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Caution AND Comfort – 8/20/23

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Caution AND Comfort – 8/20/23


Peter Hubbard


August 20, 2023


1 John, 1 John 1:5-2:2


When I was a kid, I always wanted to be ambidextrous. I couldn’t say it, but I wanted to be it. I wanted to be able to bat either way; it just seemed really cool to be able to come from either side of the plate, throw with either hand, shoot with either side of your body in hockey. My dad was a switch hitter, and he just made it look so easy. It is not easy. It is super awkward to use the weak hand; you look a little odd. But ambidexterity is actually quite rare. I think only about 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous.

James Garfield had a remarkable gift of ambidexterity. Although he was the last U.S. president to be born in a log cabin, he arose from poverty to become a president of a college at twenty-six years old. Any twenty-six-year-olds here ready to be a president? He spoke several languages and could write with his left hand and his right hand the same sentence, one in Greek, one in Latin at the same time. Great party trick! But that is not normal. We normal people tend to favor one side or the other. And we’re that way not just with our hands or our feet; we’re that way in life. We have personality tendencies. We have strengths and weaknesses. We have default settings. We, under pressure, will tend to respond a particular way, and that is normal.

But in real life, in one sense, we all need to be ambidextrous, especially leaders. This is why Willink and Babin wrote the book The Dichotomy of Leadership. As Navy SEALs, they noticed in battle and in business, you can’t just do one thing. You simultaneously must be leader and follower. You’re under someone and you’re over someone, confident and humble, aggressive and cautious, and what they call the ultimate dichotomy. They explain,

“It was difficult to grasp, the hardest and most painful of all the dichotomies of leadership; to care about your men more than anything in the world — so much so that you’d even willingly trade your life for theirs — and yet, at the same time, to lead those men on missions that could result in their deaths.”

And they gave some breathtaking examples of where they and other leaders had to do just that — to lead men into battle who you love dearly. They were devoted to these men; at the very same time, they put them in harm’s way.

Trevin Wax, in his book the Multi-Directional Leader, emphasized how important it is to respond wisely to multiple challenges from opposite directions. One example you see in the life of Jesus is how he did not merely address one danger at a time. Sometimes they’re separated by time. But in the well-known example of John 8, where a woman was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus, her accusers surrounding her with stones in hand, ready to crush her to death, judgment for her sin, Jesus did not respond mono-directionally. He did two things according to the story. He said in John 8:11b,

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

So, Jesus recognized two simultaneous dangers at the same time. One, he spoke caution — “Go and sin no more.” Why? Because he recognized that a life of immorality will literally suck the life out of your soul. And while the stones will crush your body, marital unfaithfulness, fornication will crush your soul. He saw that danger. Stop sleeping around.

But he also spoke comfort. He saw a different danger. He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” He saw the danger that she would be crushed under her guilt and shame by her accusers. And he said, “I didn’t come to condemn you. I came to absorb the crushing you deserve so that you would not be crushed, so that you would be forgiven and free.” But he did both. Do you see that? He took sin seriously, and he poured out mercy. Jesus is full of grace and full of truth. Jesus is spiritually ambidextrous. He can write with the left hand, with the pen of grace, while simultaneously writing with the right hand, with the pen of truth. He is the Lion who is the Lamb. He is the Sovereign who is the Sacrifice. He is the Just who will not move an inch on what God requires, and yet he is the Justifier who makes guilty people right. And when our lives are drawn into his, he begins to produce in us an ambidexterity that we do not naturally have.

And John talks about this in John 1, 1 John 1:5-2:2 as he holds up two opposing realities and then shows how they come together. He begins in verse 5.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you.”

Now here are the two opposing realities. Number 1,

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

God is light. What do we mean? When the Bible talks about light, specifically God being light, what is it referring to? Intellectually, “light” is referring to the fact that he is true and speaks truth. In contrast to the darkness, he is never ignorant or mistaken. Morally, “light” refers to the fact that he is pure and does right in contrast to the fact that “darkness” … He is never evil or malevolent. Notice how John starts with God. If you don’t start with God, you tend to be off from the beginning. God is light.

Secondly, we are darkness. Apart from God, we are darkness. And John communicates our capacity to walk in darkness with three “if we say” statements, verses 6, 8, 10. The three communicate three ways in which we walk in darkness. Remember, this is a letter all about “this is how we know,” and John is right from the beginning saying, “this is how we don’t know.” You won’t know if you walk in darkness.

Well, what is darkness? He gives three examples. The first, we deny the truth by saying without doing. We deny the truth by saying without doing. Verse 6,

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

No one likes a liar. A couple of months ago (do some of you remember this?) someone stole my name, made up a new email, sent out emails to many of you saying that I needed some gift cards, large amounts of gift cards, that I wanted to help encourage people who were cancer patients, and I wanted to make sure that volunteers who worked so hard were encouraged. And that just makes me so mad! The fact, first of all, they prey on the hearts. They know Christians, especially you all, are super compassionate, and if there’s a need and you can meet it, it doesn’t matter what it is; you’ll do it. And I’ve seen it. So, they’re preying on that. Secondly, they know — who doesn’t want to help cancer patients? And who doesn’t want to help volunteers who labor so hard and could use some encouragement? They gave other … They’re very creative. Liars are very creative and, fortunately, I don’t know of anyone that actually sent the money. I know some people in our church who played with them. That is fun. I know of one who was going back and forth — “I just inherited a ton of money, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. Can I give you more than what you asked for? Please!” Is it wrong to lie to a liar? To scam a scammer?

But nobody, even a scammer doesn’t want to be scammed. And this is what John is saying. If you say this, saying “we have fellowship with him,” look at me, yet “you walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Now there’s a chance what he’s getting at here is what we talked about last week introducing the book; the Proto-Gnostics, the early form of what is known as Gnosticism, often divided body and spirit. So, you could be sinning with your body on Friday and then worshiping with your spirit on Sunday, and that’s no problem in Gnosticism, and John says that is a problem. You can’t divide yourself like that. You’re living a lie if you’re saying one thing and then doing something else.

He gives a second way in which we walk in darkness. We can deceive ourselves by pretending to be innocent. Verse 8, here’s the second.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

So, self-deception is especially dangerous because it’s like Judas lives in our head. He’s betraying us. We are betraying ourselves. We’re giving ourselves the kiss of betrayal, believing our very own lie. That’s the scariest of deceptions. It’s like an autoimmune disease, where your good cells are fighting against other good cells, and they’re shooting in the wrong direction rather than against bad cells. You’re shooting yourself, in essence spiritually, when you’re doing what John is warning us not to do. You desperately need the truth, but you’re lying to yourself, and you’re feeding on lies. That’s the second way we can walk in darkness.

Third way — we can distort God by rejecting his Word. Verse 10, here’s the third “if we say.”

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Do you see the progression of these three? Verse 6, we become a liar by practicing deceit; verse 8, we begin to believe our own lies. If you lie long enough, you start believing what you’re selling. And third, you then begin to misrepresent God and portray God as something God is not saying. He says, “I’m good to go” when God says you’re not. You’re a sinner. So, God is light. Secondly, we are darkness.

And now, how do we bring these together? Number 3, God is calling us out of darkness into his light. Now, this is stunning the way John does this. Verse 7 and verse 9. Verse 7,

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, [Remember, he’s light. We’re walking in his light.] we have fellowship with one another, [vertical transformation, horizontal transformation] and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

That’s just really good news! Look at verse 9.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Now the ambidexterity of the gospel comes out very strongly in these two verses. “Walking in God’s light” and “fellowshipping with his people” means you’re doing two things simultaneously. Number 1, you’re taking sin very seriously. That’s the caution in these verses. Sin cost Jesus his life! It is not to be trifled with! It’s not a game! The blood of Jesus — he’s a human, God’s Son, he’s divine — was paid, was laid out for us because of sin. So, “walking in the light” means we don’t hide our sin; we’re ready to confess.

Now, what does it mean to confess? It simply means to agree with God. It’s the opposite of what he just described — the denial, deception, pretending. “God, you’re right when you say, about my pride, that it’s wrong. You’re right about that. You’re right about my lying. You’re right about my pretending. You’re right about sin.” Confess. Take sin very seriously.

But then second, at the same time, receiving cleansing and forgiveness; that is comfort. John is simultaneously cautioning and comforting. Look again at verse 7. “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,” and we prove that we’ve become a perfect person. Is that what it says? No, this isn’t about us earning this status of “light walkers.” No. This is the blood of Jesus his Son continually cleanses us (that’s present, active, indicative) from all sin. Verse 9, again, “If we confess our sin, he is faithful,” faithful to his promises. He is just. God never judges twice for the same sin. He judged Christ for your sin. He’s not going to judge you for the sin with which he judged Christ for. He’s “just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

What about after we’re saved? Once we repent and believe in Jesus, aren’t we forgiven, righteous in him? So, should we confess our sin? There are a growing number of evangelicals that will argue no. You confessed one and done, and don’t confess your sin anymore once you’re Christian because you’re already forgiven.

Let me give you one example. Andrew Farley in his book, Twisted Scripture: Untangling 45 Lies Christians Have Been Told, which ironically, is full of a lot of tangled partial truths, some good stuff too, argues 1 John 1:9 has nothing to do with Christians. And Farley actually mocks the idea that a Christian would ever confess his sin to God because he’s already forgiven. So, how does Farley get around 1 John 1:9 and other passages like it? I’ll let him answer that. He says, page 244,

“1 John 1:9 is an evangelistic appeal. It’s about a one-time confession (admission) of sinfulness in order to be saved.”

How does he know that? That’s what I was wondering when I read that. I thought, “Okay, how do we know that, that that has nothing to do with us as Christians?” So, he claims that chapter 1 of 1 John is written to the unsaved, and we know that, according to him, by chapter 2, verse 1, he starts out “My little children.” So, Farley is arguing that chapter 1 is unsaved, chapter 2 he begins addressing Christians; and therefore, chapter 1, verse 9 has nothing to do with us.

Now, lots of problems with this, in my opinion. Let me just give a couple. One, what does he do with verse 7? Because there’s a continual cleansing going on here that’s connected to a continual confession. “Cleanses” in verse 7 is in the present tense. So, there is a sense in which as Christians, we are clean and are continually being made clean. That’s part of the ambidexterity of the gospel. We’re clean, we’re declared righteous, but he is transforming us more and more into the image of Jesus. As we walk in the light, we are becoming more and more like him, more and more cleansed, if you will.

Second, John repeatedly addresses his readers as little children. So, my question for Farley is “How do you know when he’s talking to whom?” If we can just discard parts of 1 John and say, “Oh, that’s to atheists. That’s not to me,” what are the cues? What are the clues in the text that tell me when I can listen and when I can ignore it? I believe that’s a huge problem.

Now, let me give some credit to Farley because what he’s getting at, I believe, is really important. He’s concerned about the fact that there are many Christians, there may be many here this morning, who live under a perpetual cloud of guilt and shame, often even feeling more … The more guilty you feel, the more spiritual you feel. It’s almost like it’s unspiritual to truly be forgiven and walk in the light. That’s not what John is saying as we’ll see as we go through the letter; he’s going to make that even more clear. So, Farley is rightly saying, “No! Jesus didn’t die for Christians to live under the guilt and shame of constant failure! That’s not why he died!” That point is huge. But Farley is allergic to the ambidexterity of the gospel. We can be forgiven and still pray daily the Lord’s Prayer. Every morning I pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Now, a Christian is going to pray that differently. I pray it in two ways. One is “Open … Lord, show me anything I might be blind to.” Like Hebrews 3 says,

“Exhort one another daily while it is called today lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

Lord, a pastor can grow blind to things in our lives, my life, that Lord, I want to continually be open to your conviction. Show me. Speak through your people. Spirit, show me. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. But I almost can’t pray that prayer without a smile because it really is a prayer of gratefulness because as I pray it, I know he’s doing it. He’s done it. He died so I can be clean. You can be clean right now in his presence because of the blood of Jesus. So, it’s a prayer of gratefulness for believers as we walk in the light.

So, let’s summarize. What are we hearing, because John, I believe … Remember the chapter divisions were added later? Chapter divisions are not inspired. It seems what John does in the first 2 verses of chapter 2 is summarize what we’ve just heard. “My little children, I am writing these things to you.” Now, watch what John does. He’s about to write, it’s so cool, with his left hand and his right hand. His left hand —

“I’m writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”

Caution! And then his right hand —

“But if anyone does sin.” Isn’t that so cool? Caution! — “So that you may not sin.” Comfort — “But if anyone does sin.”

I’m wondering if we have anyone here … This is an audience participation moment. How many of you fall into the category of “anyone”? Seriously. If you’re not anyone, I want to talk to you afterwards. Receive this promise. “I’m writing so that you won’t sin.” John is not taking sin lightly and not taking our vulnerability. I can be saved many decades and still be vulnerable. I don’t play. I’m not presumptuous. There’s a humility and a sobriety there. “I’m writing that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate.”

So, by the “anyone,” what John is saying is the only thing you need is need. That’s it. The only thing you need this morning to receive the promise we’re about to read about here from the Lord is just to be aware of your need.

“If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Remember, we started this passage … God is light, and now Jesus is light. He is righteous.

What’s an advocate? I find the best way to understand what an advocate is is to contrast it with an intercessor. We have both. An intercessor stands between two parties to bring them together. Intercessor in prayer, in court, standing between two parties to bring them together. An advocate stands alongside. That’s what this word advocate means — “with one party, to bring the two parties together.” So, an advocate is literally a person who comes alongside to plead on our behalf.

Dane Ortlund has an amazing chapter on this in his Gentle and Lowly. He writes this.

“Jesus shares with us in our actual experience, He feels what we feel. He draws near. And he speaks up longingly on our behalf.”

Let that soak in. “He speaks up longingly on our behalf.” Say that with me. “He speaks up longingly on our behalf.” And this is nice in theory on Sunday morning. This is life in the middle of a battle. Ortlund goes on.

“He cannot bear to leave us alone to fend for ourselves.”

Now, pause for a second. Many of us, when we are in the battle, tempted to despair, tempted to give in again to sin, we have a very us-versus-them mentality to God like “I have to prove myself, God. Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to deserve another one of these trials or temptations?” What Jesus is saying to us today is “No, no, no, no. I am your advocate. I speak longingly on your behalf.” Again, what Ortlund says here,

“He cannot bear to leave us alone to fend for ourselves. Consider your own life. How do you think about Jesus’s attitude toward the dark pocket of your life that only you know [that deception that John was talking about]? The overdependence on alcohol. The lost temper, time and again. The shady business about your finances. The inveterate people-pleasing [inveterate is like deep-seated, ingrained, reflexive people-pleasing] that looks to others like niceness, but which you know to be the fear of man. The entrenched resentment that bursts out in behind-the-back accusations. The habitual use of pornography.”

Now, all of us are in there somewhere. Here’s the question — Who is Jesus in these moments of spiritual blankness, not “Who is he once you’ve conquered that sin” but “Who is he in the midst of it”? Many of us believe, “Oh, yeah, I have a savior, and as soon as I get over this, I know he’s going to rush in. I know he’s going to help me.” But what if he comes alongside right now in the middle of your doubt, in the middle of your temptation, in the middle of your failure? And he doesn’t stand with finger pointed? He doesn’t minimize the sin, remember, he can write with both hands, but he comes alongside you, and he speaks longingly on your behalf. That’s what I need. What a savior! Do we realize what it’s like to have an ambidextrous advocate, one who takes sin very seriously and at the very same time speaks up longingly on our behalf?

Evangelical Christians are good at one or the other, right? There are whole movements that emphasize sin management. “We’ve got to talk about sin. We’ve got to focus on sin.” And then there are whole movements that say, “No, no, no, no. Jesus died for that. We need to forget about sin. You’re not a sinner. We’re new.” And the New Testament seems to say, “Okay, can we do both here? Like actually take sin seriously because it will kill you? But let that cause you to run to Jesus. You have an advocate, not to try to prove yourself.

So, how can he do both? How can he be both? He answers that in verse 2.

“He is the propitiation”

That’s a big theological word that I think we all should know because it’s a really good word, and there really is no good English word that captures all that that one word says. It is the idea of “to satisfy wrath, to propitiate God’s just wrath.” Remember he’s light. There’s no sin in him. You can’t look lightly on sin. God’s just wrath is on all of us. Jesus intervened, absorbed that wrath on the cross, and so, now he exchanges the wrath we deserve for the mercy we need. It’s all in that one word. That’s why it’s so long. It’s a beautiful word. He met the justice of God so that we receive his mercy. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” The whole world! In one sense, the cross of Christ is a demonstration of love for the whole world. “For God so loved the world.” That’s why, one of the reasons, God’s common grace is poured out on people who curse his name every day. That is one expression of the love of God. But in a more particular way, his love on the cross was given for his own, as he goes on to say here in John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

So, you see, even in that, the ambidexterity, where Jesus is taking sin seriously, but he is taking away sin eternally. And that is the gospel.

This past week, unfortunately, I was up in the hospital when the Tim Keller service was going on, his homegoing service. So, I missed it. I’m looking forward to seeing it. But Tim Keller is famous for many quotes, but one big one. And it’s this. And he actually borrowed it from Jack Miller, one of his mentors.

“The gospel is this: we are more sinful and flawed … than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time [here’s the ambidexterity of the gospel,] we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

If you deny one of those, you’re missing the gospel. You’re way worse than you think, and you’re way more loved and forgiven than you could imagine. Can you receive both of those? Because the one drives the other. When our eyes are open to the fact “Lord, there are parts of me that I am blind toward. I don’t even see how bad off I am. But yet your love is so great. Christ paid for sin that I don’t even realize I have committed.” What love! What love! Let’s pray.

Father, you have brought each of us here today that we would hear your Word, your Word for us today. And for some of us, we need to, first and foremost, hear caution. We’ve slipped into an apathy and a dullness. We can explain away the anger in our hearts. We can look past the lust that is taking control. We can justify in our minds the darkness we are walking in, and you have given us a huge warning today — caution! May we hear your caution. May we respond in humility and repentance, confess our sin, and you are faithful and just to forgive it. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you. You can do that right now.

And Lord, others of us have come in today, and we are being crushed by our sin. We look in the mirror, and we just see shame. When our mind wanders, it just wanders to failure. And we desperately need today to hear comfort, to know we have an advocate who doesn’t point across the aisle but comes alongside. May we see the heart of Jesus, full of grace, full of truth, remaining just and yet justifying sinners. And may we as your people … As we come to see you and know you more fully, Jesus, as our eyes are fixed on you, send us into schools, businesses, neighborhoods here and around the world, full of grace and full of truth. Produce your ambidexterity in those of us who are extremely awkward, have difficulty doing two things. Yet as we gaze on your Son, beholding him, you produce this in us. And we thank you. We thank you. Spirit, come among us to continue this work you are doing in us as we cry out to you now in Jesus’s name. Amen.