April 16, 2015
1 John 2:12-14
I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
In some ways this passage feels like a, “Now for something completely different” text. On a second pass, though, it strikes me as a reassuring pastoral move.
Think about it. John came straight out of the bullpen with guns blazing. It’s like he had a major axe to grind with somebody. After examining today’s text, it’s all coming together for me.
We need to remember something about the nature of sermons. On the one hand, to the extent a sermon’s architecture is formed by the Word of God, it is timeless. On the other hand, a sermon is always spoken into a particular context, addressing a particular people who are dealing with particular issues and challenges. On this point, we must explore the translatability of the message from the first century to (in our case) the twenty-first century. The parallels and points of application are enormous.
I think John’s coming out so strident in this sermon was more about crushing the ideas of the false teachers who were influencing the people than it was aimed at the people themselves. Someone had been teaching these followers of Jesus some version of a “cheap grace” gospel. What do I mean by this? I think these teachers were soft-pedaling the gravity of sin as though it didn’t matter anymore; that because of the work of Jesus, they had a license to do whatever seemed right to them, no matter its impact on others. Said another way, these false teachers basically taught the followers of Jesus that because of Jesus finished work they were finished with sin. Here lies the subtle seduction of false teaching. It’s true that because of Jesus finished work on the cross, we who place our faith in him are finished with sin. The problem is sin is not finished with us. Sin has not gone away, nor has sin somehow been reclassified as “not sin,” which seems to be the essence of the false teaching. All people needed was some claim of “knowing Jesus” and nothing else mattered. Go back and re-read the sermon up to the point of today’s text and see if you agree with my hypothesis.
John takes the proverbial bull by the horns, says we must call sin, “sin,” confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness and lean further into the grace of God. The sign of salvation’s authenticity is the ever increasing obedience of Holy Love, which can only be witnessed in the midst of human relationships. They will know we are Christians by our T-shirts? ;0) Not a chance. It will be by our love. John 13:35.
John wasn’t holding a mirror up in front of the people and calling them liars for the ways they failed to love each another. John told them the Love of God could cleanse them from the effects of sin, and deliver them from the power of sin, and bring them them into relationships with other people in such a way that their lives exuded the joy-filled Holy Love of God, which is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can take a broken world and transform it into a New Creation.
False teaching is as present today as it ever has been. It must be confronted because of its seductive and even compelling allure to redefine sin as not sin. When we do that, it is like ignoring the diagnosis of an aggressively metasticizing cancer and pretending it’s not there all the while claiming to know the doctor as though that knowledge will somehow get it done. Sin, like cancer, destroys the body from the inside out. That’s what it does to people, to relationships and to communities. Sin is not a problem for God. Self deception is the big problem because it immunizes us from the cure of confession. In short, when sin gets redefined as “not sin,” all hell breaks loose.
O.K., I feel like we are in pretty deep now. How do we put some punctuation on this and get on with today? I felt like we needed that context in order to better understand today’s text, so let’s wrap up with a comment about today’s text.
In today’s text, John reassures the flock. He frames the way of salvation not as a “sin-free” path, but a sin-defeating journey; a journey in which we can be secure in the grace of God just as we are were while being confident that the love of God will not leave us as we were. Just as a child grows into a young man or woman and later into the ripe maturity of old age, so the power of God will prosper us through every stage of faith and life, transforming us from one degree of glory to the next until our image reflects his likeness, as in a mirror.
It has been called the royal way of the holy cross. As Stephen Curtis Chapman put it so well in one of his songs, “There’s no better place on Earth than the road that leads to Heaven.”
J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.