of many wrongs. Remember the Lost Son and his ‘amber moment’? “I have sinned against heaven and against you”, he said. When we wrong others we also wrong God, as it is his commandments we break.
What is confession? In Greek- homologeo = to say the same thing that God says about our evil.
Who decides what is right and wrong? Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and so sin is defined by the law of God. He decides what sin is and what it deserves. Confessing our sins involves agreeing with God that the wrong actions we do are serious and have consequences.
What is God’s attitude to sin? He promises to judge it. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden because of their sin. In Genesis 6:3 life expectancy is cut to 120 years because of human sin. In Genesis 6, God floods the world because of sin. In Genesis 11, God confuses human language because of sin. We should never be flippant about sin. Clearly, he hates it. He hates it far more than we do. Why? ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.’ (1 John 1:5)
What is God’s attitude to your sin? He must not leave it unpunished. This is serious. All who continue in sin and refuse to confess it, will be separated from God eternally. There is nothing casual about sinning. Confession means saying ‘I was wrong’. I am responsible. I am sorry LORD.
‘If we confess… = present tense = signalling that it is what we habitually do. We need this mindset of confession to be daily. Daily we confess our pride and jealousy. Daily, we confess sin and flee from it. Notice too that we are to confess our sins: plural!
The LORD wants us to be specific every day when we pray to him. Not ‘LORD sorry for my sins’ (in general). Be specific. LORD I was embarrassed to share my faith at work today – I’m sorry. LORD I was rude to my wife, and short with my children. I am too concerned with my money. LORD I am lukewarm and half-hearted in my love for God.
Amber: are you ready to say the same thing as God about your sin? Are you ready to acknowledge that you are morally responsible to your Creator and Law-giver and that you fall short?
The promise of verse 9 is an amazing promise. But it is a conditional promise. Not everyone is forgiven. Have you gone to God and confessed your sin? If not, then you are still in your sins. Are you ready to swallow your pride today, and confess your sins to God. If you confess…
3. Green – Go! Go to God!
And what happens: Forgiveness and cleansing. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)
The promise is for those who confess – they can go, go before God and have their guilt dealt with. Why? Why will God forgive us? ‘… the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.’ (1 John 1:7) Nothing else can remove our stains. It is the blood of Jesus that cleanses.
Sin Sin is like a huge debt which we can never repay – God forgives us – he cancels the debt.
Unrighteousness – forgiveness is like clothing covered in horrible stains – God purifies us – he removes the stains forever. So, when Father looks at us he sees no stains – clean clothing.
All God purifies us from all unrighteousness. All of it. There is no sin Christ’s blood cannot deal with! The hymn puts it this way: ‘My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! — My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!’
Go to God – he gives us every encouragement: The green light is shining brightly: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.’ (1 John 1:9)
‘God is faithful’: John did not have to say this! Why does he say it? Friends it’s not too good to be true. When God makes a promise, we can be certain about it. We can have confidence in it. The angel Gabriel reminds us: ‘For no word from God will ever fail’. (Luke 1:37)
‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ (Psalm 103:12) When we come to God and confess our sins – specifically – asking for cleansing, he will do it!
Why? Again, we ask Why? Because God is faithful and God is just. ‘God is just’: the forgiveness of sins is a matter of justice; however, this is not the justice we deserve. Of course, God cannot just ignore our sin. But Christ has already received God’s justice for our sins. Therefore, when we come and confess our sins, God says ‘I would be unjust were I not to forgive you.’
God is light. God doesn’t just ignore our sin. He has to deal with it. We expect criminals to be punished for their crimes. We need to be punished for our sins. How can God let us off and be just? Because he is not letting us off – Jesus has taken our punishment. Our sin has been paid for, and that why God is able to forgive us, and maintain his justice at the same time. ‘For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.’ (Romans 3:22-26)
Red : Stop making excuses. Stop denying sin.
Amber : Get ready to confess your sins. Admit them. Admit them to God.
Green : Go to Jesus and he promises you forgiveness and purity. He never lies. It’s a gift paid by him.
Have you come to God confessing your sin?