Many people have difficulty believing in God’s love for several reasons.
There is an innate sense of not being worthy of the love of God. People who are honest, those who are self-aware know the true state of their heart. Even if others do not know the secrets of one’s life, God does. Sin causes a person to feel unloved, unlovely, unwanted, and unworthy.
There is disbelief about something that is “too good to be true.” People have learned to be skeptical of the words of other people. On a national level, President Reagan would talk about “trust and verify” in America’s foreign policy towards Russia. On a personal level there is hesitancy to believe somebody’s word, even God’s word.
There is the erroneous teaching that God will only justify the sinner who has done proper penitence. The Roman Catholic Church has taught for centuries, that God justifies the person who has produced good works. God will only pronounce a person just whom He finds to be righteous. The Bible says that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:1-5). However, that Biblical truth has been undermined by centuries by authoritative, but erroneous teaching.
The historical basis for Rome’s teaching can be traced, in part, to a British monk named Pelagius (c. 360-418 AD), who reacted against a prayer by Augustine. Augustine prayed, “Grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt.” Pelagius argued that it would not be right for God to command us to do anything that we could not do inherently.
The theological problem, the Biblical problem, is that if a person can do what God commands then the doctrine of original sin is not true, there is no total depravity, and the impact of the Fall is nonexistent.
The practical problem is that there is a natural tendency to embrace Pelagianism. While our lips might say that the Fall affected our hearts, and we believe in Original sin, and total depravity, because we are depraved, we do not believe any of it. In the dark recesses of our heart, we still believe we are pretty good. In our false sense of goodness, we believe we can be better, with just a little more effort. This belief flows naturally in doing penance.
However, as Luther discovered, the honest heart soon realizes there are not enough acts of penance to cover the transgressions of the soul. This realization leads to hopelessness, and despair. The heart becomes angry with God, who cannot be pleased, or appeased. Nothing is good enough.
The antidote for despair is found in the grace of God reflected in the teaching of Augustine, who prayed, “Grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt.” With this prayer, Augustine gave hope to people that sinners can be forgiven, as the Bible teaches. God commands men everywhere to repent. God must then grant what He has commanded; the gift of repentance, for repentance, is not something the natural man will do of his own free will. “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18)
Like Adam, every person will flee from the face of God, and refuse to accept responsibility for any transgression. But no one will confess, and repent of transgression, apart from a work of divine grace in the heart. Augustinianism recognizes this truth and finds hope in the goodness, grace, and mercy of God to grant gifts to individuals, including the gift of repentance followed by the gift of eternal life.
“If that isn’t love
the ocean is dry
there’s no stars in the sky
and the sparrow can’t fly
if that isn’t love
then Heavens a myth
there’s no feeling like this
if that isn’t love.”
If a person wants to know the love of God in an experiential way, they must obey the mandate of 1 John 1:8-9, and that is to acknowledge and confess sin. “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.”
What John is teaching, is that if a person says they have no sin, then they have no covering for their sin. And if there is no covering for sin, then the individual must bear the full weight and responsibility of their transgression. There is no forgiveness. “and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Rev. 20:12) When individuals first try to deny sin, but under conviction cannot do that, they next try to minimize, or diminish sin.
One comfort technique is to engage in an act of relative righteousness. A person brings to mind a horrible person such as Judas Iscariot, Nero, Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy, or Stephen Hawking, and feels better, and superior, when remembering the terrible deeds, thoughts, and beliefs they embraced, in comparison to what must be confessed. The objective is to make the sin small.
Jesus condemned every expression of relative righteousness when he told the Parable of the Two who “went up into the temple to pray; the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
If pressed in private, a Pharisee would have confessed that he was a sinner according to the letter of the Law of Moses, but he was not like other sinners. So, the Pharisee went home from the Temple dignified, and the sinner, who humbled himself before God, went home justified in the sight of the Lord. To be dignified, or to be justified, that is the choice. When Christians diminish the reality of sin, they diminish the need for the greater grace of God, for where sin abounds, grace does much more abound (Rom. 5:20).
Another way to diminish sin, apart from engaging in an act of relative righteousness, is to diminish the Law of God. The Pharisees knew the Law taught individuals to honor their parents. Yet they found a legal way to diminish honoring their parents. They employed the Law of Corban. They dedicated all they had to God, so that it was no longer theirs to give in helping others. “But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:11-13) Jesus condemned those who diminished the Law of God.
Those who deny they have sin, engage in relative righteousness, or diminish the Law of God, have yet to enter into the Kingdom of God, for sin is not taken as seriously as it must be for Christ to be Savior. If the truth is told, there is still too much Pelagianism in the heart, there is too much self that seeks to be its own Savior. Heaven has yet to hear the heart crying out in utter despair, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24)
When sin is honestly confessed before God, a person not only enters into the Kingdom of God, but stays in the Kingdom as well. That too is the teaching of 1 John 1:8. “If we,” says John, and he is referring to Christian, “if we confess our sins.”
It is unthinkable that a blood bought, born again believer, never confesses sin before God, and seeks for daily cleansing and more sanctification. The Psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
There is another value to confessing sin. It is a sign of salvation, for the professing Christians wants to make their “calling and election sure.” “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Repentance is not confessing sin once and for all, but confessing sin as often as necessary, in order to maintain fellowship with the Father, be pleasing to the Son, and not grieving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is grieved when sin is unconfessed. (Eph. 4:30) The Spirit is quenched when sin is persisted in and the heart is hardened. (1 Thess. 5:19)
Returning to 1 John 1:9, the heart of the Christian can take great comfort in realizing that just because we do sin, God does not love us less. The heart forgets that God has pledged His eternal love to those who are the heirs of salvation. “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jer. 31:3)
It is possible to think that God will stop loving us. We know that when we are offended with someone who continual hurts us, we stop loving them. There is a country music song that has this theme. The song is sung by George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
God’s love is not like human love. It is not capricious. It is eternal. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Nothing can separate the one who called upon Christ from the love of God. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)
No Christian should ever think they can sin so much, so deeply, and for so long, that they are beyond God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. God is not a liar. He is faithful to forgive sin.
God is faithful to His promises, because He is faithful to His own character. He cannot be less than who He is. No one should ever call the Father a liar.
God is faithful to His Son. God promised His Son that He would be given a people, a Bride, and make Him the first born of an innumerable company. Jesus would see the travail of His work at Calvary, and be satisfied. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa. 53:11)
Not only is God faithful to forgive, He is just to forgive. God is both just, and the justified. God has a basis to forgive sinners and it is not because of the goodness of the sinner. It is because of the work of Christ at Calvary where God punished our sin in Christ.
That is why grace is free to flow. “God hath set forth [Jesus] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:25-26) When God forgives sin, He does so on the basis of justice satisfied, not emotional sentimentality.
Our text continues to teach that not only is God faithful, and just, to forgive us our sin, but God will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
When this truth is heard, and believed, there is a basis for rejoicing. God does not remind us of our transgressions. Satan does, for his very name means “slanderer.” He is an accuser. Not God. God cleanses His children from all unrighteousness, past, present, and future.
Christian, do not despair of your sin. Remember not only the forgiveness. Remember the cleansing. Cling to the great promise of God.
Christians can look at the promise of entire cleansing, like God told Joshua to look at the formidable city of Jericho. The victory was promised ahead of time. “And the LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.” (Joshua 6:2-3)
Joshua believed God, and entered into a state of prophetic future which sees the past. The fall of Jericho was going to happen. The cleansing of every believer, the entire sanctification of every born again child of God is going to happen. God has spoken. Cling to His promise.