1 John Fridays- Ifs, ands, and buts…

This week, I want to take a brief look at 1:5-2:2.

There are noticeably 6 big “if” statements in this section:

v. 6- “If we say we have fellowship with him but walk in darkness…”

v. 7- “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light…”

v. 8- “If we say we do not have sin…”

v. 9- “If we say that we haven’t sinned…”

v. 10- “If we say that we have not sinned…”

2:1- “If anyone sins…”

What can we see from comparing these? Well, a few things:

1) Talk is cheap.

Notice that all 3 conditions that John ends up critiquing involve our “saying” something. (v. 6, 9, 10) The danger John sees is not in underestimating our spiritual reality, but in saying more than is actually true of ourselves.  Talking big about a non-existent relationship with the Father, talking up our current sinlessness, or denying our past sins.  John does not believe in some weird kind of “spoken” spiritual magic.  What we choose to say about ourselves does not actually create spiritual reality (sorry, televangelists of today).  Heretics that John will deal with later in the letter apparently are known by how much talking they do.

2) “Walking in the light” is not sinlessness, but “needy authenticity.”

This one requires a little logic, but notice how the only spiritual perfection here is found in the misguided statements that John condemns.  Which means that what John must mean by “walking in the light” can’t simply be “not sinning.”  The three “positive” conditions together are “walk in the light”, “confess our sin” and even “sinning” itself.  John wants us to make sure to see that true spirituality, walking in relationship with the Father, is not characterized by our greatness but by our neediness.  Walking in the light means our sin is followed by confession; walking in darkness is hiding our sin.  John is by no means declaring that the more we sin the more spiritual we are.  But he is saying that more we confess our sin, the closer our walk with the Father in the light really is.

3) There are beautiful rewards for needy authenticity.

-fellowship with one another. -every sin cleansed from us by the blood of Jesus his Son. -we experience the faithfulness and righteousness of God. -sins forgiven, cleansed from all unrighteousness. -We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. -we have propitiation for our sins.

4) Inauthentic, proud spirituality is condemned in the strongest of terms.

-we are lying. -we are not practicing the truth. -we deceive ourselves. -the truth is not in us. -we make God a liar. -God’s Word is not in us.

John is encouraging these faithful Christians by reminding them that the neediness they feel after being deserted by the false teachers and the others who left their fellowship is not a bad thing, but is actually what is required for true spirituality, a relationship with God the Father. What is not good is the proud talk of those who have claimed sudden spiritual superstardom.


“Dare to be a sinner…” from Bonhoeffer

Finished reading “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer with my wife recently.  I hope to add some more quotes from it in the near future (though I will probably have to re-read the book since we don’t underline when we read together!).

from chapter 5- “Confession and Communion”…

“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.  It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.  So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.  The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you.  He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone.  “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26).  God has come to you to save the sinner.  Be glad!  This message is liberation through truth.  You can hide nothing from God.  The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.  He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you.  You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner.  Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin.”

Obstacles to Authenticity

One of the biggest obstacles (I know it well in my own heart) to living an authentic and open life in ministry is the (at times) overwhelming perception that sharing my hurts and struggles is preparing a gourmet meal for the critics to feast on.

Authenticity is more than mere confession, I know.  There seems to be something both arrogant and selfish about using one’s leadership platform as the weekly confessional booth.  It can reek of the Regan-esque “Me Monster”–“you think you struggled this week?! Wait til you hear what MY struggles.”  Yet at the same time, no confession, no responsiveness to the Spirit’s own working in our hearts is cold, lifeless, and also selfish.  Whereas the tell-it-all confessor may leave those he ministers to feeling insignificant or discouraged, the non-confessor may portray the Christian life as something without a need for mercy and grace, a floating 2 feet above the ground where only angels and a few gifted ones are allowed to live, without struggles and ultimately without a real Christ providing real forgiveness and strength.  Authenticity is more, but not less, than confession.

So if confession is necessary in leadership, how do we overcome that fear of the critic?  We may feel like sharing our struggles is handing a loaded revolver to those who might oppose us.  “Haven’t found any new faults in me this week?  Here’s a list of ideas to prime the pump!”  And yet that’s precisely what we might need.  After all, our Biblical examples seem to be full of God’s people handing a loaded pistol of faults to their enemies and saying, “Go ahead and shoot.  You’d be doing me a favor.”  Jesus handed the Sanhedrin one by speaking of a return on the clouds with power.  Paul handed the Corinthians everything his opponents there wanted–“I am weak when among you, but strong in my letters…” or boasting in his ability to get thrown in jail or beat everywhere (not a great fundraising technique).

Fear of the critic is at root the fear of man.  It brings a snare (Proverbs); it causes some to even refuse Christ (John 12).  And ultimately, fear of man is at root built on a faulty view of God.  We don’t trust God to provide (job security?), we don’t believe that His opinion of us (which knows our faults more deeply and truly than any critic) matters, we don’t even (practically) believe in his omnipresence (or we would walk in the light as He does…everywhere).  There are countless more we might find.  So rather than disarm our critics through perfect living (impossible–everyone knows that “Good can be spoken evil of”) or through a well-placed defense or even an ability to wrest power from their hands, why not arm them?  Why not “turn the other cheek” and provide another way for them to attack?  Why not lay down our rights (even the right of a good reputation) and follow Christ down the Calvary road?

After all, who cares about being shot at if you’re already carrying your cross?