Our world is very confusing. Sometimes it encourages you to do just whatever you feel like. Then without warning it is mercilessly looking for a scapegoat, because somebody must be responsible for what has gone wrong. It seems the first century was rather the same, and John writes to his Church in a very realistic way. We read 1 John 1:1-2:2 (that’s the first letter of John, not the gospel).
“Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions.”1 John 1:5,6 GNB
Is the Christian community supposed to be different? Is it realistic to expect us to live in the middle of our society, and hold other values? Yes. We are called to be light in darkness, and salt in rottenness.
- we have the details laid out for us in the Christian Way: love, truthfulness, submission to one another, work, generosity, honour . .
- we have the motivation. God has loved us and done for us what we could never do, our response in thanksgiving is invited.
- difference is vital to our witness. We are not a club, doing things that keep us happy, but God’s people in the world, advertising his plans.
But just as we are coming to terms with the call to be different, we come to:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9 But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.1 John 1:8-10 GNB
Part of the Good News is forgiveness – not forgiveness once, then perfection. We continue to fail, and while we can’t be complacent, we mustn’t stop trying, nor pretend to a perfection we don’t have. We have to be realistic. We shall fail as individuals, and as a community; sometimes just struggling to make progress, sometimes more dramatically. We all remain capable of getting it badly – seriously, scandalously – wrong, and we need to know that to guard against it.
There is an argument over
And Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven, and not our sins only, but also the sins of everyone.1 John 2:2 GNB
Traditional translations (KJV) have “propitiation”, while some prefer “expiation”. Expiation, they say, removes the “defilement” of sin, while propitiation is about buying off an angry God with sacrifice. That’s not a Christian idea – but neither is the idea that God just has to chill out and forgive. Sin is not some ritual defilement; it is the very personal breakdown of relationship, caused when we rebel against God’s rule and direction. It is very personal, and serious – to the extent that it cost Jesus his death. John Stott writes, Christian propitiation “is an appeasement of the wrath of God by the love of God through the gift of God.” I think we need the language of propitiation, understanding that there is nothing petty about God’s response to human sin.
However you take it, Jesus is the pattern and the answer. Wherever his people gather, the calling of Jesus remains:
- to be a holy (different) community
- to be a humble community, that knows its failures, and looks to Jesus for forgiveness