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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 99 – 1 John 1:8
The problem of sin

With brutal honesty John says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” or in other words we all sin.

That is not a popular idea. We like to think that we do not sin – we just make mistakes. Mistakes they may be but they are also sin. That is because there is always a ‘God element’ in what we do. David said in Psalm 51: 4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” which was actually a bit of a liberty since he had very clearly and definitely sinned against Uriah, stealing his wife and organising his death. But there is a truth there – all that we do will reflect in the view the Lord God has of us and therefore it is sin. Most people are not aware of that anti-God element in what they do and so they are not happy with the word ‘sin’ when it is applied to them. All of us are guilty of that anti-God activity which amounts in many ways to idolatry – putting something or somebody before God in our thinking.

As to why we sin, that has been a source of argument for many centuries. Do we sin because we inherit sinfulness or do we sin simply because we sin? But all that is just a theoretical argument. The cruel and crucial reality is that we do sin – inevitably. It is an inescapable part of human nature.

This gives rise to a major problem for John as well as for us. We shall see, particularly in his chapter 3, that he also wants to say that those who have set out to follow Jesus, who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit as an essential part of their lives should not sin at all – but they do. We will eventually come to where he says that and see how John wrestles with the dilemma.

There is one strange, wonderful and amazing fact about sin as we are told about it in the Bible. We can see this very clearly in the 10 commandments. Only 4 of them are about anything to do directly with our attitude to God. The other 6 are all to do with how we live as people and the way we treat other people. And that is the consistent pattern through all the rest of scripture. It is how we live as a person that matters, not the way we carry out any particular religious rite. What your church does may be quite different from what my church does. No matter – if we have set out to follow the Lord we are his. If what we do departs a great deal from what is recommended clearly in scripture we shall find it more difficult – but not impossible.

It is, in a way, encouraging to discover that even in the very early church they had a problem with sin. Much of this epistle is taken up with the problem John faced in his local church, the church he had founded and of which he was the main stay. A movement known as Gnosticism (pronounced nosticism) was active in those early years. Gnostic means wisdom and those who taught these things claimed that they had special knowledge, not given to everyone, and that they knew special things hidden from most of mankind and, indeed, most Christian believers. So they had broken off from the main church John had founded and formed their own group which they thought to be very special. That is why John says ‘they went out from us’ in 2: 19. We shall see that John is trying hard to persuade all his fellow believers to stay centred in all their thinking on Jesus. As we look at various verses in this epistle that will be the constant call to us. Stay focused on Jesus; do not imagine for a moment that there are other more exciting possibilities out there. There aren’t.

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