“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” — 1 John 2:1–2
There are certain times in our lives, such as the first day of a new year, when we find ourselves thinking about life. What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of our existence? We look back, wondering what we have made of this life that we are living, what we are currently doing, and what we want to be doing in the future. Often, when we look back, we wonder how things might have turned out if we had done something differently, and all too often we come away with a sense of dissatisfaction. We become painfully aware that we have not done many of the things we should have done, and we have done far too many things we really never should have done. By doing so, we develop a sense of failure and inadequacy, and we resolve to do better in the new year.
The trouble is that when we do that we are taking a very superficial view of life. We make some mild adjustments and try to change some bad habits. We claim that we are going to quit smoking, so we throw away all our cigarettes, only to nag other people as we bum cigarettes off of them. We want to quit drinking, and we pour all our alcohol down the drain, but we cannot decline the invitations of others who will buy a drink for us. We will no longer overeat—at least not until the next soup supper or potluck at church.
We gladly keep all of our New Year’s resolutions, but we do not concern ourselves with the very principles of life. We deal with the symptoms instead of the disease. From time to time we are made painfully aware that there is something centrally wrong with our lives, and then we confine ourselves to changing some minor detail rather than focusing on the main problem. The inevitable result is that the central problem in our lives remains more or less the same, and nothing vital changes. Because of that, all the changes we want to make in our lives are destined to fail.
The Bible is very concerned about that. In fact, it is the Bible’s central concern, and it offers one great solution for that exact problem. According to the Bible, the one big thing that really matters in all of life is that we should be right with God. The Bible looks at all our social programs and self-help programs and points out that we are treating the symptoms and forgetting the real problem—the source of all the symptoms. And so, the Bible seeks to bring us back to the source of all that ails us. The Bible very clearly teaches that all our troubles are ultimately due to the fact that we are in a wrong relationship with God. That has been the Bible’s diagnosis for thousands of years. All of our discontentment and unhappiness comes from the fact that we have wandered away from God and are no longer in a proper relationship with Him. Until we return to that right relationship with God, nothing can help us. We may be able to improve ourselves in certain small areas of our lives, but if we are centrally wrong, we are completely wrong.
In his first epistle, the apostle John writes about two dangers that confront us: the first is complacency; the second is hopelessness. While these two dangers are exact opposites, we tend to go back and forth from one to the other. On the one hand, we compromise ourselves and our beliefs to go along with the thinking of the world. We all too quickly buy into the world’s religion of tolerance and allow ourselves, like sheep, to be led astray. On the other hand, we become hopelessly filled with despair as we see how far short we are of the goal that is set before us by Scripture. Even as John’s diagnosis is in two parts, so is his answer. First, John tells us what we have to do (or not do), and then John tells us what God in His infinite grace has already done.
What Is Sin?
How can you maintain a right relationship with God? This is John’s reply: the objective that should always be before us is that we do not sin. Very simply put, sin is disobeying God’s holy law. Sin is doing, saying, or thinking anything that the Bible condemns. It really doesn’t matter what it is. If the Bible condemns it, it is wrong. When the Bible says, “You shall not kill,” it means that killing is wrong. It is that simple. There are no excuses. You cannot reply to God, “Yes, but he started it” or, “It was an accident” or, “Oh, it was still only the first tri-semester” or, “But she was so sick, and this brought her freedom from her pain and suffering.”
The Bible is very clear. You shall not kill. Killing is wrong. It is God who gives life. It is God who takes life. This is an absolute, as are the other nine commandments. There is no questioning them.
Sin is nothing more than living by our own desires rather than living by the truth. Rather than living by the truth, we have grown into a race of rationalizers. People claim they are entitled to live as they desire, and they do not care for the ways of God. The fallen human race has let itself be governed by desire, impulse, greed, and lust. No longer do we live by asking, “How can I best serve my God in this situation?” Instead, the theme of the day is, “Just do it!” or, “Why not?” More to the point, “Why not sin?”
Why Not Sin?
There are several reasons why we are not to sin.
Sin is condemned and hated by God. Sin is utterly opposed to God and His divine and holy nature. It is outright rebellion against our Creator and life-giver. That really ought to be enough for us to have no desire for sin.
Sin is wrong in and of itself. It simply does not work. Every time we disobey God’s will for our lives, we are doing something that is very foolish. While it may bring temporary joy, it ultimately deepens our misery. Look at all the broken families in our country. Look at the hurting, suffering children. You will never be able to convince me that having an affair doesn’t affect anyone. Read about the exploitation of women and you will be convinced that pornography brings misery. Look at the violence in movies and on television and then watch the same behavior in the children who watch them. Sin is to be avoided because of the ugly and perverse character that is taken on by those who live in it.
Sin caused the suffering and death of God’s Son. Sin is what brought the Son of God from heaven to earth. It is what made Him humble Himself and made Him endure the rebukes of those whom He had created in His image and given life. Because of their sin, He sweated great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. It was sin that drove the nails into His holy hands and feet, that caused the suffering and shame of the cross. How can we as lovers of God go on sinning, knowing the pain and suffering it caused His Son?
“I write these things to you so that you will not sin,” writes John. He is concerned about our walk with God and tells us that we are not to sin because it breaks down our walk, destroys our fellowship with God, and cuts us off from the source of every blessing, even God Himself. It is no use to say that you desire to walk with God and then go on deliberately sinning. The very second that you sin, your fellowship with God has been broken.
For John, that was the one thing that really mattered in life: fellowship with God. John is saying to his readers, “I don’t know what your circumstances are, nor do I know what 2013 has in store for you. Your may be tried and tested; you may be persecuted; you may face famine or flooding, but only one thing matters, and that one thing will get you through all the other things: it is that you have fellowship with God. So do not sin, because sin breaks that fellowship. Sin will rob you of happiness and joy and give you misery and condemnation in return.
When We Sin
John does not write these words to give his totally depraved readers a sense of hopelessness. He continues with these words: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”
As you look back on 2012, if all you see is failure and hopelessness, if all you see is your sin, John tells you not to despair. Certainly we have not done what we have been called by God to do—that is, not sin. We have not walked holy and blameless before our God. We have not kept our end of the contract.
Yet we can be assured that God has most certainly completed His part. John assures us that God has provided One who speaks to the Father in our defense. When we believe in the sacrifice that the Righteous One made on the cross of Calvary, we may rest assured that our sins are completely blotted out by His precious blood. Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins—indeed, for the sins of the whole world.
Whenever we become discouraged by the depth of our sins, we may rest assured that our sins were included in that once-for-all sacrifice. That is why Jesus went to the cross—to include you in the promise that God inspired John to write. Do not permit the Devil to depress you as he points to all your sins of the past. Do not permit him to drive you away from the blessings God has provided through His Son. When you acknowledge your sins, confessing them before the Lord, John assures us that God is faithful. God is merciful and gracious. God provides forgiveness and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
The provision has already been made! The body of Christ has already been given, His blood already poured out. Jesus, the Son of God, has once for all covered all your sins—past, present, and future. The sacrifice is complete.
Do you know God? Do you desire fellowship with Him in 2013? Then trust Him. Trust the atoning sacrifice He provided. Only then can you have true fellowship with God as He promises in His Word.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.