Sometimes texts that vex us enclose tremendous insight. Their challenge to our minimally tested assumptions makes them great allies toward our growth in truth.
Seventh-day Adventists reject the doctrine of original sin, the teaching that men are born condemned or guilty. We also reject any notion that man was not damaged by the Fall. We are decidedly damaged; one might say, born broken. But, we are not lost until we choose rebellion. All who have lived in human flesh, except Jesus, have chosen rebellion at some point; all these, then, need Jesus. The Bible is clear: "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6). How thankful we are that in Jesus a Savior is provided!
Some good and godly brothers dispute what has just been stated. They hold that all men have sin at birth. And, that all men have sin throughout the full length of their experience. Indeed, they say that men--even "saved" men--die in sin. The belief that in the power of God men can obey His law, that they can live without sinning after Probation closes, mystifies them. A favorite text suggested is 1 John 1:8. You recall the text:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Look at it. It would be a fair question, would it not, to ask how we can say that man can live without sinning, and to read the above text in light of the general understandings of conventional Christianity?
A fair question deserves a fair answer; a biblical one. This we now offer.
What the Text Does and Doesn't Say
Some hold that this text is teaching that if one claims to be born without guilt (and thus without sin), that person must be teaching anti-biblical error. All men, they say, have sin. To say otherwise--that all men do not have sin--is an indicator of self-deceptioni. Is not the Bible plain enough?
It is indeed plain. A major goal of the Christian must be to rightly understand the teaching of Scripture. Nor is it enough to assume that those who have gone before us have rightly interpreted the Word, have prevailed against longstanding biases and mindsets, have avoided traps of mediocrity and confusion and are not teaching the commandments and the doctrines of men. We need to wrestle with God's Word, and, with all caution and care, verify we are rightly dividing it. If we have the truth in us, no less will do.
Method of Interpretation
Scripture Interprets Scripture
If we would set our method apart from the Roman Catholic, we must proceed under the plan that Scripture interprets Scripture, that Scripture is authoritative in a way that tradition is not. Where a devout Roman Catholic openly states his granting of mighty authority to tradition, and as often as not will gladly share his strong reasons for functioning that way, a Protestant often fares not as well. Some, at least, are as truly ruled by tradition but refuse to say so, being either unwilling to say it, or ignorant of their course.
But the Protestant method, truly upheld, is to grant ultimate authority to the Scripture. No, not to popes or traditions, not to pet ideas or themes that persist more from well-worn mental ruts than from the Word of God. Scripture, rather, is granted primary interpretive authority over Scripture. We seek, so far as possible, to let the meanings provided by the Word dominate over theological meanings we might, if otherwise incautious, impose upon the Word from outside. Admittedly, perhaps fewer than we would like can be claimed to have soundly applied this principle. Poor execution does not condemn the power of the idea. We must labor to rightly divide the Word, that we not sunder what God has joined together; that we not divorce the one flesh of inspired Writ from itself.
Proof-Texting and Circles of Context
Another challenge ever at hand is the risk of proof-texting. What is it? Proof-texting illegitimately isolates a text. It lifts a snippet here and a text there. It is another form of false division of the Word. Proof-texting in its most obvious form is a neglect to properly consider the bearing of adjacent portions of text to a portion which is separated from those neighboring portions. The selected text will be lifted from the longer passage and assertions made about its meaning that fail to take into consideration the meaning of that text as integrated into that longer passage.
Another perhaps more subtle form of proof-texting is to disregard larger circles of context. Context has its ever expanding circle, from the text itself, to passage, to chapter, to book, to testament, to the whole of Scripture, to the whole of inspired writings. And there are other considerations, such as literary genre. The Bible contains history, wisdom literature, messianic and apocalyptic prophecy, epistles, etc. Thus, when crossing from one type to another, care should be exercised in order to avoid treating one form like another form. For example, the literal history found in Genesis and the highly apocalyptic imagery found in Daniel are as equally inspired, but they are different types of texts. We take care so as not to interpret Genesis overly symbolically, or the apocalyptical portions of Daniel overly literally. Our purpose is to rightly divide the Word.
We should understand that having proper regard for circles of context is not intended as a way of preventing one text from having its proper bearing on another text, but of our benefiting from internal safeguards that God has provided in His Word. It is a basic principle that we let an author define his own meaning according to his own usage of words. General meanings will not differ greatly, but important nuances in usage will be seen and will aid us in rightly dividing the word.
Searching Elsewhere in First John
The most immediate context for the passage of 1 John 1:5-10 is the book of 1 John. Here we find the topic of sin/transgression/unrighteousness noted many times (beside 1 John 1:5-10, also 2:1, 2; 3:4, 5, 8, 9; 4:10; 5:16, 17). A careful review of the passages involved lends no suggestion that John elsewhere here writes of sin as birth-nature. Rather, the tenor of most of these references to sin is that it can and must be overcome.
Searching Elsewhere in John
The next broadest level of context is the Johannine corpus. We expand our consideration to include the Gospel of John, Second and Third John, and Revelation. If the idea of sin as a persistent and ineradicable feature of the human condition is intended by John in 1 John 1, surely then we will find some indication of this same theme at least somewhere in the other four Bible books authored by him. If we consider sin/transgression/iniquity/unrighteousness, etc. beyond 1 John, the texts to be reviewed are found in John 1:29; 5:14; 7:18; 8:7, 11, 21, 24, 34, 46; 9:2, 34, 41; 15:22, 24; 16:8, 9; 19:11; 20:23; Revelation 1:5; 18:4, 5. A review of all these texts, again, offers no support to the idea of anyone being born guilty.
Pre-Birth Sin Ruled Out as Cause for Blindness
One passage at least, should have our attention: John 9. Jesus is passing by a man who was born blind. The disciples ask Jesus, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" This is an illuminating question because of what it tells us about the disciples understanding of sin and punishment. The disciples apparently understood that being born blind is a specific punishment by God. Their question is, Was this case a punishment of the child, or of the parents of the child? Their query "Who did sin" shows us that they thought that blindness was a punishment for sin.
Jesus' answer was, Neither case A nor case B: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents" (John 9:3). Blindness in the context of birth is not a direct punishment by God for sin. Jesus explicitly ruled out such an idea. Jesus finished by stating that while it was not the case that child or parent had sinned and were being punished for the sin via the blindness of the child, that the blindness was permitted "that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
Although Jesus did not here elaborate on the specific reason for blindness in a child, the Scriptures elsewhere make clear that the entrance of sin into the world carries with it a host of effects. Genesis tells us that after the entrance of sin, death entered also, that thorns grew up in the previously thornless vegetation (Genesis 3:18), that the environment was affected.
The whole creation groaneth, waiting for the restoration of man (Romans 8:19-23). A world groaning under the imposition of sin is waiting for God to draw him and for man to return to Him. Thus, we see the results of sin in our world.
God never cooperates with Satan, but He brings good out of evil against Satan's wishes. The man had been permitted to be born blind that the works of God should later be made manifest in him, which they were when Jesus healed him. Blindness is one of many indirect results of a world groaning under sin. The impositions of sin upon our world give God opportunity to work in blessing. The man had not the capacity, as a prenatal infant, to intelligently and intentionally choose rebellion against God; he could not sin. He had no birth sin. Neither did his parents have it or transmit it to him. Guilt does not transmit from generation to generation like genetics. We may be sure that his parents had chosen sin and that he himself, after coming to an accountable, responsible age, had sinned. But his blindness from birth was no specific divine judgment on him or them for sinning.
Here is our passage now from 1 John 1:5-10:
5. This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Let's pause to consider a brief word on the importance of knowing how to tell where the passage begins and ends. This is one of the key issues in working out a helpful understanding of a passage. We need to be able to determine where the section is so as to concentrate our efforts onto it. How can we tell where the passages begin and end?
We look for patterns in the words and themes. While we do not adhere to "word" inspiration, we do accept that in a cooperative process, God guides the writer's thoughts, assuring their suitability for His purposes.
Here we look closely at 1 John and we find what? Reading through, we suddenly begin to see the word "if" all over the place. There are five "ifs" in vv. 5-10. A closer look at those five "ifs" reveals that not only is the word "if" repeated, but other patterns are present. Try this:
if we say
if we walk
if we say
if we confess
if we say
You see the pattern. "If we say" is present in verses 6, 8, 10. Theses are all negative statements.
Why do we take these five "ifs" and ignore the 13 other "ifs" found in 1 John (2:1, 3, 15, 19, 20, 21; 4:11, 12, 20; 5:9, 14, 16)? Well, there are certainly some interesting things and relationships going on in some of those other references. But we can hardly probe them all in depth in one sermon too full already. So we stay with just 1:5-10.
Now let's carry on and notice vv. 6, 8, 10.
If we Say We Have Fellowship With Him
First in v. 6 we have "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." First is the claim that we have fellowship with Him. Who? Verse five said God, who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all. Since it is a claim of fellowship with Him, it is a claim about Him. You are known by the company you keep, and God is known by the company He keeps.
If we claim to have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie. Notice that the lie is manifest in our making a false claim. The claim is false because we are not doing the truth. Notice also that it says "we lie," and the implication is that we know we are making a false claim.
If We Say that We Have No Sin
Let's look at the middle statement, v. 8. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Here is another claim. But in this case, the claim says more about us than about God. The claim to sinlessness is made without reference to God. To claim sinlessness is to provoke self-deception.
Now, for a moment a shift to larger contexts. Recall Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jeremiah warns us of the preeminent deceitfulness of the heart of fallen men. Nothing is more potentially deceptive than the heart. It is not merely wicked, but desperately wicked. In that light Jeremiah asks the provocative question, "Who can know it?" When it comes to reading our own sinlessness or righteousness, we are exceeding poor judges. Of all creatures, we must maintain a deep humility.
But this is not all. We all have read these familiar items from the book Steps to Christ:
It is as we behold Him, as the light from our Saviour falls upon us, that we see the sinfulness of our own hearts (p. 28).
When the light from Christ shines into our souls, we shall see how impure we are... (Ibid).
One ray of the glory of God, one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character (p. 29).
The Pharisee's boastful, self-righteous prayer showed that his heart was closed against the influence of the Holy Spirit. Because of his distance from God, he had no sense of his own defilement, in contrast with the perfection of the divine holiness. He felt no need, and he received nothing (p. 30).
The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature (p. 64).
If we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ (p. 65).
If we would see our own sinfulness, we need to see Jesus first. See how it does not imply a glance, but a clear viewing: "as we behold Him. And it is as the light shines into our souls that we see "how impure" we are. This indicates that although the human heart unaided cannot see with clarity, the human heart reviewed in the light of Jesus will be more accurately revealed. Just one ray that penetrates makes distinct our defilement, deformity, and defects. Notice that these are defects of character, not nature.
The two men went up to the temple to pray. The repentant one was forgiven and made righteous. But the Pharisee stood marking out his imagined sinlessness. He had, we are told, no sense of his own defilement. The farther away you are from God, the more righteous you appear to yourself. The closer we come to Jesus, the more faulty we will appear in our own eyes. That is, the more you actually "have fellowship with Him," the less you will be inclined to indulge in any claim that you "have no sin" (1 John 1:8).
Some have heard the strong claims that we make on behalf of Christianity, that a last generation will, in the grace and power of God, cease from sinning, but they have mistakenly inferred that in saying that, we were making the claim to sinlessness or to be approaching sinlessness.
That conclusion is illogical. We look at a text like Revelation 14:1-5 and see unambiguously that those composing the last generation will have drawn exceeding close to Jesus. The brightness of His spotless purity will be shining upon these followers more than it has shone on any other group. Thus, the group that in all history will feel the most sinful, will in fact be God's last generation. They will not only feel more sinful than any other group ever has, but will actually have more depraved, more disordered human natures than any other group of followers ever ihas had. Then to think that followers of Jesus in this last generation would be uttering claims to be without sin, begs the imagination! Rather, if there is any group that will be apt to be restrained in personal claims to heightened spirituality and sinlessness, it will be precisely these. How dangerous and unchristian it is to infer such things, and to use such unfair representations to discredit our desire to answer Jesus' desire that we sin not (Exodus 20:20; Psalm 4:4; Ezekiel 3:21; John 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 4:6; 1 John 2:1, etc.).
And so, apart from the sampling of precious Ellen G, White statements from Steps to Christ, we still have the very clear statement in Jeremiah 17:9 telling us that we cannot be too sure about our own spiritual estate. It is exceptionally clear that If we would say that we have no sin, we would deceive ourselves, and the truth could not be in us.
If We Say that We Have Not Sinned
The third statement in series is v. 10: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." Where the first statement, that fellowship was had with God (v. 6) cast God in a false light, and the second (v. 8) reflected mostly on the one claiming to be without sin, this third in series now claims that one has not sinned. It is the most obscene claim of all.
This statement casts God in the worst kind of false light. It makes "Him a liar." The statement would not have made Him a liar before Adam sinned. It would not have made Jesus a liar, for He was tempted "in all points like we are; yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). But when it comes to all the rest of us who have attained to moral accountability, then it is true, and we have unambiguous Scripture on that: Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." To say that we have not sinned is to deny the truth of Romans 3:23. Romans 5:12 echoes the point again, telling plainly that "death passed upon all men, for that [because] all men sinned."
To "make God a liar" in v. 10 does not actually make Him a liar; it makes him out to be a liar; it causes it to appear, superficially, at least, that He is a liar. It makes Him a liar for asserting that all men have sinned, because one is claiming to be an exception to the statement. To make God out to be a liar is to impugn His character. But this is opposite of the mission of the last generation; His purpose for us is to be used of God in vindicating His character. Few claims do more to undermine God's character and gospel than to misrepresent God (as being untruthful) and man (as not standing in need of redemption).
There is a linkage between all three of these "if we say" ifs. First (v. 6) one lies about himself, claiming to have fellowship with God (but in works denying it). In v. 8 he deceives himself with his claim that he has no sin. Finally, in v. 10 he is so self-deceived that he can claim never to have sinned. See the progression, from knowing lie, to self-deception, to utter delusion? I am sorry to say that I have seen a similar progression in some who became stubbornly involved in church conflicts. The original claims are stretched by being retold again and again. The story changes. At last, the person who cherished his bitterness comes to see the matter not as it was but as he has reimagined the story. How important is every counsel of Scripture, including the warning not to let the sun go down on our wrath (Ephesians 4:26), but to find resolution with those we are set at odds with (Luke 12:58).
There is a further linkage. All of these are claims that are contrary to fact. In v. 6 the claim maker does not have fellowship with the Father. In v. 8 the claimer is not without sin, for he is disagreeing with the divine warning that he cannot lay such a claim. His fallen human equipment is fallible. Remember, he claimed fellowship with God in verse six, but the closer we come to Jesus the more faulty we will appear in our own eyes. Remember, inspiration uses words like wicked, deceitful, impure, defiled, defect, faulty, imperfect, moral deformity. In v. 10 his abandonment of God and His Word is such that he presents to the world the strongest character misrepresentation.
If We Walk in the Light
We have examined the dreary "if we say" series. But vv. 6, 8, and 10 are interspersed with verses 7 and 9. As 6, 8, and 10 go together, so do 7 and 9 go together very closely. Look closely now at these two verses again:
7. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
You will immediately see some parallels. First, both have action at the front. Whereas the three "if we say" statements all made claims that were falsified by the actions of the one laying the claims, in v. 7 and v. 9 there is no claim to start with; these start with action.
In contrast to the falsified claim of the one who says he has fellowship with God, but does not have fellowship and is walking in darkness, John presents here a class of believers who are doing more than saying. They are walking in the light. And here is the key to understand the phrase walking in the light: "as He is in the light." Who? Jesus (1 John 1:1-3). The Christian walks in the light, not according to some plan offered by a rabbi or a PhD or an expert in spirituality or psychology. He walks in the light according to the pattern Man. Jesus Christ is his pattern.
And where do we acquire our representation of Jesus Christ? From the inspired writings. These are our source. In contrast to the one claiming that he has not sinned (v. 10) and thus testifying against the authenticity of Scripture, these are of a different sort. These follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4). Consequently, in them is seen the reproduction of the pattern.
If we do this--if we walk, that is, if we are in motion, actively acquiring the image and copying it, reproducing it, living as He is in the light, then we have fellowship. What fellowship? The fellowship indicated in v. 3: with John and his associates, with the Father, and with the Son Jesus Christ. It is a fellowship of believers; a "fellowship one with another." It is the fellowship that the liar claimed in v. 6 but did not actively pursue; he was a talker, a chatterer. But these are seeking to be like Jesus and supporting one another, strengthening one another, walking one with another, fellowshipping one with another, enduring one another, and growing with one another. They are participants in a church setting.
Now this may perplex some. How can it be that if we walk like Jesus we have fellowship one with another and that fellowship could be related in any way to the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin? Some will say that this borders on a legal, works-salvation emphasis, or even crosses the line. How to answer?
I am going to support John on this. It matters not to me that someone's understanding comes crashing up against the impervious wall of Bible truth. People are used to functioning in terms of systematic theology. Systematic theology endeavors to combine the broad sweep of Scripture testimony into a systematic understanding of salvation. This is not a bad goal. Unfortunately, if core principles of such an understanding are faulty, then you can inadvertently begin to bend Scripture to match the system, instead of revising the system to conform to Scripture. We need to stay close to Biblical Theology and take our strongest cues from the text itself and not from our derived understandings.
Combining together in a church relationship is a special and unique kind of experience. It is voluntary. It has many friendly benefits, but also so many frustrations. It means putting yourself in the path of so many... people. Some are too positive, some are too negative, some are to brusque, some are too friendly, some are not conscientious enough, some are too conscientious, some are like Peter (talking before engaging the brain), and some are like John (let's bring down fire from heaven and destroy these blasphemers). Some are like Judas, too. But Proverbs 27:17 remains especially true in the church setting: "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."
If we are walking in the light as He is in the light, that will mean none of this fake stuff as in vv. 6, 8, 10. It will mean agreeing with the statement at v. 5 that "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." Talk is cheap; action costs something. Copying Jesus costs something. Judas could not have things both ways and neither can we. The New Testament is adamant. We walk in the light as Jesus is in the light, or we are just clanging cymbals, chatterers, pretenders, walkers in darkness, claimers.
The epistle of First John all derives from its first verses. John affirms that he has, truly, touched Jesus, he has seen and experienced the real thing. God is real, authentic (1 John 1:1). But the remainder of the epistle also flows from the affirmation in verse 5 that there is no darkness in God. He is all light. And if we are His followers, there will be no darkness in us. We will be all light. Paul understood: "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).
God is light. The remainder of 1 John's behavioral exhortations all flow from this principle. If He is light and if we have fellowship with Him, then we will not make false claims, but our Christ-like actions will speak. The world will know that we have "been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). I say again, as we live the lives of believers, mix together in worship, labor side-by-side in service, as we truly give our hearts to follow Jesus, God will work in us to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And in this washing in His blood (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5) we will be cleansed from all sin.
If We Confess Our Sins
Here is another parallel thought between v. 7 and v. 9. At the end of v. 7 we are cleansed from all sin, and at the end of v. 9 we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. The parallel is clear; the same thing is meant. Even 1 John itself affirms that "all unrighteousness is sin" (1 John 5:17).
Verse 9 has "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I know that this is the text among all these that we are the most familiar with. Here is ground with which we at least think we are familiar. If we admit to God that we have sinned, He will forgive us. But surely in the mind of John was Proverbs 28:13: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." The very context of 1 John 1:9, comparing true-hearted action (vv. 7, 9) with mere claims that do not match one's actions (vv. 6, 8, 10), tells us that saying one is confessing is not enough. God is not mocked. The prophet Isaiah marked such: "this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me. . ." (Isaiah 29:13). We must not only confess but also forsake our sins.
Here is yet another point. These are not mere generic sins or faults. If we confess "our" sins. You take ownership, responsibility. Here again I temporarily venture from this text for the echo in Steps to Christ, p. 39:
Confession will not be acceptable to God without sincere repentance and reformation. There must be decided changes in the life; everything offensive to God must be put away.
Again, true confession is specific:
True confession is always of a specific character, and acknowledges particular sins. They may be of such a nature as to be brought before God only; they may be wrongs that should be confessed to individuals who have suffered injury through them; or they may be of a public character, and should then be as publicly confessed. But all confession should be definite and to the point, acknowledging the very sins of which you are guilty (Steps to Christ, p. 38).
If we confess our sins--and forsake them--"He is faithful and just." Perhaps we have in time past emphasized how God's forgiven was actually unfair, how we did not receive that which we deserved. Be careful of this. Sins that God has forgiven us have indeed been paid for; it is only that Jesus rather than us, has paid the price. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus died in our place; He bore the full, undiluted penalty. So, I say to you, justice was indeed served. Also, it is righteous of God to make the transaction He makes. Jesus becomes sin for us that we may become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is within His rights to do what He wants to with His own (Matthew 20:15), and we are bought with a price and we are His own (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). No man has been forgiven in a way that is not both merciful and just.
He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. "Forgive" is a big word for us, isn't it? But you might be interesting in knowing that in all five writings of John found in the Bible, the word is used only once: 1 John 1:9. Now once is enough. But still, we should notice that John's main focus may not have been the low-grade kind of forgiveness we may be used to thinking about. Forgiveness in John is no mere declaration but a declaration of both, forgiveness and cleansing. This is what He does. You see the parallel in this verse. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It is a complete forgiveness. As the confession must include forsaking, so God's forgiveness inevitably includes cleansing.
We should not miss the dual dynamic for God's people found in these six verses, especially the two positive ones (vv. 7, 9). In v. 7 you see the corporate dimension of true Christianity. As we live in harmony with one another in church, as we bite our tongue and keep to ourselves our frustrations, or as we, led of God, quietly and humbly approach a brother or sister in private and thoughtfully offer not our rebuke but our gentle counsel, as we remain Christlike when the local complainer approaches us, we are showing forth this community aspect. We are shaping one another, hopefully by our positive Christianity, but sometimes by quietly enduring an unchristian tirade. And as we are patient and merciful and pray for those who misrepresent Jesus and His cause, we ourselves grow.
We speedily embrace v. 9 and its personal aspects of confession and forgiveness and even cleansing. But v. 9 is not isolated from v. 7 and we cannot have the reality of v. 9, fellowship with God, if we do not humble ourselves and do our part in making fellowship with our fellow believers a living reality. Let me be plain: some of us have missed this. One who knows something of "Last Generation Theology" asked me quite specifically about this communitarian dimension and where it fits into LGT. One of the ways that it fits is right here in this passage. I am skeptical that some have taken it as seriously as they ought.
If you want to be cleansed of all sin by the blood of Christ, you must keep self under, and that will not mean locking yourself away in a room but it means along with study and prayer and personal piety in the closet, action and evangelism and personal labor with souls in and out of the churches. It means character growth as we interact with, and in God's grace, find blessing also in one another.
Being Without Sin
Finally, consider the incongruity of affirming that 1 John 1:8 is teaching that we cannot be without sin--a point of which some are quite sure--and of denying the cleansing from "all sin" and from "all unrighteousness" spoken of in vv. 7 and 9. Why would we take v. 8 at more than what it says, and verses 7 and 9 at less than what they say? They do say that Jesus cleanses from all sin. And neither verses puts this cleansing off into the distant future. In v. 7 it comes as we interact with fellow believers. In v. 9 it comes as we go aside into private and truly confess and forsake our sins now. Thus, if we can have fellowship now, we can have cleansing now, and it is cleansing from all.
Let us have a care, and go neither farther nor any less far than Scripture goes. First John 1:8 certainly holds a warning for us. We should never say that we have no sin; we should never presume to have more power of self-discernment than Scripture permits of. Our hearts cannot be trusted. Who can know them?
God can know them. He can cleanse them. He can heal them. He can remove all unrighteousness, all sin, from them. It is not a paper removal only, a declaration from some distant corner of the heavenly bureaucracy. It is not a fiction.
Mrs. White spoke plainly as she prepared to quote the very passage we have studied today. Perhaps you would be interested in her remarks?
We are authorized to hold in the same estimation as did the beloved disciple those who claim to abide in Christ, to be sanctified, while living in transgression of God's law. He met with just such a class as we have to meet. He said, 'Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning' (verses 7, 8). Here the apostle speaks in plain terms, as he deemed the subject demanded.
The epistles of John breathe a spirit of love. But when he comes in contact with that class who break the law of God and yet claim that they are living without sin, he does not hesitate to warn them of their fearful deception (The Sanctified Life, pp. 68, 69).
The claim to "have no sin" is exceeding offensive to God and never encourages others to think rightly of God and the gospel. We may urge that Jesus has power to cleanse from sin and will cleanse from sin, and that we may live without sin now, that "We may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame and remorse" (The Great Controversy, p. 477). But we should never claim to have no sin.
And let us go further. On the basis of the issue of presumption, I offer that neither we should we even entertain the thought in our hearts that we have no sin. After all, the closer we come to Jesus, the more faulty we will appear in our own eyes. How can you reconcile that with saying, "Well, just between you and me, I have no sin"? Danger lurks in such a place. The greatest danger is that of misrepresenting what Seventh-day Adventists believe to others. The second greatest danger is self-deception. John says that if we say this, we deceive ourselves. That, at least, is plain speaking, and we need to receive it with plain hearing.
However, the passage itself makes clear that God can cleanse us from all sin and he can do it now. We let the fact of it rest with Him. For our part, we should keep low to the ground and plead with God always, in this manner:
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23, 24).
His grace is sufficient for us and if He leads us to repent He will also abundantly pardon. Praise Him to the heavens for His goodness and kindness to undeserving men, and His Scripture which explains His Scripture.
Mentone CA SDA 2008-02-23