'Sin, Forgiveness and Love '
(Messages from the First letter of John)
Readings: Psalm 4, Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36b-48, 1 John 3:1-10
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, April 15 2017
About 45 years (or so) earlier, in the Blitz of the Second World War, the Germans had been bombing Liverpool. As the bombs fell, those who couldn’t make it to the air raid shelters, hid in under-stairs cupboards, under the kitchen table, wherever might provide some shelter.
Sheltered under a kitchen table during a raid was a lady who still came to the church. She remembered during a raid, hearing a bomb coming down - then waiting for it to explode - and nothing happened. After the all clear was sounded she forgot all about it.
45 years later (or so) a council workman was cleaning out the sewers. His shovel hit something hard and metallic. He bent down to clear the muck off it. “Now wat does dat say -’ B -O - M - B’. “'Arry” he shouts to his workmate, “Duz B.O.M.B. spell wat I tink it does?” Harry responds, “Call de army!”
For 45 years there had been an active unexploded bomb lying in the sewer and it could have gone off at anytime – especially when Harry’s mate belted it with a shovel. The bomb disposal people evacuated the area, sealed it off , and carefully removed the potential disaster.
In his first letter John pictures sin as something dangerous and life threatening that lurks below the surface of our lives - something that has to be treated with the utmost seriousness. In his first chapters John speaks of turning the ship of our lives around and actively ‘Walking in the Light’. In the third chapter he outlines for us what it means to be a child of God. In particular how being a child of God should affect our attitude towards sin and salvation.
There were those in the church of John's day who taught a different gospel than that which he had received first hand from Jesus Christ. A particular group of people John is writing about were known as ‘Gnostics’.
Being a gnostic implied that you were in possession of special knowledge that made you a cut above your average believer. Some believed that this special knowledge, this ‘gnosis', made them spiritually perfect. As they were spiritually perfect, sin could not harm them. They regarded sin as so ineffectual (in comparison to their state of enlightenment), that they paid no attention to their moral lives.
As they were 'perfect'... if a thing felt good.... it was good... and they did it...and so it went on, until it became apparent to John, that some of the things they were doing, were the opposite of the things Jesus had taught him to do. He accuses the Gnostic's of making two terrible mistakes.
Firstly, they were denying the reality of sin and evil and it’s capacity to corrupt and destroy.
Secondly, they were failing to see the significance of Christ’s death - that He died for their sins and that unless they put their faith in Him, they would be lost.
John hits them with this argument; if they were truly born of the Spirit of God, if they were as perfect as they made themselves out to be, then fruits of the Spirit, such as love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, would be flowing out of them. Their lives would be models of moral magnificence.
Instead their lives were producing evil things. They were spiritually proud. They looked down on those who didn't share their enlightened views. They were inconsistent in their moral behavior. The seed that was producing these bad fruits wasn't the seed of God, but the work of the devil.
John counteracts their philosophy, with some down to earth, no nonsense talk. Verses 8-9; "The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin."
Such a passage warns us never to become so sophisticated in our thinking that we underestimate the real power of evil in our world. Right at the start of the passage, verse 2, he points out that, Children of God are ‘a work in progress'. “Beloved,” he writes, “We are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he (Jesus) is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (v2).
For the Gnostics this fell on deaf ears. They thought they had already arrived at perfection. As a result, they failed to see the depth and power of God’s love that was revealed to them in the Cross of Jesus Christ. After all, what good is a Savior who dies to forgive sins, if you are convinced that through your own sophistication you’ve already dealt with them?
Over 2000 years later our sophisticated culture makes the same mistake. We are not comfortable with the concept of sin. We tend to justify our behavior in other ways. How many times have you heard these?
‘I just couldn’t help myself’
‘She made me do it’
‘He deserved it’
‘It’s just the way I am’
‘It’s not a problem’
‘It’s just a bad habit’
‘Everybody does it’
‘Don’t judge me’
‘I’m not hurting anybody’,
‘It felt so right’
‘I’m no angel’
I’m sure you can think of others!
So sophisticated have we become
that it’s almost considered a sin
to describe ‘sin’ as sin!
Sin is not just inappropriate behavior. It’s an enemy crouching at the door. It separates from God’s love, it cheapens life. At the end of the day it’s only pay out is death. John pulls no punches. ‘Sin’, he says, ‘is the Devil’s work.’ Always was. Right from the beginning.
1 John 3:8 “He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
God’s remedy for sin is salvation. Jesus came to die upon the cross so that the power of sin may hold no sway over our lives. God calls us to put our faith in Jesus Christ, to ask God’s Holy Spirit to take up residence in our lives that we may be spiritually reborn from above. God calls us to work with the Holy Spirit in developing Christ like lives.
This is the basic gospel message. “That God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That “Christ died for our sins”. As 1 John 3:5 puts it, “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.”
Sin is the unexploded bomb beneath the surface of our lives that is waiting to go off. Maybe, like the lady in Liverpool who heard that bomb fall during the Blitz, we forget that it is there. It lays in the dark sewer of our souls, only to be recognized when somebody starts to dig deep down and name it for what it is.
So hear John, as he explains that to be child of God, means accepting some fundamental truths.
- Accepting that we are sinners.
- Accepting that Christ alone can be our Savior.
- Accepting that to walk in the light involves actively taking steps, to deepen our relationship with God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the simple gospel that has been proclaimed throughout the world.
We are sinners who need a Savior.
And Sins remedy is the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Eventually an unexploded bomb causes disruption. It carries within itself all the power of destruction it has had since day one. We can excuse our sin, cover up our sin and even deny our sin. But until we confess our sin and bring it to the Cross of Jesus Christ it remains a force that can explode and destroy and wreck our spiritual walk.
Every worship service is an opportunity to renew our lives before God. To see ourselves, warts and all, in God's light. To claim for ourselves the forgiving and renewing power of the Holy Spirit. To seek for Jesus Christ to renew us and remake us so that we can be better servants and bearers of His good fruit.
As one morning I sought to drive to church in Liverpool an unexploded bomb prevented me from reaching my destination. The army bomb squad came and the bomb was diffused. The bomb had to be dealt with before normal life could carry on. Likewise we need daily to accept the love and life changing power of God to rise above our natural tendency towards sinful behavior that we may live every day in the light of Jesus love and peace. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.