Monday, 27 April 2015

'The truth can make you beautiful' (1 John 1:5-10)

The Sri Lankan writer, Ajith Fernando, mentions an Irish Methodist Minister called George Good, in the preface to a couple of his books.  This is what he says of George:  ‘He introduced me to the beauty of godliness.’  What a wonderful thing to be able to say about someone! 
I know what Ajith meant, for George Good happened to be a family friend of ours.  He was one of the kindest, most caring, gentle and morally strong men I have ever met.  I believe that George’s character was rooted in his understanding of the grace of God.
You see, what we believe really matters.  When the gospel goes deeply into a person’s mind it changes their heart.  If you want to convince your friends that Christianity is true then they will need to witness its power in the way you live.

  1. The truth causes us to love God’s people (6-7)
John is writing to a church that is suffering from the effects of false-teaching.  These false-teachers reveal something of the malignancy of their doctrine by the lack of love in their lives.  However, gospel truth should cause us to love God’s people.

We can do a little detective work to see what the false-teachers were teaching.  John writes, ‘If we claim …’, because the false-teachers were claiming certain things.  'If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.'

The false-teachers claimed that they knew God, but their lifestyle revealed that they neither knew him nor loved him.  In particular, their teaching did not challenge them to love God’s people.  These false-teachers surrounded themselves with people who listened to their spurious teaching and then distanced themselves from those who held firm to the gospel.  So John reminds the church that, 'if we walk in the light ... we have fellowship with one another’.

How you treat people, especially God’s people, reveals whether you understand and accept the gospel.  If you can see a God who sends his Son to die on a cross, for a world of underserving people like us, then people will mater to you.  If you can see a king who comes from heaven to earth, washes people’s feet, and willingly submits himself to the shame of a criminal death, then you will know the importance of true humility.  If you are experiencing the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you should be displaying his fruit of love, gentleness, kindness, and self-control.
Church is not a building but a community, and our attitude towards this community reveals a lot about our spiritual health.  Don’t keep people at arm’s length, and don’t imagine that everyone here will be easy to get on with.  Indeed, those people who get on your nerves are, in some ways, God’s blessing to you—for they are the people who make us realise how much we need to depend on God to truly love his people. They are the people who cause us to fall on our knees, confess the hardness of our hearts and seek the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit.  The great thing about people that you don’t naturally like is that their presence here forces you to depend on God for the love that can only be found through his work in our lives.  See them as God’s gift to you in this school of grace!
Before we move on to the next point, I want you to notice that walking in the light does not mean that we will never let God down.  Tragically, in this life, we will often compromise in the battle with the sinful nature—including the fact that we will often fail to love God’s people as we ought.  But thank God that the blood of Jesus literally, ‘goes on purifying us from all sin’ (1:5).  
As one commentator writes, ‘To walk in the light means to become increasingly conscious of sin that would hinder our fellowship with God and our fellow Christians, and as that sin is revealed, not to run away into the darkness again.  Rather we bring it, by faith, to the God whose Son gave his life that all our sins might be forgiven and removed.’
2.  The truth should make us humble (8-9)
Imagine you have one of those old slide projectors.  You want to show some of your friends pictures of a trip you took long ago.  You turn it on and project its beam onto your sitting-room wall.
Without any slides in place its beam is very bright.  The wall that had looked perfect in normal light now reveals slight cracks and you can see a spider-web that had gone unnoticed.  Something similar happens as we come to understand the God who is light and realise more of his purity and perfection.  His light exposes how failed and flawed our lives are.
Again, look at what the false-teachers were claiming.  ‘If we claim to be without sin …’, however, when we live in fellowship with God the light of his purity exposes our failings.  No-one who truly understands the gospel can be self-righteous.   
An atheist friend of mine, on Facebook, suggested to me that the thing that draws people to religion is the desire to feel superior from others.  I suggested that the Christian gospel should have the exact opposite accept, for you don’t go to Jesus until you realise that you are a moral bankrupt.  Jesus had nothing to say to those people who saw themselves as good people.
In verse 9 we have what I think of as the most comforting promise of all Scripture. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’  Learn that off by heart and understand it.  The forgiveness here is not the forgiveness from condemnation, for there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  The forgiveness here relates to the fact that when we sin we damage our intimacy with God, but God is always calling us to come home and enjoy his embrace.  None of us fully see the multitude of ways that we let our heavenly Father down, but he is calling us to live a life of confession where we daily acknowledge our need of his grace. 
I think that it’s a spiritually healthy thing to lie in bed at night and look back over the day trying to see the many ways that you did not do what you ought to have done and did many things you should not have done, then acknowledge that the sins you are aware of are only the tip of the ice-burg of the sin he sees, and, confessing your sin, thank him for the fact that he is faithful to forgive.
Sometimes the shame that we feel when we fall into an obvious sin reveals more pride than godly sorrow.  We say, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’  How foolish!  We should not be surprised at how wicked we can be, and how deep we can fall.  A more humble attitude realises, ‘that there, but for the grace of God, go I.’  
3.  The truth exposes our need of grace (10) 
‘If we claim we have not sinned …’
The false-teachers said ‘sin doesn’t matter’.  Then they claimed, ‘we are not sinners.’  Now they say, ‘we have not sinned.’  Can you see that they clearly don’t get the gospel?  Such people have no idea why Jesus had to go to the cross.  Christ died for sinners.  But they don’t think they have no sin!
Could anyone believe such a thing today?  I was having a discussion with an atheist friend and he admitted of himself, ‘I am just a flawed human-being like every other person.’  That sounds good.  But I wonder how far he is willing to go with this.  Would he be willing to say that his heart is evil beyond repair?  While he does not believe in either heaven nor hell, would he be willing to admit that he deserves to go to hell?  The gospel only makes sense when we see that we are morally bankrupt, evil and vile people who are loved by a gracious and merciful God. 
On, ‘The Meaning of Life’, Gay Byrne asked Gerry Adams, ‘So what if it’s all true and you have to stand before God on the Judgement Day.  What will you say?  He replied, ‘I’ll say, “I did my best. Here I am.  Take me in.”’  It’s an answer that reveals that he does not understand the gospel!
Stafford Carson, a godly Presbyterian minister, wrote on his blog:  ‘If doing our best was enough to get us into heaven, then why did Jesus die on the cross?  If doing our best is enough, then the death of Jesus seems strangely unnecessary?  The fact is our best is just not good enough.  That’s why we need a Saviour.’
You see, what we believe really matters.  When the gospel goes deeply into a person’s mind it changes their heart.  If you want to convince your friends that Christianity is true then they will need to witness its power in the way you live.
Grasping the gospel should make us the most thankful people in the world, for God sent his Son to die for a wicked person like me!  There may be a spiritual problem if we are always grumbling!  Grasping the gospel should make us humble, because I am a Christian despite who I am, rather than because of who I am.  Grasping the gospel should enable us to be real and vulnerable, for I am a liar if I try to pretend to you that I am without sin, I am a person who lives in God because the blood of his Son goes on cleansing me of all sin! 
This gospel was not just something that you needed to hear before you were born again.  This is the gospel you need to remind yourself of everyday.  This gospel should be producing within us the beauty of godliness.  So, make it your daily habit to preach the gospel to yourself and live in its life-transforming light!

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