Series: Real and Fake Christianity
Title: How to Fight Sin
Our sermon text this morning is 1 John 1:8-2:2. If you don’t have a Bible, please use the Church Bible under the chair in front of you. You can find it on page 1021. Again, that is 1 John 1:8-2:2. This is God’s Word.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Let’s pray. It says in your word, if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.” That is a sweet promise to us. So God, we ask for two things now. Give us mouth that confess you alone as Lord, and heart that bank everything on the fact that you rose from the dead. In Jesus’ name, amen.
We’re continuing our study of 1 John, in which John is defining the difference between real and fake Christianity. In John’s first century audience, several people were flocking out of the church in pursuit of a Christianity that was much easier and comfortable, one that didn’t make demands but was soft and even tolerating. John responds to this problem in an amazing way. Instead of merely commanding them how Christians ought to live, he points out how the easy road will ultimately leave you unsatisfied. Remember in v3, he is proclaiming these things so that we may have fellowship with God, which doesn’t come from the easy way. In v4, he says he writes for his own joy to be complete, and in 3 John 4 we learn that he has no greater joy than to know that his children are walking in the truth. Or in other words, his greatest joy is seeing us have maximum joy in God. So, for John to write hard things is to enchant us away from the fleeting pleasures of this world onto the greatest joys of experiencing fellowship with God now. This is like the difference between watching a movie on sailing, or actually getting on a boat and doing it yourself. Sailing is hard work, but the joy of feeling the wind pound your face, the boat cut through the waves, it can’t be compared to. Christianity is not an easy life, but it is the most joyful life. The joy of Christ cannot be matched. So, don’t hear “difficult and demands” as unenjoyable, but rather as the navigation to the greatest joys of your life. Our Lord himself said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” And again, he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to its fullest.”
I highlight this here because in this passage John is going to be talking about fighting sin. Talking about fighting sin is not the most present conversation in today’s culture. Just the word “sin” itself for many people evokes unpleasant interactions with religious persons in their past, let alone “fighting sin.” And this is why we must keep in mind that John is talking to us about sin, because he has our greater joy in mind. Like how we discipline our children so that they don’t fit. We don’t enjoy the discipline, neither us nor the child, but we know they will be happier if their toy breaking doesn’t bother them so much. Notice in the middle of our passage, at the top of chapter 2, John writes, “My children, I write this so that you may not sin.” This is the purpose of these exhortations in this passage. He is giving us his game plan on how to fight sin.
Now before seeing how Johns teaches us to fight sin, we ought to consider how we try to fight sin our own way. Sometimes, we ignore our sin. We dismiss it as being not all that important, presuming upon God’s grace. If we do happen to see it as important, perhaps we just hope it’ll go away on its own, as if we could expect a garden to de-weed itself. Not going to happen. Or sometimes we simply swap sins around. Consider a woman who has learned to cope with stress by excessive smoking. She cuts that habit, but now copes with stress by excessive exercise. Congratulations for doing something more beneficial, but in both cases, she never deals with her anxiety problem. Another way, and perhaps the most common is the motto, “I’ll try harder.” A young adult struggling with laziness, a friend who can’t seem to control her words, a spouse who cannot prioritize his life. “Next time will be different.” They chant, “I’ll be better.” What is this actually asserting? When we say that, we’re thinking more will-power can fix the problem. Did that work for Peter? “Though everyone else falls away, I will never leave you, Lord!” When just moments later, he denied him three times. And thinking of that passage, remember Jesus’ words to him. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Your resolve and all your best intentions stand no match to the weakness of the flesh and the power of the Devil. Trying harder never works, because there is no power behind it. Jesus said that Simon would only recover because he prayed for him. Trying harder has no heavenly power; that’s something you could have done before you were a Christian. We need a new strength, one with real power, in order to fight sin. Trying harder doesn’t work, because it is fighting the sins of the flesh with merely the power of the flesh.
So, what does John say is the best way to fight sin? He says we must learn to fight sin by developing the spiritual discipline of confession. The main point of this passage is fight sin by developing the spiritual discipline of confession. And we see this mainly in verse 9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins AND to CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness and cleansing come from confession. It’s easy for us to see that confession results in forgiveness, but it does result in cleansing too. And indeed, any true forgiveness always comes with cleansing as well. Another way to say this: If there is no forgiveness and cleansing, it’s in part because there has not been confession of sins. So, what is the spiritual discipline of confession?
At times, we can run away from some spiritual disciplines because of the way they have been abused or misunderstood in the past. And that is definitely the case with confession. As I say the word, I imagine many of us imagine a dark box of a room in which you say to a faceless priest, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.” That is not at all what I am talking about. Like most everything the priests teach, it has some truth to it, but totally off-kilter. I’ll just say this off the bat, you don’t need me to do confession, but you do need another believer. Exodus 15, 1 Peter 2, and Revelation 5 each call all of God’s people priests. Further, James 5 clearly says, “Confess your sins to one another.” So, as I am talking about confession, don’t think of Catholicism, or that this is something you need me or another of our church’s leadership to do, any believer will do. I am talking about grabbing a dear Christian brother, men with men here, and women with women. Spouses of course together. Grabbing a brother and telling them something wrong that you’ve done and that you need prayers for God’s help.
So, then what is the spiritual discipline of confession? In this passage, we’ll study the nature of confession, the benefit of confession, and the power behind confession.
To begin, the Greek word for “to confess” is homologue. It comes from two words, homologs, meaning “the same” and Lego “to say.” It means “to say the same,” and the same as who? As God. To confess is to say the same thing that God says of you. It means to give heart-felt consent that God’s diagnoses of you is right. It’s to agree with God that God disapproves of specific sins. So, when we confess sins, we say, “Yes, I did that, and it was wrong. I deeply regret it, renounce it, and turn from it.” There is an addition, a verdict, a sorrow, a commitment, and a change. It is not feeling sorry for getting caught, it’s feeling sorry for what we’ve done. That I’m the type of person and live in a world where people can so quickly betray God in certain circumstances. We see this clearly in the ministry of John the Baptist. He called on people to renounce their sinful ways and to repent. And many came to him, “confessing their sins.” And lest we think that this is something only done at conversion, in Acts 19, we read of Ephesian Christians doing the same thing.
Another way you can think of confession is as a natural result of walking in the light. Last week, we learned that because God is light, God’s people want to reflect his goodness, truth, and beauty as much as they can in their lives. One way we do that is by yearning for our sin to be exposed. This then naturally leads to self-exposing our sin in confession, when we are aware of it. I love the way John 3:19-21 talks about living in the light, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” These verses bring out some important aspects about the nature of confession. First, it shows that we all start in darkness. Notice the wording, that those who do what is true “come to the light,” the fact that they come shows that they were not originally there. Also, it shows that the actual change is something God must do. As it says, “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” That God is the one working through us when we do what is true. It also reveals where the real problem is. The problem with people who walk in darkness, is that their loves are all out of sorts. And this means that the main act that is on us is to choose to step into the light and allow God to begin to work through us. At the heart of Christianity is the creation of a love for God, a heart that enjoys God as the greatest treasure that would then willingly be fully exposed for all the world to see, if it means we get more of God. And it is this act that is confession. It’s the commitment to be transparent, honest, the exact opposite of hypocrisy. Here at Beloit Road Baptist Church, we are the type of people who don’t put up fronts. What you see is what you get. So, we say, come as you are and join the band of broken people who have found a solidness in Jesus Christ that will never disappoint and will work to give us true healing. So, my definition of confession is this. To self-expose personal faults and to ask for prayers of cleansing out of a deep sorrow for sin and a yearning for more of God. Sorrow, addition, hope, pleading.
So why do confession? What is the benefit? Let’s read 1:8-10. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
These verses show us the alternatives to confession. If you do not have a lifestyle of confession, it either means you think you don’t have anything to confess, or that you at least don’t have anything on a regular basis that you need to confess. The way verse 8 says it is in the present tense, “I have no sin.” that is to say, I have nothing present in my life that I need to confess. Verse 10 talks about a different sort of person, using the perfect tense, “I have not sinned,” that is not only do I not have anything present to confess of, I don’t have anything in my past either. I have no present problem with sin and I have never had a problem with sin. Given these three options, you can see confession is a big deal. Because the result of saying you have no problem with sin wither merely in the present or throughout lull your past, is that the truth is not in you and his word of eternal life is not in you. In other words, it’s to say that you are not a Christian. Now, its obvious enough way saying you have never sinned is outside of real Christianity, John goes so far as to say that that claim is equal to calling God a liar. But what about the claim to have no present problem with sin. Could that be at least sometimes true of us? One obvious problem with that position is that it makes the Lord’s Prayer make no sense. Jesus taught this as a prayer to pray on a daily basis, not that we ought to do this verbatim (you could), but that the main petitions in this prayer are things that we ought to pray daily, give us this day our daily bread. And the very next petition asks God to forgive us of our moral debts. From Jesus’ perspective, we trespass against God every day. Or to say it more positively, the more you fight your sin, the sin you’ll see to fight. The awkwardness or harshness of your sin will decrease as you get more mature, but you’ll see the inner sins more clearly and you’ll feel their backwardness more strongly, that you will feel as if the battle is getting more intense, though perhaps you’ll actually be sinning less. We can’t claim to be without sin, even for a moment. We truly do need confession in order to keep us in the faith.
Now, I would like to double-click on one of these results. In verse 8, it says that we deceive ourselves. To deceive your own self is more than just saying, “Who are you fooling?” If you claim to have no present struggle with sin, you are only fooling yourself. It’s apparent to everybody else. But it actually saying more. It’s saying that you are actually becoming worse by not confessing. This is the way I explain this to children. Kids out there, when you do something bad, what is the one thing you hope doesn’t happen at all costs? Getting caught, right? Perhaps if you snuck in a treat before dinner or played with something you know you aren’t supposed to. Or for older kids, you watched that TV show at a friends’ house your parents told you not to. Or whatever it may be. The one thing you hope doesn’t happen is that you get caught. And I want to tell you this. There is something far worse than getting caught. It’s getting away with it. Because if you get away with it, it’ll be easier for you to do it again. And again, and again. Until you want to do others things that you know you shouldn’t do, until you become the type of person that enjoys doing bad things, even right in front of mom or dad. You see what happens if you do not come to the light? You become more in darkness. Every day, we are creating our future self, either walking closer to the light or keeper in darkness. The absolute worst thing that can happen to you is getting away with sin. In other words, there really is no getting away with sin. You either get deeper in it, or you are getting out of it. My mother ingrained it in me from an early age, sin takes you places further than you ever wanted to go, keeps you there longer than you ever wanted to stay, and makes you pay more than you ever thought possible. Sin will take you further than you ever wanted to go. Kissing before marriage can quickly turn into sleeping together before marriage. It will keep you longer than you ever wanted to stay. One clicks on a bad website can get you going there every night. It will make you pay more than you ever thought possible. It could mean the loss of your dearest friends, or even the fires of Hell.
One of the greatest benefits of having a lifestyle of confession is that it acts as protection against ruining your life with sin. When you confess, it makes you deal with your self-deception. Makes you see the lies as lies. It makes you wake up. And see what you are becoming in the dark. There is nothing quite so humbling but to bring yourself to the place of admitting a sin and asking for prayer. And it is so healthy to do. And not just for you, but for those around you too. Parents, and I tell you fathers, especially, when you do something wrong at home, confess to your family; ask them for forgiveness. Tell them, “Dad was angry, and for no good reason. I was flat out in the wrong and should have never spoke that way. I’m so sorry. Will you please forgive me?”
Friends, we need the spiritual discipline of confession for our families’ sake, our spouse’s sake, for our children, for our witness in this community, Milwaukee needs us to be transparent and come to the light that the darkness will be exposed and dealt with and that it can be clearly seen, put on display to the world that God is in these people. That the Spirit of the living God is moving and changing lives. We don’t get the credit for this; it is his work, but we must choose to walk in the light.
First benefit of confession is that it protects you from self-deception. Now, let’s look at verse 9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The two benefits John lists are forgiveness and cleansing. Let’s talk about cleansing first. We already hinted at it. Confession is cleansing, because sin loses its power when it is in the light. Satan since the beginning really only has one trick up his sleeve, he is a deceiver. He lies. And when a lie is exposed, it no longer has any power. That’s why confession is healing; it brings it into the light. You can’t be cleansed until the problem has been identified. And in the battle against sin, exposing it is half the battle. And this is why the Catholic way of practicing confession is never really practicing today. It is robbed of all of its power. It attempts to bring sin to as little light as possible. It is uncomfortable exposing sin, so they make it as easy as it can be, but in so doing it makes it as having as little power as it possibly could. Because the whole power of confession is by forcing you to bring it to the light! Literally, the priest has you in a dark room, and you don’t even see the face of the priest. At least in one way they have practiced it. No wonder it has so little power. Instead if you have to say to another peer, or in some contexts it is even fitting to say it before a group of Christians, that you have sinned and that you need prayer. I tilled at my family. I cheated on my taxes. I looked at pornography. I contemplated thoughts of leaving my spouse and I need help. Just think for a moment, what would the alternative be? It would be to fight these battles all by yourself and then fake it as if they are not really there. It is not unchristian to fight these battles; they’ll come in our church body. It’s only unchristian to give up fighting. And that’s why it’s so important we don’t fight them alone, because it’s so easy to stop trying. We need each other.
Confession protects us from self-deception, cleanses us from all unrighteousness, and it also brings forgiveness. Now, confession doesn’t ensure forgiveness the way the priests teach. Rome says that after a confession if you do some good things, like pray a certain prayer enough times or try to be better next time, that you will actually yourself regain the grace of God. Grace isn’t grace if you can earn it! And this doesn’t even come closer to recognizing the great offense offending God is. Again, children you can get this. Imagine a bully at school is hitting people. He ought to get punished if he hit another student. No questions asked. But now if he hit a teacher, that is a more serious crime. And what about if he hit the principle! Tour what if it was the President of the United States. You see, the severity of the crime goes up with the importance of the person being offended. So, what happens if you offend a person of infinite importance?! Though you may think of it as a small offense, the fact that it is against God makes it life and death. How in the world could you make that right? We cannot earn forgiveness, instead, we must fully lean on someone else to earn it for us. Nd that turns us to our last point, the power behind confession.
Why does confession result in forgiveness? Let’s re look at the next verses. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
It is because Jesus offered himself as the propitiation for our sins. That words means a sacrifice that turns away wrath. When we confess, we are saying that what we did was wrong and we cannot make it right on our own. And we need divine help, not just to change, but also to clear our record. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. Jesus stepped in our place in order to clear the record of guilt laid against us and to declare us as righteous, not because of our great fight against sin, but because we realize that we cannot fix it on our own and come to him as beggars, pleading nothing but the blood of Jesus alone.
And look how thorough this cleansing power is. Jesus’ death was not just the death of our sins, but was valuable to wash away the guilt from all the sins committed by all people for all time. Absolutely anybody can come to him and receive forgiveness. If you today feel unsure if God will accept you, still feeling like the wrath of God is against you, look again at this verse. It says that he is faithful and just to forgive you. He’s just to do it. The reason why you think he will judge you is because you believe in his justice, that he is not going to let any sin slide. But this verse says that he would now be unjust to not forgive you. God’s commitment to justice demands that he forgive you! For those who run to Jesus, justice switches sides. Before we come to Christ, God is just to condemn us, but when we come to him, he would only be just if he forgave you. Jesus already paid your debt! He’s not going to make you pay it twice like a loan shark. Jesus took your punishment.
There was once a farmer whose barn burnt down. It devastated his farm, and made him close to bankrupt. But just a few days later another fire arose and it was consuming the whole field. It encircled around the farmer and his family until there was no escape. And then the farmer had an idea and ran to the place where the barn burns down and waited until the fire came, but it never reached them, because a fire can’t start on burnt ground. And the family was spared. Do you see the power of the cross of Christ? God’s fire of judgment is coming on all the world, but he poured it out first upon his Son. Every sin will be paid for, either by Jesus on the cross, or by ourselves in the fires of Hell. And if you run to Jesus, God’s judgment can’t touch you. He won’t punish the same sin twice.
Beloit Road, let’s cultivate a culture of confession where a normal conversation can me. Brother, I need to confess. Last night, I yelled at my family. It was really ugly, and while I thought I had a good reason to in the moment, and honestly, I kind of still think I did, I know my action was really wrong and I marred my witness for Christ. Will you please pray for me? If we can’t be honest here, then true healing can’t come. And if we want to see revival come to our city, all the revivals of old were accompanied by great movements of confession in churches. And when someone comes to you with a confession, point them to Christ. Don’t spend much time talking about the actual sin, but point them to the beauty of our great God, who in love for us sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.