My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [NRSV]
Three perspectives about sin:
- I determine my reality and morality, you are responsible for your own.
- I occasionally sin, but not the “big ones” and if I do Jesus will get me out of hot water.
- I am a sinner, but Jesus covers me with Grace, so its ok to continue to do as I please and let Jesus step in when I need him. (Oh, that’s basically the same as number 2)
- I am a sinner and no matter how hard I try I will continue to be a broken vessel, in a broken world, and totally rely on God’s grace in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to renew and guide me, every hour of every day.
Most of the world lives with the confidence of option number one. I am the master of my own life and sin is either the infraction of a moral code or the ignorance or carelessness of someone else.
First John is a letter appealing to us in our weary state of sin to remember that sin is more than breaking rules, disobeying the law, or having anything to do with our definition of appropriate behavior.
We Confess Our Sin
Genesis 1:27 asserts that we’ve been made in the image of the Creator. Like God, we have the capacity to love and care, to communicate, and to create. Like God we’re free, and we’re responsible. We’ve been made, says Psalm 8, “a little lower than God” and crowned “with glory and honor.” We believe that the entire created order has been designed for the well-being of all its creatures and as a place where all people can dwell in covenant with God.
But we do not live as God intends. Again and again, we break the covenant relationship between God and us. We turn our backs on God and on God’s expectations for us. We deny our birthright, the life of wholeness and holiness for which we were created. We call this alienation from God, sin.
A distinction should be made between sin and sins. We use the word sins to denote transgressions or immoral acts. We speak of “sins of omission and commission.” These are real enough and serious, but they’re not the essential issue.
The issue is sin in the singular. Sin is our alienation from God, our willful act of turning from God as the center of life and making our own selves and our own wills the center. From this fundamental sin, our various sins spring. Sin is estrangement of at least four kinds:
Separation from God
Sin is breaking the covenant, separating ourselves from the One who is our origin and destiny. It’s trying to go it alone, to be out of touch with the God who is the center of life. Based on the story in Genesis 3, the church has described this break in dramatic terms: the Fall.
Separation from other people
In our sin, we distance ourselves from others. We put ourselves at the center of many relationships, exploiting others for our own advantage. Instead of loving people and using things, we love things and use people. When confronted with the human need, we may respond with token acts of kindness or with lip service or perhaps not at all.
For some people and some groups, we’re totally indifferent or actively hostile. Sin is a denial of our common humanity and our common destiny on this one small planet.
Separation from the created order
In our sin, we separate ourselves from the natural environment. Greedily we turn upon it, consuming it, destroying it, befouling it. As natural resources dwindle, as possibilities increase for long-term damage to the atmosphere and seas, we pause to wonder. But our chief concern is for our own survival, not for the beauty and unity of all God’s creation.
Separation from ourselves
We turn even from our own center, from the goodness, happiness, and holiness that is our divinely created potential. Sometimes it seems that there are two wills warring within us. As Paul put it, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
Paul continues: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Like Paul, we discover that we are powerless to extricate ourselves from sin. Though we work ever so earnestly at various means of saving ourselves—being good, going to church, reading the Bible—these in themselves cannot save us. Sin is not a problem to be solved. It’s our radical estrangement from God, a separation that only God can heal by a radical act of love. We yearn for this reunion, this reconciliation, this redemption, this salvation.
From United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 74-75
Sin is the reality of three important pillars/foundations:
- Sin is I think and act in ways that separate me from God and God’s people.
- Sin is the evidence that I am choosing and behaving in ways that distance myself from God and others.
- Sin is the evidence that I am not trying, working, trusting God to ‘save’ me in my daily life.
These correspond to the three rules of what it means to be a United Methodist:
- Do no harm
- Do all the good you are able to do
- Practice being in love a loving and trusting relationship with God and the people of God.
We live in a broken and sinful world.
- When people, groups, governments, cultures, businesses, families, parties, agenda organizations, classes, families couples, and individuals declare and decide they know a better way to order and understand our self, our world, God and all in the universe that is OTHER than God’s design and purpose, we distance ourselves, we move away from God and this separation is sin.
Not all sin has the same immediate consequence, but all sin is a movement away from God.
In God’s grace, we have the ability to repent,
1. to acknowledge that we are wrong, incomplete, not the designer but the created, and we choose or ‘re-choose’ to follow, trust and seek God’s way. Turning away from our own strength, heart, soul, and mind and affirming our reliance on God and the people of God who are also following God.
Repentance is our way of returning to God, move from separation from God, moving back, thinking back toward God.
While we might need to repent every day. The hope in 1st John is that we might not continue to sin the first place
The Three Rules of Methodist Theology are intended to help us keep from sinning.
- Do no harm
- Do all the Good you can
- Participate in worship, studying, and serving and practicing the things of God so that we continually grow, moving and living in God.
The great divide in our culture is who is on the ‘correct’ side of what God is doing and believing and revealing.
We look at scripture as our first and primary resource. Jesus is our best example and our means of repentance and grace we discussed above.
Jesus preached to groups and to individuals without regard to sin, rather because all are sinful. God is revealed and shows up in Jesus because we are separated from God.
With every person, who comes to Jesus, or Jesus reaches out to be with, he accepts in sin, forgives, and calls them to sin no more.
God loves us no matter what, and is ready and willing to forgive us, but expects us to not living in the safety-net of grace.
Get back on the high-wire and live life fully, trusting God to be the source of balance, force, and function.
The three rules are simple enough to learn and remember, but built into them is the affirmation that we know without God, we are lost in sin/ we are separated from God, our purpose, our meaning, and our fulfillment.
- If someone says that don’t need God, they likely don’t know God and cross the boundary into resisting God’s grace.
- If someone says that DO need God, they try to trust God at times, but generally, wing-it their own way until that breaks down or becomes overwhelming. [ The need to practice the three rules is key ]
- If someone says that need God but are not reflecting God’s heart, they may be saying or thinking they need God but are further over the boundary from God than they suppose.
1 John is affirming that Jesus is working on you, and me and all of us and the whole world.
Keep in mind that Jesus offended many people, ‘followers and ignore-rs.’ [Our culture is lost in the murky waters of what is offensive to the destruction of us all.]
1 John reminds us that Christ is interested in loving, saving and extending grace to us all. —All who will refrain from moving away.
- Is my way of living, thinking, acting revealing my trust of God’s word and God’s love?
- Is my way of living, thinking and acting revealing my self-awareness that without God I am alone and lost.
- Is my way of living, thinking and active revealing God’s desire to rescue and prevent, but not without choosing God’s saving help.
Examples: Am I loving rules more than a relationship with God?
- Am I loving my comfort over your discomfort?
- Am I loving my interpretation compared with what God is about to reveal to me through your faithfulness?
- Am I loving my understanding of love more than God’s word call me to go and sin no more?
- Sin is walking in the dark with saying “I can see fine.”
God is the light that exposes the darkness in all of us, calling us to trust Christ actions AND words.
Our culture is in a relentless attack on the body of the church, the scriptures, and the understanding of what God’s will and purpose for us truthfully is.
There is a collective and corporate sin, darkness leading into darkness for fear of the light. For the light of Christ may reveal that those who love without the Word and those who trust with Word without love are both wrong.
Back to the three rules:
The first two are directed toward our personal actions, how we love and avoid hurting.
The third is the affirmation that the Bible, the church and the traditions of the faith filter and keep us away from sin.
The key is not to keep one or two of the rules to faithfully balance all three.
- Am I faithful in following Christ?
- Am I a sinner?
- Am I a United Methodist?
Practice all three rules and you will find the grace of Christ drawing you toward God and your enemies in love. This is the measure. God is not only interest in you, God longs for us all.