Thursday, January 18, 2007

Reflections on 1 John 1:8

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8)."

Before we reflect further upon this verse, let us peruse the precise meaning the Apostle was conveying to us. Kenneth Wuest translates the verse as follows, "If we say that sin we are not having, ourselves we are leading astray, and the truth is not in us." It seems apparent that the principle of sin is referred to in verse 8a, and not particular acts of sin. The word "sin" was written in its singular form; coupled with the absence of the definite article, it confirms our understanding that John was pointing to the corruption of the "old man" still present within us as Christians. Furthermore, it is notable that John placed the pronoun "ourselves" in an emphatic position. If we deny the presence of sin in our lives as Christians, who are we actually deceiving? Chiefly ourselves! John was not a believer in perfectionism. Far from it, he is an ardent opponent of such doctrines.

Ironically, anyone who is walking close to the Father will be brought to a heightened realization of his sin nature. The stain on our Christian testimonies continues to flow from the old nature within us. Is it then a contradiction when we consider the teaching of our Lord, especially when He commanded us to "Be . . . perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48)?" Or perhaps Peter misunderstood the concept of the principle of sin within the Christian man when he exhorted us to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). How can we be perfect and holy when the old man is not extirpated within ourselves? Is our Lord frustrating His hearers with an unachievable ideal?

John Walvoord rightly observes that, "While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable." Although we are not perfectly sanctified in this present stage of existence, empowerment by the Spirit enables us to walk according to the Spirit. As Paul had written, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16)." Prior to regeneration, we are incapable of not sinning. But after experiencing the regenerating work of the Spirit, we are indeed capable of not sinning. Now, we do have a choice to walk according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit. The recurrent lapses from our Christian testimonies can be attributed to the reality of the principle of sin still present in our lives.

However, failure to walk perfectly according to the Spirit does not absolve us from our responsibility to attain perfect godliness in this life. The believer is responsible for reading, studying, and obeying the written Word. Part of the Spirit’s work is to apply this Word to the believer’s life. Being so enlightened by the Spirit, the true child of God endeavors to follow the law of Christ. His conscience is now bound by the precious Word of God.

It is not uncommon to encounter comments such as these, "Look, this man calls himself a Christian, and yet he is not like a sinless, perfect man," or, "Here is the Christian who boasts about his salvation in Christ, but yet he continues to sin." Although it is paramount that a Christian must portray a good testimony to unbelievers for the sake of Christ and His Church, it is quite difficult for him to attain a sinless state of existence other than the miraculous empowerment of the Spirit. In other words, Christians in general – as John had stated quite emphatically – do sin. The continual scrutiny of even the most reputable Christian saint will reveal the dross and stain of the fleshy nature of the old man in him. The unbeliever fails to understand that the Christian’s moral and ethical performance is not the standard upon which his standing before God is determined. Justification is a forensic (or legal) declaration of God, whereby the Father imputes the righteousness of the Son upon the believer who turns to Christ from sin. There is nothing worthy of His grace within our being, apart from His love and mercy. Although we do not want to fall into the antinomian error, we must acknowledge the presence of sin in our lives. But we further emphasize the responsibility of believers to walk according to the Spirit, and to strive to attain the standard of godliness God expects from us all. Even though we have not attained it, we must "follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (1 Tim. 6:11)."

Youths, be a testimony to your friends at work or in college. Remember not to act, talk or dress like the world. What has light to do with darkness? And what has Satan to do with Christ? Would you rather dress like the world and talk like the world, so as to blend in with the other unbelievers? Or would you have the courage to walk the profession you make on the Lord’s Day? Would you rather please your friends who are God-hating pagans, or would you show them the narrow way to Christ the Savior?

Young ladies, why do you dress so skimpily in Church? Mini-skirts may be the rage now, but as Christians, should we show more faith or flesh? Do you not know that men may lust after you in their eyes and thoughts? As the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, cover yourselves up sufficiently, so as to show proper modesty and respect to your own bodies. After all, the weather in Singapore is not that warm. So, cover up, young ladies!

Young man, why do you go after girls who are not believers? Do you not know that failure to obey Christ’s mandate to marry in the Lord is sin? Have you not thought of what might happen after your marriage with that girl who promises to go to church with you? Will she continue to follow you to church after marriage? And what about your children who are yet to be born? Will they be raised as children of the covenant, or will they follow their mother in unbelief?

Yes, we do not say that we have no sin. We are only sinners saved by grace. But this does not give us any license to continue sinning. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown comment that, "the believer hates, confesses, and longs to be delivered from all sin, which is darkness." As the saying goes, "They who defend their sins, will see in the great day whether their sins can defend them."

Dearly beloved, if you call yourself a Christian, does your walk correspond to what you profess to believe in? If the blood of Christ has cleansed you from all your sins, does your life exhibit the continual cleansing, renewal, and transformation as evidence of the Spirit’s work in you?

To those who do not know Him, are you not sorrowful for the utter darkness and sins in your life? Will you continue to rejoice in your debauchery, or would you rather turn to the only One who is able to save you from your sins?

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Gal. 6:7-8)."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Reflections from the Epistle of 1 John

1 John 1:6-7a

"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 Jn 1:5-7)."

In the following paragraphs, I would like to take myself through verses 6 and 7a of 1 John chapter one.

As Christians, we are in general agreement that God is light, and Satan is the prince of darkness. To obey God is to walk in the light, and to disobey Him is to walk in darkness. As Akin has commented, "What, then, do the metaphors "light" and (absence of) "darkness" tell us about God's nature? Many scholars hold that the primary, if not exclusive sense, is ethical. God is morally good is the idea." Perhaps the concept of absolute truth is closely associated with God's absolute righteousness, and this is the light in which we are to walk.

In verse 6, John identifies the first group of "liars" - those who lie about their fellowship with God. There are those who call themselves Christians, and claim to be in communion with the Heavenly Father, yet they remain in the moral and ethical depravity of pagan darkness. Here John firmly declares that these professors cannot be in fellowship with God who is light, and who is infinitely holy and good. The Lord has commanded, "Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy (Lev. 19:2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:16)." It is not that we can only be in fellowship with the Father when we have achieved sinless perfection. But true believers are aware of their obligations to be holy as God is holy; they are consciously striving to walk according to the laws of righteousness, and are deeply penitent when they fail their Christian testimony. This is the evidence of the Spirit's work of sanctification in the believers' lives. Walking in the light becomes the "lifestyle" of Christians, while "liars" continue their life in darkness.

We must never even begin to consider that sin does not matter, no matter how small we perceive it to be. As believers in the Gospel of Christ, we must remember our responsibilities as children of the covenant of God's grace. One of our chief responsibilities is to walk in the light, so as to be a light to the world which is in darkness. How can we ever be a light when we ourselves are still dwelling in the darkness of habitual, secret sins? Can we, indeed, be a testimony to our neighbors when we ourselves are living exactly like they do?

The closer the believer comes to God, the more appalling and ugly sin becomes. In fact, the believer who is in close communion with the Father will be intensely abhorrent of offending Him with any impure thoughts, words or actions. Can a believer, for example, delight in entertaining himself with imageries of adultery, murder, fornication, and every kind of pagan lusts? These things the youths and even adults do with each and every movie going session and by watching several television programs broadcasted daily over the channels of the goggle box. Even the New Age concepts communicated by the so-called innocent cartoons of Hollywood are offensive to the thrice holy God.

Marvin Vincent once commented that, "Fellowship with God exhibits and proves itself by fellowship with Christians." And I believe Vincent is correct in his observations. The believer who is walking in the light will find his greatest delight and joy when he is in fellowship with his fellow brethren-in-Christ. But one is perplexed by some who proclaim Christ, and continue to distance himself from the Church and other believers. Instead, they enjoy wallowing in activities with their unbelieving friends. There are even those who chose to remain free from the obligations of church membership, and insist that the worship of God can be accomplished apart from the local church. Sadly, these brethren do not wish to submit themselves to the rule of the elders, and prefer to move from church to church, tasting sermons and desiring to settle down only when the characteristics and teachings of the church suit their taste. Without the leading of God-ordained pastors and teachers, it is of little wonder that some have fallen into temptations and bad company, while others have succumbed to false doctrines and heresies.

Barclay, in The Letters of John and Jude, noted that, "There were those who claimed to be specially intellectually and spiritually advanced, but whose lives showed no sign of it. They claimed to have advanced so far along the road of knowledge and of spirituality that for them sin had ceased to matter and the laws had ceased to exist. Napoleon once said that laws were made for ordinary people, but were never meant for the like of him. So these heretics claimed to be so far on that, even if they did sin, it was of no importance whatsoever. In later days Clement of Alexandria tells us that there were heretics who said that it made no difference how a man lived. Irenaeus tells us that they declared that a truly spiritual man was quite incapable of ever incurring any pollution, no matter what kind of deeds he did."

It is amazing that such heresies continue to be taught in certain seminaries and churches. There are certainly those who claim that "it made no difference how a man lived." These misled Christians are taught that since they are saved by grace, and that all their sins are now forgiven them, they have the freedom to live in any manner they like. Grace, they say, is free. And being freed from the bondage of the law, any attempt at following the law of God would be "legalistic." According to them, a Christian can be saved simply by believing in Jesus, without any need of repentance or turning from the sins and darkness they were in. To repent, they say, is work. Since salvation is by grace through faith alone, we are not obligated to repent or to do anything to warrant God's grace and mercy. But John says, "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." These misled brethren fall into John's first category of "liars."

Truth is never solely intellectual; it is also moral in its applications. Truth is never simply abstract concepts; it is concrete living. Truth can never remain an intellectual exercise, but pervades the entire being with respect to personality, actions, and thoughts. Truth is to be obeyed and followed. And he who believes the Truth must also obey the Truth. This is the teaching of the Apostle John that we must "walk in the light." "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7)." The only sure way to know whether we are the children of light or the children of darkness is to ask ourselves this question, "Do we walk in the light or in the dark?"

So, dear friend, which path are you walking on right now?