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)."


Mike Messerli said...


You are a bold man to venture into an exposition of 1 John. John McArthur said he would never preach from 1's too difficult! SO, I'm reading with anticipation as you approach vs. 9. Can't wait to see your view sure not to simply fall for the "evangelical company line".

Thanks for the great thoughts...enjoying your work.

Mike Messerli said...

Vincent, are you ok? I haven't seen a post from you in a while. Is all ok with you? Just checking...

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear pastor Messerli,

Thanks for dropping by.

I am currently doing my yearly, mandatory reservist (military) training. As a result, I am hardly at home these few weeks. Will blog again when my term ends.

I also look forward to interacting with you on your blog.

Yours in Christ,