Author Archives: Joel and Deanna Porcher
Section 3: The danger of a Casual Attitude toward Sin
As I mentioned in our last section, there were two major problems confronting John’s audience that were undermining their Christian experience in general and their confidence in their Christian position in particular. The first of these problems was a casual attitude toward sin. We cannot underestimate the debilitating nature of sin in the lives of saints. The Bible is full of examples of unnecessary pain and personal destruction that followed seasons where men who loved God became complacent and embraced a casual attitude toward sin. Think of David, Solomon, and Jacob as just a few examples. It is true that “the wages of sin is death” and “sin when it is finished brings forth death.” Notice where John starts his letter: verses 5-8 “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth…If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Again in 2:1 “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” And yet again in 3:2-5 We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure…And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” He is concerned by a casual attitude toward sin and the temptation to embrace the destructive doctrines of false teachers. Let me mention a few ways that a casual attitude toward sin will muddy the waters of this issue of confidence.
- Sin undermines the subjective sense of confidence that the Spirit of God gives us: There is a difference between what is objectively true, and our subjective experiences connected to the various feelings and passing internal thoughts that we experience on a moment by moment basis. When we are walking in fellowship with the Lord, there is a subjective, emotional aspect of our Christian experience that is healthy and properly aligned with what is objectively true. If we are saved and walking in communion with God, then we are in a position to experience a joyful confidence that is rooted in the internal working of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:14-16 says: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Sadly, sin breaks fellowship with God, and consequently undermines this joyful confidence that the Spirit gives us.
- Sin undermines our ability to properly discern between right and wrong: When Christians take a casual attitude toward sin, in begins to undermine their progress into spiritual maturity. What once was very clear to them becomes clouded. What they once understood, they soon begin to doubt. In Hebrews 5:11-14, we see a group of Christians in that very condition. Notice what is says: “Ye are dull of hearing…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat…unskilful in the word of righteousness…strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Discernment is a gift from God that comes through personal discipline as we mature in the Christian life. We will not have discernment if we take a casual attitude toward sin.
- Sin damages our conscience: The conscience is an important faculty given to us by God, but the conscience cannot be our final arbiter in all matters. While it can be healthy and properly shaped by the scriptures, it also can become deadened or twisted by ungodly influences. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians and Romans of Christians who have a weak conscience. He exhorts Timothy numerous times in the Pastoral Epistles to have a good conscience as opposed to an evil conscience. Peter in his epistles also speaks of the importance of having a good conscience, and several New Testament writers talk of the perils of the last days when men will have consciences that has been “seared with a hot iron” and has become “defiled.” It is dangerous to trust a conscience that has been twisted by means of sinful and ungodly influences. Let us never forget that the same faculty that can become hardened over time to allow evil men to justify presumptuous sin can also become a weapon of Satan to cause doubts and anxiety in immature Christians.
- Sin attacks our fruitfulness: At this point, in our discussion, let’s remember that we are not examining the doctrine of security or justification before God, but rather our sense that we are personally secure in Christ. Fruitfulness in the Christian life is one of the ways that we and others can see verification that there is new life in Christ. James writes in James 3: “I will show you my faith by my works…” Paul writes in Romans 8 that those who are after the Sprit “mind the things of the Sprit.” And in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that every man in Christ is “a new creature, old things are passed away, all things are become new.” The internal reality of new life in Christ is a spiritual and therefore invisible reality; yet it is not without verifiable evidence. Christ told Nicodemus that the new birth is like the wind. It is invisible, yet verifiable. In John 15, Jesus told the disciples that they could be identified by something that is verifiable, “their love for one another.” Fruitfulness in the Christian life comes by degrees and not in a vacuum. Understanding this, Paul prayed in Philippians 1: that his audience would be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ.” Paul’s prayer was rooted in Christ’s statement in John 15 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Sin breaks fellowship with God, therefore isolating us from the source of fruitfulness. This is why Peter wrote the following admonition in 2 Peter 1:5-10: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness…For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall…” Christians who give all diligence to their personal growth into Christlikeness will be transformed by degrees into the image of Christ and will have a steadiness and confidence that indeed they are God’s children.
Section 2: Examining this section more closely
In our text, John is addressing a very specific problem, lack of assurance of one’s position in Christ. It is his firm conviction that it is possible to be sure of one’s position in Christ. In 1 John 3:19 he writes: “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” In verse 21 he writes: “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” And in 1 John 5:11-13 he writes: “And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life…” Since he has this conviction, and wants his listeners to also have this conviction, he addresses two major problems that are undermining their confidence. In light of the big picture that we just addressed in our last section, John believes that antinomianism (a casual attitude toward sin) and mysticism (an overly emotional rather than rational approach to the Christian life) are at the root of their lack of confidence. We could summarize John’s basic concern with the following statements.
- He wants his beloved to be confident and joyful in their Christian experience.
- He wants to warn those who are backsliding to recognize that their doubts are the direct result of their spiritual laziness:
- He wants to encourage the immature who are prone to irrational thinking to find their confidence in the work or Christ:
- He wants to encourage those who are growing in the Lord to continue to be confident, because their lives are showing the marks of Christian growth.
What I would like to do in our next sections is discuss how a casual attitude toward sin and an overly emotional, rather than rational approach to the Christian life will muddy the waters of our confidence in Christ.
Section 1: Keeping the Big Picture before the Little Details
John is a pastor and thinks in a pastoral way. The people to whom he is writing are people that he knows well, and the troubles that they are facing as individuals and as a church body are heavy on his heart. He calls them little children and beloved throughout his letter, giving us this sense. We can summarize the big picture with the John’s statement in the opening section of the letter: 1 John 1:3-4 “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” The statement tells us several things about John’s attitude toward the people. First, he views them as genuine Christians. I am not suggesting that everyone who heard the letter read was a genuine Christian, but that was his target audience. Second, these Christians are being targeted by various types of false teachers. Some of these false teachers are preaching a different Christ, others are mystics who claim to have a deeper knowledge of the truth, while still others are teaching a form of antinomianism. Thirdly, John is convinced that the degree to which these Christians are duped by these false teachers will directly cause them to stumble in their Christian experience. Lastly, his primary concern is that by addressing these issues the people can identify error, reject it, and have a sustained fellowship with Christ where they will grow in that walk with the Lord, and experience sustained joy. Doctrinal confusion, unrepentant sin, and mysticism create confusion and keep Christians from experiencing a healthy, joyful walk with the Lord.
Some Thoughts on the Relationship between the Believer’s Security in Christ and His Confidence within that Position from 1 John 3:18-21: Introduction
There are few dispositions in life more debilitating than fear or anxiety. There are also few dispositions more dangerous to our personal welfare then misplaced confidence. The concept of the believer’s security in Christ and one’s confidence that he is in Christ are important topics. Sadly, many people go through life with misplaced confidence while others wrestle with unnecessary yet very real and debilitating anxiety. We recently addressed these issues in our church as we continue to work verse by verse through the book of 1 John. As a pastor my heart is heavy as I think of real life situations directly connected to this topic. I think of people who show no evidence of clarity in their understanding of the gospel, yet are stubbornly self-confident to their own destruction. Yet again, others who have professed faith in Christ, yet due to a highly introspective disposition, an untrained conscience, or spiritual immaturity are plagued by anxiety and crippled in their Christian experience. Neither is good nor necessary, yet both are all to common realities. It is my firm conviction that those in either category desperately need their dispositions, emotions, and daily thoughts to be brought into the light of God’s words. Scripture provides clarity and sheds light into the darkness exposing the true nature of our thoughts and emotions. Let’s study this topic in light of last weeks sermon text: 1 John 3:18-21 “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”
Truth 3: Every believer no matter his level of spiritual maturity is fully accepted by God on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not his own righteousness.
To address this third truth in our series, I would like to make the distinction between positional acceptance in Christ and joy in the Lord that comes through a healthy fellowship with God. To say that someone is accepted in Christ and enjoying fully that acceptance is not the same thing. We will address the issue of sin in the believer’s life and how it affects his walk before the Lord in a later post, but rather than getting into that topic now, let us set it to the side and address this truth first. In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Notice the details of this text quickly. First, notice his audience. Paul describes them as people who are: “blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” “those who are chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” “people who are chosen to be holy and without blame before him in love,” and “predestined to adoption as children by Christ.” Paul’s audience is narrowed to those who are in Christ and only those who are in Christ. Paul uses a similar approach when he writes to the church at Corinth, Philippi, Rome, and Colossae. As we read the remainder of Paul’s epistle, it will become clear to us that though his audience is in this position, they are far from sinless persons in their daily conduct. In chapter 4 he writes: “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” He then proceeds to command them to put away a series of serious sinful practices including lying, stealing, and corrupt communication. I do not make the point to justify these actions or to suggest that these sinful responses are insignificant. I simply make the observation, that Paul is referring to these believers as saints, though their lives are tainted by sin. I think this observation should draw us to ask the following question: Since God is holy and just, and these people are not, how is it possible for God to accept them? The answer is found in the nature of our justification and acceptance before God. In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet writes: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Please do not miss the significance of Isaiah’s state. He says “we all.” Isaiah is a faithful prophet of God, and has been functioning in that official position before the nation of Israel for some time. He includes himself in the statement. Also notice the statement “all our righteousness.” He realizes that all our good deeds are on some level tainted by our sinfulness. To get the sense of Isaiah’s statement, consider the following illustration. Let us say that you have just completed university, and for your graduation, people bring gifts to honor you for your hard work and the accomplishment. One friend decides to go to the community landfill, and pulls a shirt from the smelly pile of waste. Technically, you could wear the shirt, and could use it, if you had no other alternative, however my question is, “How would you respond to this “gift?” I think it is safe to say that you would feel insulted by the “gift,” because the “gift” is unacceptable. Our righteousness before we are placed into Christ, and after we are placed into Christ, can never be the means through which God accepts us. This is why Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9 “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…” Paul’s attitude toward his righteousness after his conversion, radically changed from his attitude when he was a devout Pharisee keeping the law to the best of his ability. Even the Apostle Paul’s acceptance before God, positionally in Christ, was rooted in one thing, the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul stated the following way in Romans 3:21-25 “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Our standing before the Lord is exclusively rooted in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. May this truth bring humility when we are tempted to lift ourselves up in self-righteous pride and joy and comfort when we stumble in our Christian experience!
Truth 2: Every believer comes into this position as an act of the grace of God when the believer repents of His ungodly views of himself, his righteousness, his sin, and the person and work of Christ, and turns to trust only in the finished work of Christ in the gospel.
We have seen already, that we are not saved by keeping the law or by doing some good deed to merit a righteous standing before God. We are justified and saved from the wrath of God in Christ by grace alone and on the basis of the work of Christ, and His imputed righteousness. The follow-up question ought to be, then what unites a person to Christ? Or to put it another way, what must a person do in order to be saved. I will answer the question with our second non-negotiable Bible truth that is true of every believer. Every believer comes into this position as an act of the grace of God when the believer repents of His ungodly views of himself, his righteousness, his sin, and the person and work of Christ, and turns to trust only in the finished work of Christ in the gospel. Paul answered the question this way in Acts 17:30. He said “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Acts 20:21 I have testified “both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter put it this way in Acts 3:19: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” And Jesus put it this way in Matthew 4:17 “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Luke 13:3 “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Did Christ and apostle say here are the Ten Commandments, follow them and you will live? The answer is no. They said repentant and believe the gospel. Why did Christ and the apostles emphasize repentance and faith? They emphasized these two aspects of our response to the gospel, because that humble repentant dependence upon the person and work of Christ is the only thing that will bring conversion and union with Christ. Repentance is essential to our response to the gospel, because of our condition as natural men. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” No person is by nature a believer. His mind is clouded by sin. Everything that he sees in that condition is affected by his fallen condition. Unless he is awakened from his stupor, and brought to see the light by the grace of God, he can never and will never embrace the cross of Christ for his redemption. Repentance is that radical change in one’s thinking wrought by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel that changes an arrogant self-righteous person into a humble person looking only to Christ for his redemption and standing before the Lord. Ephesians 2:13-14 Puts it like this: “Ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Notice the order. You trusted after you heard the gospel, and then after you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. There can never be faith without the proclaiming of the gospel, and one’s response of repentance toward God and faith in Christ is the critical response that unites us to Christ and the benefits of the gospel. I can think of no passage that more clearly expounds the practical elements of repentance and faith than Paul’s personal testimony in Philippians 3:4-9. He writes: I was “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Paul in beauty and clarity articulates the two critical aspects to his faith. He had a radical change in his disposition toward God, righteousness, and self. He turned from his former confidence in self and embraced the righteousness of Christ in the gospel. He viewed his religious credentials as rubbish, to embrace the perfection of Christ’s righteousness. This is what repentance, faith, and conversion look like in a practical world. As we read 1 John 3:7-15, let us not loose sight of this second non-negotiable truth. Every believer comes into this position as an act of the grace of God when the believer repents of His ungodly views of himself, his righteousness, his sin, and the person and work of Christ, and turns to trust only in the finished work of Christ in the gospel.