1 John 1:5-2:2
1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
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- Why do you think that people hide and pretend when they do something wrong? (explain).
- People trick themselves into believing they’re okay when they’re not honest about their own sins. They “deceive themselves”. Why is that so dangerous?
- The gospel message tells us that we are worse than we expect while also being loved more than we can imagine. How does that good news feel to you?
- How does an honest community help us with our brokenness and sinfulness?
- What happens if a community is full of pretenders? What would that feel like? Would other people want to join?
- On the other hand, what would it be like if a church community practiced this lesson? What do you think that would be like? Would it be attractive and helpful? How would it make people feel?
Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness
*This is a transcript is generated from the sermon audio. This document has not been edited for spelling, grammar, or exactness.
And then the rest of us, if we could grab a Bible and track down First John, chapter one. I’m going to read verses five into chapter two, verse two, and then we’ll pray and we will get to work. This is First John, chapter one, starting in verse five.
This is the message we have heard from him. Declare to you, God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. And the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His Word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.
Let’s pray. Lord, as we’ve opened Your word this morning, we pray that by Your spirit, through Your Word, you would speak to Your people. We pray that you would use this time to help us consider our church and the kind of church that we want to be. We’re so grateful, God, for Your love for us and Your redeeming work. Thank you that you purify us and forgive us, and you make us new. And we pray that our church would embody that reality. In Jesus name, amen. Amen.
We’re starting a new series today, and it’ll go for multiple weeks, but it’s a series called Gospel Culture. It’s an idea that I’ve learned from a gentleman named Ray Ortlund he actually wrote a little green book that we sometimes give away around here. It’s called The Gospel. How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. And in it he’s got basically this main idea that you want your church to actually feel like the Lord is there. You want your church to have a vibe about it, a culture about it that reflects the beauty of the message that we proclaim. So it would go something like this you can have gospel doctrine. So if you go on our website, we’ve got a statement of beliefs. Almost any church that I’ve ever seen has something comparable to this, a doctrinal statement, a statement of beliefs. And that matters. Like, you want to know what are these people about? What do they believe? What do they think about different things? You want to know that stuff. But like Ortland would say, you could have a really great statement of beliefs, but who gives a rip if you come to church and it is not a gospel environment, but it is something else, right? If you look on our website and you go, yeah, I like all this stuff. But you show up here and you start to deal with people and you go, oh, I don’t like that at all. They don’t seem like people who have experienced the life changing work of Christ. The culture would actually go against what we proclaim. So not to be greedy, but as a church, we want both, right? We want to be the kind of place that has gospel culture and gospel doctrine. I love how Ortland puts it. He basically kind of makes it a mathematical equation. He says, Listen, you could have gospel doctrine minus gospel culture. It’s hypocrisy, so you can say something, but if you don’t live it, then it’s just hypocrisy. But you could have a gospel culture where you come in and it’s warm and it’s welcoming and you feel cared for, you feel loved. But if there’s no gospel doctrine under that, that equals fragility, that can’t last. You don’t have something under it, a foundation to substantiate it. So you need both. You need gospel doctrine plus gospel culture. And then you would end up with a beautiful community. And that’s what we’re after. Now, here’s something that I’ve realized in pastoral ministry. We will not drift into this. We won’t wake up one Sunday morning and come to church and go, man, this is a gospel culture. And it just kind of happened unintentionally. This is something that we have to continually remind ourselves of. We have to continually pursue this. We have to be intentional about it because it doesn’t come naturally. What comes naturally is its opposite. To be self righteous, to be condemning, to be those sorts of things. So that’s the reason for this series. It’s a reminder of one of the key features of what we hope to be as a church. A place that has gospel doctrine and gospel culture. A place that people come in and they experience a community of the redeemed. Well, let’s get to work. This passage gives us four different lessons that all contribute to this idea. So we learn something about God, his nature, his character, what he’s like. We learn something about sin and its effect on us. We learn something about the gospel and God’s saving work in Christ. And then finally we learn something of what it looks like to be in a community that has experienced this life changing gospel. So let’s get to work.
First off, God, verse five of chapter one. This is the message we’ve heard from him and declare to you. So he’s first four verses he’s teeded up. He’s kind of explained his personal involvement with Christ, his apostolic ministry. And he gets to this point, he says this is the message. This is it. You want to boil it down to one sentence? Here it is god is light. In Him there is no darkness at all. He uses a metaphor to describe who God is. And he’s using that metaphor of light and darkness. And light in the Bible represents goodness and purity and holiness and those sorts of things. And darkness represents sin and evil and wickedness. And he’s able to say, I want you to know this one truth god is light. In Him there is no darkness at all. It’s not an intermingling. It’s not like he’s mostly light. But there are parts of him you have to brace yourself for because there’s also darkness. No, it’s just all light, all purity, all holiness, all perfect light and darkness. This is one of John’s favorite metaphors. That’s why he uses it in multiple places in his writings, like in his Gospel account. He starts out that document talking about the Lord Jesus Christ and referring to him as light. You might know this, but John, chapter one, starting in verse one, in that whole introductory section, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And he goes on to say in verses four and five, talking about the Lord, he says, in Him was life. Jesus Christ was life, and that life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it. Jesus is light. Now, John was fond of this metaphor, probably because Jesus was fond of it. In John chapter eight, verse twelve, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people. He said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. So here John is in first. John writing a letter to the churches and he says, I want you to understand the message here. It is the main thing to be understood here. This is the message. God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all. In other words, he’s saying God is perfect, he is morally upright, he is holy, and there is no intermingling of his holiness with anything else. This is just who he is. I love how the commentator Karen Jobs puts it. She says, everything that John will address in this letter about sin, about Christ, about love, everything in here takes its starting point from the defining idea that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. So he’s just laying that out there on the front end. This teaches us about God. There’s something about his character that we need to know. He is holy, he is perfect.
The second lesson, though, is about sin, and that is described as darkness. Now, darkness would be the opposite of light and it is the absence of God and God’s character. So one of the things we need to think about is the fact that sin is defined in reference to God. God’s character sets the standard for what is right and consequently what is wrong. And he is the one that we look to to understand what right and wrong might be. And in our society today, we don’t like that idea. We don’t like having a standard that is objective. We don’t like having a standard that doesn’t fit our own personal experience. So today the commonplace idea is to define sin according to what we think and then to hold God accountable to that. But the Bible reminds us that God sets the terms and he’s the one who determines what right and wrong is. So sin is darkness here, and darkness is something that affects all of us. I was on Twitter this week and there’s a guy that I follow who is kind of like a pastor to pastors. And so he has an audience of people like me, and he sent something out and he asked, hey, what do you think the most important doctrines will be in the coming days? What do you think the most important things to pay attention to in the life of the church will be? And I was kind of cruising through all the responses and I noticed that two of them continually showed up. One is a lot of pastors are recognizing what we need moving forward in this time is an understanding of humanity, people, and an understanding of how sin affects people. Because if we don’t have a firm grasp of what the Bible says about that, then any help that we might be trying to offer will be pretty clueless and potentially unhelpful. So that is true. I agree with that. The second one was the doctrine of the church. So who people are, what’s going on with them, how they’re affected by sin, and then as a result, also the church and what we need to be doing to be able to be actually helpful. I agree with both of those statements, both of those ideas. And the Bible here is helping us to recognize what sin has done to humanity. And we’ll see here in a few minutes the result of what a church ought to look and feel like. But here’s what sin has done. It has affected every single one of us. It is something that we all are dealing with. And so John is writing this letter and he’s saying, guys, I want you to know, God is light in him. There is no darkness at all. He’s holy, he’s perfect. But in real time, when we start looking at ourselves, we have to acknowledge the darkness that we find. We’re not meant to walk in darkness, but that’s a feature of who we are. So look at it. It actually gives us, I think there are five different if statements here. And it’s an argument that’s traveling through this paragraph here. And there are five different ones. And three of them are kind of the negative ones we’ll look at here, but it’s telling us how we ought to recognize sin and its effects. Let’s get to work. Verse six. If we claim to have fellowship with God, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. So here’s again the argument God is light in him, there is no darkness at all. So if you claim to have fellowship with Him and then your lifestyle, your walking the way that you do life, if you walk in the darkness, here’s the conclusion. You lie and do not live out the truth. So it doesn’t matter what you confess. It doesn’t matter if somebody says, hey, are you a Christian? You say, yeah, absolutely. You can confess to follow Christ. But if you walk in darkness, then that’s disjointed, that’s a disconnect between your confession and your life. So your life speaks louder than your label. You can say whatever you want about your beliefs and those sorts of things, but what this is reminding us is you cannot claim a relationship with God while you are living contrary to God. That doesn’t make sense. That’s a lie. And you do not live out the truth. So we need to be able to acknowledge where that is the case and recognize what God has done to us, for us. So we need to be able to both claim fellowship with Him and then have a life that matches up with Him. The second one here, if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If you begin to look at your own, examine your own soul and you go, I don’t have sin anymore, it’s gone like I’ve become a Christian. The Lord has done incredible work in my life. I don’t really deal with that stuff anymore. The conclusion there is self deception. Now, it’s attractive, but it’s just not accurate. A few years ago, I was dealing with a person who was teaching this, and I considered it a false teaching. And I thought it was troubling and doing great damage because there’s kind of a stream of Christianity moving in this direction where if you follow Christ, your life will begin to become more and more holy, to the point where you don’t have sin like this anymore. And here we’re reminded when you come to that conclusion, that is self deception. You are out of step with reality. And this is the human M.O. Self-deception is what happens when we sin. If you go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible and you look at Adam and Eve and you look at what happened there at the fall of humanity, sin leads us to hide and pretend and blame, and those result in self deception. So when God steps into the garden after the fall and he’s asking the questions, god is by the way he’s probing, he knows what’s going on? He’s not like, hey, I lost you. But he says, where are you? And Adam says, I’m hiding because I’m naked. And he says, well, who told you you were naked? And as the conversation progresses, Adam is hiding. And then he’s blame shifting. He says, It’s not my fault. This woman that you gave to me, she’s the problem. She’s the one who got me here. And then she says, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. It was not my fault either. You put a stupid snake in here, and that snake got me and tricked me. And all of that is kind of the pattern of how we deal with sin. And we kind of get to a point where we’re trying to manage our image. We’re hiding behind bushes. We’re not being real with what’s actually going on. We don’t want to be honest with God. We don’t want to be honest with other people. When we find things in us that we don’t like, we actually shift the blame away. We go, yeah, it’s not me. It’s like the circumstances or that person or whoever, but we don’t own our sin. And the Bible here is reminding us when you do that, you are deceived. You are self deceived. You’re coming to a conclusion that is inaccurate, that’s out of step with reality. So to think that you are without sin is a deception, and the truth is not in us. Now, consequently, if you go in the other direction, if you grow in Christ likeness, what I found to be the case, and I see it in Scripture, the more that you come to understand the good news of the Gospel, the more self aware you actually are. So when you look at somebody like the apostle Paul, in contrast, you find someone who is pursuing holiness, who’s walking in the light, who’s church planting and doing ministry and helping other people. But what is his own conclusion about his soul? He says, Listen, guys, I’m the chief of sinners. Out of all the you jokers I’ve met, my self-awareness leads me to this conclusion. I’m the champ of sinning. I’m the chief. And the reason why he can say that is he knows his own heart. And the Gospel has opened him up to that reality that he is able to be honest. And because he knows his heart better than he could possibly know anyone else’s, he says, look, I’m the boss when it comes to sinning. I’m the chief. I’m really, really good at it. And that’s been my own personal experience as well. In the years of following the Lord, what I come to find is, yes, by God’s grace, I’m growing in personal holiness. But at the same time, I am also growing in my awareness of my own sinfulness, that even the best things that I do are tainted by sin. Even the most helpful things that I might do in the name of Christ can have motivations that are impure and sin that is running through all of it. Well, finally, the third one here that we’re going to look at, verse ten. The third if statement here says, if we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. So they’re growing in kind of severity here. And when we come to this verse, we find out that if you claim to have not sinned, what you’re doing is you’re calling God a liar. That’s pretty serious stuff to do something that would actually look at God and say, you are a liar because I have not sinned. Now, the reason why that’s such a sharp and shocking statement is because God sent his son because we are sinners. He sent his son into the world to die in our place because of our sinfulness. So to say I have not sinned is to look at God and say, you’re a liar. That’s not true. And that, my friends, is an awful conclusion. To be so out of step with reality and then to be out of step with God Himself, to come to the false conclusion that you have not sinned. So sin is a feature of fallen humanity. It’s something that all of us deal with. To diminish or to dismiss it is actually to make the problem even worse. And what this passage is teaching us is that God is holy. Sin has no place with a holy God, and we are unholy. But that leads us to our next point. And this is the good news. It’s the gospel.
God has made a way for unholy people to be reconciled to a holy God. He has made a way for people who walk in darkness to come into the light and to experience God’s cleansing power. Look at verse seven. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we walk in the light, we experience God’s redeeming work. Go back to the garden. You’ve got Adam hiding behind a tree. And what God is doing through his merciful questioning and his invitation through that conversation is he’s saying, you can come out, you can come out and you can deal with me. And what does God do? He takes an animal and he kills the animal and he takes the skin and he places it as clothing on Adam and Eve. But what’s going on there? Is it’s a picture of the Gospel. If you step out into the light, what you find, surprisingly, is a God who loves you so much and understands the depths of your sinfulness, but has made a way for you to experience the purifying work of the Lord. You’re hiding because you’re not sure you’re going to be accepted. And then you step into the light and there’s a God there with open arms who says, I know. I know everything. You didn’t pull a fast one on me. I knew all of this was going on behind the scenes. And listen, I sent my son to Calvary, and his blood is a purifying agent for your soul. You can step into the light and find fellowship with one another. And the blood of Jesus, His Son, will purify you from all sin. And you can access this by stepping into the light. But another way to access this in verse nine is through our confession. Verse nine. If we confess our sins, he God, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. So we get to this beautiful place. The good news of the Gospel invites us to step out, and then it invites us to verbalize what’s really going on. Confess your sins. Name them, express them. Use your lips to say, this is what’s really happening inside of me. And what we find is God because of his character, because of who he is. This is what he does. He is faithful and just, and he will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. This is Christianity 101. This is the good news of the Gospel. We are dark and sinful people that God is inviting into a relationship with Him who is perfect and holy and only light. And he says, I have made a way. I’ve done it for you. It is through Christ and his perfect work. You have to confess your need for that and receive it by faith, and it is yours. And that’s what we’re invited to do. Furthermore, we have an advocate. Look at chapter two, verse one. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. The purpose of the letter is very clear. He’s trying to help people walk in the light. Walk in the light. I write this so that you will not walk in darkness, so that you will not sin. But if you do, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. When we sin, we have an advocate. We have one who pleads our case, who is for us, and he is Jesus, the righteous one. He is the one who is advocating for us. And his ministry is effective. Look at verse two of chapter two. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world. So what he has done at Calvary is he was willing to stand in our place and take what we deserve. He is the advocate who’s pleading our case, but he is the one who is willing to sacrifice his own life for us. Now, this is significant, okay? Your advocate is your sacrifice. God does not look at our sin and dismiss it. He doesn’t say, oh, it’s no big deal. Like, I can forgive you. It’s just not a big deal. Let’s just forget about that. I know you slipped up here. I know you made a poor choice. He’s not saying, look, it’s not a big deal. He’s not dismissing our sin. He’s dealing with our sin through atonement. The way that we are forgiven is through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is through the costly sacrifice of the Lord. And so when you get the difference between those two things, it’s profound. If you think that God just winks at your sin and brushes it away and it’s no trouble for Him, you will go right back to it. That will not change your life. You’ll go, that’s great. Thank you for forgiving me today. Then you’ll persist in doing that same sin over and over and over again, and you’ll never think twice about it. Just be like, what an awesome gig we’ve got here. I screw up. God fixes it, repeat, wash, rinse, repeat, over and over again. But if you look at Calvary and you go, I have an advocate, and that advocate went to Calvary and he died for me. He shed his blood for me. He was the atoning sacrifice. So the penalty of death, penalty of sin, which is death, he took on himself. He stood in my place, and he got what I deserved, and he died. And you begin to see that is the way of your salvation. That is the way of your purification. All of a sudden, you look at your sin and you go, well, that’s disgusting. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to persist in that if it cost my Lord His life and it changes us. But the good news of the gospel is that God has made a way. He sees our darkness. He knows our darkness, and he says, I have sent my Son for that very reason, and his blood can purify. And he is your advocate, and he stands in your place and dies the death that you should have died. So God desires our holiness, and we are not holy, but we come to Christ, and we receive his forgiveness and his pardon and his purifying work. And that is good news. And that creates an environment where people should be very, very grateful for God’s saving work, and it creates an environment where everybody is welcome, right? There’s a saying out there. I actually think it’s from Spurgeon, but I’m not sure. But it goes like this “there is level ground at the foot of the cross.” If you really believe that, you have darkness. And the only remedy for that, the only solution that’s been offered up, is the death of Jesus Christ in your place. What you believe is a very humbling truth that is very inclusive of anyone else who would want to come stand right by you. It is level ground at the foot of the cross, and that’s where we’re going next.
The fourth and final thing I want to show you is what this looks like when a community embraces this doctrine. If you think about this, God is holy. He’s light. In him, there is no darkness at all. He’s fully aware of our darkness, our sinfulness. He has a full knowledge of that. He’s made a provision of salvation through Jesus Christ and his purifying work. If we believe all those things together, we take that together. We have a bouquet of the truth of what God has done. What do we come up with? A beautiful community, a people who share that experience together. Now, I’m not making this up. It comes from our text. Look at verse seven again. It says, but if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. And the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. Now, that is actually a surprising way to put it, because it doesn’t follow from what he’s been arguing. The logic doesn’t line up. The logic goes like this god is light. So to claim fellowship with God, who is light, while walking in darkness is a lie, then you would expect that the next thing that he would say is, God is light. So you walk in fellowship with Him, and what would you expect? Fellowship with God. You’d have fellowship with God that would correspond. Those ideas would fall together. But what he says here is something surprising. He says you have fellowship with each other. If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. In other words, the work of Jesus is a shared reward. It’s something that we all get to benefit from. When we walk with the Lord, who is light in fellowship with Him, we actually share with a lot of other people. God isn’t just saving individuals. He’s not just like, oh, I’m going to do this for them. And then they get to live in isolation and the benefit of their salvation. No, when God brings the people in and saves them, it’s in community. And all of a sudden, we look around. We go, there’s a bunch of us standing at the foot of the cross sharing in the benefits of the work of the Lord. We become a community of grace. We get to experience the blessings of what the Lord has done. And we look around and we go, I’m not the only one. This is something that we’re all rejoicing in, and it’s beautiful. So let me share with you a few different ideas of how this plays out in community. And these are aspirational goals for Park City Church. Let me share them with you. If what I’ve said today is true, then the way that it will show up in our church will look and feel something. Like this. Number one, radical honesty. Radical honesty first with ourselves. We will have the ability, because of the good news of the gospel, to look at ourselves and acknowledge what we actually find. This is hard work. It’s messy work, but it is good work. It’s the truth that the gospel gives us permission to be real and we can be honest with ourselves. Tim Keller, one of my heroes of the faith, he actually passed away this week of pancreatic cancer. But he said this. This is a thing that he would say all the time. It’s one of those kind of slogans that he had for his life in ministry. He puts it like this, this is the gospel. We are more sinful than we ever dared believe, but we are also more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. Those two things are true. Simultaneously, we’re worse than we expected. We’re far worse than we can even imagine. But at the same time, we’re loved and accepted more than we could ever even dream or hope for. And that’s the good news of the gospel. It creates this environment where you feel like, okay, I’m embarrassed, but I can step out. I’m embarrassed by what I find in me, but I feel like if I move toward the light, it’s going to be okay because God is going to do the work to make me what he wants. That’s what the gospel is able to do. Now, a few weeks ago, I took a couple of weeks off of preaching, so I had time for other stuff. One of the things that I did was I updated my spiritual narrative of what it’s been like the last few years to kind of trace God’s providence of his leadership in my life. And I was trying to be honest and the gospel was giving me permission to do it. And do you know what? I found all kinds of sludge, all kinds of stuff that is embarrassing to talk about, all kinds of sin patterns that have been repeated now over years. Now, if I don’t have the safety net of the gospel, what do I do with that? I hide it. You put it away. You don’t talk about it. You don’t even think about it because you don’t want to have to deal with that stuff. But the gospel invites you out, says, no, come on, that’s true of you. Absolutely. And more we haven’t even addressed yet. That’s true of you. But guess what? At the same time God is saying, and I love you, I know that’s true and I love you. So come on. Radical honesty is a feature of gospel culture where you can begin to look at yourself and go, okay, we’re going to double click here and we’re going to see things that are very embarrassing, but I’m going to be open to God and I can because he’s safe. He’s going to take what I have done and all the darkness in me and he’s going to invite me into the light and he’s going to make me new. And I got some options here. I can resist that work and I can pretend and I can manage and I can hide and I can self-deceive and I can just try to be a good Christian or I can be vulnerable and I can move toward God and allow his work to happen in my soul. And I’m telling you, choose that. Move toward God and be vulnerable. Practice radical honesty with yourself. Practice radical honesty with others. In a gospel culture, you create a culture of confession. You create an environment where you can just say, here’s what’s going on. We saw it in verse nine. If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just. And I don’t think that’s just confessing to God, because in verse seven we were told there are other people there. So now we get to talk about it and we don’t have to pretend. So you can come to church and you can do the normal thing, which is, hey, how are you doing? Oh, I’m good. How are you doing? Good too. Great. Weather’s nice. Yeah, weather’s great. And that’s it. But a culture that is marked by the gospel and I’m not saying this happens every week because sometimes that would be weird, but it can happen in a gospel culture where you start talking to each other and you just go in. You just kind of say, okay, all the guards are off right now. I’m going to be real. And I can do that because we’re in this gospel community together and these people aren’t going to look at me and go, what a mess. Like, I got to get away from this person as quick as possible. In a gospel community, we all press in. We go, okay, this is the work of the Lord, here we go. And sometimes I have to brace myself for that. We’re having a conversation after church and I go, Here we go. And I start praying and I go, okay, God, give me wisdom here or I come to church and I go, okay, I’m feeling off today. And there are going to be some conversations where I just get real. But that’s what a gospel culture allows us to do. It gives us the ability to be real. And I’m going to tell you that what I’m suggesting it is counterintuitive. When I was first getting into ministry, there was a lot of literature that said stuff like this. If you’re going to be in pastoral ministry, you can’t be real. You have to hide some of your stuff, because if you get real with your people, they will take that information and they will weaponize it against you. If you’re honest about your shortcomings and your sinfulness and these sorts of things, then the moment something goes sideways, people will take that information and they will leverage it against you. And they would say, you got to find a confidante that’s outside of the church. You got to find a neutral party that you can just get completely real with. And there’s some wisdom in that. I don’t disagree entirely with that. But here’s what a gospel culture allows you to do. All of us can come to the table with our darkness and find an environment where the gospel is being practiced and applied. So I can come and I can just say, here’s what’s happening with me. And I can trust that if we have a gospel culture, that’s okay. And in fact, we’re all going to benefit from that. So being radically honest with yourself and with each other, and I hope that that’s happening in small groups. I hope that’s happening on Sunday mornings. I hope that that’s a feature of your experience here. And then gospel culture gives us the ability to become a gracious community. Here’s what I mean by this. If you understand what First John is saying and you start to think about people along the lines of what’s been suggested here, you will actually begin to look on people with honesty and realism and hope their sin won’t surprise you. Right? Because the Bible told us we all deal with it. We’ve got darkness. To deny it is actually crazy. But all of us in here, we come with a mess. So we start to look at other people and we go, okay, god is inviting me to deal with these people with patience, like his patience toward me and with graciousness, because God has been so gracious to me. And we start to deal with people in that sort of way where people can be honest and even in some ways evil. And we actually have a solution for that. We’re not trying to put people out and go, whoa, you’re a mess, man. There’s another church I’d love to tell you about down the road, maybe try there. A gospel culture says, no. We expect that we’re going to find stuff out that really would surprise all of us in some way, but then we’re going to go, okay, this is why Christ came, and we’re going to move toward each other and even people who are hostile toward us. My daughter’s doing a project right now on Corrie ten Boom, and at the end of The Hiding Place, the book she [Corrie] wrote about her experience, she talked about her and her sister in a concentration camp, her sister Betsy. And Betsy was just an incredible woman of faith who just had this love of God exuding from her. And so there are these soldiers that are mistreating her. And Betsy would continually remind Corrie, we need to pray for them. And one day when we’re out of here, we should actually do something to minister to them, to care for them. And Corrie’s like, you’re insane, right, to love our enemies. And Betsy’s like, yeah, we’re going to pray for them and we’re going to care for them. And by the grace of God, Corrie was able to do that. Betsy did not make it out. She died in the concentration camp, but Corrie made it out. And she had a ministry, a public ministry. And one day during a talk that she was giving, a Christian talk, one of the soldiers came up to her afterwards, just reveling in the gospel. “Can you believe it? God would accept somebody like me?” And he asked for forgiveness. And you can read about it in The Hiding Place. But Corrie was so frozen in that moment where a soldier who had mistreated her and her sister was asking for forgiveness, and she had to pray in that moment. And she found herself reaching out and grabbing his hand, and she said, it felt like the power of God was going through me because she was saying, my enemy is safe with me. I can forgive them. Not because she’s such a resolute person or so noble or whatever the case might be, but because of the good news of the gospel. A gospel community becomes a people who look at each other and we say, listen, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how awful life has been to you, no matter how hard you’ve been to me, the gospel moves me toward you in love and acceptance. And that’s a beautiful thing. The third and final thing here that I want to suggest is a gospel culture will have a feature of this. It will be concerned with obedience, without self-righteousness. Okay? To read this and say us walking in the way of the Lord isn’t significant, that would be a misreading of the text, right? It says, Listen, if you’re going to be in a relationship with the God who is light, you had better be walking in light in a way that reflects his character and his holiness, his goodness, his moral perfection. So we want to be a people who are obedient. We read the Bible and we go, okay, what are our marching orders? We want to do this stuff. We want to apply this stuff. We want to live this stuff out. But one of the things that we want to be allergic to is self-righteousness. It’s the expression of obedience that is done and performed in our own strength, where we say, we’re good people. We do the right thing. We read our Bibles, we live out our faith, and then we look at other people and we go, and if you’re not doing that, if you’re not doing that, you have no place here. That’s obedience with self-righteousness. And you can find lots of Christians who do that quite well. They want to follow the Lord, but it creates this pride in them that makes it hard for anybody who’s honest about their sin to come anywhere near them. And in fact, that sort of self-righteousness is the thing that leads to self-deception, where people think, ah, look at me, I’m doing it so well here. So we want to become an obedient people, but obedient in faith, obedient without self-righteousness. And listen, here’s my two cents on it. I think if we as a church embrace this gospel culture idea, then whatever it is that we’re doing becomes incredibly attractive. It’s messy, for sure. I’m not going to pretend that’s going to be easy. It is far easier to go to church with legalists, right. You come in, you know what to expect. Everyone’s playing by the rules, everything’s nice, everything’s clean, everything just kind of goes your way. It looks and feels a lot like Christianity. And it’s easy. To open ourselves up to being a gospel culture means it gets messy. People start doing things, relationships get strained. Sin is happening. And we’re trying to figure out in real time how to care for people and how to love people and how to help people and it’s just messy. But let me suggest this. If you look at the ministry of the Lord himself, that’s exactly what it was. A bunch of broken people, a bunch of sinful people, a bunch of people with darkness just moving toward the light. And what they found was a savior who is fully capable to gladly receive them and help them along the way. I want to be that kind of church.
Let’s pray. Lord, we pray that you would help us become a community of faith that accurately reflects the good news of the gospel. That we wouldn’t just have sermons and documents and pages on our website that articulate the gospel, but that it would become an experience that people step into. That the relationships here and the vibe here and the feeling of joining a small group or doing one on one discipleship or just hanging out with other people from our church that it becomes an environment where it feels like the Lord is there and he is caring for us. And Lord, I admit how scary it is to be vulnerable and real. So I pray that the truth of the gospel would be compelling today and that people would be willing to kind of open up to the work that you’re willing to do, that they would step into the light and experience your transforming power, your purifying power, your forgiving power. Help us to do that, please. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.