This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10
Carson, Moo, and Morris, in their Introduction to the New Testament, propose that the Apostle John was combating a kind of proto-Gnosticism in his first epistle. Proto, because it was before full-fledged cultic Gnosticism came of age. But it had the characteristics of Gnosticism from the beginningâ€”some sort of deep, special, insider knowledge that advanced beyond "simple Christianity." This "knowledge" denied the reality of sin and the need for reconciliation to God. It said, "we're saved by what we know about the secrets of the universe," which happened to fly in the face of biblical revelation.
Even though the cult isn't the current trend, Gnosticism still has a foothold in the culture and the church. Many say, "People who believe in sin are primitive. Enlightened people know that we're free to do whatever we want (i.e. sexual liberation), so long as it's not harmful to others." They would seek to justify themselves, to escape from condemnation for sin, by removing sin from the picture entirely. They craft a worldview in which sin doesn't existâ€”a worldview that departs from reality and revelation. Whether it's people who hold to a vague pop spirituality (your everyday New Age subscriber), or university professors (the intellectual elite), this is a common idea in the world today.
Here's the content of some of today's Gnosticism: "Anyone can feel good about having a relationship with "A Supreme Being." You just need to ditch the baggage of restrictive morals and an overburdened conscience (like you find in the church). "Sin" is tabooâ€”it's actually kind of funny that any poor, unenlightened idiots still think there's such a thing as absolute morality. Go ahead and fulfill your bodily appetitesâ€”if you're hungry, eat; if you're lusting, have sex. Repressing other people with morality isn't healthy, so don't repress yourselves." To anyone who knows Isaiah 5:20, this can't be good. This "knowledge" is obviously anti-biblical, and unfortunately I think we'll never be rid of it this side of glory.
Even in the church, those of us who are "religious" often seek to cover ourselves similarly, though it's usually more subtle. We feel the guilt of our sin, and want to hide it in the dark. In order to do so, we'll deceive ourselves into believing that we're all right because of who we are or what we do (self-justification). Whatever worldview we create to help ourselves feel better is driven by the same root as ancient Gnosticismâ€”my "knowledge" allows me to live as a sinner in the world, fulfilling the desires of my flesh, standing on my own apart from God. If there is such a thing as "the wrath of God," we feel relieved that we can escape it by just becoming a little better. "If I can just conquer a few more sins, I'll feel all right about my relationship with God."
The only way to be right with God is by the blood of Jesus Christ.
People don't like this truth because it tears down their pride. It makes it impossible to be good on my ownâ€”therefore I must be evil. That's something nobody wants to hear. Go tell a university professor that he's no more philosophically or religiously enlightened than ancient Greek cultists, and you'll be despised for your simplicity. That professor doesn't want to hear that he's not vastly superior to everyone because of his knowledge. He wants his knowledge to serve as his credentials. And it's not just him, eitherâ€”most people in our culture desperately hope that what they know about the universe, about religion, about God, will make things okay for them in the long run. If there's a heaven, they think they're getting in, because they were enlightened, in-the-know, tolerant of simpletons yet not simple themselves.
We want to hide our sin, to appear good (even perfect) on our own. And we create lies to do so. Milton, in Paradise Lost, wrote about Adam after the fall, after he and Eve discovered their nakedness and shame before God:
â€¦ How shall I behold the face / Henceforth of God or Angel, earst with joy / And rapture so oft beheld? those heavâ€™nly shapes / Will dazzle now this earthly, with thir blaze / Insufferably bright. O might I here / In solitude live savage, in some glade / Obscurâ€™d, where highest Woods impenetrable / To Starr or Sun-light, spread thir umbrage broad, / And brown as Evening; Cover me ye Pines, / Ye Cedars, with innumerable boughs / Hide me, where I may never see them more. / But let us now, as in bad plight, devise / What best may for the present serve to hide / The Parts of each from other, that seem most / To shame obnoxious, and unseemliest seen, / Some Tree whose broad smooth Leaves together sowd, / And girded on our loyns, may cover round / Those middle parts, that this new commer, Shame, / There sit not, and reproach us as unclean.
Basically, "We're ashamed, so let's devise a covering to hide our shame from God and ourselves, so we can feel okay."
This is what everyone on earth has done in order not to have to think about their sin and guilt before Godâ€”see John 3:19-20.
This is what ancient, modern, and post-modern Gnosticism would fix, but can't, because it doesn't deal with reality.
The Apostle John says that if we think we're all right, we're totally wrong (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). Not only do we deceive ourselves, but we make God a liar, because it is he who said we're in trouble because of our sin (see The Bible). Lessening the gravity of sin does not aid our fellowship with him, because it insults his revelation, his glory, his honor. We need a solution that fully takes into account our sin, and our sinful desire to hide our sin and present ourselves to God on our terms. We must come to God humbly, on his terms.
God's terms are these: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Memorize that. Meditate on it frequently.
God does not forgive by making light of sin, by simply forgetting past transgressions, by ignoring how we've despised him with every ounce of our being from birth to death. If he did, he would be unrighteous, because sin is an offense against him that he cannot stand. He hates sinâ€”not because he "has" to, but because sin offends the thing most precious to God: God! The rebellion of creature against Creator is unholy, whereas he is holyâ€”and ne'er the twain shall meet (1 John 1:5). To perfectly uphold his holiness, God punishes sin.
When we warp the truth in order to justify ourselves, he is diminished, and so he demonstrates the reality of his righteousness upon this sin. If you're a believer in the Messiah, he does this at the cross, his wrath for your sin exerted against his Son, Jesus Christ. If you're not a believer, your sins are on your own head.
If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive. What does this mean? He is faithful to his promises made to his people throughout history, that if you believe in his Christ you will be saved. He is just (the same Greek word as "righteous"), because if you confess your sins and call on Christ for salvation, what Christ did counts for you, your sins were punished in him, and therefore you cannot be punished for them or God would be cruelly unrighteous.
If you hope to have fellowship with God, stop deceiving yourself about the truth. Come to him on his terms: be forgiven and cleansed by Jesus' blood, because it's the only way that honors God's faithfulness and righteousness to forgive.