John had given his credentials as qualified to speak of Messiah’s reality, message, and purpose. John could bear witness to both Jesus’s humanity and divinity, and John had received in full all the teaching Jesus had given.

Now, John was seeking to protect his beloved assemblies from falling prey to the false prophets, the Gnostics, who were leading unsuspecting astray. John had addressed two of the Gnostic sects’ three claims:

First, it is impossible to live in darkness yet insist one walks in the light. Darkness and light can have nothing to do with each other, they simply cannot coexist. John meant that to denigrate the body in any way—by severe asceticism or unfettered licentiousness, as Gnostics did—was to walk in darkness.

Second, there could be no circumventing the fact that everyone, whether by nature or by nurture, sins. To pretend otherwise was to ignore the facts, and allow uncleanness to fester in one’s heart, mind, and soul. Jesus offered complete cleansing, and the only way to have fellowship with God was to be cleansed of all unrighteousness. Praise be to God, that was what Jesus would do for all who came to him.

Now, John would address the third claim

Third Claim of the Gnostics.

My little children, I am writing these things to you in order that you may not sin. And if someone sins, we have an advocate [before] the Father: [the] righteous Jesus Christ, and he is [the] atonement for our sins, and not only for our [sins], but rather also for the whole world.

1 John 2:1-2 (my translation)

Gnostics claimed there was no such thing as sin, therefore it was impossible to sin, for it did not exist. There was no point in seeking not to sin, because there was no such thing as “sin” or “sinning” in the first place.

John strongly contested such thinking.

John was saying the goal is to not sin, not to pretend that you do not sin, or to insist that what you do is not sin. But rather, the goal is simply to not sin.

But if you do, admit it so that you can throw yourself on the sure mercy of Jesus. Since all people sin, the life of a true believer is a life of regular repentance: confessing your sin to God, receiving God’s cleansing and forgiveness, then determining to not sin in that way again.

This is really the heart and pith of the gospel, a truth so familiar, sometimes it feels as though it goes without saying. A basic truth. A building block of faith.

So why is the living of it so hard?

Organic Sanctification

The cooperation God requires of us involves coming to the Lord and confessing—what we have done, and what others have done to us. All our hurts and guilts and shames. Then God requires that we receive from the Lord the cleansing that God gives, cleansing that washes away those hurts and guilts and shames, that wells up from within as a fountain of love and life, that floods through us in a great torrent of energy and power, of desire for good.

And then, God requires that we go with that flow, we surrender ourselves to the divine work God is doing within us, and live it out with all our minds, hearts, souls, and strength.

And yet, we get stuck every step of the way. We try to minimize the sin, trivialize it. We try to ignore it, rename it, recast it. We try to push it away, push it on someone else. We flop our hands around, searching for a scapegoat, or explaining it all away, “It’s my brain,” or my low blood sugar, or my dysfunctional upbringing, or my lack of sleep. We know we have a leg to stand on with these reasons, for they all carry truth.

But why do we do that, when we know the Lord longs more than anything to cleanse those wounds and make us whole again?

Do we fear condemnation from God in some sort of awful, cosmic bait-and-switch? Or perhaps God is secretly disgusted with us, the Lord is only pretending to love us, when in reality God could not possibly love such loathsome creatures?

Or perhaps we cannot ourselves accept love from God because it feels impersonal, or perhaps fake, since God is obligated to love all people, being God.

Maybe I have complained so many times to God about the same bad habits (sin) and the same victimization (others’ sin against me) that God has grown weary with it. Secretly, of course, for God would be far too polite to say so, but . . . still. Perhaps God is stifling both irritation and a yawn.

Perhaps it seems hard to believe that God never gets disgusted, never throws up God-sized hands in frustration, like people do.

Facing One’s Fears

Or maybe, just maybe, you and I project those responses onto God because we are—deep, deep down—afraid to confront the sinful things in our lives because we think it is going to bring even more grief, sorrow, and guilt. You and I will do almost anything to avoid pain, will we not? Without even realizing it, I think you and i work hard at trying to pretend flaws, faults, and frailties are simply not there, or we try to cover them up, disguise them.

People are funny like that. We take responsibility for others’ sins (especially the ones they do to us) but we push away responsibility for our own sin. Or stuff. Or issues. Or whatever one might like to call it.

The truth is, though, all of that sin (or stuff, or issues) is sickness. It is like a corrosive, and the deeper we stuff it down, the more we disguise it and pretend it is something else, the more it works its corruption within. The irony is that the pain of confronting it is so much less than the pain of living in it, living with it, as it grows and grows in the darkness. Like slime, and mold.

What you and I discover, when we have finally screwed up enough courage to speak even a small part of what is happening inside (that John calls confession of sin), that John is right on this.

And if someone sins, we have an advocate [before] the Father: [the] righteous Jesus Christ, and he is [the] atonement for our sins.

That pain that comes from confessing the sin in our lives, and the pain that comes from repenting of it (even the really hard things that feel like part of our core), as bad as it can hurt, is a better pain, a far more manageable pain, than having held onto it all that time.

Advocate, Not Judge

Because Jesus did not come to judge, Jesus came to restore. You and I are not facing a judge, we are facing an advocate.

Listen to John’s Gospel,

For thus loved God the world so that he gave his only begotten son, in order that all believing in him would not be utterly destroyed, but rather have live eternal.

For God did not send the son into the world in order to judge the world, but rather in order that the world would be saved through him.

John 3:16-17 (my translation)

It is the consistent message John preached his entire nearly one hundred years of life.

And not just John! Listen to Paul’s reassurance!

If God is for us, who is against us?

Romans 8:31 (my translation)

It is one thing to hurt, and have no one there, or someone there who simply hurts us more. A bad response to trauma re-traumatizes, making things orders of magnitude worse.

But God is, well, God

God is able to set us free from that pain, and that guilt, and that shame. God is able to give us wisdom, and wherewithal to follow through with wisdom, in living out a cleansed and sacred life, a life of repentance. The testimony of the apostles could not be more clear. Here, listen to Peter,

The Lord does not delay the divine assurance, as some consider tardiness, but rather suffers long with you all, not willing some to be utterly destroyed, but rather all to enter repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (my translation)

Fellowship with God begins with right thinking about God and sin

[Reminiscent of Eve, hiding in the Garden |]

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