Sermon delivered by Howard Baston, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, T.X., on August 9 2009.
1 John 1: 9-10
Let’s play “Name That Staff Member.”
One of your staff members was sitting in the bathtub as a little boy. His mom entered the bathroom and asked him, “Have you washed up?” She meant, “Have you washed your ears? Your face? Your hair? Have you washed or are you just sitting and soaking?”
“Yes,” he replied. He had washed…already washed all, just like he was supposed to. He was clean from the tip of his head to the bottom of his toes – or so he claimed to his mom, though he looked curiously dry to her, except for his bottom which was sitting in the water.
“Well, okay,” she said and walked out of the bathroom.
Like a worm boring away at an old, rotten stump, his conscience began to get to him. His mama – he knew what she meant. She wanted to know had he washed his hair? Had he washed his ears? Had he washed his face? And he said he had when, in fact, he hadn’t done anything but sit there in the bathtub and play. He hadn’t washed anything. He’d just been sitting and soaking.
He was overcome by the guilt and the shame. Not only had he not been obedient in not taking a real bath, but on top of that he’d lied. Lied to his mother. Lied to a direct question. He started to cry, started to sob in the bathtub. His mother came in to check on him and see why on earth her son would be sitting in the bathtub and crying.
She walked in and he just burst out in tears. He confessed it all. He had not washed. He had not bathed. And he’d told a story about it.
With a wink and a grin, she made the comment that he did look awfully dry. She forgave him. Gave him a hug, and he washed up and got out of the water.
Who was the little confessor who felt so much better after he came clean, not only in regard to his ears but also in regard to his heart?
It was Robby Barrett. And I’m happy to say it’s no longer his mom who has to make sure he washes up; it’s LaVon. And he’s promised to never tell her a lie.
We’ve all been overcome with guilt before, haven’t we? Guilt of our sin. Guilt from a bruised and broken conscience.
Guilt really is a gift. It’s a gift that allows us to search our souls. To confess our sins. And to allow the drama of forgiveness to invade our lives, our hearts, and our heads in a way that makes us well. When we really receive the forgiveness of God, it is as if someone has removed a pile of bricks from our broken back. To be rid of deep feelings of shame, guilt, and regret.
We’ll learn how to do that today. We’ll learn how to be forgiven.
I. To deny is to deceive
Look at 1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Look at verse 10
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
Carrying hidden sin in your life is a burden. It’s a burden of shame. It’s a burden of guilt. The distress of deception. The weight and the worry of your worldliness.
Christianity allows us to say openly that we are sinners.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, many years ago, that “The psychological community cannot grasp the concept of sin. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godliness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist, I can only be a sick man. In the presence of the church, I can dare to be a sinner.”
If we deny, we deceive. But let me tell you four things about that deception.
A. First of all, if we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived. John is writing to a community, and in that community John has enemies. And John’s enemies are asserting that they have no need to confess sin. They have no need for cleansing or forgiveness because they’ve already reached a state of sinlessness.
Not so, John rebuts his opponents. When you claim to be sinless, you are deceiving yourself.
B. The second thing he says is that if we claim to be sinless, the truth is not in us. Look at verse 8. To say that truth is not in them goes beyond making the claim that they are lying. In using this phrase, John set forth his belief that these men, his enemies, cannot have a part in the realty if God whose true nature has been revealed in personified truth in Jesus (see John 8:31, 32; 14:6).
In the Gospel of John, the same writer says in 8:31-32. “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
And then in John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
C. Third, he says if we claim we have not sinned, we are making God out to be a liar (verse 10). To suggest that we have not sinned is to refute what God has revealed to men and women throughout the ages. God’s word has always made clear that everyone is touched by sin (Psalm 14:3; Isaiah 53:6; John 2:24-25; Romans 3:22-24).
In Psalm 14:3 we read, “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Or Isaiah 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” – prophetically speaking of Jesus.
Or in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
D. There is a fourth thing. If we claim we have not sinned, His word is not in us (1 John 1:10). The word, the logos of God… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” – speaking of Christ. Jesus, Himself, through His Spirit is not dwelling with those who claim to be sinless. You’re not His if you claim you have no sin.
So, yes, we can all come to church today and we can say, openly – even if with shame – we are sinners. I am a sinner. And you are a sinner.
Some of us are like these opponents of John. We don’t just deceive others. We deceive ourselves. We say that we have no sin, that we, ourselves, have not broken God’s commandments. That we’ve not failed in living the life of a faithful disciple. It wasn’t ignorance that was a problem for those to whom John writes. It was a cover-up. It was deception. It was denial. We cannot deny our sin by seeing it simply as a mistake, as the result of a poor education or poor choice or a poor childhood. Sin is open rebellion against God. And I’m guilty. And you’re guilty.
A Presbyterian minister told the story about his first year at a certain congregation. His predecessor had abolished the general confession of sins from the Sunday liturgy. One of the first things the new pastor did was try to reinstate the confession. There was a lot of resistance to change in that church – as there usually is in churches. Some members thought the confession of sins was just too morbid a thing to do in church, where one’s spirits were supposed to be lifted up. During the heat of the debate one woman, an elder in the church, exclaimed, “But I don’t have to apologize to God for anything!” The pastor was dumbfounded. His seminary training had not prepared him for this, he told a friend.
What could she possibly have meant by saying she didn’t have to apologize to God? Did she mean that she hadn’t committed any of the big sins and, therefore, had no real need to apologize? She might have meant that, but she would have been wrong because anger is God’s concern as much as murder, and lust as much as adultery. So she’d be in trouble on those accounts.
She might have meant that the apology is due to the person against whom she had sinned or transgressed and she hadn’t sinned against God. Perhaps she had forgotten the cry of the Psalmist when he said, concerning his own sin, “Against you, God, and you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight.” All sin is sin against God. (Miroslav Volf, “Is It God’s Business?” Christian Century, 11/8/2000)
II. The second thing I want us to see is that to confess is to cleanse.
Look at verse 7
But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son – look at the words – cleanses us from all sin.
Or verse 9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Notice how they go together. Confession and cleansing. He cleanses (verse 7) if we confess (the condition of cleansing, verse 9). If we confess our sins – notice – He forgives, He cleanses.
To confess is to be cleansed.
I don’t want you to think this means hey we’re all sinners and sin is no big deal. We can just be cleansed. That’s not what he is saying at all.
Look at what he says back in verse 7. The price? The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.
Look at 1 John 2:2-3.
And He himself (meaning Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
Don’t think your sin is no big deal. Your sin has shed the blood of Jesus. Jesus has become the sacrifice for your sin. He has paid the price. He has been the propitiation. He has paid the price to satisfy the wrath of God.
Jesus was sinless. Therefore, He could pay for your sin. And my sin.
Jesus died for you. He bore your sins on that cross. It was you who should have been crucified. It was I who should have been crucified. But there He hangs – mocked, cursed, spat upon, bruised, broken body. He died – not so that you would deny and deceive about your sin, but He died in order that you would confess and be cleansed.
There is nothing more rejuvenating, nothing that brings more renewal than repentance of sin. If there was one truth that I could wish for a congregation, it is the truth of forgiveness. It is to wish that the people of God would understand the power of God. It is to wish that the family of God would understand the forgiveness of God.
I don’t know why we do it, but so many of us – young and old, rich and poor – so many of us refuse to allow God to forgive us. With our minds we know, theologically so, that when Jesus died, He bore our sins on His shoulders. That when Jesus died, He paid the price. He met the requirement of the wrath of God on our behalf. Despite the fact that we understand the theological truths, somehow we never confess, we never receive the cleansing. Somehow we walk through life stained – stained with the sins of the past and stained with the sins of the present. Somehow we walk through life not wearing the garments of white of the conquerors and overcomers, the color of the people of God (see Revelation 22). We wear garments stained. For some reason we refuse to be washed. For some reason we refuse to be cleansed.
I think some of you are afraid. You are afraid of experiencing God’s forgiveness. Satan has so convinced you that you are not worthy, that your sins are somehow more powerful than the cross of Christ. How ridiculous is that? Somehow, you want to hold on to them. You want to drag them through the entirety of your life. You love limping through life. You refuse to let go and let God take control of your life and you’ve made mockery of His slain Son by refusing to accept His forgiveness. To you, God looks and says, “I have done it all. I have sacrificed My Son. What more do you require before you will let your sin go and bring it to the cross of Christ?”
The blood of Christ cleanses, John says here in this first letter.
You remember the old hymn:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanual’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains.
Isn’t that what the psalmist David says after his sin of murder and his sin of stealing Uriah’s wife? “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
III. To be forgiven is to be free.
Look at chapter 2
My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate [it’s the word for an attorney, a counselor, a go-between] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He Himself is the propitiation [that means the payment, things that satisfy the wrath of an angry God] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
To be forgiven means to be free. To know that God has forgotten. To know that you should forget. It means we are absolutely free.
When God forgives, He’s not like we are. God really does forget.
Remember the old Southwest Airlines planes which allowed some of its passengers to fly backwards? That was back in the good old days when you could fly to Dallas for $39 one way. I’ll go back to flying backwards if they’ll cut the price back down to $39. That was the craziest arrangement, however. You had to sit there, eye-to-eye, with the person right across from you. Stare at them while you were flying. You were flying facing the rear of the plane.
I think there are a lot of us who are more comfortable flying looking at the rear of the plane. We’re not looking at what’s ahead. Rather, we’re looking at what’s behind. We live life forever looking at the problems of the past rather than the freedom of the future given the forgiveness of the Father.
The Psalmist declared, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is a man whose sin against the Lord does not count against him, and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For night and day, Your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. When I acknowledged by sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity, I said ‘I’ll confess my transgressions, O Lord,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Forgiveness brings freedom.
Oh, I know everybody needs to participate in confession this morning because John says we’re all sinners. And if there are any here this morning who have no sin, you can excuse yourself. This would be a good time to do so. If you’re a sinner, I’d ask you to just stay seated.
I want everyone to bow their head and close their eyes. I want to say a prayer out loud, and I want you to repeat this prayer line by line and phrase by phrase. All of us come today with shame and guilt and regret. I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s an abortion you had 15 years ago, and you just can’t get it out of your heart, out of your head. He wants you to let it go. Maybe it’s the temper you have. Or jealousy. Or bitterness. Maybe it’s laziness. Or greed. Maybe it’s an evil tongue. Maybe it’s gossip. Maybe it’s excessive worry. Maybe you just don’t trust God. You just need to say, “God, I’m sorry.” Maybe you’ve forgotten God. Maybe it’s amnesia toward the Almighty.
God welcomes us all. The greedy. The lustful. The gluttonous. The bitter. And the angry.
Repeat after me.
Almighty and merciful Father,
I have strayed from your ways like a lost sheep.
Now would you quietly – don’t say this part out loud. Would you quietly in your mind confess to God the ways you’ve strayed, like the prophetic lost sheep. Caving into the pressure of others. Living your life at your own whim and own desire. Living a life of convenience. A life of materialism.
Having confessed your sin, now repeat this part with me:
I have followed the desires of my own heart.
Oh, I know it seemed like the right decision at the time. You wanted to do it, and you chose it. Even if you had mixed feelings when you made the choice, you went with your way instead of God’s way.
Now repeat with me finally the last part of our prayer:
I have broken your Holy law.
Which of God’s laws have you offended? Maybe it’s the will of God to love the helpless. To protect life. To protect the innocent. Maybe it’s your awful self-centeredness, as you haven’t even come close to loving your neighbor the way that you’ve loved yourself. Maybe you’ve left undone all the things that you ought to have done.
Oh God, have mercy on us all.
Spare us today as we confess our faults.
We claim your promises as we take our sins to the cross.
Your mercy is not something we deserve, O God.
It is something that You give.
Thank you for setting your children free.