Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Living In The Light

1 John 1:1-2:6

 The letters of John were written near the end of the first century, probably in the 80s.  John was one of the last of the first generation Christians, one of the last who could say about Jesus, “We saw him with our own eyes, touched him with our own hands.”  

 By this time, the Church had already endured its first major wave of persecution, around the time of Emperor Nero in the 60s.  A second wave of persecution was going to happen in a few more years.  And some were tempted to compromise with the world, in order to get along.  New ideas were creeping into the church that seduced the minds of some believers, especially because they made it easier to get along in the world.

 The biggest of those ideas was Gnosticism.  Gnosticism comes from the Greek word GNOSIS, which means “knowledge.”  It was the major heresy that the Church struggled with in its first three centuries.  

 The philosophy of Gnosticism said that all flesh is evil.  Everything physical, anything that can be touched is bad.  Only the spirit is good.  For this reason, they denied that Jesus ever came in a “physical body,” hence the importance of John saying, “We touched him.”  The Gnostics said that Jesus only “appeared” to be a man, an idea called Docetism, from the Greek DOKEO, “to appear.”  

 Furthermore, they said that salvation was not something that came by faith, but something that came by “knowledge.”  A person was saved if they were initiated into this secret knowledge about the flesh and the spirit.  

 Since they thought flesh was evil, some of them said that the flesh had to be punished.  They believed in a strict ascetic life, meaning nothing pleasurable to the body.  You couldn’t eat rich foods, you couldn’t drink wine, you couldn’t enjoy sex.  But most of the Gnostics took a different approach.  They said that, “If the body is evil.  And if the body is going to be destroyed, if there is no resurrection of the body, but only of the spirit, then it really doesn’t matter what you do with the body.”  So most claimed liberty in regard to the flesh.  Most said that it was fine if you wanted to be a glutton; fine if you wanted to get drunk; fine if you wanted to engage in sexual immorality like prostitution or adultery or homosexuality.  Besides, it was easier to fit in this way, since Greek and Roman societies celebrated those behaviors.  

 God’s laws?  “Huh, those were for the people who didn’t know the truth!”  Kind of like Napoleon Bonaparte who once said that, “Laws are meant for ordinary men!”  They even denied that there was anything wrong with this lifestyle.  Because, according to them, “There is no such thing as sin to those who are initiated into this knowledge.”  

 They were also well known for having a general disdain for other believers.  They didn’t value the fellowship of the Church.  They didn’t see any value in hanging around with “lesser people” who didn’t know as much as they did.  It’s like Paul said, “Love builds up, but knowledge puffs up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

 So here in 1 John, we find his response to this movement.  John says, “We’re telling you what we have seen and heard so that you might have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.”  How do we know that we have fellowship with God?  What are the outward and visible signs that we have fellowship with God?  

 First, we live in the light.  God is light.  There is no darkness in him.  God is holy and pure.  There is no sin or evil in him.  Darkness and light are incompatible.  They can’t coexist.  The light exposes everything.  It exposes what is good and what is evil; it exposes what is true and what is false.  

 We can’t have fellowship with God if we continue to live in the darkness.  We can’t have fellowship with God if we continue to live in what is false, evil, and immoral.  

 Now something that’s important here in verse 6, as well as in many other places in 1 John where this same idea is being discussed, the verbs that are used are “present continuous” verbs.  This means that they are describing an action that is present and ongoing.  They’re not describing a past action.  They’re not describing something that only happens once.  They are about what is ongoing.  

 That means that John is not condemning us for our occasional struggles.  After all, he admits that we are still sinners and still need to confess our sins.  If I get angry and I say something nasty to someone, that doesn’t mean that I am no longer living in the light.  But if I’m angry all the time, and if I say nasty things all the time, then I have a problem.  Because then I’m living in the darkness, not just paying an occasional visit.  

 Verse 6 says that if we go on living in the darkness, then we are not walking in the truth.  Truth is more than just something we know.  Truth is not just intellectual.  Truth

is something we walk in, something we live in.  Truth is practical.  And truth is meant to be followed and obeyed.  If we love God, then we follow and obey his commandments.  Jesus told his followers, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:23)  And he told the disciples when he ascended into heaven to go into all the world, making disciples, baptizing them, and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” (Matthew 28:20).  Truth is not just some secret we know.  Truth is something we live.  

 Second, if we have fellowship with God, then we also have fellowship with each other.  If our pride cuts us off from having fellowship with other Christians, if we think that we have all the answers and that we don’t need any help from anyone else, then we are also cut off from God by our pride.  It’s like John Wesley said, “No one has ever gone to heaven alone!”  

 And third, if we have fellowship with God, then we also continue to confess our sins.  We don’t deny our sins, like the Gnostics did, but we confront them, confess them, and seek God’s grace to overcome them.  

 Our sins become a barrier to our relationships.  Our sins get in the way of our relationship with God and our relationships with each other.  So we need to confess them to God, and to one another!  In the Apostle’s Creed, the phrase “the communion of saints” is side-by-side with “the forgiveness of sins,” and that’s no coincidence.  We can’t have one without the other.  

 John says, “Do not sin.  We know we belong to God if we obey his commandments.”  But he also says, “If we do sin, then we have an advocate before the Father.  We have one who is faithful to forgive and cleanse us.  We have one who died for our sins and who can take them away.”  

 Is what John had to say about a first century heresy still relevant for the Church today?  I should say so!  

 I was reading and I came across a survey that was done a few years ago among self-professing Christians.  When asked if it was true that all people are sinners, only 59% said yes.  And when asked if they themselves were sinners, 33% of self-identified Christians said, “No, I am not a sinner.”  Many of them did admit that, “Well, perhaps I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m not a sinner!”  By the way, the New Testament word for sin literally means “to miss the mark.”  To “make a mistake” is to sin.  

 Just recently, I read an article in a magazine called Charisma about the trend of more and more Christians discarding the ideas of morality in favor of a message of “tolerance.”  The author wondered if we were living into the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who warned us of the danger of “cheap grace.” Bonhoeffer described cheap grace as “forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession, and grace without discipleship.”

 I also just read something from C. S. Lewis who, more than 50 years ago, warned of the danger of shifting our conversation about sin away from individual sin to “corporate sin.”  Corporate sins are those that are woven into the fabric of the world.  Racism, sexism, prejudice, economic inequality, injustice, and environmental degradation are all examples of corporate sins.  Should we be concerned about these things?  Yes, but not to the exclusion of individual sins.

 You see, there’s something attractive about focusing our attention on corporate sins.  We may feel a measure of guilt for these things.  We know we have all contributed in some way to them, but they’re distant.  We don’t feel the guilt of racism nearly as much as we feel the guilt of stealing, slandering, gossiping, or sexual immorality.  And I’ve seen more and more Christians who focus all their attention on the corporate sins rather than individual sins.  Sin has become something wrong out there in the world, rather than something wrong in me.

 I think we are embracing a theology of love, but not light.  1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.”  And that’s a very popular verse today.  God is love, so wherever there is love, God is there.  But the same letter of John that says, “God is love,” also says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, and those who claim fellowship with God but live in darkness are liars.”  We like to pick our Scripture.

 One last thought, “Is today’s message contradictory to last Sunday’s message?”  Last Sunday I said, “God shows no partiality.  God welcomes all who come to him.  If you come to God, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, God accepts you.”  

 That is true.  But if you come into the light of God, your sin will be exposed.  And if you truly love God, you will obey his commandments.  If you truly love God, you love him more than your sins.  God’s love will meet us where we are.  But God’s love will not leave us where we are.

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