Selected highlights from this sermon.
Clear consciences are tough to find. But once your conscience is clear, you can experience joy as you draw closer to God.
Our dark deeds—sins—must be exposed to the Light, then He will cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Only Christ can deliverer us from sin and give us true joy.
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As we continue our study of having a clear conscience I hope that by now all of you have memorized the verse which is really the key verse for us in 1 Timothy 1:5. Maybe in the next message I’ll actually ask by hands raised as to who has actually memorized the verse.
“For the goal of our instruction is love, which flows from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Without a good conscience, you cannot really believe God. You cannot have a sincere faith, and there’s always something nagging. There’s always a shadow on your soul.
I want you to take your Bibles today and turn to 1 John, and you know that it is near the end of the New Testament, so if you have your cell phone you have to go not to John but to 1 John. And we’re going to look at the text of Scripture today, and I believe that many of you who are listening today are going to be facing issues that are very difficult to face, but I also believe that there will be deliverance that will happen in the lives of many who listen.
In fact, I’d like to begin by pointing out how you can know whether or not you have a clear conscience. In 1 John 1, the Apostle John talks about the fact that there was one generation of apostles who actually knew Christ. They touched Him. And He emphasizes that, because in his day there were some people who denied that Jesus (God?) actually became a man – a separate story. But John said, “Because we touched Him, and we experienced the Word of life, you can experience Him too if you listen carefully to what I’m going to tell you.” And then he says, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
I need to ask you today very pointedly, do you have fellowship with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ, or can it be that you really don’t because there is always a barrier? There’s always an obstruction. Something comes between you and fellowship with God. That’s one way you can tell whether or not you have a good conscience.
But there’s a second way. You’ll notice that he wrote these words. He says in verse 4, “And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.” Joy is an indispensable mark of the power of the Holy Spirit, and joy, of course, is to be distinguished from happiness. Joy is something that we experience when the conscience is clear, when there is a relationship between God and us, and there is no cloud in between.
I’ll tell you what I want to do in this message. Let me give you two illustrations to help. Some of you, God bless you, have fallen into a pit. You’re going along the road of life and suddenly you are in the ditch (or a pit) and you can’t get beyond. It’s either something that you have done or something that someone has done to you. Well, we’re going to investigate that today, and I trust by God’s grace to help you on your journey.
Or let me give you this illustration. Years ago when I traveled, and I still travel, of course, but I used to have two briefcases. One was for when I traveled, and the other I used day by day. And there was a reason for that, because the one that I traveled with had certain things in it and so forth. So anyway, the plane is landing at O’Hare, and they came through and they gave me a sandwich. I remember it was a ham sandwich wrapped in Saran Wrap. And I didn’t feel hungry but I couldn’t just throw it away. You know, you think of all those poor people who would give anything for this sandwich. So I decided to put it into my brief case to eat it later.
Weeks afterwards, (laughter) whenever I walked into my office (you know where this is going) there was this musty smell, and I couldn’t detect where it was coming from. And then I traveled again, and there it was. Do you know what a sandwich looks like after it’s been in a place at room temperature for a month? It is green, soggy and very smelly. And you know, that’s the way some people’s lives are. They’ve taken their sin, they’ve taken the darkness, and they have wrapped it. They have hidden it, and they’ve said, “Nobody is going to find it,” but there’s always an odor. There’s always something wrong. You want to come to Moody Church to worship Jesus like we’ve been worshiping Him, but there in your mind you’re thinking, “Look at what you’ve done. Look at your past.” And we’re going to deal with that in the next few moments.
Here are three steps that you need to take, all of them growing out of the text, and then we’ll get very specific so that we understand how this journey happens.
Number one, we need to know something about God, and there are some notes there that will help you along the way. We need to know something about God. You’ll notice he says in verse 5: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” God is light – pure light, pure reality, pure brilliance and pure holiness, and His light is such that He is intolerant of sin. And He actually hates impurity and sin because there is no darkness in Him – none at all.
You know, this distinguishes the God of the Bible from Pantheism. As you know, Pantheism teaches that God is all, and all is God, and if you read the literature you discover that God has a good side. He is good, and he is evil. The Bible stands against that. Like the Pantheist said at a hamburger stand: “Make me one with everything,” he said. That apparently floated past some of you (laughter) but you need to understand that in Pantheism there is only one. There’s the big one, and that is God.
In Christianity what you have is, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” We could even equate this with holiness when men such as Isaiah fell on their faces when they saw the holiness of God, as you and I would do if we saw the holiness of God, because He is light, purity and no darkness at all.
Now, the question is, “What about us?” What kind of an obstacle does this create for us as individuals? There’s something else you and I must know, and that is that we are darkness. You’ll notice that the Bible says that we are darkness. You’ll notice that the Bible also says, by the way, that we are born in sin. We are by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest. And the Scripture talks about the fact that there are works of darkness. We don’t have time to list all of the references, but the Apostle Paul says, “You do not walk in darkness because you are light in the Lord.” Don’t walk in darkness. Because we are born into darkness, then we walk in darkness, and we justify our darkness, and we hide our darkness (or try to hide it), and as a result, we actually lie.
It says in verse 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar.” First of all, we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves that what we are doing is justified. It is true. Other people are doing it. If the light ever approaches we tweak all the facts to make ourselves look good, and so we hide in this cave and we hide in darkness. We lie to ourselves. We lie to God and think that we can get by with it. We change the nature of God to accommodate our experience and our sin.
Many years ago I saw an interview with pornographer Hefner who said, “Oh, my god approves of my lifestyle.” Notice what the text of Scripture says: “If we say we have fellowship with Him (this is in verse 6) while we walk in darkness we lie and do not practice the truth.” And there are people like that who claim to walk in light, and they have massive self-deception. You and I can scarcely understand the deceptions of our hearts and the kinds of things of which we are capable because we manage the darkness and we justify the darkness.
Well now, the question is, how do we bridge the gap between God and us because God is not going to compromise His holiness and the fact that He is light. He’s not going to say, “Well, I can accept a little bit of darkness over here.” No, there has to be someone coming in between God and us who can mediate it and who can dissipate the darkness so that we can have fellowship with Him. And that, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, I need to explain something. We’re going to be going to a third step in a moment, and that of course, is the famous verse in 1 John 1:9 about confession. But really I am preaching this message primarily to those of you who know Jesus Christ as Savior. John is writing to believers. “If we confess our sins.” He includes himself.
If you’ve never trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, your answer is not confession. In the next message in this series I will tell you the story of a man who confessed his sins for up to six hours at a time and was not converted. He could not remember them all, and furthermore, next time there are more sins and you don’t know where you are at with God. What he needed, and what you and I need first of all, is to trust Christ as Savior, so that we belong to God and we are His children, and then we begin the business of walking with God, and confession becomes a part of it. But the radical transformation that Jesus brings through conversion comes first.
With those words, now let’s look at this famous text. “If we confess our sins.” The word, confess means to agree with God. Literally in Greek it is to say the same thing as God. And when we confess our sins (and as I mentioned, we don’t know them all, but the ones that God brings to our consciousness, the ones that we remember, the ones that we need to deal with, the ones that are the obstacle between God and us), we have to confess them individually. And God requires this of us so that it is a discipline. It’s a recognition of the fact that you and I need to see the seriousness of it, and so God says, “You have to agree that you have sinned.”
In primitive culture there’s a story that comes to us about a woman who took all of her dirty clothes and wrapped them in a bundle, and then took them to the river to be cleaned. But she was so embarrassed because the clothes were so tattered and so dirty (and there were other women there who were washing their clothes) that all that she did was take the bundle and dip it into the river several times, and then take it back home. Well you can imagine what those clothes looked like. And that’s the way some Christians confess their sins. “Okay, God, I’ve messed up.”
By the way, anybody who speaks like that (with that attitude) is not confessing his sins because there’s a second part to confession, and that is not just merely that we admit that we have sinned, but we also agree with God that He has the right to take this out of our lives forever, and that we invite Him to get rid of this sin that we are confessing. It is like repentance. It is a yieldedness to God. “God, whatever you say, I’m agreeing with you, and I confess my sins individually, one by one, as you bring them to my attention, and also I agree that this sin has to go out of my life.” So it’s not just “God, I come to Moody Church to worship, but in my mind the thing that I am reminded of is that I am cheating my company. Forgive me, Lord.” Well, that’s fine, but the rest of confession says, “And God, help me to know how to make this right, because it cannot continue. I agree with You about everything.”
Or “I’m lying to my husband, Lord, but I have to know exactly how do I get out of this web of lies? How do I do this, Lord, because I am admitting that I not only am lying, but that You have a right to deal with that, and to take that out of my life. This is a prayer of submission. I agree with You, Lord.”
Or “I agree, Lord, that I am involved sexually in a way that is displeasing You and dishonoring You. And I’ve rationalized it all. I’ve tried to justify it a hundred different ways, but I want to worship God.” There it is. “God, I’m agreeing with You that it’s sin, but I’m also agreeing with You that You have the right to take this out of my life. Show me how to do that.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how do we know when we have to confess our sins to other people and not just to God?” Listen, if that’s the question you are asking, you have come to the right place. I just can’t believe that you are thinking that because, you know, I have a message that I’m going to preach on as a part of this series, and we’ll give you some principles that you can use in terms of reconciliation. But confession means complete, total agreement with God.
Alright! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” We claim our forgiveness, and He is faithful and just. He is to be depended upon. What God says is true. It’s in the Word. I believe it and I receive it.
A woman said to me, “Pastor Lutzer, I had an abortion, and the little girl would be about three years old now if I hadn’t aborted her. When I walk into a mall and I see a little girl who is about three years old I am just absolutely overwhelmed with guilt.” I said, “Well, did you confess your sin?” She said, “I’ve confessed it a thousand times.”
Do you know what this dear lady is saying (and I’m sure I understand the pain)? What she is saying is, “God is not faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” And you see what happens is, she is in this cycle of confession, of confession, of confession. That’s why the next verse in the text is so important. Your Bibles are open, aren’t they? “We confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (Here we go now. Now we are talking about the level of conscience.) and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So the next time you see a three year old and all the guilt comes back, you don’t go and confess again and wallow in the past as if God is not righteous and just and can’t be trusted. What you do is you say, “Lord, I’m not going to fear those thoughts anymore, and the moment they come to me, I’m going to turn away and I’m going to give you praise for the fact that that issue no longer stands between me and you, because You have forgiven me, and I stand on the basis of my cleansing.” (applause)
And then what do you do? Every Christian who has been saved for at least six months knows Psalm 32 by memory. Right? I mean, don’t you all? How many of you have been saved more than six months? Could I see your hands please? I will not ask you whether or not you know the Psalm. I’m just too tenderhearted.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
What you do is you affirm the fact that the issue no longer comes between you and God, and that you are standing on the fact that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from every individual unrighteousness, so that you can come and you can worship God with a clear conscience, and you can sing the praises of God. And if the thoughts of what you have done come back to you, you affirm the fact and say, “Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding me about how much You’ve forgiven me.” But you don’t continue to wallow in your past. The consequences will continue. That’s separate. I think I clarified that in a previous message.
I’m speaking to you today because obviously I want to help you. I always preach actually to help you. Many Christians don’t know the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusations of the devil and so they are responding to the accusations of the devil, and not the conviction of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is given to us to lead us to repentance and confession, but once confession has been made (and sometimes that confession takes time), it isn’t simply mentioning it. I don’t know about you, but God never allows me to just confess all my sins in a bundle. I have to separate them and just feel the pain of how I hurt God as a result of this, this, this and this. But once that is over, and I receive cleansing, if after that Satan comes and reminds me, and my guilt reminds me, I know then that that’s not from the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit says, “Hey, that’s gone.”
So if you come and you say, “Oh God, I have to confess this sin again,” God is saying, “I don’t get it. What sin are you talking about?” He throws them into the depths of the sea and then He puts up a sign that says, “No fishing.” Alright? Is He faithful? Is He just? I think so. I know so. I’ve experienced the faithfulness and the justice of God to forgive my sins so that I can worship God without a cloud of guilt or a shadow coming between.
I’m going to give you three transforming lessons now because I want this applied to your life. I want you to have a clear conscience.
Number one, truth hurts, but lies hurt a whole lot more. Later on I’m going to talk to you in another message about the price that people have had to pay to be right with God and with others, which is, of course, the goal. The Apostle Paul says that that is his desire to be right with God. And truth hurts. But I’ll tell you this. Living a lie in the end hurts a lot more – a lot more. Sin is never a good idea. Darkness by itself never turns to light. And I have to say, and I’ll probably say it in another message, that most people don’t change when they see the light. They change when they feel the heat. When their conviction becomes so overwhelming they can’t take it anymore, and therefore it is more important than their reputation, it’s more important than anything else, the only thing that matters is that “I be right with God.” That actually is what brings revival to a church or a nation. Did you know that? It is when people are so desperate to have a conscience free of offense, they’ll do anything. Truth hurts. Lies hurt even more. And sometimes it takes years for people to learn that, but that is true.
Second, only light can drive away the darkness. By the way, I have to mention this. A moment ago I told you that when we confess the sins that we know about, God forgives us for those that we’ve forgotten or we may be unaware of. And I want you to look at one of my favorite verses here. I love to emphasize verse 7. “But if we walk in the light, as he (that is God) is in the light…” In other words, the light is driving the darkness away because we’re walking in the light. What does that mean? That means I’m totally clear with God, and if something happens in my life that I need to confess, I confess it right away. I don’t allow sin to accumulate. So I may be driving a car, I may be who knows where, but as sin is brought to my conscience, I immediately confess it to God. “If we walk in the light,” and here is where it gets so exciting. I just can’t believe God. I don’t get this because what I’m going to share with you today – right now – is going to be unbelievable, except by the power of His Spirit you’ll believe it. “If we walk in the light as God is in the light (always exposing ourselves to God with all the sin that is brought to our consciousness; what about the other sins?) the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” And then the Scripture says this: “When we walk in the light (verse 7) as He is in the light (Are you ready for this now?), we have fellowship one with another.” Oh, you say, “That means I have fellowship with you and you have fellowship with me,” and of course, that’s true. But look at the text.
Do you remember in grammar (Can you think back?) to what an antecedent is? I hope I do because now I’m speaking to you about antecedents. And I said to a little boy one time, “What about your grammar?” And he said, “She’s upstairs with Grandpa.” (laughter)
Notice this. “If we walk in the light as God is in the light we have fellowship one with another.” The antecedent of “one another” there is God. If you take the antecedent to be the closest pronoun, it would be God. If we walk in the light as God is in the light, totally exposed to Him, we have fellowship one with another. God has fellowship with me, and I have fellowship with God. God desires our fellowship. John said in the opening verses, “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.” God desires fellowship with you, of all things. But He says, “Look, I can’t have that fellowship as long as you’ve got all this darkness.”
See, the reason I’m preaching this message is that I want you to open up the sandwich. I want to say cellophane, but I think that’s an old word. I think now it’s Saran Wrap. Do I have that right, by the way? Are there any witnesses out there? (applause) Thank you. I assume that those were women clapping because how in the world would the men know what it’s supposed to be called?
Only light can drive away the darkness. You know, I told you before about that legend. There is a legend that there was a cave. And the cave, of course, had darkness. And the sun said to the cave, “Why don’t you come into the light?” And finally the cave came into the light. And then the cave said, “Now, I’ve experienced some light. Sun, why don’t you come into my cave so that you can experience some darkness?” So the sun said, “Oh, okay, I’ll visit your cave.” The sun came down into the cave and said, “Me, oh my, I don’t see any darkness down here at all.”
I feel sorry for people who spend their lives just managing their own darkness, going from one pillar to post, trying to figure out what life is all about, trying to find peace, sometimes going to substances to somehow get some relief from the fact that life is so empty and they can no longer live with themselves, when the Bible says that the answer is you come and you expose yourself to light. And by the way, that now applies to those of you who have never trusted Christ as Savior. You come to Him and you say, “I am darkness, but You died for people like me, and I receive Your grace, and I receive Your forgiveness. Come into my life and bring light.” And the only answer to the light that you and I need is God who is light.
Finally, if you live in darkness, you die in darkness. If you live in light you are going to live in light. Amazing! We could trace this through the Scripture but what does the Bible talk about when it says that there are those who have never trusted Christ and therefore have no protection for their sins? What happens to them? It says that they are thrown into what? Outer darkness! You live in darkness and you die, and you go into darkness.
What about those who live in the light, who receive Christ as Savior? Oh, this is so glorious. Speaking of the Holy City, there is no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God does lighten it, and the Lamb is its lamp, and the glory of God is the light thereof. No sun, no moon in heaven! But light! God’s light! And remember this: It will be our first experience of uncreated light because all the light that you and I see – the sun is light and we have electricity that brings light – is all created. But God is light! No wonder! In the New Jerusalem there will be no need of the sun or the moon, no need for electric lights in glory because God is light. You walk in the light and you go to a place where there is light.
Now I have to ask you this: Have you unwrapped that rotten sandwich in Saran Wrap? Do you see now how you can, by God’s grace, get out of the pit and get on with the journey instead of constantly going back to what has happened? Once it has been exposed to God it has been forgiven. It’s no longer an issue, so that your conscience is clear. Where are you? Are you going to do it?
I’m going to pray right now, but I want you to pray too. I want you to tell God that you will do whatever is necessary to have a clear conscience, a sincere faith, and be able to worship in spirit and in truth without shadows coming between.
Could we pray?
Father, it’s always been up to You, but especially now it is up to You. We can’t change the human heart. We cannot show people truth apart from your Spirit. The Bible is very clear that it is when Jesus Christ shines into the heart, He brings the light of the Gospel. For those who have never trusted Christ, may You bring that light! For those of us who know You, bring light, Lord God, and grant us the ability to be dead honest with You.
Before I close now, you talk to God in just a moment of silence, and then we will sing about God’s desire to purify us. Would you talk to God?
Father, bring about the transformation that You desire. May many people go home today and spend time in Your presence, dealing with issues that always get in the way when they want to worship You and love You and have joy. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
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