We sin, and need Jesus’s help.

1 John 1.8 – 2.2.

There are a number of immoral folks who figure if God has a dark side, it justifies them having a dark side. I wrote on this previously: Gnostics and determinists claim God co-opts evil as part of his cosmic plan. So people figure if he’s not tainted by such behavior, there’s no reason they can’t commit the occasional sin… if it’s ultimately for the best.

Funny how often people wind up committing such “occasional” sins. Seems there are an awful lot of these occasions.

But the very idea is rotten to its core. If God has an evil plan, it makes him an evil God. Period. And as John had to point out, God has no dark side. God is light. Not just in the light, like we can be when we follow God: Is light. In John’s other writing, Revelation, he even describes New Jerusalem as lit by the Lamb himself instead of the sun. Rv 21.23 Since Revelation is all apocalypses, I don’t think it wise to interpret that literally, but certainly you get the idea we’re going to live in God’s presence and goodness, where there will be no room for evil. It can’t exist there.

1 John is written as a corrective to people who develop such messed-up ideas. And, as appropriate for Christians, it’s a gracious corrective. If you’ve fallen for this twisted idea and gone wrong, chill out: Repent, be forgiven, accept God’s grace, and move forward!

Or maybe I’ll just quote John.

1 John 1.8 - 2.2 KWL
8 When we say we don’t have sin, we mislead ourselves, and truth isn’t in us.
9 When we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful and does right by us:
He can forgive us of sin, and can cleanse us of everything wrong.
10 When we say we haven’t sinned, we make him sound like a liar,
and his word isn’t in us.
2.1 My children, I write these things to you so you don’t sin!
And when anyone sins, we have a aide with the Father, Christ Jesus. He does right by us too.
2 Jesus is the solution for our sins.
And not only for our sins, but also for the whole world.

God doesn‘t have a dark side, but humanity surely does. I sure do. So do you; so does everyone. And the only solution to this problem isn’t self-deprivation, isn’t noble truths and an eightfold path, isn’t gnostic revelations of how the universe really works, isn’t to find a bad guy to blame for everything, isn’t any of the usual solutions humans invent. It’s Christ Jesus.

Admit we have a problem, and need our Higher Power.

Maybe you already know this, but 12-step addiction recovery programs borrow their steps from medieval Christian discipleship practices. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in order to get pagans to participate without being weirded out by religion, dropped most of the religious language. They had to keep God in, ’cause it doesn’t work very effectively without him, but they renamed him “the Higher Power,” and leave it to people to pursue him… or not. Celebrate Recovery straight-up calls him Jesus. But all groups recognize they can’t recover without him.

Same deal with sin. Step 1 of our process is to admit we have an addiction—to sin—and we can’t defeat sin alone. Legalists invent or borrow rules, and try to follow them, and fail hard. Their efforts to live perfect lives involve a whole lot of judgmentalism, harshness, and hypocrisy to cover up the many inevitable missteps. But we truly trust God to guide your steps, we shouldn’t require so very many of our own rules!

Step 2 is to admit we need our Higher Power. We can’t conquer sin, won’t conquer death, without God.

We find these ideas in 1 John and elsewhere in the bible. John got directly to the idea of living in the light God is: Acknowledge the truth to ourselves (and don’t hypocritically hide it from others!) that though we really shouldn’t sin, we do. Let’s not deceive ourselves. Let’s not invent some fantasy-world fake Christianity where we’re not really sinners, ’cause Jesus abolished all the LORD’s commands for this dispensation, so we can do as we please. Jesus’s solution, his atonement, doesn’t turn sin into non-sin, and doesn’t undo sin. But it does fix the sin problem, and that ain’t nothing.

Lying about our sin problem, and “making God a liar.”

John wrote about Christians who say they don’t have sin, who say they haven’t sinned. And a number of commentators are pretty sure John really wrote about gnostics. ’Cause seriously: Other than hypocrites, what Christians think they don’t sin?

Oh, plenty. Too many. I grew up hearing many a preacher claim once God forgives our sins, he blots ’em out entirely. They’re gone. Deleted from space, time, and God’s very own memory. He said so more than once.

Isaiah 43.25 KJV
I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
 
Jeremiah 31.34 KJV
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
 
Hebrews 8.12 KJV
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
 
Hebrews 10.17 KJV
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

Need more proof-texts? This, these preachers claim, mean God’s deliberately giving himself selective mini-lobotomies. And since they’re no longer in his memory, it’s like we never did sin against him.

But taking these statements literally becomes a really problematic teaching. Don’t we claim God’s omniscient?—he knows all? We can’t very well teach this, and that God suffers from selective self-inflicted amnesia.

It’s more accurate to say God forgives. Yes, he totally recalls our every act. Since he fills time, he’s simultaneously right here, and back there at the point of every sin in our lives. He relives ’em better than someone suffering from post-traumatic stress. But unlike a human, it doesn’t traumatize him. Doesn’t drive him away. Doesn’t make him so hurt he can’t go on… or worse, vengeful. We humans get that way, which is why we usually have to forgive and forget: We can’t get past sins, and forgive people, unless we do so. But God is almighty. And good. And δίκαιος/díkeos (KJV “just”), which I translate “does right [by us],” because nobody deserves grace, but that’s precisely what he gives us: Compassionate, loving grace. He doesn’t do grudges. We’re good. ’Cause God is good.

Okay, so other than weird or heretic teachings about the nature of forgiveness, who claims they have no sin? ’Cause whenever someone foolishly tries it, the rest of us automatically cry foul. “Who d’you think you’re fooling? You ain’t perfect.” Some of us, especially spouses and parents and kids and close friends, can remind us of a bunch of sins; they have a whole list. None of us are so stupid as to claim perfection. Cult leaders will, but that’s only after their followers learn that contradicting them will have terrifying consequences.

But actually lots of Christians claim we don’t sin. We do it by omission: We never confess our sins to one another. You know, like James taught.

James 5.16 KJV
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

We figure our sins are nobody’s business but God’s, so we confess them to him, and only him. Then we act like our lives are just fine; that we never struggle against the darkness—or that every time we do, we totally win.

Or we’ll confess mundane sins. It’s no big deal to admit, “Okay, I sometimes lie. Every so often the wife’ll ask me if her butt looks big in some outfit. Come on, am I supposed to hurt her feelings?” We’ll confess to petty, dumb stuff. The bigger stuff?—we keep that to ourselves, and when people ask us what’s new, we tell ’em nothing we’re really struggling with. “Kids doing okay in school?” We’ll say sure; we’ll skip the fact the kids got suspended for swearing at teachers. “Work doing all right?” We’ll say sure; we’ll never mention the fact the boss chewed us out for using the company credit card to buy weed. The big, embarrassing infractions against God go unconfessed.

As a result, all our fellow Christians really know about us is… nothing. All people ever hear from us are positive, upbeat, funny, victorious stories. Nothing about our real problems and struggles. Nothing about how God helps us through the rough times—’cause what rough times? Our lives are perfect. We’re perfect. Yeah, everybody sins, but as far as we’ve clued everybody else in on our lives, we only have little sins. They, on the other hand, are the only serious f---ups in the church.

Justify this behavior all you want: “I don’t wanna be a downer,” or “I don’t want their pity,” or “Every time I tell on myself, all I get from them is judgment, or platitudes and bad advice, and I have had it up to here with that crap.” I don’t blame anyone for tiring of judgmentalism. Even so: If we don’t confess our sins, we’ve created a pious façade of ourselves, and become hypocrites. We’re making our lives look perfect and uncomplicated—and we know they’re not.

And we’re making God look like a liar. Because we supposedly follow God… and we’re liars. And once struggling Christians find out what our lives are really like when all we’ve shown ’em is the façade, how d’you think they’re gonna feel about God? About our church? About Christianity? Plenty of people have quit Jesus over less.

So let’s not. Don’t lie by omission. We sin. Let’s admit that. Then let’s point to Jesus, the solution to our sins.