1 John 1:1-2:2
11 We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. 2 The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3 What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.
5 This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” 6 If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. 7 But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. 8 If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.
2 1 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. 2 He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.
One little two-letter word in our reading today points to the breath-taking freedom and response-ability Jesus’ resurrection from the dead makes possible for us. Did you catch it as you read through the passage? It’s easy to miss. It’s one of those statements we tend to read as we think it should be rather than as it really is.
I refer to 1 John 2:1 and the little word is “if.” “But if you do sin,” John writes. “If”! Come on, John, surely you meant to write “when.” But that’s just where we allow our own predilections and prejudgments to betray us. The resurrected Jesus brings us such astonishing freedom and new life that we can only with difficulty take it in.
“If you do sin” – those words boggle our minds and invite us into a whole new world of reality where our old world expectations and experiences no longer define us and our lives.
What difference would it make for us to embrace this reality? The difference between assuming we are screw-ups sure to fail and embarrass ourselves and disappoint God or accepting that we are dear children, so completely loved, accepted, and forgiven, able to do what the Father asks of us, defined now by the freedom to respond to God in love and loyalty out of gratitude that failing God and ourselves is no longer inevitable but rather an aberration.
Even when we do fail and falter in living out of this new reality, God in Jesus Christ has already taken care of that! For he is “God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.” Jesus Christ has taken care of our sin problem by his death on the cross – that’s how he dealt with our sins. And they are dealt with! If we do sin, as most of us (certainly I) will, it’s not that sin that now stands between us and God, generating guilt and alienation. No, now the sole issue between us is Jesus and our relation to him. If you suffer from guilt, that’s not coming from God’s side. It’s either coming from you or the enemy, or both!
Paul is on the same page as John on this matter. In 2 Cor.5:18-19a: “All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them.” Did you hear that – “not counting people’s sins against them”? That means us, friends, you and me. God’s has dealt with and laid aside our sins through Jesus. They don’t condition or factor into his relationship to us any longer. All God looks at is our relation to Jesus, his Son. That’s all that matters now. Mind-blowing isn’t it?
And then there 2 Peter 1:3-9 where Peter sees our growth in the virtues and fruit of life in Christ, or rather our failure to grow and bear fruit, to hinge on this: “Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins.” We’ve forgotten we’ve been forgiven! All our sins are past sins because they’ve all been taken care of by Jesus Christ. They are no longer a factor in our relation to God – unless we ourselves make them one or allow the enemy to do so.
Am I advocating “perfectionism” here? No. I have no idea whether anyone so fully embraces the new reality that is ours in Christ, so thoroughly internalizes the freedom of God’s awesome forgiveness, that they live without sin. I know that I am not there yet. But I am beginning to somewhat realize that me sinning is no longer inevitable, no longer my destiny. The more I turn my attention to Jesus, the less I am captive to such a former bondage. God has done all that can be done to free me from allowing sin to hold sway over my thoughts, imagination, or behavior.
And that, that is a central reality that comes to us as a gracious, undeserved gift as a result of God raising Jesus from the dead. Thanks be to God!