1 John 1:8—2:17
Elder Desiree Ocampo, preaching
January 1, 2017
Not that long ago, 60 days in fact, people across the United States, and around the world were counting down to November 8th – our election day. And no matter which candidate one supported, most people just wanted it over.
And so, it came and it went.
Then it was followed by a countdown to Christmas. Truth be told, many were counting down NOT towards the birth of Jesus Christ, but counting down to the time Santa came, and to the time we opened our presents.
Last night, we found ourselves counting down to a new year. Our entire planet celebrated with concerts, fireworks, food and drink, parties everywhere – all to ring in a new year, to wish everyone happiness and prosperity.
Many find the start of a new year as a time of hope, a beginning for something new, a start of something good.
I saw plenty of social media posts that called for a brighter 2017 and to forget a terrible 2016.
I also saw the beginning of a new countdown – whether this countdown is a private matter, or shared among friends and family, or a countdown of public and global concern – today marks the beginning of a countdown towards January 20th – the day a new American President takes office.
There is no denying that most Americans believe that we live in a country that is deeply divided. Some say that this divide is greater and wider than it has ever been. Some say that it has been this way all along – except that people are now bolder than ever in publicly expressing their beliefs, (no matter which side they are on). And I dare say, the fact that I even mention it today could potentially highlight a divide amongst us.
Growing up, I loved singing one of the songs written by Pastor Andrae Crouch. Whenever I sang the chorus to this song, it immediately made me feel better no matter what I was going through – because it brought into focus what was most important.
Jesus is the answer, for the world today. Above him there’s no other, Jesus is the way. Jesus is the answer, for the world today. Above him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!
No matter what crisis the world was going through, I knew that those words rang true. As it WAS yesterday, as it IS today, and as it WILL be tomorrow, Jesus remains the answer. There is no other way.
But here is the problem: While the Bible says that demons will tremble at the name of Jesus – today, people laugh at your face when you call upon His name. When you suggest that Jesus is the way, the world rightly calls us hypocrites. They rightly call us bigots.
The world runs away upon hearing us talk about Jesus not because they fear and tremble at the name of our Lord. When we tell someone to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and their personal Savior – that they must repent of their sins and be saved – they look at us and say, “Fat chance!” They ask, “Why would I do that? – when many of the most hateful people I know claim to be Christians?”
But the truth remains: JESUS IS THE ANSWER.
So what do we do with the truth? How do we live it? As a body of believers, we are tasked to do something about this truth.
Let us now turn to today’s scripture, found in 1 John 1:18-2:17. If you want to follow along using the pew bible, it can be found on page 239 of the New Testament portion.
So the question we have before us is what do we do with the truth and how do we live it? John the gospel writer reminds us that:
- Living In Truth requires life within a community, and
- Living in Truth is not simply an abstract confession with our words that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate; we don’t simply confess that Jesus is the Son of God who became flesh.
- Living in Truth must be translated to behavior, expressed through real and effectual love!
In the passage of today’s scripture, John was addressing a community of believers whom he fondly called “little children.” He appealed to them not as individuals, but as a congregation – to live in truth with the light and not with darkness. He reminded them that, as a community, they needed to walk in the light of Jesus Christ, because walking in darkness meant the truth was not in them.
John calls them out to acknowledge their sin and then to confess it. John clearly calls on the community to identify their sins as a group and then confess them. But contemporary Christianity puts great emphasis on a personal savior. As a result, we tend to automatically think that sin is only about the individual person. The problem with sin is that we find it to be such a dirty word. We would rather say that a person is “in process” than to say, a person has sin in them. Therefore, it is even more difficult to admit that as a group, and as a community of believers, we can sin, and indeed have sin.
John’s imperative for community (for the congregation) is that we acknowledge our own sinfulness. And no, this is not an easy thing to do. For the community to acknowledge its sins, the community must agree on what those sins are. And for those sins to be agreed upon, the community must literally come together, in faithfulness, in discussion, and in prayer. It requires action. But when we choose not to act, it is exactly the same as claiming we do not have sin.
John said in verse 8, if we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. This means, the first step to living in truth is to recognize our sin as a community and then confess it. If we continue to say we have not sinned, John says in verse 10, that we make Jesus out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
It should be no surprise then that, when we proclaim “Jesus is the answer for the world today,” the world laughs at our face – because we have already made him out to be a liar.
Living in truth – it means to live in obedience. It isn’t enough for us to say, “I know Jesus.” It isn’t enough for us to say, “I abide in him,” or “Jesus is my Lord.” It isn’t enough to say “I have Jesus in my heart.” Saying any of these things is not enough for the world to understand who Jesus is and why Jesus remains the answer for the world today.
It is not enough for you and me to say “I know Jesus” if we do not do what has been commanded of us. If anyone does not obey his commandments, John says, that person is a liar and in such a person the truth does not exist.
Anyone who claims to follow Jesus must do more than just walk the talk. I say more, because John says in verse 6 of chapter 2 that whoever says, “I abide in him” ought to walk as Jesus walked. It isn’t just walking the talk, but walking the walk of Jesus. And I don’t know about you, but walking as Jesus walked, or to do the things that Jesus did is really hard!
It is really hard to pray for someone who has hurt me. It is really hard to bless someone who is mean-spirited. It is really hard to show mercy to someone who seems to have all the money in the world. It is really hard to give grace to someone who disagrees with what I think and believe in. It is really hard to give hospitality to someone who looks different, who smells different, or just sounds different. It is really hard to show love to someone who could care less about loving me back.
But yet, we are called to live in the truth, to live in obedience. And so we strive not only as individuals, but as a community to translate that truth into behavior. That behavior is expressed through real and effectual love.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; AND he also said the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. That sounds easy enough but what does this love actually look like? How does this love manifest into real behavior and real action? What would make this love effective?
Again, back to our scripture. John tells us how to perfect that love through how we behave.
First, we have to remove our defensiveness. There is no need to be defensive about having sin and needing forgiveness – for that only comes from fear. I’m not just talking about the confession of sins we make to accept God’s forgiveness through the Lord Jesus as our personal Savior. I am talking about the defensiveness we have about sin, right now. I am talking about the sins we continue to have after we accept Jesus as our Lord. I am talking about sins that make us uncomfortable because they are sins the world calls us out on, as a group of believers. I am talking about sins that we cannot keep private because the whole world is watching.
While Jesus at his death was the final atoning sacrifice for our sins, and he has washed away our sins for good, our sanctification of God’s love in us is work that keeps on going. It is God’s love made perfect and realized each time we let go of our fear that we have sin.
The second thing we must do to perfect real and effectual love is, we must open our hearts to each other in care. As John said, it isn’t enough to say, “We love Jesus,” we must show it with open arms and open hearts, and also with open minds. This is how the world will know that God’s love is real.
The third way we must behave is to re-establish love between our fellow believers. Sometimes it is much easier to show care for a non-believer, or someone outside the community. But it is much harder to show care for someone within our community of believers because much is at stake. You know them, and they know you. They aren’t just strangers you one day show care for and then forget about the next because you likely won’t see them again. You have to live with them, break bread with them, worship with them, share the Lord with them – despite knowing that you disagree with them, or don’t quite share the same politics, or have completely different backgrounds.
And let us not forget about re-establishing love with fellow Christians from other communities, congregations, or other denominations who may be on the other side of an issue we are extremely passionate about. In chapter 2, verse 9, John writes, whoever says I am in the light while hating a brother or sister (meaning a fellow believer), is still in the darkness. He continues in verse 11 that whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.
In a way, love is not blind. For blindness comes from darkness. Love sees all, because love shines with God’s true light. Because with God’s true light we are able to love our brothers and sisters even when we believe that so much divides us.
The fourth way we must behave in order to perfect real and effectual love is to pray for each other. When we pray for someone, we bring that person into our care. When we pray for someone, we take responsibility for that person. When we pray for someone it means we also carry their burden as our own. And in so doing, we make our community of believers stronger in truth and in love.
Finally, in order to perfect real and effectual love, we must hate the world and its standards, instead of hating each other and our fellow believers. John gives us an easy way to recognize what is of the world. He lists three things: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in riches. Anytime we find ourselves in any one of these three things we can be sure that we are liking the world and its standards a little too much. These are the very distractions that keep us from living in truth.
Desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in riches – they come not from the Father but from the world. Verse 17 tells us that the world and its desires are passing away. Soon they will be no more. One day they will cease to exist. Now, that is a day worth counting down towards. We ought to have a celebration so big that both heaven and earth will have fireworks, concerts and the best party one could ever imagine.
In the meantime, we must do the will of God. For those who do the will of God, John writes, will live forever.
God’s will for us is to live in truth. And living in truth requires that we walk in the light because God is light. And walking in the light means our continued obedience of God’s commandments and our ongoing sanctification. And this brings us back to the beginning of our passage, when John calls us to acknowledge and confess our sins. Only in doing so can we live in truth.