“Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy – this pride is innate in all of us – unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.” John Calvin
Have you ever left a gathering of believers and wished it had been more meaningful or fruitful or spiritual?
Have you ever left a time with a fellow believer or couple and wished they were more spiritual or godly or humble - - less proud and less drawing attention to themselves?
Have you ever walked away from a gathering of believers and wished your contribution had been more fruitful or spiritual or impactful?
In our last post (Part III), we sought to establish that there is a clear expectation from the Lord in scripture that each believer is to make his own growth and transformation his highest priority (other than knowing Christ). And that only when we do that can we see clearly and have the necessary character, understanding and discernment to help others overcome sin, and become more godly in their daily lives.
The good news in all of this is God so deeply cares about our transformation!! He wants each of us to be whole, healed, and to be set free from all sin and darkness.
In this post I want to be a little more practical as we all engage in this pursuit together, though there is still foundational theology to cover.
First, please know that no one in scripture is asking us to navel gaze or engage in some kind of self help introspection. Our only hope (but a great hope) in pulling this off is daily spending time with the Light, and being a part of a church culture that honors, fears and seeks His light. Only He can expose what is hidden in the darkness of our souls. Only He can both help us see where sin has a hold on us, and how to break that hold. Only He can help us see the lingering effects of sin in our lives. As the Psalmist declared, “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9).
One of the passages that most clearly conveys this reality is I John chapter 1. The apostle John makes clear in the first four verses that the great desire and objective of he and his co-apostles is that the recipients of their letter will have deeper fellowship with God and with them (vs. 1-4).
To pull that off John in vs. 5 commends them to knowing God as “Light”. When the scriptures speak of God as the Light this means among other things that “in Him there is no darkness” or sin at all (vs. 5). Then in vs. 6 he makes clear that it is truly impossible to be enjoying fellowship with God, and yet at the same time practicing sin or unrighteousness (“walking in darkness”).
Then one of those wonderful “buts” in scripture appears in vs. 7. “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” When we truly walk with God, we allow or better invite His Light to shine on anything and everything displeasing to Him. We invite the Holy Spirit to show us how to put sin (or the practice of it) in our lives to death. Walking in the Light is a lifestyle of relating to God and His people in such a way that we see our sin, discover how to be free from our sin, and thus can make the most of our times of fellowship together all in dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
Are you familiar with this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to us? Let’s look at a couple of key passages that speak to this. First in Romans 8:12 the apostle Paul reminds we believers, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – “ Because we are now in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are no longer under the flesh’s stranglehold. Then he reminds us of the consequence of living according to the flesh in the first part of vs. 13, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; …” Then he shows us the antidote of this kind of living in the rest of vs. 13, starting with another one of those wonderful hope giving “buts” - “but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to lead each believer (see Rom. 8:14) every day into the practice of putting to death or killing sin patterns in our lives. The King James calls it “mortifying” sin. That is – He reveals the sin to us; then He shows us how to get free of it.
A similar passage is found in Colossians 3:5, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Now sadly this is one of those instances where the New American Standard translators decided the literal translation was not sufficient or helpful or understandable so they replaced the literal, “put to death the members which are upon the earth” with “consider the members of your earthly body as dead”. There is a big difference between the two phrases/concepts.
Listen to me brothers and sisters, if you and I have not aggressively, daily, as a way of life, by the Spirit’s power and direction, killed sin in very specific tangible ways, we will not be dead to it in our practice.. Yes in Christ, positionally we are dead to sin (see Romans 6:11). But this grace we have been given has to be walked out! The car has to be driven! The suit has to be worn! The tools have to taken out of the tool bag and used! As John Owen used to say, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.!”
Only when we put off the old man and put on the new man by the power of the Holy Spirit and through His precious blood, then and only then can we have true fellowship (the kind that builds us up and helps us become more like Christ) with one another.
I find it very interesting that after John communicates his primary objective for writing in vs. 1-4, in each of the next 8 verses he either discusses sin or darkness. One of the most disturbing trends I see in the church (in general) today is the tendency to not want to talk about sin. We must learn to talk about sin and confess sin routinely (to God and to one another)! And we must learn how to discuss it and confess it without resorting to legalism, unrighteous judgment, and all the other sad realities that have caused us to quit talking about it, or to never learn in the first place how to get it out in the light with one another.
When John the apostle says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (vs. 8) he is speaking of people in the churches he was ministering to and writing to. I can promise you any church John ministered to knew they were sinners at least theologically. They probably were not saying or claiming that they had never sinned. I doubt they were saying they were not sinners (as all humans are). Rather most likely they just never admitted they were struggling with sin in the present. These people John is warning about were very likely believers, who would gather with their fellow believers in whatever context, and talk about anything and everything but their battle with specific sins. Thus while they might not have literally said, “I have no sin”, by the end of the conversation or time together, one would deduct they do not presently struggle with any sin. Sometimes what we omit in a conversation, speaks more loudly than what we say.
These people instead of humbly and honestly asking for prayer to overcome a specific sin (see James 5:16), or sharing about how the Holy Spirit had helped them overcome a specific sin - - if they asked for prayer at all, would rather ask for prayer for their sick relative, or for more financial provision, or more ministry opportunities, etc. Haven’t we all been in such prayer meetings? Haven’t we all been in such small group or home group meetings? Am I the only one who has gone to such a meeting and who chose to keep silent about what my real internal battle was, and instead chose to share about a much safer, non disclosing topic?
Can I ask you to take a fresh look at this passage? Think about what John is saying in vs. 8, “If we say that we have no sin,….”. Would a believer say this to God? Isn’t he more likely speaking to our fellowship gatherings together? And if so, then when he says, “If we confess our sins….” in vs. 9, isn’t he contrasting the two things?
For years I thought vs. 9 only spoke of my relationship with God. But the more I have meditated on this passage the more I see the apostle John was as much after our fellowship with one another as he was our fellowship with God. And he knew neither our fellowship with God or our fellowship with one another can grow and progress and deepen if we are not being honest about our sin.
Is it possible that one of the reasons sin is so entrenched in the church is because this practice of confessing our sins to one another is so absent in the church?
Now please do not hear me calling for believers to confess all their sins to anyone and everyone. We are to be a Spirit directed people. Both the particular sins we confess and the people we confess them to should be His idea and choosing, not ours. The sin we confess in any gathering of believers ought to be the sin that we are struggling in the present to overcome.
While only God can forgive and cleanse, He has chosen to use the practice of our honest sharing and disclosing with one another to finish this important work of cleansing. This practice requires humility, and God only gives grace to the humble. When we refuse to disclose and confess (even though we in the present are seriously struggling with some sin issue) then pride digs its ugly heels in and grace and cleansing is obstructed.
I sincerely hope and pray you will ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you anew and afresh what He is after for you and those you are linked with in I John chapter 1. You are in my prayers! (Eph. 6:18)
If you are interested in delving into this subject and related subjects more, you might profit from the following posts: