1 John 1:5–10
You are a royal priest. Please do not forget that.
You are a citizen of the holy nation of heaven.
It is important for you to know your identity in front of God as his son or daughter and a disciple of Jesus.
But if we only focus on the good news, we miss a crucial part of the picture. You are a sinner. So this morning I want to remind you of what that means.
Sometimes I hear people say things such as, “God made me this way.” Most often it is used to explain why they have a particular personality trait. So for example a person might say, “I’m a naturally creative person, it’s just the way God made me.”
Sometimes however you will hear a person use it as an excuse for a problem with their behaviour. They will say something such as, “I know I’m lazy and selfish, but that’s the way God made me.”
Is that true? Does the Bible say we are all born exactly the way God meant for us to be?
No, it doesn’t. The Bible says that when God created the first human beings they were very good. They were exactly how he wanted them to be and he was very pleased. Very soon after that however we are told about the fall of man. Since then all men and women have been born with sin, and so instead of blaming God for the way you are you should be blaming Satan.
You should say, “I know I’m lazy and selfish, it’s because Satan made me this way.”
You are a sinner. We are all sinners. No one has ever been free from sin except Jesus. It is a tragic truth that every little baby is born a sinner. And we, though we are Royal Priests, are also sinners.
Romans 8:23 says: “We believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”
Now let’s think for a moment about what the Bible means when it uses the word ‘sin’. We can get confused. When I studied physics in school I was taught that light was a wave and learned about light waves. I accepted that until the same teacher tried to teach me that light was not only a wave but also a particle. Now I was totally confused. How could light be both a particle and a wave?
Sin is a bit like light in this respect. Sometimes the Bible talks about sin as doing something against God’s will. So for example 1 John 5:17 says ‘All wicked actions are sin’. Sin is an action. We learn that we sin when we break God’s law. And we do good when we obey God’s law. When we only think this way we start to believe that a baby who has done nothing at all in it’s life must be free of sin, and must be the way God created it to be. We start to see following Jesus as all about learning how to do only good things, and avoid all the bad things.
But the Bible also talks about sin as being like a stain on your spirit.
So for example Mark 7:20-23 says, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” So sin isn’t an action, it is the state of your being. And Ephesians 3 says “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.”
Sin is our nature. It is our character. From birth we are stained by sin and slaves to the devil. Jesus came to set us free. We are not born the way we are because God wants us that way. We are reborn through Jesus because our first birth was the work of the devil.
This is really important. It means that we are not sinners because of the bad things we have done. It means we are not saved because of the good things we are doing.
Ephesians 2:8 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
In John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
As Royal Priests we have to understand both meanings of sin. We have to resist the temptations that come from within to do vile things. And we have to spend time with Jesus as we allow him to change our hearts and minds. He is giving us a new nature that is free of sin. He is washing us clean. He is changing us and purifying us.
Sin is both doing and desiring. It is both action and nature.
Jesus said clearly that if it is wrong to, for example, commit adultery then it is wrong to desire to commit adultery.
For the truly repentant, our identity is in Christ, and we have left behind our wicked practices and our former identities, receiving by the grace of God a “new nature” in Jesus (Colossians 3:10) and becoming like him.
You may have noticed that there is not any ranking of sin. There is just sin. Either you are stained by sin or you are perfect. None of us is a worse sinner than any other, however bad you think you are. To God, you are just another sinner like the rest of us.
In Galatians 5 Paul lists ‘Envy’ next to ‘Drunkenness’, and ranks ‘Anger’ alongside ‘Selfish Ambition’. Immorality is just as bad as murder. It is all listed as the fruit of our sinful nature. This is followed by a list of fruit that will grow when we receive our new nature.
Galatians says the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.
I want you to understand the prevalence of sin in your life. I want you to understand that it isn’t by good actions that we stop being sinners.
And so when the Bible suggests how we should live and what we should avoid, it isn’t talking about regulations to follow that will ensure entry to heaven. The Bible is helping us by these rules to learn to recognise and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit within us.
We don’t go to heaven by our deeds, and we don’t get sent to hell because of our deeds.
When you hear rule or law, think guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Next week I plan to start a series on the seven laws of spiritual success. These laws are ways in which we can live so as to allow the Holy Spirit to guide every part of our lives.