A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Wednesday April 29, 2020
1 John 1:8-10
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
In Hans Christian Anderson’s short story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” two swindling con-men find a most perfect mark in the form of an emperor who squanders away all of his time, energy, and money into acquiring and wearing new clothes. In order to deceive him, the swindlers present themselves as weavers who create exotic clothing with the finest fabrics imaginable, containing colors and patterns they claim to be invisible to anyone unfit for his office or “unusually stupid.” Intrigued by the promised beauty of new garments as well as the possibility of discerning the wise from the foolish throughout his empire, the emperor lavishes the weavers with large sums of money in addition to the gold and silk they request in order to produce the invisible garments. Afraid of being exposed as either incompetent or idiotic, everyone in the kingdom compliments the emperor on his magnificent new clothes until a young child in the crowd innocently remarks, “But he hasn’t got anything on!”
John warns those who profess to be Christians of falling prey to the same sort of self-deception as the fictional emperor. Regardless of what those around us insist, if we claim that we are sinless then the only people we are deceiving is ourselves. The Gnostics of John’s day believed that because they possessed secret wisdom, nothing they did in the body really mattered. Since it was impossible to escape the evil of the world, it was futile to resist or deny their urges. As a result, they could live their lives however they wanted without worrying about any repercussions either in this world or the next as they didn’t really sin. While this error may look slightly different now, even today many are taught that once they become Christians that they are no longer able to sin. Therefore, whatever they do, no matter how much it looks like sin, cannot actually be sin. Tragically, a great many abuses at the hands of manipulative and self-justifying church leaders find their root in this grievous error.
On the other side, many people have bought into the similar lie that if they have placed their faith in Jesus and yet continue to sin, it means they aren’t really Christians: their conversion didn’t take. One of my more memorable and amusing encounters with bumper sticker theology occurred when a car with the the message “If you still sin, you’re not saved” plastered on the rear cut me off on the highway. For a brief moment, I contemplated speeding back up ahead to point out the driver’s ironic and misguided doctrine before thinking better of it. Beyond unintentional comedy, this error often causes all sorts of unnecessary shame and confusion with some well-intentioned individuals being baptized multiple times or even walking away from the church all together.
John makes abundantly clear to his audience that while no one is free of sin, when we confess our sins to God, no matter how great, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness. This. Is. Huge. Nowhere does the Bible state that to be a Christian is to live perfect or sinlessly, although a great deal of hypocrisy is committed by those who attempt to prove otherwise. Time and again, Scripture reveals that God chooses and uses imperfect men and women in His kingdom. Rather than promoting an impossible standard, the good news of the gospel is that while we aren’t perfect, and we never can be in this life, we don’t have to be. Perfection was only attainable by Jesus, who was perfect on our behalf. He lived a sinless and righteous life. He died a perfect and sacrificial death, all so that we could be cleansed of all our sin and know Him in an intimate way that would be impossible otherwise.
One of the more common criticisms today brought against the church is that it is full of hypocritical sinners. While admittedly many Christians are confronted with the very real temptation of legalistic moralism and self-righteousness, the label hypocrite could only be accurate if those within the church claimed to be perfect. To understand the gospel is to know that all are unworthy of the mercy and favor of God, and yet God lavishes His mercy upon us anyway because He credits Jesus’ perfect righteousness to us. The beauty of grace is that when we do sin, and we DO even after we coming to faith in Jesus, we know with certainty that He has already taken the true punishment that we deserve. In our brokenness, God hears our heartfelt confessions and offers restoration back into His flock. In this world it is impossible to escape the reality of sin, but it is also impossible to out-sin the merciful grace of the wonderful Savior.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, far too often we are all like the emperor with no clothes on, ignorant of the fact that our lives are completely laid bare before You. We have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from Your omniscient gaze. To believe that we are no longer capable of sinning or that You are unprepared to forgive us when we sin is to fall victim to lies straight from the pit of hell. It is true that our sin is more harmful than we could ever know, but it is also true that the well of Your grace and mercy runs deeper than we could ever dream. Lord, help us to reject the lies we are tempted to believe about ourselves and about You. We ask Your healing and restorative hand upon those who have been harmed or led astray by dangerous theology. May they see and know You as You have shown Yourself to be, faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In Your healing name we pray, Amen.