The Unrealistic Expectations of Faith
I John 3:1-6
First Baptist Church Laurens
April 15, 2018
Last year in early August, our family was in central Florida for a few days at the start of our summer vacation. We had been there several times before but never at that exact time of the year. What immediately got our attention was just how bad the humidity is in that part of Florida at that particular time of the year. As soon as you walk outside at almost any time of day there is a heaviness that permeates the air. It is a beautiful place to be and we had a wonderful time but despite all of the good, the humidity made you feel as though you were being weighted down by something that you couldn’t see, touch or get your arms around but that was obviously there surrounding you at all times and in all places.
Sometimes, deep down, I believe that we feel a similar heaviness as Christians. What I mean by that rather odd statement is that as much as we love knowing and being known by God as well as experiencing the grace, love, forgiveness, peace and support that comes with the Family of God, there is a weightiness at times that we feel when it comes to trying to be good followers of God. Sometimes it is hard to verbalize or fully explain but there are moments when we sense that the expectations of scripture, the call of Jesus and the standards of the life of a believer that we are encouraged to live up to feel almost impossible. In such moments, we find ourselves wondering how anyone can truly exemplify the ideas of faith that the scripture at times seems to suggest. It certainly can feel like an incredibly heavy burden to bear.
I John 3 verse 6 provides a good example of this heaviness that we are talking about. It is here that John, this great writer of a good portion of the New Testament, suggests something that feels impossible to achieve. It is here that John says this, “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” Did you feel the weight of those words? John says in black and white for all to see – “believers don’t keep sinning…those who do continue to sin really don’t know God”. Who can live up to such lofty expectations?
Thankfully, what we sense on the surface here is not what is really below the surface once we begin to dig into this passage a little further as we learn what is really behind these words. With a little digging, we discover a couple of things very quickly. First, we discover that at several other points already in 1 John this letter has been clear that we will indeed do sin even as believers. That is a given. Likewise, at early points, 1 John has also been clear that when we do sin, God stands ready to forgive us, love us and help get us back on track.
Second, we also discover as we look beneath the surface that the Greek words being translated here do not imply a one time or singular behavior but rather an ongoing behavior. In other words, what John is saying is that God’s expectations are not related to our need to reach a point in our journey of faith where we no longer sin at all. But, rather, God’s expectation is that as believers that we will reach a point where we no longer continue to commit the same sins over and over again without any regard for their seriousness and with no desire to change. Simply put, God is not looking for perfect people. Rather, God is looking for people fully aware of their imperfections who are trying to do better and who are working hard to live changed lives.
I love watching any show on television involving the hunt for a lost treasure, fortune or historical object. I know that most of these programs are contrived, based on shaky assumptions and often have little basis in real historical truth. But, I can’t help myself, I love them anyway. There is a new series of this type that just finished its five episode run on the History Channel called The Curse of Civil War Gold. I doubt any of you are willing to admit that you watched it even if you did.
The show is built around a theory related to the end of the Civil War when Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, fled through South Georgia trying to escape Union Soldiers. According to the theory, as Davis tried to escape, he did so with a fortune in gold bars and silver coins from the Confederate treasury. According to the same theory, when Davis was caught and arrested by Union soldiers from Michigan, they took some of the gold and silver for themselves and ultimately carried the money back with them to their home state. At a later time, some of those same gold and silver pieces were said to have been lost overboard in the waters of Lake Michigan. Thus, a large portion of the show The Hunt for Civil War Gold focuses not only on the theory of this lost treasure but also on the treasure hunters and their search of the deep waters of Lake Michigan for the lost gold and silver.
Well, I hate to spoil the show for you, but, unfortunately after five episodes, they never have found any gold. Now, I know this catches you by surprise but they didn’t even find one silver coin or one bar of gold, not one – though in the last five minutes of the last episode there was a fuzzy image on the camera that they decided might just may be a gold bar after all. I certainly feel a season two on the horizon. Yet, even without the gold, the show proved a very valuable point. What appears to be a possibility on the surface and what is really lurking below the surface can be two totally different things. What we think is there and then what we find to truly be there after taking the time to investigate don’t always line up with each other.
We must never, ever forget this point as Christians.
Think about our initial reaction to John saying that Christian’s don’t sin and how troubling, concerning and impossible that feels. But then consider what is actually lying below the surface as we read I John fully or carefully understand the best way to translate these words. When we look below the surface, we find that the real idea here is not striving for a life without sin but rather for a life that is consciously aware of and serious about sin while being committed to rising about it as we seek, through God’s help, to change, grow and do better.
As I see it, there are some important things for us to remember and to live in light of through this encounter with I John 3. For one, we must always be wary of those moments when we develop an impression of the life of faith or someone gives us an idea that makes the life of faith sound impossible. Is faith challenging? Yes. Is following Jesus easy? Never. Does living for God require diligence, hard word and everything we have to give to it? Without question, it always does. But, is the life of faith an impossible way of living? No, it is not. God’s help, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the support and example of those who have gone before us and beside us make the Christian life a challenging but very achievable way to live. There are always those ready to throw up their hands and walk way from faith because they have concluded that it just isn’t realistic or possible. You may be one of those folks. If you are, don’t give up so easily, talk to someone about your struggles. Chances are that you have come to some conclusions or others have led you to some conclusions that may not be 100% accurate.
Second, I John 3 reminds us that at its very core, following Jesus is a grace based life. Again, living the life of faith is not easy . But thankfully, embedded in this journey is the God sanctioned recognition that we are imperfect and human. When we fail, not if we fail, but, when we fail, God will be there to pick us up, forgive us and help us start all over. God is not looking for perfect people. God is looking for human people, willing to do their best and willing to be acceptors of God’s grace and forgiveness when we are not at our best.
Finally, I John 3 is an excellent reminder that God is not after people who have arrived at a place of perfection but rather God is calling those to join him who are simply trying to get better each and every day. Here I think is a strong word from I John 3. These statements do imply that calling ourselves Christians and then not to caring about how we behave, how we live or how we treat others is a huge problem. We cannot say that we love Jesus and then live however we want with reckless disregard. Yet, having said that, the goal is to be growing into something more than we are not to be someone who has already arrived there. The Christian journey is a journey toward being more than we are. But, it is a grace filled, love filled, realistic journey for flawed humans like you and like me.
I had to ask someone’s forgiveness this week. Truth be told, I have to ask forgiveness on a regular basis just like you do. As I asked forgiveness, I said to the person I was speaking with, “you know, I am just a normal person like you despite what I happen to do for a living”. He laughed, agreed and said it was okay.
We are Christians. But, we are human. Please don’t forget either one of these true statements about your life or about the life of the person sitting beside you in the pew this morning. God is not calling us to no longer sin. That is a burden too heavy. God is calling us to taking sin seriously, to try to do better and to work at not making the same mistakes over and over again. This is God’s call while we lean on grace and give thanks for forgiveness every step of the way. Amen.