This sermon is number 4 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 4
"The Saint And Sin"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, do turn with me to 1 John again. God willing, we'll hopefully enter chapter 2 this evening, but we have the remaining three verses to deal with in chapter 1 and so we'll read the whole of chapter 1 in order to get the flow of John's thought. Our title this evening will be "The Saint And Sin", and we'll be looking specifically at verse 8 of chapter 1 through to the second verse of chapter 2.
Verse 1 of chapter 1, then: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. 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. If we say that 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 that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world". Amen.
When the word 'saint' is mentioned to most people today, even in the church, immediately there often conjures up an unbiblical idea of its definition. Maybe it's a picture of some ancient man with a long beard and a halo around his head; it could be a woman with angels singing praise unto her; maybe it's the picture of pilgrims venerating, almost to the point of worship, someone with 'St' before their name. In some circles you can adopt your own Saint, depending on perhaps your personal disposition, or your occupation and livelihood. In your difficulties and weaknesses in life you can pray to them, and the belief often is that they will intercede for you before the throne of God. Generally speaking the perception of a saint is someone who is transcendent above normal ordinary humanity. They're like super spiritual human beings, and though they are admittedly below God, or below the Lord Jesus Christ, or even in the Catholic Church below the Virgin Mary, there's something special about them, and it's very hard for us to conceive of a saint sinning.
Now, of course, that idea of a saint is something that has been invented by the Roman Catholic system and the Orthodox Church. Anyone who reads the word of God, particularly the New Testament, will know that true saints are down to earth people, they are people like you and me, they live in the real world with real temptations and a real struggle with sin. In fact, one text - we could look at many which prove this to us - is 1 Corinthians 1 verse 2, where Paul addresses that church there: "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints", and he expands on that word 'saints', "with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's". If you know anything about the church at Corinth, you will know that they certainly were not squeaky clean as far as morality and spirituality was concerned. In fact, Paul calls them 'carnal' at one point.
So a saint is not the common perception that people have, and yet many people today - including evangelical Christians - have a dilemma of reconciling how saints, even in our New Testament evangelical understanding of that word, how saints relate to sin. You remember that we established last week in particular that this little epistle of 1 John has a theme running throughout of fellowship: our fellowship, as we see from verse 3, is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We saw last week that you cannot claim to have fellowship with God if you walk in darkness, or you could put it 'if you walk in sin'. So we're coming to the question this week: what happens when a Christian sins? What happens if I sin as a believer? What is the relationship, after conversion, of the saint and sin?
Now this is an important subject, apart from the fact that it's outlined for us in the word of God tonight, because new converts, people who have come recently to faith in the Saviour, can often get confused about the old passions that they once knew in their pre-converted days raising their head again. They feel the struggle, maybe, that they had in their past, and they start to ask themselves: 'Have I had a real encounter and experience with God? Am I truly saved? Surely a person that's now been forgiven of sins, and experienced the new birth, and is a new creature in Christ shouldn't be feeling like this?'. Maybe that's the way you feel tonight? Then there are other zealous believers who have been on the road for a little bit longer than the new lambs in Christ, and in an attempt to trod a deeper walk and path of holiness with God they attempt to rid themselves of all sin, and to achieve some kind of sinless perfection. There are actually people running around in evangelicalism today who claim that they have this, that they have no longer any sin in their lives. Then there are others who believe in it, but they die of frustration and disappointment because they can never achieve the standard that they're seeking and searching after. Then others have developed a charismatic doctrine of some second experience from God that 'zaps' your sin nature and eradicates it. Even those who believe it is possible to be sinlessly perfect know all too well the reality of their own hearts. John Wesley is an example, and I would never criticise that man of God, that mighty giant of the faith publicly, but he did believe in sinless perfection - yet he denied personally that he possessed it. That in itself should tell us something - how could we ever achieve sinless perfection if the great John Wesley didn't?
So John answers a number of these practical questions asked in his day, and hence he gives us some answers to some questions that are asked in the church today. So we're going to learn these answers under four headings which will take the form of questions. Here's the first question that we have implied within this chapter, I believe. It's found in verse 8 and verse 10: do Christians sin? Do Christians sin? I didn't hear any answer there! The fact of the matter is that the Docetists, who later became in a certain form the Gnostics who we've been looking at over these weeks, they believed that the spirit, that part of the human being that was given by God to relate to Him, is pure; and the flesh, the physical, material realm, is that which is evil. Therefore, because they believed the spirit was pure, and that was all that really mattered to God, they believed that's all that should matter to them - but they claimed to be perfect in that particular realm of their being. So you can understand how this doctrine started to influence the church. These Docetists were teaching that the spirit, that part that had been quickened by God in salvation, was perfect.
Now John comes along and points out two facts for us to dispel any such notion from our mind. The first is found in verse 8, he says: 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us'. So he's pointing out first of all here: we are sinners by nature. It would be good to note these things down with a pen and paper. We are sinners by nature, and what John is speaking of there is the root of sin, that fallen Adamic nature that we have inherited from our parents in the Garden of Eden. So right away, John is saying: 'Yes, Christians do sin, because they are sinners by nature'. This is his answer to this second denial, these Docetists were encouraging others to say: 'We have no sin'. John is saying: 'If you say that you have no sin, you're deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you'. Now please notice the difference between verse 8 and verse 9: the word 'sin' is used in verse 8, and yet the word 'sins' is used in verse 9 - 'If we confess our sins'. That is an important distinction that is not irrelevant, because 'sin' speaks of our nature, 'sin' is what we are and have in our fallen nature. Whereas 'sins' is what we do, practically speaking, the sinful acts wherein we transgress the law of God.
Now taking this first type, 'sin' that we find in verse 8, John is saying you're deceiving yourself if you say that you don't have a fallen sinful nature - you certainly don't deceive anyone else, that's for sure! I don't know whether there's anybody here tonight that's claiming sinless perfection, but I'd love to talk to your next-door neighbours - especially if you're in a semidetached - or maybe even your husband or your wife, or your wider family circle. As Robbie Burns said 'Oh, for the gift to see ourselves as others see us'. But you see, what John is pointing out here is that we are not seeing ourselves as we really are if we actually think that we can get rid of our sinful nature. Now the converse of that for us tonight, hopefully I'm preaching to the converted who believe that we all have a sinful nature, even those of us who are converted, is: do we really believe it to any significant extent? Do we believe - and this is the bottom line - that we are much worse in our sinful nature than anything that we could do as a sinful act? Do you believe that? Conjure up in your mind the most awful sin that you can imagine, and what the doctrine of the sinful nature teaches is: what we are is far worse than anything we could ever do.
The whole of Scripture bears this out, I don't have time tonight to expound it all for you, but in Psalm 51 and verse 5 David could say: 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me'. Romans 5 verse 12: 'As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned'. John says: 'If you really believe that you don't have a sinful nature, that you have no sin, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you'. Not only does that mean that you're not agreeing with the truth of Scripture that I just read, but he's actually inferring that the divine reality of true eternal life is not in you, the truth is not in you.
So we establish right away from John that conversion is not the eradication of the sinful nature. This so often discourages young converts, and I make a point during my young converts classes and discipleship course to point out to those who have come newly to faith in Christ that they still have a fallen sinful nature. Now do you know that? Maybe you're a long time on the road, and often after conversion, because you're given new eyes to see yourself and your sinfulness before God, you can see your sin more than you have ever done, and you can become even more discouraged than before you were saved. Praise God, the new birth gives an implantation of a new nature, and with it gives us the power to live victoriously over indwelling sin - that's the wonder of the Gospel message, but don't believe the lie that in some way your old sinful nature disappears. You can reckon it dead through the cross, the power of it has been extracted through the blood of Jesus, but it's still there and if you feel it you'll know all about it. We are sinners by nature, John says, don't deceive yourselves.
Then secondly, he says in verse 10: we are sinners by practice. If the nature is the root of sin that's in all of us, the practice is the fruit of sin. 'If we say', verse 10, 'that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us'. This is the third denial that these Docetists were implying within this church by their false doctrine. They're not saying now that we have no sin, but that we have not sinned. What they are saying is, practically speaking, we do not do things that are wrong. Now John says: 'If you say that, you're making God a liar', because God clearly teaches through His word that you do do things that are wrong. Psalm 14, for instance: 'The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one'. Romans 3:23: 'For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God'. God's word says that we have all sinned - and not only that, but the Bible and the Gospel teaches that it's because we have all sinned that Jesus had to go to the cross and die for sin. So if we deny our fruit of sinfulness in our lives, we're actually denying the reason why Christ had to go to Calvary. His word is not in us, John says - how could it be, if His word teaches the opposite that we claim if we say that we don't practice sin?
In 1775 Augustus Toplady, who was the author of the hymn 'Rock of Ages' and many other great Gospel hymns, published an article in which he attempted to assess England's guilt as a nation in terms of the national debt. His conclusion was that England would never be able to pay its moral debt to God. Then he calculated that if, as individuals, we sinned every second of our lives, we would each run up 2,522,880,000 sins if we lived to the ripe old age of 80. How could anyone claim that they do not practice sin, or have a sinful nature? Do Christians sin? Yes, they do! To say anything else or claim anything else, God's word categorically states, is to deceive yourself, not to practise truth, to call God a liar, and God's word does not nor cannot dwell in you.
Here's the second question that must be an offshoot of this one: should Christians sin? Because right away someone will say: 'Well, if you're saying Christians do sin, are you not encouraging us?'. It's the implication of Romans 6:1: 'Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?'. These Docetists were guilty of what we called last week 'antinomianism'. Now don't be confused with all these words, because they're very simply explained. 'Antinomianism' means 'anti-law' - these Docetists, because they believed that the spirit was the only pure thing, and the flesh didn't matter because it would be burned up by God in the judgment day, they thought: 'Well, just use the flesh in whatever way you want! You don't need to obey the law in the physical sense'. So they were committing all sorts of sin, that's what this 'dualism' lead to - the spirit was holy, but the flesh was weak, and so they were sinning. John says categorically: 'This is the reason for my writing', if you look at verse 1 of chapter 2: 'My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not'. It doesn't say 'that you sin just a little bit', but 'that you sin not'.
Now here we need to get the balance: whilst we do not in any way claim that we can be sinlessly perfect, whilst the Bible teaches that our old sinful nature still resides in us, the fact of the matter is that we ought not to encourage sin or condone sin in any shape or form. Now there may seem to be a contradiction there, and we'll iron that one out in a few moments, but let us make clear: God is a holy God, and God says 'Be ye perfect, for I, the Lord your God, am perfect'.
Calvin Coolidge was the president of the United States in the 1920s, and he was renowned for never using an unnecessary word - he obviously wasn't a preacher! But one Sunday morning he went to church and, on returning home, he was asked what the subject the preacher spoke about was, and he replied one word: 'Sin'. The frustrated questioner said: 'Well, what did he say about sin?'. Characteristically Coolidge said: 'He's agin'it' - he's against it! That, put very simply, is the way God is, and the way we should be regarding sin. We ought to abhor it with a holy hate, for this is why John wrote. He's not saying: 'I'm writing in some way to excuse your misdemeanours', but 'The reason for my writing is that ye sin not'. Don't take any consolation out of your sinning tonight from the message.
Secondly, he also says that sin should be the exception rather than the rule. So, answering the question: 'Should Christians sin?'. 'No, that's the reason I'm writing this letter', but he says, 'If any man sin' - sin should be an exception in the life of the believer, certainly not the rule or the lifestyle. As we go through this book we'll find out that if your lifestyle is a lifestyle of habitual sin, you're not a believer. We will not be completely free from sin until we are free from these bodies of death, Paul teaches that. We will not be free from the sinful nature until we are redeemed body, soul and spirit in the presence of the Lord Jesus, but the implication of Scripture to all of us is that our responsibility is to seek after holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Do Christians sin? Yes. Should Christians sin? No. Here's the third question: what happens when a Christian sins? The answer is found in the second half of chapter 2 verse 1, and also chapter 2 verse 2. Here's the dilemma, and this is where I've brought you to now: we have a sinful nature. He has established that - do Christians sin? Yes, they have a sinful nature, therefore they practice sin. They show the fruit of sin in their daily life, that we have established from John. 'But yet you're saying that John says Christians should not sin - now that just doesn't seem to make sense. What's the answer to this contradictory equation?'. We have a sinful nature, we practice sin, yet we're told not to sin. Here are some of the answers that people give to this, and this is where some of the heretics come in here in John's day. They deny the sinful nature - in order to make the equation balance, deny one half of it, say we don't have a sinful nature. That's what the Gnostics were doing: 'The spirit is pure' - it led to antinomianism. Then a second answer was: if you don't deny the nature, deny the practice, say that you have overcome it completely. That led to an asceticism, monks going away from the world, cutting themselves off from anything like the flesh - whether it was food, whether it was sex, whether it was clothing to warm themselves or even a roof over their heads, deny the practice of sin by harming the flesh rather than giving in to it. Then thirdly the implication for some was: threaten the loss of salvation, and then people will stop sinning. Tell them that if you sin, you'll lose your eternal life and you'll be damned in hell. Often those that believe in sinless perfection also believe that you can lose your salvation through sin. Now if you're one of those people here tonight, I want to ask you a very very simple but elementary question: how big does your sin need to be to damn you? Because once you get into that realm, you're into Catholicism, mortal sins and venial sins, sins that will damn you and you'll have to burn in Purgatory to burn it off, or sins that you can get forgiven through confession and penance and so on.
That reflects the problem with all these answers that the Docetists, and indeed any heretics, give to the problem of sin - because their answer characteristically is: 'To stay saved, to stay sanctified, the emphasis is on you', but the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message that John declared unto this church, that Christ declared unto him, was 'The emphasis is not on you, it is on Christ!'. That is not a simple and meaningless detail, that is the fundamental truth on which all error is derived: emphasising self rather than Christ. Now it's not to say, and do not misunderstand that this is what I say, that we are not responsible for our own holiness or our own practical sanctification - you could never use 1 John to prove that! But what John is saying is: the source of any holiness that we may have and our sanctification is not found within us; just as we agree, hopefully, that our salvation does not rest on our own virtue, neither does our fellowship.
The real answer to how the saint relates to sin is found in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2. Here's the first answer: how can we solve this dilemma? The Christian has a sinful nature, he practices sin, yet he is told by a holy God not to sin: how can you explain it? Verse 1, the second half: 'We have an advocate' - if any man sin, we have an advocate. Now, relating to eternal security, let me just point this out in the second half of verse 1, it says: 'We have an advocate with the Father'. Do mark the designation for God there, it doesn't say we have an advocate with God, but we have an advocate with the Father - meaning that if a man sin, God is still your Father. A son may disgrace his father, but if he is his son it's a fact of birth, not a fact of behaviour. What John's talking about here is not judicial forgiveness, this is where people often get confused with 1 John 1 and 2, they think that we need to continually get saved, almost, and have our sins atoned for as we come and confess them to God, and if we don't do it and die after committing a sin, we'll go to hell. That's not what John is saying, this is parental forgiveness, fellowship is what is in view in 1 John. If we want to continue in fellowship, we need to avail ourselves of our Advocate with the Father.
Now look very carefully at this word 'advocate' in verse 1, because you'll be interested - or maybe not so interested! - to know that in the Greek language it is the word 'paracletos'. 'Paracletos' is the word that is used for 'the Comforter', that is the Holy Spirit spoken of in John 14 and John 16, who the Father and the Son would send after the Lord Jesus left this scene of time. It's often translated 'the Counsellor', it is sometimes translated 'the Advocate', and the Holy Spirit for the believer is the Comforter and the Advocate of the child of God before a hostile world. The Lord, before He left the world, said: 'I will send to you another Advocate who will defend you, who will comfort you in all your persecution. Let not your heart be troubled'. But here we have this word used of the Lord Jesus, speaking of Him after He was crucified, the third day rising from the grave, ascending in glory at the right hand of God, He represents us as an Advocate, a Paracletos with the Father.
It's spoken of in Romans chapter 8 and verse 34 if you turn with me to it for a moment, Romans chapter 8 and verse 34: 'Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us'. I haven't time to launch into an exposition of the epistle to the Ephesians, but a great deal of the material there is all about how it is Christ, as our Advocate, as our Counsellor that brings us before God - and because of His cross work, and His precious blood, He is able to represent us and bring us into the very holiest place of all because of His righteousness and His merits through His work. So this word 'Paracletos', 'Counsellor', 'Advocate' means literally 'one who pleads for another in a court of justice'. It literally speaks of the counsel for the defence, it is a friend in the court. You've heard the quip: 'It's not what you know, but who you know' - that's often said in a negative sense, but here it is in a positive sense. We cannot know enough to save ourselves, we cannot achieve enough to save ourselves, we certainly cannot present any evidence - credible, that is - to save ourselves before God, but if we know the Advocate...! If any man sin, what happens is this 'Paracletos' - this is the sense of the Greek - comes alongside us in our sin.
Can I ask you a question here, as we pause for a moment: how do you think of the Saviour when you fall into sin? Do you think of Him with a big stick ready to hammer the daylights out of you? Do you know what this is teaching us? That when a believer sins and falls, Christ, as a Paraclete, as a Counselor, as a Comforter, as an Advocate comes alongside at the very moment of our falling - He does not leave us, He does not condemn us, but He comes to help us in our time of need. Christ never condemns us - hallelujah! If you look at Romans chapter 8 for a moment: 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?' - that means in a court of law, if you have Christ at your defence, He is also the only one who is righteous enough to judge you, and He brings no charge to you! Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? He's not bringing a charge if you're in Him by faith. Who is he that condemns? There is no judge, because Christ is the only one worthy, but He's not judging you for there's no condemnation - as verse 1 of chapter 8 says - to those who are in Christ Jesus. In verse 35: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?', there's no jailer, there's no one who is going to take you away and lock you up for your sins, because Christ has you - hallelujah!
Who condemns the believer then? Are you in Christ tonight, and you're sitting here and there's sins that are coming before your conscience just now - one, after one, after one - and you're feeling condemned, you're feeling filthy? Maybe every time you come into a place like this and sing the hymns, hear the preaching, you feel: 'Oh, I know I'm saved, but I feel so unworthy' - who is condemning you? It's not Christ if you're truly born-again! The accuser of the brethren is by definition Satan, that's what 'Satan' means: 'one who throws at'. He is the accuser of the brethren, throwing mud at the child of God hoping that it will stick to them. We read in the book of Job that he came before God, and he accused Job before the Divine of being a hypocrite: 'If You touch his flesh, skin for skin, he's only serving You because You're giving him produce and wealth'. Then he came to Joshua, the High Priest in the book of Zechariah. Joshua stood before the Lord, we read, and Satan stood at his right hand to resist him. We read that he accused Joshua, but the Lord, it says, rebuked the accuser, the Lord pleaded Joshua's cause and told those who stood by to take away his filthy garments and give him pure clean white robes.
But Satan still condemns and accuses the brethren - Revelation 10:12 says he accuses them before God day and night. I'm speaking to someone here this evening, and you have experienced his accusations to the point of almost torture. Maybe it's not him at all, maybe it's your conscience, your conscience can condemn you - we'll find that out in this book - but God is greater than our conscience! The law can condemn you, it condemns us all for none of us reach the standard of it, and the world can even accuse us as Christians and point the finger - whether legitimately or illegitimately - but do you know what the word of God is saying here? What does a Christian do when they sin or when they are accused of sin? What do you do? Do you stand in the dock? Do you try and contradict the devil, the law, your conscience, the world? Do you try and satisfy your intellect, your reasoning and rationale? Do you know what God's word is saying? Don't argue! Don't make any excuses! Throw yourself on Christ! He is the Advocate, He is the one who maketh intercession for the transgressors. Him the Father heareth always - don't you try and argue your case! Lift up your heads:
'Your Advocate appears
For your defense on high;
His plea the Father hears
And lays His thunder by.
Not all that hell or sin can say
Shall turn His heart, His love, away'.
Our Advocate - listen to it now, child of God, wherever you are tonight - He has never lost a case yet, and He never will! What happens when a Christian sins? 'If any man sin', oh, let it heal your heart, let it soothe your soul, 'We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous'. But we have more than an Advocate, for verse 2 of chapter 2 says: 'He is the propitiation for our sins'. Indeed, He's not only our propitiation, but He's the propitiation for the whole world. Now let me point out here that most modern translations, including the NIV and the RSV, obscure the meaning of 'propitiation', which is the Greek word 'hilasmos'. They choose obscure terms that refer to removal of guilt or removal of punishment, whereas the Greek word literally means - as the Authorised and the Revised version translates it - 'the removal of wrath'. Propitiation doesn't just mean expiation, it doesn't just mean 'an atoning sacrifice' - though those things are incorporated in it - but what it specifically speaks of is the fact, as Romans 1 verse 18 teaches, that the wrath of God has been revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of ungodly sinners. God is an angry God against sin, He is angry with the wicked every day.
Now in our politically correct society people, even theologians, are wanting to extract this attribute from God, that God is angry - we don't like an angry God. But there is, we have to see it in scripture, a divine wrath in the heart of God toward sin, and grace and forgiveness is far from sweeping God's anger under the carpet and ignoring it and pretending it doesn't exist - but you want to see the damage that that does to the Gospel message! What am I talking about? Well, at the very centre of the Gospel is the cross, and at the centre of the cross is propitiation. What am I talking about? Well, we get a clue to it in Hebrews 9, because the word 'propitiation' is translated there as 'the mercy seat'. It was the place where the cherubim met at the top of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holiest of Holies in the Tabernacle. That was the place where God ordained that He should meet with man, the High Priest once every year, but in order that that should happen the blood had to be sprinkled on the mercy seat - that was the only grounds upon which man could come to God. It is a type, a representation of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Ark of God, who is the Lamb slain, whose blood was shed to reconcile us to God. The message of the cross is that His blood has been shed, He has gone into the heavenlies with His own blood as a propitiation, sprinkled it on the holiest place of all that God should be satisfied and we should enter to have fellowship.
Now if you take that away, you take away the Gospel. I labour this point because there are many seeking to do just that in these days. I don't know whether you've ever heard of Steve Chalke, but he is a popular Christian TV personality, he used to come on breakfast television - I think it was the ITV version of it. He used to speak, I remember when I was at school, at 'MannaFest' and 'Youth For Christ' meetings and so on - he was flown over and he would speak to them, and he's written books. He has written a book recently, in 2003, entitled 'The Lost Message of Jesus', published by Grand Rapids and Zondervan, and this book has caused outrage in the evangelical world. He actually asks how we as believers, particularly as evangelicals, can - and I quote: 'Come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent His anger and wrath on His own Son'. How can we believe that? He believes that God should only be displayed as a God of love, not a God of anger, and he considers it to be mockery to say that Jesus taught that God could punish Him. It is a contradiction of the statement, he says, that 'God is love'. He says that 'Such a view of the cross would make the atonement', and I quote him again, 'a form of cosmic child abuse, a vengeful father punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed'. Because of that, Steve Chalke has stopped preaching penal substitution - that is, that Christ was punished as our substitute on the cross. He believes that the cross is simply Christ's identification with all who feel suffering and anxiety, who feel godforsaken and suffer in this world. That is heresy, and it is blasphemy of the deepest, darkest and damnable kind - and not only is it that, it is pure ignorance and a failure to see that God at the cross is not just venting His righteous wrath on His Son, but He is venting His righteous wrath on Himself! Jesus said: 'I and my Father are one', that means in purpose and in will, and Jesus Christ did not have to have His arm put up His back to go to Calvary, He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem. He was determined to go, even through the agony of Gethsemane, it could not turn Him back. The Father and the Son and the Spirit were all in agreement and counsel together at Calvary. It was the only way, and - hallelujah - it is the finished way! Steve Chalke, or whoever else, can deny it, but they deny salvation for themselves and for the whole world - because not only is He the propitiation for our sins, but for the whole world.
Now, you'd love me to skip over that one, wouldn't you? Huh! Well, what it doesn't teach is 'universalism', that means that everybody will be saved - that is not what John is saying here. Our salvation is by grace through faith, and if faith is not exercised it matters not how many men Christ died for, you cannot be saved - so be assured that universalism is not taught here. Some believe that it generally teaches that all races and all creeds and cultures can be saved, and of course that is what it teaches in a general sense as well, and it's interesting to note that the superscription at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ above His head was in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, Greek and Latin, the language of the known world at that time. But I don't believe that the meaning here can be limited just to those two definitions, what it is not and what it is in a racial sense. Let me say categorically that the atonement of Christ can only be effective, and only works for those who have believed and embraced it by faith - but the thought, I believe, that John is communicating to us here is that the cross work of Christ is sufficient in its nature to save the whole world!
Now you remember that these Docetists were probably denying this in the fact that they believed that they were the select few. But let me say - and I know I'm touching sore points here, but sure why change the habit of a lifetime? - there are those who call themselves 'Calvinists'...bear with me...and these Calvinists censure those who offer an open invitation in the Gospel. Now listen carefully to what I'm saying: I preach an open invitation to all men when I preach Christ and Him crucified. I have been criticised, not in this church but particularly over the Internet, for preaching an open invitation in the gospel - these people call themselves 'Calvinists', and they're not Calvinists! They're Hyper-Calvinists. I'm not standing here in defence of Calvinism, but I'm telling you this: Hyper-Calvinism has been a curse, like a cancer, on Gospel preaching in our land, in our pulpits, and in our churches. I believe in election, very strongly, I believe in the sovereignty of God, I believe there's a special sense in which Christ died for His sheep and for the church, but there is a respect in which the death of Christ was for the world, because His sacrifice was infinite! Sometimes I think that people are doing sums with a calculator of all the sins that Christ bore, making sure that they were in it all - that's not the way you think of Calvary! Let me illustrate it like this: if only one man was to be saved, Christ would not have needed to suffer any less. What He suffered on the cross would have to have been, if only one man was to be saved. But equally, if all were to be saved, Christ would need not have suffered any more - the work was done so that the offer can be given to all men!
Now, poor old Calvin, he never gets a chance to defend himself! One day he'll fill us in, hopefully - if he was one of the elect, that is! Then in John 3:16, listen to His commentary, listen to it: 'God has employed the universal term 'whosoever', both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the word 'world', which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favour of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life'. He is the propitiation for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world, so that I can say to you tonight, person who is without Christ: if you embrace Him this evening, you can be sure that everyone who comes unto Him, He will never cast out. But you can only be sure that He died and bore your sin if you come to Him. There are two sides to this doctrine. There are a lot of people running around and they deny election, they deny God's sovereignty in salvation, and that is equally as wrong - but the Bible has the balance of the two, and the balance isn't to be found in the middle denying both, but like a seesaw you get balance when you go to either end. Don't be off balance.
What happens when a Christian sins? Well, if any man sin, we have an Advocate; He is our propitiation; He has satisfied the wrath and anger of a just God - and thirdly and finally, He is faithful and just to forgive sin and to cleanse, chapter 1 verse 9. That word 'faithful' is wonderful, isn't it? Timothy says: 'If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself'. What John is saying is because God, in Christ, has established a righteous and just basis upon which sins can be forgiven, He promises every man, if they confess sin upon that foundation, He will forgive - He is faithful! Why would you ever doubt His promise? Child of God, don't doubt your salvation! If you're believing in Christ, embrace Him with all your heart, and know that He is yours and you are His. He is faithful, and He is righteous.
Now, you might think that's a strange word - why didn't he say 'He is merciful to forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness'? Because that's not the point he's trying to get across, he's wanting to show us that God is just and the justifier of them who believe in Jesus. What do I mean? Christ is righteous, Christ isn't sweeping the sin under the carpet, He's not diluting the righteous wrath of God to get us through the door of heaven some way, but He is remaining absolutely righteous, even as His Father. But this is the point, if I could illustrate it from John chapter 8, a young woman caught in the act of adultery, she is dragged by the religious Pharisees, the legalists, brought to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ - 'Stone her, according to the law of Moses!'. Jesus says: 'Let him that is among you without sin cast the first stone'. Never leave out those words 'among you', 'Let him among you' - because Christ was righteous enough to be able to stone that girl, none of the rest of them were! He was the only one who could condemn - who is it that condemneth and is right to? It is Christ! But what did He say to the girl? He, being the only righteous judge, yet He says to her as they leave - the oldest to the youngest, condemned by their own sin - 'Where are thine accusers?'. Do you remember what He said to her? What was it? 'Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more'.
I told you that was the final one, but I've proved myself a sinner - that was the third! The fourth point is: what should a Christian do when they sin? It is found in verse 9 as well: confess. The Greek word literally means 'to say the same thing', say the same thing as God says about your sin: sins of omission, things you don't do; sins of commission, things you do do; thoughtful sins; volitional sins; your acts, your motives of the heart; secret sins that no one knows about only God; public sins - drag them into the light, as John has already said in this chapter. Bring them before God! Say the same thing, call them what God calls them, give them the names He has given to them, take sides with God, agree with God - the implication is repentance and forsaking. 'He that covereth', Proverbs says, 'his sins shall not prosper, but whosoever confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy'.
Let me say this: Jesus' blood will never cover a sin that you will not uncover. Is that plain enough? I know you can't remember them all, but admit that: confess, and then secondly believe. Believe that He is faithful and just to forgive and to cleanse. You've got to grasp it! A lot of people confess their sins and ask the Lord to save them, but they don't take it away with them in their heart, they take their sins away again - they don't leave them with Christ. They start to worry: 'Am I really saved?' - maybe this old nature causes them. Believe! Christ has said it, I believe it, and that should settle it! Confess, believe, and then thirdly be clean. Be cleansed:
'Though the restless foe accuses,
Sins recounting like a flood,
Every charge our God refuses –
Christ has answered with His blood'.
The girl that came to Christ last evening was a bit afraid to come and talk to me - I don't know why that should be! Do you? Her aunt told me, after she came to Christ, she thought she would have to tell me all her sins. Isn't it wonderful not to need any priest, but the Great High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and who has already made a propitiation for our sins. Now here's the punchline: why should there ever be sin in the life of a believer that should rob them from such a fellowship as this? Bring it into the light! Put it under the blood and get rid of it!
I read today a story of Spurgeon, and he was crossing the street one day and he suddenly stopped in the middle of the road - it looked as if he was praying, and he was. One of his deacons - they always have an answer for everything! - they waited on the other side of the street, and said to him 'You could have been run down by a carriage there. What were you doing? You looked as if you were praying'. He said: 'I was praying'. The deacon said: 'Well, could it not have waited? Was it that important?'. This was his reply: 'Indeed it was important, a cloud came between me and my Saviour, and I wanted to remove it even before I got across the street'. Is that the way you cherish our fellowship with the Father and with the Son. Oh, listen to this tonight, don't miss it: if any man sin, if any woman sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. If you confess that sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us, for the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from every sin.
Oh our Father, we thank You that we can say 'Abba', oh the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the sons of God. The presence of His Son, the Spirit answering to the blood, tells me I am born of God. Lord, this is wonderful, oh let us never lose the sight of the freshly slain Lamb in the midst of heaven for us, His wounds pleading on our behalf. If we could hear the Son of God mention our names in the room next to us, it would give us courage to fight any enemy, and yet He still pleads for me. Oh Lord, bless us tonight, if there's a backslider may this restore them to Your grace; unsaved souls, let them see the blood that can liberate them and change them. Glorify Your Son tonight in all our lives, we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "The Saint And Sin" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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