Sensitivity to Sin (1 John 1:8-10)

Sensitivity to Sin (1 John 1:8-10)


I.) Growing In Christ

As we make our way to the next section of 1 John we come across another examination of genuine fellowship with God. Remember that John has just established that those who partake of the life of God will walk in the light as He Himself is in the light. Those who possess the life of God will walk in His truth and grow in His holiness.  The more we walk in the light of God, the more the darkness in our life will dissipate.

Walking in the light does not create self-righteous thinking. In fact, it does the exact opposite. When you grow in your understanding of the holiness of God your awareness of sin deepens, and you see yourself for what you truly are, a wretch! When this occurs the most beautiful thing to you in all the world will be the gospel of Jesus Christ. J.C. Ryle said this, “The man who has the clearest view of the moral law, will always be the man who has the highest sense of the value of Christ’s atoning blood.”[1]

It is impossible to entertain both a high view of God and a high view of man. When you lift man up, God is always lowered in one’s estimation. When you lift God up, man is always lowered. This is what led A.W. Tozer to say,

“The low view of God entertained almost universally by Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error…It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate…I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God…Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them…perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear…What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…No people has ever risen above its religion, and…no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”[2]

John does not want us to simply think about God, he wants us to know God. The first thing he wants us to know with certainty is that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” He is life, He is truth, He is holy.

People can never be saved until they wrestle with and lose to the holiness of God as it is revealed in His Law. When His righteousness is exposed to us, we all fall short of His glory and die under its crushing weight. We are left at God’s mercy, dead and in need life. He freely gives His life to all who turn from their sins and believe in the Person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. People who are united to the Light of Life through faith in Christ, will progressively walk in the light of His truth, and gradually conform to the light of His holiness.

This is exactly why you should avoid any church or teacher that downplays or neglects to expound upon the holiness of God. His holiness is what makes the message of the gospel necessary for the lost and is what provides the saved with the standard by which they are to be sanctified. When God’s holy nature is softened or avoided, sinners will never be saved, and saints will never be sanctified. True peace with God will never occur for the lost, and genuine joy will never be experienced by the Christian that subjects themselves to such teaching. Martin Lloyd Jones said this:

 “There is only one way to true and lasting joy, and that is to start with the holiness of God. If I start there, I shall be delivered from every false peace, from every false joy. I shall be humbled to the dust; I shall see my true unworthiness and that I deserve nothing at the hands of God. I shall come to the only one who can deliver me, the Lord Jesus Christ, and anything I may receive from Him is true; if I receive joy from Jesus Christ, it is true joy, a real and lasting joy.”[3]

That our joy may be made complete is the purpose of John’s letter.[4] It is a joy produced from knowing that you know Christ, and that He knows you, and is in you conforming you to His image. It is a joy which will come about as we work through these tests of genuine salvation that are intended to assure you who believe in Christ that you have eternal life.[5]


II.) Assured by the presence of sin

In this examination, one will find assurance of salvation not from the absence of sin in our lives, but the presence of it. This is an amazing truth, because it means one’s struggle with sin is not proof of being unconverted, but of being converted. Paul Washer makes this point:

“A recent convert will often break the news of his conversion by declaring that he has a new relationship with God. However, little does he understand that the adverse is also true: he has a new relationship with sin. In fact, the validity of his claim to a new relationship with God can be affirmed only to the degree that his relationship with sin has changed.”[6]

Sin is anything we say, think, or do that defies the character, nature, and will of God; and incites His holy hatred and wrath. John Piper says:

“Sin is the glory of God not honored, the holiness of God not reverenced, the greatness of God not admired, the power of God not praised, the truth of God not sought, the wisdom of God not esteemed, the beauty of God not treasured, the goodness of God not savored, the faithfulness of God not trusted, the promises of God not believed, the commandments of God not obeyed, the justice of God not respected, the wrath of God not feared, the grace of God not cherished, the presence of God not prized, the person of God not loved. That is sin.”

Some may think this an extreme definition of sin, but I assure you the only way to think that is to have an extremely low view of God and an improper view of man. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. That cannot be said of man. We are thoroughly sinful creatures.

Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Genesis 8:21 reveals that, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

Tucked into 1 Kings 8:46 is a statement that says, “For there is no man who does not sin.”

Psalm 14:1, “There is no one who does good.”

Psalm 143:2 says that in the sight of God, “no man living is righteous.”

Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart,
I am pure from my sin?’”

Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.”

Jeremiah 17:9 states that, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Jesus confirms all of this in the gospel of Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul said in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

He says later in Romans 7:18-23:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”

We are thoroughly sinful creatures. Even us who have been justified by His grace and are seeking to walk in the light as He Himself is in the light. We have been saved from sins penalty but await to be saved from its presence when we are glorified with Christ. We are new creatures being transformed into the image of Christ through the sanctifying work of the Spirit which indwells us and has sealed us for the day of redemption.

Though the believer has been given a new heart with affections for God, there are aspects of our sinful flesh which still remain and will until Christ appears. Paul describes this in Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

Since the Spirit of Christ indwells all believers, sin will not be something relished when committed, but something which will repulse the heart and mind of the Christian. A true believer will mourn over sin. Jesus spoke about this in The Sermon on the Mount,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”[7] Those who mourn over there sin will find comfort in the One whom they have sinned against, God.

Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”

Isaiah 66:2, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”


III.) Sensitivity to Sin

The question of whether someone is a genuine believer is not, do they sin, but are they broken over their sin? Is sin repugnant to them after they indulge in it? How do they respond to sin?

Let us first distinguish the marks of a false conversion. John says this, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”[8]

There are three errors taking place when a person who professes to know God does not acknowledge their sin. We will see that each one leads to the other. First, they are deceiving themselves. It literally means that they have led themselves aside from the right way and gone straight into error.[9] This naturally leads to the second error, and that is to not have the truth in them. This means that they are completely devoid of it. Someone who does not acknowledge their sin is completely delusional and disagrees with God who reveals their sin to them. This obviously brings us to John’s conclusion; they make God out to be a liar.

 Titus 1:2 tells us that God “cannot lie.” Hebrews 6:18 is clear that “it is impossible for God to lie.”

The Psalmist said this in Psalm 119:9-11:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You;
do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”

What John is describing here is a person who profess faith in Christ, but whose life is marked by a blindness to sin in their life, a heart hardened to the truth of God, and a life disagreeing with God about committed sins.  

Anyone who fits this description is not a Christian, because John defines what genuine believers in Jesus Christ do when they sin, “We confess our sins.”

This is very important. To confess means to say the same thing as another;[10] in other words it means to agree with another person. While a false convert is evident by their disagreeing with God on sin, a true convert is evident by their agreeing with God when sin is exposed. Their life is marked by recognition of sin, sensitivity to that sin which results in mourning over it, and openly agreeing with God about it. This is all seen in the prayer of David after His sin with Bathsheba.

Psalm 51:1-4:

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when you speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the [a]innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.”

Those who acknowledge their sin, are broken over it, and see an ongoing patter of repentance and confession in their life have this wonderful assurance, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

John is not insinuating that believers are only forgiven for sins they confess. This is a popular misconception, and it undermines the atonement of Christ. On the cross Jesus Christ made an actual atonement for the sins of His people. He declared it is finished, and God demonstrated a complete atonement for sin was paid by raising Him from the dead.

To understand what John is saying here we need to consider what it means to walk in the light. Remember that to walk denotes a manner of life. It is a continuation and pattern of living. Confessing our sins is an aspect of that manner of life.

Confession comes about because God, like a prosecutor that presents undisputable evidence proving a defendant is guilty, has convicted you of your guilt. A genuine believer does not just remain feeling convicted, they recognize all the evidence presented against them, experience great remorse, and declare with God that they are guilty of sinning against Him. Confession comes about because of God in them. Christians confess their sins because Christ is at work in them for His good pleasure.

When God convicts us of our sin, and leads us to open confession, He wants to remind us that “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, when God draws a believer to agree with Him about their sin He reminds them of what He has done with it upon His Son, who “bore our sins in His body on the cross.”[11] God is faithful to forgive us all our sins, because He promised to do so for those who repent and believe on Christ. God is just to forgive our sins, because the penalty for our sins was satisfied on Christ.

If Christ did not atone for all our sins it would be unrighteous of God to forgive us, because sin demands death under His wrath. If Christ did not suffer under the wrath we deserved and die in our place, then the justice of God demands we experience it for all eternity. John tells us that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and that is because God demonstrated His righteousness by publically displaying Christ as a propitiation for our sins on the cross. God is both just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ.[12]

In Romans 4:6-8, Paul points out that David “speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Those who walk in the light as He Himself is in the light are assured that the blood of Jesus cleanses them from all sin, and those who are drawn to confess their sins can have confidence that God is faithful and just to forgive their sins.

If one’s life is marked by a growing recognition of sin, grief over it, and openly agreeing with God about it they will know that God is doing a sanctifying work in them. The evidence is that they have both a new relationship with Him and a new relationship with sin. However, if one’s life is marked by continual blindness to sin, hardness of heart, and refusal to agree with God’s verdict on sin in their life they will know that God is not working in them. They are walking in darkness. They lie and do not practice the truth. They are deceiving themselves and the truth is not in them, and they make God out to be a liar, demonstrating that His word is not in them.


IV.) The Glory of the Gospel

“God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”

As we walk in the light of God we will grow in His truth and His holiness. When this occurs our understanding of sin in our lives deepens, and we become more aware of how sinful we truly are. Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.[13] The more conscious we become of our sin, the more we are left in awe of how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God.[14]

The gospel of Jesus Christ becomes infinitely more beautiful! It will be the glorious message which draws our utmost attention and affection. We will no longer understand it only as the means by which a sinner is justified before God, but the means through which a saint is sanctified for God. We will then cling to it knowing it is the only hope of our future glorification with God. He became our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.[15]

We who profess to know Him; do we have a new relationship with sin? Are we sensitive to it? Does it repulse us after we indulge in it?

Upon a careful examination of our manner of life, what do we conclude? Are our lives marked by a growing recognition of sin, deep grief over it, and open confession with God; or are our lives marked by a blindness to sin, hardness of heart, and lack of confession?

Make certain of His calling and choosing you, and examine yourselves to see whether or not you are in the faith by recognizing Christ at work in you.[16]


[1] J.C. Ryle, Sermon on Mark 12:28-34

[2] Knowledge of The Holy, A.W. Tozer; Page 6-12

[3] Life in Christ, Martin Lloyd Jones; Page 103

[4] 1 John 1:4

[5] 1 John 5:13

[6] The Gospel Assurance and Warnings, Paul Washer; Page 30

[7] Matthew 5:4,6

[8] 1 John 1:8

[9] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 4105

[10] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 3670

[11] 1 Peter 2:24

[12] Romans 3:21-26

[13] Romans 5:20-21

[14] 1 John 3:1

[15] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[16] 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:10 �VB�J�

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