Saturday, November 19, 2011
First John Chapter One, Part 4 of 5
1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
This enter passage (verses 7-10) comprise a curt answer to certain Christian sects that teach once a person is saved they are no longer capable of sinning. They carry a Biblical truth too far. It is true that a believer can no longer have sin imputed to them in a judicial sense (1st John 3:9) but the practical effects of sin in a saint’s life are all too real, 1st John 5:16. Note the wording of this verse: believers are to pray for erring brothers they see committing sin. Paul’s ordeal as a Christian suffering the spiritual battle of the flesh and the Spirit is vividly outlined in Romans chapter 7; a staunch testimony and clear warning that Christians can and will sin after being saved.
Some in fact argue that the ordeal Paul describes was prior to his salvation. This logic doesn’t hold up under examination. Paul writes of his experience: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin,” Romans 7:22-25.; see also 2nd Corinthians 4:16 for the dichotomy between the “outward” and “inward” man.
In Ephesians 3:16 we read that we are to be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man;” the term “inner man” reflecting our new spiritual life after being begotten of God by faith. The Spirit does not beget such life until one places their faith in Jesus Christ; a fact clearly established from the gospels, John 7:39. So we see that Romans chapter 7 is in fact a personal record of inner struggle for Paul and he seeks to be saved from sin’s power in his daily life. When a Christian conducts himself according to the inner man he is bearing spiritual fruit for God, and with the flesh he bears fruit for death, Romans 6:11-13.
Elsewhere Paul explains this paradoxical dual life that a Christian lives in this fashion: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” Galatians 5:16-17. It is clear then that upon the new birth there is a war within every Christian. The flesh, the old man, wants its way still while the new man born of the Holy Spirit seeks to serve its new Master. The two come into conflict and often the Christian is left struggling with the desire to serve the old and a passion to serve the new. Thankfully for us God gives us ability to endure the trials the temptation of the flesh brings against us, 1st Corinthians 10:13.
James also speaks at length about the matter of temptation. The apostle assures us that there is a blessing for enduring temptation, a penalty for sin’s repetition, and a defense of God’s holiness; that while God sends trials to purify and mature believers He does not tempt them in the sense of enticing them to sin. No; in fact James tells us that such temptations arise within and lure us to rebel and gratify self rather than serve the Lord. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” James 1:12-15.
The words of James are clear: our lust or desire to have something entices us. This enticement begins within and becomes sin when we give in to it. Lust conceives and gives birth to sin. To consider a sin is not of itself sinful. If you see a beautiful woman and appreciate her beauty it is not evil; it is evil when your appreciation gives voice to a desire to possess her and use her to gratify your passions. Even then if you did not become physical with her you have sinned with her in your heart. The sin is compounded and made visible if you entice her to gratify you. The latter would be sins openly committed that precede a man to judgment, while the former are secret sins that follow after, 1st Timothy 5:24.
1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Verse 7 details how a Christian is to maintain fellowship with both Christ our Lord and other believers; this verse gives corrective advice for the penitent Christian seeking to have severed fellowship shipwrecked by sinful conduct renewed.
God wants us to confess our sins; He wants us to admit when we do sin. This admission is necessary perhaps for the sole reason that realizing we have sinned and confessing it to God is a humbling experience; and humility can do much to put us back into a proper walk with God. As the apostle writes: "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble," James 4:6. This same apostle advises that we ought to confess our sins to one another; and the one hearing the confession of an erring brother ought to pray for him, James 5:16. The verse concludes that the fervent prayers of a righteous man avail much. In this case the brother hearing the confession would be the righteous man pleading on behalf of the penitent saint.
If we examine the verses prior the text becomes a little more interesting. James writes in verse 14 that if anyone is sick he ought to call the elders of the church; these leaders of the church would pray for such a man that God might give him physical health. Verse 15 concludes that such a saint’s sins will also be forgiven, but the next verse explains how that would be so. Apparently James was writing with an eye to certain saints who fell sick on account of unconfessed sins harbored in their lives. Therefore the apostle counsels to confess our sins to one another that we might receive not only forgiveness but the prayers of those interceding might be received and answered by God. We should not read more into this passage than what is said. James nowhere states in this passage that another believer has the ability to forgive sins on God’s behalf.
So what of the Roman Catholic Church’s unique claims to have a priesthood that can remit sin? This is derived from the erroneous usage of certain verses such as John 20:23 where Jesus tells His disciples “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Now if this unique commission belonged only to the apostles, who supposedly passed on their apostolic authority to the RCC it is strange that neither Thomas (John 20:24), Paul (1st Corinthians 15:8) nor James (Jesus’ brother; 1st Corinthians 15:7) was present. Yet clearly Paul demonstrated this authority when he wrote, “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ,” 2nd Corinthians 2:10. This was in regards to the man who took his step-mother in adultery. Paul “retained” his sin and commanded him to be removed from fellowship (1st Corinthians 5:13) and then forgave him his sin. In this instance apparently retention or forgiveness of sin on behalf of the church is only for removing or restoring saints to fellowship. The salvation of this sinning Christian was never in jeopardy, 1st Corinthians 5:5.
Also, the RCC conveniently ignores the declaration of our Lord when He commissions the disciples. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:18-19. Forgiveness and retention of sins was clearly also a teaching of our Lord’s during His post-resurrection appearances and therefore is a prerogative of the entire church; not an elite clergy class, Matthew 10:27. Furthermore Peter (Rome’s supposed first Pope), under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that every Christian is a priest unto God (1st Peter 2:5, 9) and therefore “qualified” to receive confession from fellow believers.
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the matter of a saint sinning in the church is a matter for the church as a whole; not only its leaders, Matthew 18:15-17. Our Lord tells us that an erring brother is to be reasoned with one on one. Then, if he does not listen, in the company of two or three witnesses so that every word may be established. Finally the matter ought to be brought before the entire body of the local church to be dealt with. If the erring brother refuses to repent he is to be removed from the church to affect his repentance. Paul referred to being cast out of the church as being handed over to Satan, 1st Timothy 1:19-20; 1st Corinthians 5:5. This only serves to make sense since Satan is depicted as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Straggling Christians removed from the fellowship of the saints are like wandering sheep. We are more vulnerable to Satan’s wiles because we are alone. This is one more reason why it is prudent, when we sin, to seek immediate restoration to fellowship with Christ.