I was speaking to a young man once who had started reading the Bible for the first time. He had come to the conclusion that anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus … will be saved (Ac 16:31). I didn’t anticipate his follow-up question, but I was thankful for it. He simply asked, “Why?”
I’ve since wondered how many apparent conversions have taken place in the church while the proselytes themselves don’t know why they have turned to Christ. Perhaps they think of him as a magic genie who grants the wish of eternal life to anyone who asks. Without understanding the holiness of God or the vile nature of our sin, suggesting they don’t know the meaning of Christ’s death, some Christian tells them to believe … and … be saved (Ac 16:31).
Saved from what? And why Jesus?
John begins his message with two indisputable facts. First, God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1Jn 1:5). He is majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds (Ex 15:11). He is always just and perfectly righteous. Second, we are far from it. As depraved lawbreakers, rebels, and enemies of God, we are in desperate need of forgiveness, something we can’t possibly obtain apart from the blood of Jesus (Ro 5:10; 1Jn 1:7).
Being just, God must punish criminals. He cannot merely ignore our crimes forever. Being merciful, though, he can punish Jesus Christ the righteous in our place (1Jn 2:1). His Son, who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and was tempted as we are, yet without sin, proved himself to be a qualified propitiation for our sins (Mt 5:17; Heb 4:15; 1Jn 2:2). For our sake God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Co 5:21).
Suffice it to say, any effort to deny, redefine, or even minimize our sin is an offense to the gospel as well as Christ himself. Today, we want to claim that people are essentially good. We don’t sin; we make mistakes. We are not spiritually dead; we are slightly ill, sometimes. What difference does it make? God loves us anyhow.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Ro 5:8). It was the will of the LORD to crush him and put him to grief as an offering for our guilt (Isa 53:10). The God who is light despises our sin with such incredible hatred that he would not and could not pardon us until he had expended every last ounce of his wrath on someone (1Jn 1:5). Praise Christ for his willingness to lay his own life down for our sake (Jn 10:18).
Despite God’s grace, salvation through Christ does not change the Father’s abhorrence of sin nor does it mean we cease to be sinners. If we say we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1Jn 1:6). Or if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1Jn 1:8).
Evidently, the Gnostics succeeded in convincing some Christians that either they could continue in sin with no harm done or they were no longer sinners at all (Ro 6:1). “By no means!” Paul seems to shout when addressing the same issue. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Ro 6:2).
If eternal life is to have fellowship … with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, and if God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, we cannot possibly claim to have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness (1Jn 1:2-3; 5-6).
True Christians were buried with Christ by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Ro 6:4). For by grace we have been saved through faith … created in Christ Jesus for good works, not to continue behaving like children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:8; 10; 3).
John wants us to be confident that we have eternal life, but we never will if we make a practice of sinning as though God doesn’t mind (1Jn 5:13; 3:9). John passionately refutes that terrible notion when he writes, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil, that is, the practice of sinning, not to allow us to sin all we want. The Christian cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1Jn 3:8-9).
The Bible teaches those who are saved have been set free from sin to become slaves of God and righteousness (Ro 6:22; 19). Though it acknowledges the sin that still dwells within us, it doesn’t permit anyone to assume he is born again if he doesn’t share God’s hatred of sin (Ro 7:20). It won’t allow us to be comfortable with our supposed salvation until we have confirmed our calling and election through faith and godliness (2Pe 1:10; 5-6). Paul advises we examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2Co 13:5).
Only if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, can we have fellowship with one another, that is, other believers (1Jn 1:7). Only if we walk in the light, can we assume the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin. After all, Christ saves us to be conformed to his image (Ro 8:29). If we show no interest or evidence that Jesus has set us free … from the law of sin and death, what legitimate claim do we have to the benefits of his atonement? (Ro 8:2).
It is just as bad, probably worse for us to deny our sin altogether. Granted, the Gnostics invented a remarkably clever way to do it, claiming only the body sins, not the spirit, and that the body doesn’t matter anyhow. Once the body dies, they thought, it becomes worm food for all eternity. Do what you want with your flesh.
Creative or not, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1Jn 1:8). God’s word is not in us, and we make a liar out of God (1Jn 1:10).
The character of God, the first coming of Christ, the Bible, the Old Testament law and prophecies, the gospel itself—all of it is worthless to anyone who fools himself into believing he has not sinned. Why turn to Christ at all? Why follow a Savior whom you don’t need? You may as well walk away from this thing we call Christianity because it’s meaningless for someone like you.
You’ll still be a sinner held accountable to God, of course, but you can’t expect to be justified until you have beat on your breast, crying out to God, ”Be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Ro 3:19; Lk 18:13-14).