9.17.23 1 John 1:9
“Now the battle was lost. I fell like a bird shot from a treetop, down into great guilt and fearful despair. I went miserable out to the field, with a heart as heavy as any man could bear. I was past hope of being saved, bound for eternal punishment.”
He wrote that in his struggles against doubts he was like a baby being kidnapped…he could make a lot of noise, but he couldn’t do anything about it.
John Bunyan, Died in 1688, he wrote 60 books, he was most famous “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
He struggled with terrible doubts for many years of his life.
He was imprisoned for preaching, in England when he was 33 and spent the next 12 years in jail.
There he wrote Pilgrims Progress as well as his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief Sinners.
In the book, which can be encouraging at times and often quite depressing, he recounts his years of struggle with doubt…and times of victory and power in the Holy Spirit as well.
“The words of judgement were like brass chains binding my soul, and for several months I heard their constant clanking. One day I was full of sorrow and guilt, and I made a stand in my spirit and God’s word took hold of me “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7
Finally, a breakthrough!…but then…a few pages later…
“God is tired of you, he has been for several years now” he writes as Satan continues his attacks.
Come on John!
At one point he went to an older Christian for counsel and you think, finally, he will get some help.
He told the man that he feared he had committed the unpardonable sin and was beyond grace…and…the old guy agreed with him!
Are you kidding me!
“The tempter didn’t leave me. A hundred times or more that day he tried to break my peace.”
He lost his first wife.
He had four children, one born blind.
His second young Wife lost her baby soon after he was imprisoned…she was forced to try and raise them without income.
He had times of terrible physical illness where he struggled even more with doubt and despair.
He wrote, “Of all the temptations I’ve experienced, the worst is to question whether God really exists and whether his gospel is true. It’s the hardest temptation to bear, for when it comes it saps my strength and kicks my feet from under me.”
He was eventually released from both the physical prison and the prison of doubt…though I suspect he never was fully “cured” in this life.
He had years of fruitful ministry and his books have helped many for centuries.
He concludes his autobiography with this:
- I am inclined to unbelief
- I suddenly forget the love and mercy shown in Christ
- I keep trying to be good enough rather than relying on God’s grace.
- My mind wanders when I pray, and often my prayers are cold and lifeless
- I forget to look for answers to prayer
- I am apt to complain when I don’t have what I want, yet I am ungrateful for what I already have.
Can you relate to any of that?
Yet, these struggles, he wrote, are valuable, because:
- They help me when I am tempted to be proud.
- They keep me from trusting my own heart
- They show me the necessity of running to Jesus
Unbelief, doubt…is not a modern phenomenon…and it is not uncommon even for long time believers.
-Though it takes different forms in different people and at different times.
Struggle with faith is common…but not just with the Christian faith…atheists, when they look around at the world God has made, when they look inside at their own conscience:
-They can doubt their own faith…they can struggle to hold on to belief that there is no God.
We think that doubt it driven largely by intellect…it’s not, never really has been…not fully at least.
Alec Ryrie wrote…”Intellectuals and philosophers may think they make the weather, but they are more often driven by it.”
Julian Barnes said, “Most of us, I suspect…make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.”
Doubt isn’t, finally seeing the “facts” or “evidence” and then disbelieving.
Barnes accurately describes the most common process:
- Instinctive decision: Emotion response
- Then people build a Rational structure (to make sense of the emotion or justify it)
- Make this Normative (who wouldn’t believe this? Common sense. Fool if you don’t).
That is what is happening with modern faith deconstruction…we are not brains on sticks…most of the movement to disbelief is driven by emotion, by mood, by cultural conditioning.
Not by new information or facts or data.
Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris, who were part of the new Atheists were passionate in their atheism…emotional about it…more like evangelists than anything else.
If you read them…it doesn’t sound like science textbooks giving objective reasons to disbelief…it sounds like gospel tracts…but the news is bad, not good.
Fortunately, they have not been effective in actually winning many people over…they are preaching to the choir.
It is has been said that “They are much better at cheering up atheists than they are at persuading believers.”
Their emotional rantings don’t reach the heart.
An atheist is normally thought to be someone who says there is no God, but historically it would mean someone whose conception of God is so far removed from the reality that that what they are talking about is no longer God but a fantasy of their own invention.
Or people who live as if there were no God even though they claim to be believers.
Ps 14:1, “The fool says in his heart (not head), “There is no God.” (goes to the moral not intellectual cause for their “atheism”) They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”
The fool here is not an atheist in terms of intellectual doubt but rather in moral defiance of the Lordship of God.
“No! God!” is what the fool says…”hands off my life!”
John Frame writes that the Lordship of God is the central theme of the Bible.
Words representing God as Lord (boss, King) are found in 6603 out of the 31,086 verses in the Bible.
More than one in five.
“The main problem (he writes) is that we live in a world obsessed by autonomy. As with Adam and Eve in the garden, people today do not want to bow the knee to someone other than themselves. God’s Lordship confronts and opposes autonomy from the outset.”
God’s absolute Lordship bothers unbelievers, and some believers as well.
We cherish our autonomy…we think more highly of ourselves than we ought…we forget that we are dust.
We don’t mind being God’s jr. partners…as long as we some say in how things go.
So, when our doubts and the deceiver assail us…what do we do?…well, we fight.
How do we fight.
Using our minds, our wills, our emotions, our strength…and we lose, over and over again.
So, are we not to fight?
Are we not to use our minds, will, strength?
Yes and no… we are to muster all that grit, to trust God’s grace.
We surrender to his Lordship over and over…we choose to trust him…we must throw ourselves on his mercy.
We discipline ourselves to not trust ourselves…but him.
We fight, primarily by surrender…not surrendering to doubt or sin…but to Jesus as Lord.
I don’t know, but I suspect Bunyan’s long struggle had something to do with one of his confessions: “I keep trying to be good rather than trusting God’s grace.”
This doesn’t mean…we don’t DO things…we do make choices to flee from temptation, to instill helpful practices…but internally…in our hearts…we must learn what it means to yield to Jesus as Lord.
We are to be strong, as Paul wrote Timothy, in the GRACE that is in Christ Jesus.
Then he went on to use the illustration of Soldier, Farmer, and athlete.
All these activities…farming, soldiering, competing…require human grit to achieve their ends…but he began, again with…be strong…in the grace…that is in Christ Jesus.
Grace empowered grit…grit engaging grace.
But what this often feels like; especially in times of great doubt and trouble…is that we are at the end of our grit…and very often we are.
You might be a high-capacity person…but you are not infinite in capacity.
You can, and you will get to the place where life is pulling way more than your capacity can sustain.
We will all get the place where our best is not good enough…what then?
There you, you are positioned, to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Let’s read Mark 9
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
*Stop…be this man (or his wife) for a moment. This is horrible beyond imagination.
*By the way, Jesus knows the difference between a demon and a disease.
19 “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
*The demon knew of the Lordship of Christ…and reacted against it.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us, and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
*This is not a golden ticket.
*If I believe enough, I can have whatever I want.
*This is trust in the Lordship of Christ…he can do whatever he chooses to do.
-He has control over all things: power, might to do what he chooses.
-He has authority over all things: Lord, he has the right to do what he does.
This is not “trust a genie and he will grant your wishes.
This is trust the Lord of heaven and earth…he does what is right to do.
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
That is just a great, great prayer.
That verse, that prayer, is a close second behind my personal most practically helpful scripture…1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
We are back, to this verse again…there is too much there for us to leave it to a single Sunday.
Today we are thinking about it like this…Lord I believe that if I confess my sins, you are faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse me…help me to believe this.
Empower me to believe what is true…to live what is true.
Last week we focused on the larger passage, it would be helpful to listen to last week’s message to get the fuller context.
Today we zoom in on this verse and a companion verse that will help us apply it.
- If we confess our sins
-We sin because we are sinners…at our core
-We are sinners in need of a savior…we don’t need assistance, we need salvation.
That bothers people…most human religion helps us try to be better people, self-improvement…the gospel is about salvation.
It does make better…because Jesus saves us.
*Last week our 15 year old lab Otis wondered off in the night and fell into a creek bed.
-He lay there barking, unable to get up.
-I had to carry him up…he could not help me, help him.
That is me, that is you…before God.
Human pride cannot tolerate this reality.
- He is faithful and just
-The gospel is “The appeasement of the wrath of God by the love of God through the gift of God.”
-God’s wrath on sin is real: he is just
-God’s gift of grace is real: he is faithful
- To forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness
-He forgives our sin debt…we are declared not guilty. We do not have to pay.
-That’s good because we cannot.
-He cleanses our sin stain…we are actually forgiven. We bear no shame. We do not have to hide from him and others.
So, this is true, but our friend John Bunyan had this very verse…and little good it did him all those years, right?
Well, it actually did him a great deal of good…it kept him in the fight…it did not, however, remove the struggle.
There is no promise here of protection against wrong thinking patterns, or brain miswiring, or of physical illness that makes it hard to trust God.
There is no promise here of an easy and final win against doubt, or that the enemy will not be allowed to attack you.
There is no promise here that life events will not come that will threaten to undo you.
What is promised here, exactly?
If we confess, he is faithful, he will forgive…he will cleanse.
We fear many things, we need not fear that we will not be forgiven…this is no small thing.
We need not fear that he will not be enough, even when we know that we are not enough.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so now always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.” Phil. 1:20
I expect, I hope…that I will have sufficient courage for what comes my way…not that I will escape trouble…but that I will honor Christ…that I will trust him.
He is trusting Christ, that when he needs to, he will trust Christ.
Proverbs 3:25,26 has always been a passage that has intrigued me…it is like the OT version of Phil. 1:20
Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Fear, anxiety are future focused…our minds are wondering into God’s domain…he alone knows and controls the future…all we can do is either trust him with it, or worry about it.
-We can also plan for, but that is more a “physical activity” than a “heart choice” like trust or worry.
When are suffering, we fear the future, when we are doubting…we tend to be fearing the future…what if this continues? How will I bear it?
Even we are enjoying health, family, love…we can fear “what if I lose these?”
The Proverb doesn’t say “Do not be afraid of bad things happening because they won’t.”
But “Don’t fear sudden fear.”
All of us have been gripped with this at some time.
We can fear sudden fear…ruin that can overtake our lives.
If we belong to him, we do have to give into this fear.
We will not experience ultimate ruin.
Don’t fear sudden fear or ruin…instead…let God be your confidence.
But how do we do this?
How do we practically take God at his word when he says he will forgive our sin debt and cleanse our sin stain?
We will not be caught in some ruinous trap…we will be, finally, safe.
Let’s go to 2 Cor. 7:10…let’s use it to help us find some practical ways to live out the great promise of 1 John 1:9.
Paul is speaking to a specific situation, but we can draw some principles from this passage that are widely applicable.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
Godly grief (sorrow) is compared and contrasted with worldly grief…specifically in what they produce…the fruit…or impact in our lives.
Godly grief produces repentance (change of mind leading to change of direction) …not just remorse…but change of direction…it begins in the mind but doesn’t end there.
Worldly grief produces death.
Why? It is remorse without repentance. No real change. No turning away from sin towards God.
Godly sorrow has produced:
Earnestness: Means speed, or haste.
-I can tell if I am motivated or serious about something by how fast I am willing to act…real repentance mobilizes us to take right action.
- Eagerness to clear yourselves: Not to be defensive but rather to get on the right side of things…To do what is good.
-Sin is a breech…we are not just to feel indignation when others sin against us…we are to “feel” the offense for our own sin.
*I am not saying we should wait until we feel something before we confess our sin…but that we must seek to understand what sin is and its impact so that we learn to actually feel sorrow.
- What fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment (readiness to see justice done)!
I won’t unpack all these words, but the point is there is more than intellectual weight behind godly sorrow, there is a full-hearted response to God.
He began with “metanoia” a change of mind…repentance.
He then unpacks that using both actional and emotional words of response.
God is after change in us that includes every part of us.
Repentance and forgiveness are like spiritual breathing.
I John 1:9…exhale confession and inhale forgiveness.
But it is not something we take lightly or allow to merely become a reflex like breathing is.
Let’s break down three main differences between what godly and worldly sorrow looks like in our lives:
- Specific: We understand where we have sinned and what needs to change.
- Vague: We are in a kind of dark cloud. We feel hopeless. There is no sense of agency. I can’t change.
- Our sin is condemned: This is wrong.
- The sinner is condemned: You are terrible, worthless, you are hopeless.
- Relenting and receiving: When we repent the Holy Spirit relents…he has done his job, conviction has worked, he can now return to comforting us…The Father receives as his son or daughter.
- Persistent and rejecting: We confess over and over and the false guilt is unrelenting.
Godly…you did this, and you are my child, you must repent…I forgive you and accept you.
Worldly…you always are wrong, you are bad…even if you repent…you are bad…you cannot be forgiven, I reject you.
John Bunyan was worried about having committed the unforgivable sin…which is in essence, permanent rejection of God.
I wish he could have understood earlier in his life…that the one who has turned finally against God is unconcerned with God.
That his own deep sadness and desire for God were evidence that he had not permanently hardened his heart against God.
Doubt is normal.
Struggle is normal.
It is okay if you don’t doubt or struggle…but it is okay if you do.
What is essential is that we learn to trust God not ourselves.
We have to love him with our minds:
-Recognize godly and worldly sorrow…think correctly about this.
-Feel what you feel, believe what is real.
-This involves understanding what is true and what is not.
We have to love him with our hearts.
-This is not feeling guilty to try and pay for our sins…but to understand it’s impact on us and others…we must learn to allow it to touch our hearts.
-Not breeze over it.
Again…not to wallow in guilt…but if we are to fully rejoice in forgiveness in our hearts we must not fear the impact of sorrow in our hearts for our sin.
We don’t wallow in sorrow…our sorrow can and should quickly take us to joy of forgiveness.
If we skip sorrow…if we deny our sin…we will miss the joy of grace.
We have to love him with our strength.
-We do battle against sin, doubt, the enemy
-We apply all our resources…will, discipline, energy…but we do this to live in his grace.
Hebrews 4:11 “Make every effort to enter his rest”
-Apply full grit to fully live in his grace.
- Gospel invitation.
- Two Paths when we sin
Mess up/Fess up/Move On
“Lord, I believe that if I confess my sins, you are faithful and just to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness…Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.”