We’ve been talking about grace a lot lately…That’s interesting for a couple reasons…First, it is the topic for our youth summer camp program this year…Second, grace is something we all need.
This morning we turn to the First Letter of John because it explores themes of sin, repentance, and salvation…The church teaches us about Original Sin, Actual Sin, and Repentance. The central theme of our Wesleyan theology is Saving Grace…Salvation as a gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) So, on the one hand we are confronted by the reality of our own sin and our need for repentance…On the other hand, we see salvation as part of our reality that acknowledges God’s active participation in our world through grace. We need to see how these things affect our lives and what we are called to do about them.
We first need to admit that we all fall short…Yes, the fact is that we are all sinners….This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but just in case – it’s the truth…God offers us grace to empower us to heal our relationship with God through repentance…And therein seems to lie a big issue for many of us…REPENTANCE. Repent: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life…I recently attended a retreat where the speaker talked about the process of self-examination and confession of our sins…He suggested that the truth-telling of confession is breaking up with “the me I used to be” and turning to God instead…And that’s the problem – Breaking up is hard to do. We don’t want to break up with ourselves and give up all the “fun stuff” we’re used to…But that is exactly what happens when we turn from our sin and turn toward God – we stop doing those things that continue to separate us from God…God’s grace helps us to recognize the things in our lives that disrupt our relationship with God and challenges us to turn from them…This is what salvation – God’s saving grace – is all about…Turning us away from those things that damage our relationship with God. We can refuse our salvation – that is, give it back – if we refuse to accept God’s will and change our behavior…It is not enough to simply accept Jesus and claim to be saved…Unless we turn around – truly repent of our sin, our faith is a sham.
Listen to John’s letter again…After the introduction, he summarizes the message he plans to bring…(I’m using The Message)
(5) “This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.”
That seems pretty straightforward…God has so much light that there’s no room for anything dark…The metaphor is obvious – God is so completely good that there can be no evil in God…That also means there is no room for evil in the people who surround God and share God’s Light.
(6) “If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim.”
We cannot claim to walk in that light and share that life if we are still stumbling around in the darkness…Darkness of drug abuse…Shadows of half-truths and gossip…Dark alleys of pornography and infidelity…Murkiness of stinginess and greed…If we keep doing the same things we did before we came to know Jesus, then we do not understand what it means to follow Jesus…But…Breaking up is hard to do.
(7) “But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another.”
When we get our relationship with God back on track we also experience a whole new life with each other…Freed from the burden of the sins that have weighed us down we are better able to engage in meaningful relationships…Walking in God’s light enables us to see more clearly where we are needed and what is expected of us…We can focus on encouraging others instead of talking about them behind their backs…We can offer our resources for church missions, education, and growth instead of withholding our gifts for ourselves…But…Breaking up is hard to do.
(8) “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense.”
Remember that story about Jesus inviting someone to throw out the first stone? John reminds us that we are sadly mistaken if we believe we haven’t done anything that is “wrong-enough” to be considered a real sin. Gossip isn’t really a sin is it? That pen (or stamp, or envelope, or whatever) I got from the office…That’s not really stealing is it? Holding back on my tithe so I can afford that new computer can’t be a sin, can it? You get where I’m going with this, right? We are fooling ourselves if we think what we do isn’t “as bad as all that.” But…Breaking up is hard to do.
(9) “On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”
This is the really good part…Remember when we talked about Justifying and Sanctifying Grace a couple weeks ago? We are justified – reconciled to God – when we come to God and are forgiven of our sins. The rest of our lives are spent bathing in the Sanctifying Grace of God that continues to give us second chances. We need second chances because, as hard as we try, we cannot avoid pitfalls…The difference between walking in the Light and walking in the darkness is our ability to climb out of those pitfalls and come back to God in confession…Confession is breaking up with “the me I used to be” and turning to God instead…And…Breaking up is hard to do.
(10) “If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”
Those who look at this offer of grace and claim they simply do not need it because they have never sinned against God are just wrong. We believe that God has the corner on the “truth market” and we need not doubt it if God says we are sinners. The idea that humanity got along without God before we met him and can get along without him now is misguided. But, of course…Breaking up is hard to do.
Wesley used John’s letter as the basis for much of his teaching that has become part of our doctrinal heritage on sin, repentance and salvation…He also came to understand that, while we may embrace the doctrine, we sometimes have difficulty with the practice…He said that doctrine can be undermined without self-denial…To love things of this world is to allow that desire to overshadow our love for God and our neighbor…Desire for money and its accumulation, for example, is a dangerous sin since all wealth comes from God and is meant to be shared with God’s children…Maybe this is why breaking up is so hard to do…It means admitting the needs of another may outweigh our needs in the eyes of God…It means realizing that everything we have isn’t really ours at all and God intends us to share…It means understanding that our words can hurt and we should not be so careless when we speak…It means that we must always try to see things through the eyes of the other to better appreciate how God sees…Breaking up with the me I used to be is a real challenge, but with God’s grace we can all handle the break-up. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen