Sermon on Mai 08, 2022
Andreas Latossek, Kirche am Bahnhof
Real or Fake – Touchstone 1: Sin and Obedience
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
So today it’s about the first touchstone for genuine faith, dealing with sin and obedience.
We can examine people’s lives and teachings in this way, and God’s Spirit wants to speak into your life this morning so that you can see whether you are on the right path.
Sin and obedience are both subjects that are not very popular in our society.
If you asked people about it on the street, they would probably roll their eyes. Some would say this is a typical theme of the Christian faith to make people feel guilty and keep them down. Some would say they’re all right, or sin isn’t so bad, or maybe even that they don’t have sin.
But there are also people, and maybe you are one of them, who live with a great guilt that they have carried around for a long time, which weighs heavily on them and they wonder how they can ever make amends or get rid of this guilt.
In Bible times there were people who said:
Folks, if the grace of God is so great and if it’s greater than my guilt, then it doesn’t matter how I live now. Grace is always valid and Jesus has already paid for my debt. Let’s go. Or people from the Gnostic movement who said what counts is the spirit, I can do what I want with my body.
And on the other hand, people said: It can’t be that I now have a free pass to sin, to do and not do what I want. That’s too cheap for me. Jesus saved me and now I have to make an effort to stop sinning and live the way He wants. I have to please God now and when I sin I feel really bad and try to make amends and try harder.
Some Christians walk around with a guilty conscience all the time and as a result cannot enjoy God. And then I make an effort and I try and I succeed…for a week and I fail again and I promise God: but now really and many have something like a favorite sin, an area where we keep falling and the danger is big to eventually give up in frustration and because we don’t know how to deal with it. We distance ourselves from God or we don’t care and we paint ourselves as godly. We get hypocritical and say I’m fine. No problems, no sin.
There are also Christians who claim to have lived without sinning for years.
Or they sell what they do as Christian.
Before I blasphemed, now I pass on prayer requests…
So we see a wide range of ways to deal with this topic and you have probably found yourself at one point or another.
Let us look at what John writes to the church in Ephesus on these subjects
1 John 1:5-2:2:
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. 1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1. God is light.
Light stands for good, for justice, for truth, the Bible says God is perfect, in contrast to evil, to sin, to injustice, to perdition. Light and darkness don’t go together. If you come into a dark room and turn on the light, the darkness is gone.
Therefore, when John writes that God is light, he is also turning directly against those who say that in God both are united, good and evil, yin and yang or whatever you want to call it.
That will not do. Light drives out the darkness. And God is good through and through.
And that shows a problem, because we’re not. We are sinners.
We notice that every day. We notice that in world events, the wars, catastrophes, the hunger that is so often man-made. There is enough food, but it’s about prices, costs, personal enrichment, etc.
But we also notice it on a small scale.
The interesting thing is that John writes that when we live in the light we are connected, we have fellowship, and only then does he write that the blood of Jesus cleanses us.
But we also notice how often we behave destructively in our interactions, how we say and do things that strain and destroy relationships and we don’t even manage to live the peace that we demand on a large scale on a small scale.
We notice that we don’t meet our own demands, and certainly not the demands of others. We owe each other.
And we have turned away from God our Creator and are rebelling against Him.
We want to decide for ourselves and think we can do it on our own. The Bible calls this life without God sin.
The Greek word behind sin means ” missing the target”. Our life misses the mark. I miss what God has in store for me, I miss the fulfilling fellowship with him in and after this life.
This fellowship with him is the goal. That’s what God had in mind.
And if I reject God, love and light, and don’t have it within me, then that has a negative effect on my character and on our togetherness. The bible even says it’s affecting our environment too, and I’m doing things that God doesn’t approve of. This is what the Bible calls sins.
When we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, writes John.
All have sinned and God’s glory is no longer expressed in their lives.
Let’s read Romans 3:23
Or as the Elberfeld Bible translates: We do not attain the glory of God.
This means we do not reflect God in our lives and will not reach that place after our lives where God is in His glory, which is Heaven. No matter how hard you try and how pious you are, one sin is enough, because light and darkness don’t go together.
Sin has effects, and therefore it matters, as some heretics would have the Ephesians know. That’s why the Bible talks about sin. Not to get you down, but to show you that you have a problem so that you can start looking for the solution, because God does not want us to live apart from him forever, nor does he want us to miss out what he has in store for us in this life.
Last week we saw that living in God’s presence means joy and abundance.
2. How do we deal with sin?
A little boy spent the hot summer months with his aunt in the country. One noon when the shutters were closed to keep the room cool, a ray of sunshine stole through the shutters and shone into the room. A bright strip of light could now be seen like a golden band in the middle of the room. But, oh wonder! It looked like smoke in that bright streak.
“What is that?” the little boy called, “Is that smoke?”
“No ,” replied the aunt, “that is dust.”
“Dust?” asked the little one in surprise. “Where does the dust come from? Why is there no dust anywhere else in the room?”
The aunt replied: “The whole room is full of this dust, but you can only see the dust where the bright light falls, not otherwise.”
Our natural response to sin is:
Hiding ourselves, comparing ourselves to others: that’s much worse, talking us out of it, explaining or twisting sin and turning evil into good, blaming someone else, forgetting it, trying to make amends.
How should we deal with sin instead?
John writes that we should place ourselves in God’s light. That can also hurt, because then guilt becomes visible like the dust. But this pain is also healing because it helps us to identify sin for what it is, namely not good.
Then when we confess our sins, that is, stand by them, accept our responsibilities, and name them for what they are without sugarcoating them, and that also means repenting of them, then God is faithful and just and forgives us in Jesus and cleanses us from all guilt, from all wrong in God’s eyes, so that we can be righteous before him. And if I’m righteous, that means I can live in a relationship with God again now, I can endure it in the light of God.
Jesus paid with his blood on the cross, he became the atoning sacrifice for our sins, writes John.
Like Paul in Romans 6, he alludes to a practice in the Old Testament:
Once a year there was a big festival in Israel: Yom Kippur, the great day of atonement, described in Lev. 16
On that day two goats were caught in Israel and brought to the high priest.
One was sacrificed and the lid of the Ark of the Covenant was sprinkled with his blood. This made it clear that someone must die vicariously for guilt in order to pay for it and restore fellowship with God.
The second goat was symbolically charged with the guilt of all the people and then chased out of the camp into the desert to show that the guilt had been taken away. From this goat comes the term: scapegoat.
It all seems quite strange to us, but when we hear what John says when he sees Jesus, it all makes sense:
John 1:29: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Who is the scapegoat for our guilt?
Jesus is the scapegoat. The cross is where he paid for our debt as proxy so we can be absolved.
2 Cor . 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
When we stand in God’s light like this, when we confess our sins and that we have lived without God and need him, then this promise of God also applies to us, for he is faithful and just.
He keeps his word. Then he cleanses us too and takes us into his family. Then we become children of God, so it says in the Bible. Then we can be sure that we have eternal life, which is why John writes this epistle to strengthen the Ephesians in this.
The question for you this morning is, do you belong?
Do you know that Jesus has forgiven you your sins, you belong to his family and have eternal life ?
Now God has forgiven my sins, but the question is:
3. How do we deal with sin as children of God?
Can we now do what we want because our guilt is forgiven?
a. Obedience is a sign of relationship with Jesus
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
The word know is different from the German expression of a deep relationship.
The classic example of this is Adam and Eve. Adam recognized Eve and 9 months later she had a son. But it’s not primarily about a sexual relationship, but simply the deep knowledge of the other. And when we get to know God so deeply, then his love changes us and then we will automatically conform to what he tells us, and this in turn shows outwardly that we are really connected to him.
Obedience is a sign of my deep trust in Jesus.
It’s a sign that I think he has the big picture, knows what’s good for me and means well for me. And then it is even wise to be obedient.
Obedience is a sign that I respect him as God simply because he is God and it is a sign of my relationship with him. Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments.
That sounds strange at first, because what does love have to do with commandments?
But isn’t it the same in our relationships?
We listen to people we love because they are important to us and take them seriously, including their wishes.
If we don’t do that, then we realize that if this relationship is strained, then there is something between us. If my kids don’t listen to me, then they’ll stay my kids, but then it does something to our relationship. And when we think about God, who is not on our level , but a royal friend, so to speak, then it is a sign of love to take what he says seriously and not to disturb the relationship.
An additional motivation is that we know that one day Jesus will come again and we will see him then.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3
Obedience is a sign of relationship with Jesus, whereas disobedience shows that one either doesn’t know God that well or doesn’t care about him.
But the Bible makes it clear:
b. We can choose
Something else changes with our new identity as children of God:
Sin no longer rules us because we belong to God. Paul makes this clear in Romans 6 with the image of a slave market:
At that time there were slave markets where you could go and buy one or more slaves. Ownership passed to the new owner and what he did with the slave was up to the buyer.
Jesus gave his life as ransom , we read in the Gospel of Mark, he used it to pay for us and redeemed us .
Another image is that of baptism. It makes it clear that our old life without Jesus is over. We are dead, so to speak, and a new life with Jesus has begun.
And so, Paul writes:
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Romans 6:11-13
I am a new person, God rules my life now, my old sinful nature is dead but the sin is still there.
She is around me. She lures me, I can choose her.
Put yourselves no longer at the disposal of sin, says Paul, and John writes: chap. 2 verse 1: I am writing these things to you so that you will not sin.
c. Can I live without sin?
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. 7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
He who sins does not know God. We just talked about that.
But now John writes: Whoever is connected to him and remains in him does not sin. So is it possible to live sinless?
no On the one hand, we have to look at the different tenses in Greek, which we cannot reproduce in German. Because what is meant here is not the selective sinning, but living in a state of sin, that I sin constantly and I don’t care how Jesus thinks about it.
That doesn’t fit with a life in connection with Jesus, as we have already established. Because it is important to me to hear what Jesus says.
The prerequisite for not sinning, according to John, is to remain permanently connected to Jesus. But that’s exactly what we can’t do.
Even Jesus says to Peter in one situation: You no longer need me to wash you completely, because you are already clean, but I have to wash your feet, because in everyday life you keep getting dirty feet. In John 13 you can read about this exciting dialogue. And verse 8 from chapter 1 of the 1st letter of John also applies to the Christians to whom the letter was addressed: If we claim to be without sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth, Jesus Christ, is not in us.
So whenever a person says they don’t have a problem with sin and haven’t sinned in years, you know it can’t be true.
Johannes would like to put a completely different focus here, which he emphasizes again and again through his letter:
It’s not about trying to avoid sin, it’s about being connected to Jesus.
Everything else gives a cramped Christianity, but if we remain connected to Jesus, we will see that in a moment, then he changes us and the sins in our lives will recede.
Therefore, as a fourth point, how we deal with sin as children of God:
4. Make yourself completely available to Jesus
Romans 6:13-14 again:
Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Does that mean I have to make an effort to make it work? As I described at the beginning of the sermon?
Paul writes about this in Galatians:
Gal. 3:2-3: 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
And a little later Gal. 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
If I could win the fight against sin on my own, then I could become clean myself, then I wouldn’t need the salvation of Jesus, because then I could do it myself. But I can’t.
Making myself available to God means, first and foremost, being closely connected to Jesus, walking in the Spirit, taking Jesus with me everywhere.
John 15:5: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
When I am connected to Jesus, the Holy Spirit changes my thinking.
- I’m starting to think like Jesus.
- I’m beginning to see sin the way Jesus did.
- I’m starting to love what he loves.
- And to hate what he hates.
- And he hates sin because it belongs to darkness. She cost him his life.
That’s why we should also hate sin, because it has destructive effects.
John writes extra: My dear children, I am writing you these things so that you do not sin. This is now about the selective sin, so if we do something that we shouldn’t.
When I am connected to Jesus, my thinking changes and then my behavior also changes.
Fruit grows, the fruits of the Spirit described in Galatians.
God works the victory, but the fruit takes time to grow. Not everything is fully mature right away. My new person grows and is changed into the image of Jesus. But in some areas it takes years for the fruit to grow and for me to achieve victory.
When I live in connection with Jesus and focus on him, I hear his soft speaking.
Each of us knows this:
- Don’t do this, stay away from this and that, it doesn’t fit your new nature.
- Come to me, I fill you up.
I listen to God, I do not deprive him of any area of my life and I choose because I am free to do what he tells me. And every time I do that, the influence of sin becomes less in my life.
a. But what happens if I do sin?
And yes we do.
Should we then be afraid of God? Should we fear the day he comes again?
If I feel like God is constantly mad at me, that doesn’t bode well for a close relationship.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous 1 John 2:1
Jesus then says: Wait, I’ve already paid for him.
Verse 9 also applies to us:
But when we confess our sins, God is shown to be faithful and just: He forgives our sins and cleanses us from all the wrongs we have committed.
Here, too, the Greek form behind it is the same as we had before:
- When we confess our sins, over and over again.
- Not just once but every time.
- I call things by their proper name.
- And then He forgives and cleanses again and again.
- Any injustice, whatever, however often.
It may be that if you keep falling in the same spot, it’s a good idea to get help when you find you can’t. Breaking habits, standing up, seeing the love of God.
It may be good to get a friend or a counselor to confess these things to God before him, because whatever comes out in the open loses its power.
We are all in the same boat, we are all sinners, we all make mistakes, none of us is perfect even if we sometimes pretend we are. Don’t get discouraged at this point. Don’t harden your heart because you don’t seem to be making progress, or if you’ve already made it hard, let Jesus do it again.
- Endure the light of God, be shaken by your guilt, break down inside, and then repent, tell Jesus you’re sorry and accept his forgiveness and let him work on you.
- Don’t let the devil convince you that Jesus no longer loves you and that you can no longer come into his presence.
- And don’t be fooled into believing that your guilt isn’t or can’t be forgiven:
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. 1 John 2:12
You may know that if you confess your guilt, then Jesus is really faithful and just and he forgives you and cleanses you.
The only thing we shouldn’t do is treat sin lightly.
Judas is a chilling example. He was so close to Jesus. But he tolerated sin in his life, because he kept stealing money from his own coffers, and even when Jesus said that someone would betray him that night, no one could imagine it from the other.
How easy it is to make a good impression on others, so that everyone thinks that he is an exemplary Christian, and in the end everyone says: We never thought of him like that.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Hebrew 12.4
Yes, it is a battle that we have to fight there. But we don’t fight it out of ourselves, but out of the connection with Jesus and with his power.
God is light
We are sinners. When we stand in the light, he is faithful and just, forgiving and cleansing.
Obedience is a sign of relationship with Jesus. Even if we have a choice because we have changed dominions, we cannot live sinlessly, but we can make ourselves available to Jesus, live in a close relationship with him and do with the Holy Spirit what he tells us to do. And if we have stumbled, then we can get up again, go to Jesus and be forgiven.
God is inviting you to take advantage of this this morning, for the very first time or all over again.