Cleanliness Leads To Godliness
John introduced his letter by saying that his purpose for writing was "so that our joy may be made complete"(1:4). But now, in chapter 2, John gives us a different reason for writing, "1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin."
Which is it John? Did you write us "so that our joy may be made complete" or did you write us "so that (we) may not sin"? The answer is both.
In chapter 1, John sets before us the "complete joy" God intends for us. To get this kind of joy--"complete joy"--John tells us that we must first have fellowship with God (1:7). And to have fellowship with God, John tells us that we must be cleansed from all of our sin by the blood of Jesus Christ (1:7). And to be cleansed by the blood of Christ, John tells us that we must confess our sins (1:9).
So by saying, " I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin", John is not telling us anything that contradicts his first stated purpose, "that our joy may be made complete". To have complete joy requires that something be done about our sin problem. We cannot experience "complete joy" while in bondage to sin.
John wants our sin problem to be addressed because sin affects our fellowship with God, which subsequently robs us of our joy. Yet, John is a realist. John wants to keep us from sin but he knows that, to some degree, sin is inevitable.
So rather than make false claims about becoming sinless as Christians, John wants us to know that if we do sin, our situation is not hopeless: "if anyone sins", John writes, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."
Though our sin threatens to rob us of our fellowship with God; though our sin threatens to rob us of our joy; John reminds us that we have "an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous". Jesus is our "Advocate"--He is our divine attorney. Our Advocate, however, does not plead that we are innocent. Rather, our Advocate acknowledges our guilt and presents His work on the cross as the ground of our acquittal. By presenting His portfolio; by presenting His work on the cross; Jesus becomes more than our Advocate--He becomes "the propitiation for our sins". Jesus becomes the obstacle remover in our relationship with God.
Carrying this analogy further, I pray that we see the need to plead guilty. Since even our Advocate is unwilling to argue for our innocence, we must not claim to be without sin (1:8, 10). I fear that, in our civilized society, most sin is so discreet that we fail to detect it. Our sin is usually encased in attractive containers of rationalization. Our tendency is to water down our sin by pointing to actions that are worse than our own. What happens is, if we water down our sin enough, we no longer consider it to be very serious.
Friends, I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that our sin is indeed very serious. Our sin threatens our fellowship with God. Our sin threatens our joy. The good news, however, is that we have "an Advocate"--Jesus Christ. Our Advocate promises to get us a complete pardon for all our sin. All we must do is plead guilty. This is, both, a onetime act and a continuous act. As John Calvin has said, 'Christ's (advocacy) is the continual application of His death to our salvation'.
Many Christians, I suspect, overlook this beautiful truth. Christ not only saves us; He rehabilitates us. What we need to recognize is that initial cleaning we receive from Christ causes a fundamental change within us. When Christ "cleanses us from all sin" (1:7) we begin a life-long process of becoming godly.
We are familiar with the phrase, 'Cleanliness is next to godliness'. Allow me to give you a more biblically sound phrase: 'Cleanliness leads to godliness'. Becoming clean through the blood of Christ leads to godliness. Becoming a Christian leads to us becoming like Christ.
John writes, "3By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked."
In these verses, John talks about "knowing Christ". What does he mean? What does it mean to "know Christ"? John begins to answer our question when he says that those who "know" Christ "keep His commandments" (v.4).
The knowledge John is speaking of is very powerful. So powerful, is this knowledge, that it has the capacity to produce obedience. Not only that, but this knowledge's capacity to produce obedience is so certain that John calls "a liar" anyone who claims to have knowledge without obedience.
The stark reality is that there is a way of knowing Christ that does not lead to godliness. Judas, for example, knew Christ as one of the 12 disciples. There are lots of unbelieving scholars in our universities today who know more about Christ than many Christians. We conclude, therefore, that there must be a kind of knowledge that is merely factual knowledge. There must be a kind of knowledge that does not lead to godliness.
When John talks about "knowing Christ", he is talking about those who have experienced Christ. He is talking about those who know Christ is such a way that it has changed their life.
It is like when a soldier comes back from combat and says to the civilians who stayed at home, "You don't know what war is like." The soldier means, "There is a knowledge that only comes from experience. There is a knowing that only comes from tasting the reality."
Let me ask you, in what way do you know Jesus Christ? Do you merely know about Christ or have you experienced His reality?
If you have experienced the cleansing reality of Christ, John explains in verse 5, that you will be a person who "keeps (God's) Word". If you have experienced the cleansing reality of Christ you live by a different set of rules than the world. You become a person who acts in accordance to Scripture rather than in accordance to shifting standards of our society.
More simply put, John says that if we "abide in (Christ)", if we know Christ in an experiential way, we "ought" to "walk in the same manner as (Christ) walked"(v.6). John is saying that if Christ has truly cleansed us, our life should resemble Christ's life. To know Christ then, is to become like Christ.
There is one more phrase I would like us to examine this morning: verse 5, "whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has been truly perfected".
I agonized for quite sometime over what this statement meant, "whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has been truly perfected". This phrase simply did not sit right with me, and so I began to ask some honest questions. Is there a sense where the love of God is less than perfect?
What does this Greek word, translated "perfected", even mean? The Greek word used here is teleioo (tel-i-o). Telio is sometimes translated "made perfect", it is sometimes translated "fulfilled", and it is sometimes translated "finished".
Is there a sense where the love of God is less than complete? Turn with me to 1John 4, verses 8 and 9: "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested for us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world".
To say that God's love was manifested in the Son is to imply that it was less than completely manifest before the Incarnation of Jesus. On a manifestation level then, we can say that God's love is less than complete.
Let me qualify my answer here. The quality of God's love is perfect. There is never a time where God can be said to be less loving. God's love is perfect, and it is perfect forever and ever, Amen. So, in what sense can we say that God's love is less than complete? What is God's love lacking?
God's love is lacking a body.
Chapter 2, verse 5: "in (us) the love of God has truly been perfected". In our body the love of God has been completed. God's love was "manifested" in the physical body of Jesus Christ. And what are we? In the absence of the literal body of Jesus Christ on earth, we are called the body of Christ.
This is what sets the Christian apart from the non-Christian. We are the physical vessels for the love of God. In order to be a vessel for the love of God, we first needed to be cleansed. We were cleansed by Christ for the purpose of reflecting the character of Christ. We literally are His body.
This is what it means to know Christ. This is the way to experiencing "complete joy". May this joy be yours, today and everyday, through Christ who cleanses us. Amen.