Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. It’s great to have all of you with us today as we are wrapping up our four-part message series entitled “The Bible Doesn’t Say That”. If you missed earlier weeks you can catch them on our website. And today, we’re going to look at a familiar passage from first John, a book that you could say is full of certainties, full of assurances, because the word “know” appears frequently throughout its pages. You could say that the big idea of this letter is that the Christian life is a life of knowing, because John tells us that we can know God, we can know where we stand with God, we can know what God expects of us, we can know God’s will, and we can know that our prayers are being heard.
And yet, in our culture, as believers in Christ, we are often viewed as being naïve and out of touch with the real world. Many people believe we live sheltered lives and that we just don’t understand how bad the world can be. But the reality is, that denying the facts doesn’t remove them, ignorance is not bliss, and as believers we have confronted the human condition. We know the human condition because we have faced our sin close-up, and its deepest, darkest, and often times most destructive level. We have struggled with it ourselves, we see it in the lives of those we love, and it doesn’t take long before you find out that everyone struggles with sin. However, in our culture today it’s totally unacceptable to say what anyone else does is a sin. That leads us into the phrase, the misconception, or the misbelief that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone. But the Bible never said that!
What the Bible does teach is a whole lot about our behavior. And yet what’s really interesting is that in our culture today it is wrong and even unacceptable to ever say that a certain behavior is wrong or that it is sinful. In fact, culturally we have taken terms and watered them down and sanitized them to make them more acceptable. In the name of tolerance once sinful terms have now evolved to help us feel better about ourselves and about our behavior.
Just consider, sexual sin, sexual immorality or impurity and look at what we call these things today. Instead of saying pornography, it’s so much more acceptable to say it’s adult entertainment. And it is way too harsh to say somebody committed adultery, so will just say that they had an affair. And we wouldn’t want to call premarital sex a sin in our culture today. In fact, we’re not even going to call it that, but we’re going to say that they’re fooling around. And what’s happened is, society has attempted to reshape our morals. They’ve taken what was once wrong and changed the way we describe it, because you don’t ever want to tell somebody that’s wrong. And besides that, it’s none of your business what I’m doing. We’ve come to believe the lie, that we can do whatever we want, as long as we don’t hurt anyone.
Yet, with all this supposed “freedom” that we have, many people’s lives are a train wreck. You can take one look at them and see that they’re on the verge of falling apart. Other people’s lives outwardly appear respectable, but I’ve learned that they have junk going on to, that there are things under the surface that have the potential to rip them apart. They have the same dark stuff as everybody else, they’re just better at concealing it.
This is the human condition and it plagues us all. And so first we need to recognize that sin is very real, we can’t deny it’s reality, nor the fact that sin has dramatic earthly consequences, and potentially damning eternal consequences. Today I’m going to share with you what the Bible says and some verses that will help us understand some essential truths about our humanity and the grace of God. All the while, looking at them through the lens of three cultural lies about sin and what the Bible really says. The first one is very common in our world today and that is for people to believe that I’m not that bad of a person.
You know, too often people outside of the church interpret our message to be “You aren’t one of us, you are a sinner, and you’re going to hell.” That’s what many people think we believe, that’s what they think we preach, and that’s what they think they will hear when they visit a church. And so, instinctively they respond, “I’m not that bad” and while they will admit they have made some mistakes, they’re not that bad of a person, and yet the reality is this is simply not true. As a matter of fact, the Bible says this in first John, “If we claim to be without sin” or in other words, if we say we’re not that bad of a person, “We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
We deceive ourselves, when we compare ourselves to others, because we can always find someone much worse than ourselves. I mean, how many of you can look around and find at least two or three others worse than yourselves? Go ahead and take a look. You know, chances are on one side or the other you may be sitting with one of those people right now. And so, compared to them you’re not that bad, but other people are not the standard to which we are compared. God is the standard to which we are compared and when we compare ourselves to a holy and perfect God we are all bad people. That’s what John is saying, “You’re not better than anyone else.”
It’s actually very simple, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3,
"There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
And so, none of us are righteous and therefore we need to understand that being a Christian is not a matter of being better than anyone else. It can’t be, because we all suffer the same judgment. To believe that you are better than anyone else you have to change your theology. You can’t look down on others and be faithful to what the Bible teaches about salvation at the same time. There’s absolutely no room for arrogance in the Christian life.
The second cultural lie is that all sin is the same, you know, we’re all sinners and this is very dangerous.
When you categorize all sin as being equal, the natural response is “Who are you to judge me? What I’m doing is no worse than what you’re doing.” And we’ve got to understand that the Bible never said that. The Bible doesn’t teach that all sin is the same.
What the Bible teaches is that all unforgiven sin leads to eternal death, but not all sin is the same. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 6, “For the wages of sin is death …” (Romans 6:23). And so, all unforgiven sin, whether it’s a little sin, a big sin, or whatever kind of sin, any type of unforgiven sin leads to death, which means separation from God. The good news is that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is where the Christian life begins: We are made right with God through faith. That means simply if we turn to him he will receive us, welcoming us into his presence through faith in his son Jesus Christ. But all sin is not the same.
For example, if at lunch time I sat down and committed the sin of gluttony, if I ate too much cake, you’d probably still let me be your pastor. But if I went out and bought beer and had a keg party with the Unashamed Youth group you probably wouldn’t be very happy with me when your kids crawled into the car afterwards. And so, all sin is not the same. All unforgiven sin separates you from God, but all sin is not the same.
I want to share a couple different verses to make this point. Jesus tells us that the Pharisees in Luke’s gospel chapter 20, “devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely" (Luke 20:47). In other words, they’re using and abusing those whom they’ve been called to serve, to love, and to help. Obviously, God hates that type of hypocrisy and Jesus tells us that these “men will be punished most severely”. Therefore, the implication is that there might be a less severe punishment for some people and there might be a more severe punishment for others.
As James tells us, referring to those who will teach the word of God,
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
As a matter of fact, when Jesus was being tried, he said to Pontius Pilate in John chapter 19,
“Therefore, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin" (John 19:11).
By stating that there is a greater sin, he was also implying that there is a lesser sin, and therefore sin can be categorized. In other words, there are different categories and different consequences for different sins. But the bottom line as James reminds us, all unforgiven sins lead to death. James chapter 2 tells us,
“Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:10-11).
And speaking of adultery and the category of sexual sin the apostle Paul tells us,
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
And so, there are different consequences to sexual sin than there would be to other ones. The others, God says to resist, but not sexual immorality. This sin, God says, “Don’t even try to fight, just flee, because this one impacts you in a very deep personal and significant way.” He says, sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.
Our culture says, it doesn't matter what you do as long as you don't hurt anyone, but the Bible never said that. And then the third lie that so many people believe is that since I’ve already done it, since I’ve already sinned, I might as well keep on doing it.
Honestly, there may be some of you who are believing this right now. And yet the Bible reveals to us that even thousands of years ago that problem was just as real as it is today. The apostle Paul asked the very relevant question in Romans chapter 6,
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1)
He asked, “should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace.” In other words, “if God is going to forgive us anyway why should I even stop?” You know, for the teenager, “Oh well, I’m not a virgin anymore, so I might as well keep on doing it. I’ve done drugs, so I might as well do it again.” Those of you who are married, “I cheated and I didn’t get caught so I might as well do it again.” Or, “I already looked at something that I shouldn’t have looked at, but I did it and so since nobody knows, nobody got hurt, I might as well do it again.” You know, “I’ve already done it once I might as well do it again.” And the Holy Spirit through Paul answers,
“Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2).
In other words, since we’ve trusted Christ who died for us and we’ve been born again, we’re living a new life, we’ve identified with Christ’s death through baptism and our faith is in him. Why would we go back to that which hurts the heart of God, hurts our own lives, hurts our witness for Christ, and has the potential to hurt so many people around us? The Bible says, “By no means!” You’re smarter than that, you’re above that, and God has something so much better for you. Jesus said it this way,
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
You see, faith isn’t just about how much we know, it’s about how much we obey. As we grow in our faith it was never about having head knowledge, but it is all about bearing fruit. And Paul says in Romans, you belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, so that you might “bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).
And so, spiritual maturity isn’t just learning more, spiritual maturity is letting the Holy Spirit rule and live through you. It’s loving Jesus and obeying Jesus. Jesus said in John chapter 14, "If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). And so, it’s being transformed by the grace of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to bear fruit through you.
The problem is, most Christians in our culture today are educated way beyond their level of obedience. You see, we don’t need to know more, we just need to apply what we already know. We need to let God take the truth that he has shown us, let it absorb into our hearts, so that as Hebrews chapter 12 says, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
What’s really crazy, is how many people call themselves followers of Jesus, and yet they’re not running the race, and they consistently walk back into the same sin, rationalizing it, justifying it, and believing that is not that big of a deal. Yet the Bible says very clearly in Romans chapter 6, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).
Now, I’m not going to stand up here and pretend like I’ve got it all together, but I do know that those people who know the freedom that is available to them in Christ, who know there is something better, and yet they intentionally disobey God are actually some of the most miserable people in the world. You know, day by day they’re struggling, wrestling with their conscience, wrestling with the guilt, and yet I can tell you, even though I’m far from being perfect; God’s grace is more powerful than my inclination to sin. And so, honestly, I still wrestle with my flesh, I still struggle sometimes, but the closer I get to Jesus, the more he reveals the impurity in my life, the more I realize how messed up I am, and the more I’m able to expose those things so that they don’t have power over me. But I’ve got to be purposeful and choose to live by the Spirit of God.
You see, the closer you get to Jesus, the closer you get to the light, the more you will recognize the darkness, because those things are now being exposed in your life. This past Wednesday we talked about being haunted by G.H.O.S.T.S. and we discovered they don’t have to have power in our lives. Jesus doesn’t want you to be haunted by guilt, hostility, offenses, sorrow, and threats, because they are nothing but ghosts. As we take them captive, as we bring them into the light, we take away their power. They are nothing but ghosts, and so what we need to recognize is that sin grows best in the dark, but when you identify it, when you confess it, when you bring it into the light, that’s when the light of Jesus Christ sets you free.
Now some of you are thinking, “I’m not a slave of anything.” But Jesus said,
“Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).
And this is important to know, because sin is progressive, like building a snowman, the more you handle it the bigger it gets, the more you push it, the bigger it gets, and before you know it, you don’t have any more control over it. You can push, but it doesn’t budge. And so, you steal one time and you want to steal again. You get drunk one time and you want to get drunk again. You look at a little pornography and you get sucked in because it’s progressive and you want more. You lie a little bit and the next time it’s easier and the next thing you know you start to lie more and more and more. And I know this, because that was my life 30 years ago. It was based on the premise that I wasn’t a slave to anything, I could do anything I wanted, and yet I couldn’t even remember what the truth was.
It was just as Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). You see, if you’re a follower of Jesus and you continue to practice sin, you will lose intimacy with God, because he is holy and sin is rebellion, it’s disobedience. It’s just as the priest, Samuel, said to King Saul,
“Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols…” (1 Sam 15:22-23, New Living Translation).
And so, if you continue in rebellion, you continue to live in sin, you lose intimacy with God. And suddenly, you will not be as sensitive to his voice as you once were, your heart starts to harden, and the distance between hearing from God and the distance between sinning and repenting grows.
On the other hand, if you’re growing in faith, if you’re maturing, you’re still going to mess up, but there is a short distance between acknowledging that you have sinned and repenting. Because you’re sensitive to God, you have an intimacy with God, you’re in fellowship with God, and so immediately you ask him to forgive you and give you the power not to do that the next time. And as that distance become shorter and shorter, you’re being sanctified, your mind is being conformed to the mind of Christ, and the next thing you know you’re starting to live a lot like Christ. And it’s not that you’re trying to, but it’s the Spirit working through you.
Now I know that was pretty deep, but the good news is that Jesus is a friend of sinners. There may be some of you here who see your need for a savior. You recognize that Jesus didn’t come for the healthy, but that he came for the sick. And maybe for you that’s the best news ever, because this is so encouraging, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter what you’re trapped in, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there, it doesn’t matter if you think you could never overcome it, because God always gives you a way out. In fact, the Bible tells us,
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God always gives you a way out. As a matter of fact, he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the way out, he is the truth that sets you free, and he is the life that endures forever. And some of you need to recognize that you’ve been trapped, you’ve been enslaved, and you need to step out of your sin, and step into Jesus. You see, you step out of bondage and into his grace. You step out of the trap, and into his power. You step out of that temptation, into the love and the goodness of Jesus. You can, because you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. All things are possible. Jesus is the way out.
You see, when our culture tells us it doesn’t matter what you do, we’ve got to recognize that lie for what it is. We need to recognize that sin is the greatest enemy to intimacy with God; and yet Jesus is the friend of sinners, and we all need his grace. That’s why first John is such good news, chapter 1 tells us,
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
That’s how good Jesus is, he is the way out, he is the truth that will set you free, and he is the only kind of life that will satisfy. This morning as we close, let’s run to Jesus, because he is the way out, he is the friend of sinners, and he is the one who came to release the oppressed and set the captives free (Luke 4:18).
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
June 25, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.