The other day I was waiting in line for my name to be called. Seated behind me was a grandmother accompanied by her four year old granddaughter. As I waited, the grandmother continually scolded the little girl. As a parent, I have learned that there is a difference between a child behaving like a child and a child that is naughty. As far as I could tell, the little girl was just acting her age. She was a bit loud and very fidgety. Evidently grandma thought she should behave like an adult. After a few minutes of nagging, grandma finally reached her breaking point. Here’s what she said to the little girl:
“You see that policeman over there? Well, his job is to catch bad people and lock them in jail. If you’re not good, that policeman is going to come and put you in jail. So you better be good or I’m not taking you anywhere ever again.”
As I age, I find that my filter is diminishing. It was very hard not to turn and give some parenting advice to granny, but I refrained. As I have reflected on this incident over the past couple of weeks it occurred to me that this is precisely how some people view their sin in relationship to God. God is a stern judge whose job is to reward the good people and “catch” the bad people and “lock them away.”
My personal philosophy of preaching is that people who attend church week in and week out know why they are there. I never feel compelled to harp on long sin lists every week. We know we need God. We know we’re sinners in need of grace. I never want to present an image of God that casts him in the role of the angry judge who is lurking around the corner just waiting, even hoping, to catch us messing up. Having said that, however, it is important that we have a clear understanding of what to do when we do sin.
John is addressing an audience that lacked that simple humility. They were like the Pharisee Jesus saw praying outside the Temple who said, “God, I’m so thankful that I’m not like these sinners.” John’s original readers deflected, denied, diminished and dismissed the idea of sin. They refused to acknowledge sin in principle and in conduct.
John mentions this problem three times in chapter 1.
“So we are lying is we say we have fellowship with God yet go on living in spiritual darkness…” (1 John 1:6).
“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves…” (1 John 1:8)
“If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar…” (1 John 1:10)
This was more than a problem of ethics and morality. John’s readers had developed an entire theology about their sin, or lack thereof. But there’s a problem with this approach. When we refuse to acknowledge our sin, we cannot benefit from the gospel.
Tomorrow I’ll pick up with the rest of the text and detail what the Bible says we are to do with our sins.