Sermon – Easter 3 – April 15, 2018
1 John 3:1-7 ‘God’s Practice of Forgiving’
CT: Because of God’s love for us we are God’s children, hidden from the world in our struggle against sin, yet made visible in our practice of righteousness; Christ in us.
Intro: As I spent last week with some of my grandchildren, I couldn’t help but marvel at little Karina. She’s a typical two year old; a ray of sunshine one moment and a storm the next. How can both exist so seamlessly in one little person? Yet I love her through the smiles and the tears. But how does God look at you and me? There is no question that I am a sinner ever in need of His mercy, yet Scripture dares to call me a saint for Jesus’ sake. Those two things make living as a Christian quite confusing and difficult.
A Kind of Love: But look at where all this began. Jesus suffered and died on cross, and His corpse was sealed in a cold tomb. No wonder upon seeing Jesus the disciples disbelieved for joy; the unimaginable had happened. Jesus lives; He has defeated death; your sins are forgiven. This is the source and foundation of Christian life and every Christian’s good works. As John wrote: “See what kind of love the Father has given to you that you should be called a child of God; and so you are!”
These words should remind us of John’s Gospel: “To all who did receive Jesus, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We don’t find Jesus. I don’t take Jesus into my heart; we receive Him. It’s a passive verb; it’s about what God is giving you and doing for you. It’s His work in your Baptism to claim you as His own and give you the Holy Spirit. It’s the birth of the new life of faith in you and me; a living, active, saving faith. This is Jesus’ resurrection power at work in you. No longer are you dead in your sins; you have been made alive in Christ! (Ephesisans 2:5)
Looks Like: But what do people around you see? The world did not see or acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son and He was perfect in every way, how then will they know you as a child of God? Can’t an unbeliever be praised for doing good or upright deeds? Are you less of a hypocrite than your neighbour who does not attend church? Sin plagues us daily; it wages war against the good work that God has begun in you and me. And in the midst of this confusion we hear John’s encouragement from a pastor’s heart for us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now!”
Yes, it’s messy for what we will be has not yet appeared, but faith clings to Jesus’ work and promise that we will be like Him, for even now we see Jesus as the One who died for me. John has already made it clear that Jesus’ blood purifies us from all sin. We began our service with the reminder of our Baptism, that we are children of God and that we have sinned and are helpless to change our sinful condition. The life of the Christian is a life of repentance and forgiveness; this is what the world around you does not have. This makes you stand out in the sinful mire of our world; your dependence on the purity of Christ. That makes your lifelong battle with sin important; it does make a difference to those around you, but not with some kind of glorified, super Christian life, rather it is a life where patience, humility, charity, and chastity become visible in your daily struggle with your own sin. These Christian virtues are from the Holy Spirit (fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22). God makes it possible, but that doesn’t mean easy!
Practice Sinning: Think of what it takes to be a good hockey player or pianist. Yes, there has to be a certain amount of God given ability, but a big portion of it is practice. Most of us have no idea of the hours of practice our organists put in each week, nor the many hours that brought them to the place where they can play with confidence. But sin is not something we need to practice; we’re born with it; we’re good at it; it’s as easy as falling off a bike. John’s point is that a Christian no longer makes a practice of sinning. “I can do what I want now. I’ve gone to confession and I’m good for another week of sinning,” doesn’t cut it. Paul wrote in Romans 6: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” And then Paul points us to our Baptism. But to continue to live in wilful sin is like a dog going back to its vomit.
For our own good we need to specific about sin. We call sexual immorality, living together; has a nicer ring to it doesn’t it? We call murder a woman’s choice. We excuse sin by saying that no one’s perfect, which is simply not true; God is perfect; Christ is perfect. How often do you and I return to the same sin over and over again, hurting each other with sharp words, and a judgemental poise? Repentance is a turning away from sin to receive the blood bought forgiveness of Christ. Your purification came at great cost; it cost God His Son! Apart from being given new life in Christ—apart from His purity, our only practice is that of sin, lawlessness, which has separated us from God. John’s encouragement is for the child of God to abide in Him who has no sin, because not sinning is the part that takes much more than practice; it takes Christ at work in us.
Practice Righteousness: This is the practice of righteousness; a righteousness that is from outside of us; a righteousness that is ours for Jesus’ sake. It’s a righteousness that comes to us through the proclamation of the Gospel taught in all its purity and truth and the Sacraments rightly administered for the forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness preached, confessed, and bestowed over all my sin and sinful attempts at self improvement is what propels the practice of righteousness; a practice of abiding in Christ, where after many attempts and much forgiveness we are led to the right thing. (The importance of developing holy habits; word, meditation, prayer, worship, confession, absolution, the Lord’s Supper) Out of this flow all good works. And this is no small matter, for it means God must first kill me and then raise me up in the person of His Son. For the child of God “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)