Anyone who never sins, raise your hand.
I didn’t think so. Of course we do sin. Let’s get that out of the way first. 1 Jn. 1:8 says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Two verses later it says, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."
But wait a minute. In 1 Jn. 3:6 it says, "…Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him [that is, Jesus]." And two verses later John writes, "He who sins is of the devil."
What’s going on here?
Well, that’s where English breaks down a little bit. The New Testament was of course written in Greek, the common Greek of the time. And when they wrote and spoke in that day, they would use different tenses of a verb that could make quite a drastic distinction in what they said. One tense might be a reference to a single action, and one tense might be a reference to a continuing action.
We do a similar thing in English, but we usually add other words, or forms of a word to get the point across. For example, if we were talking about a baseball player hitting a single home run, the announcer might say simply, "Wow, he hits a home run!" But if we were talking about a baseball player whose habit is always hitting home runs, we might say, "Wow, he sure hits home runs!" That’s his practice, that’s his norm. He’s always hitting home runs. He’s a home run champ.
So in 1 Jn., when it says, "Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor know Him," we find the Greek word for "sins" is in the present tense, which refers to continuous sinning. In other words, one who lives in sin, walks in sin, continues in sin, and never really repents of it, or turns away from it. This fits the context of 1 Jn. also, because as we’ve already said, if we deny that we sin at all, we’re calling God a liar.
O.K. I say all that to say this.
When you sin, where do you go? Do you run straight to God, or do you do what many of us have a habit of doing? We shy away from God. We don’t exactly mean to. But we do.
Some process goes through our mind, maybe not clearly, but something like, "Oh boy. There I go again. How can I face God after that? I mean, we’ve been through that sin so many times. I know God forgives me, but does He really? I mean, what kind of wretch am I that I would do that again? I think I’ll just sit it out and see how it goes. I can’t go to God yet. I’m not sure I even feel like going to God right now. What would He think? Even God has His limits. He must really be frowning on me right now, or even downright angry. And I can’t face His frown and anger. Lord knows I deserve it, though. Do you have any idea how many times I must have disappointed Him. And after all He’s done for me?"
We may not verbalize all that, but it’s a common feeling that I’ve heard many people express one way or another.
And of course, eventually, we do turn to Him, and our sweet fellowship with Him goes on. And even though we know on some level that the quicker we turn back to Him the better, yet we delay it for what can only be called crazy reasons of bad theology?
Because is it accurate to see God frowning or angry at us? Is it good biblical theology? No, it’s not. It’s a view of God that is just plain incorrect. And to get a correct view of God, and how He relates to us when we sin, we can look at a story you may be quite familiar with, the Prodigal Son. But you may not be familiar with it from the vantage point, not of the wayward son (that’s us), but of the father in the story.
I can't tell you how many sermons I've heard through the years on the subject of "The Prodigal Son". What he did. How he treated his father. Where he went. How he worked with the pigs. How he squandered his inheritance. Finally, how he was restored. On and on about the son, with usually some contrasting comparisons about his elder brother. It's supposed to be a picture of us Christians when we sin or "backslide", and how we can return to God. And how there's always forgiveness, if we repent, turn 180 degrees, say our speeches to God, resolve to do better, etc., etc.
But is that really what it's about? The son? Well, sure, but only incidentally. I think it's really about the Father, and His heart toward us, his children. It's a picture of God. The son is almost just a prop, added in to make a point. So what's the point?
You may want to take a look at the story in Luke 15:11-24. Notice that the prodigal son had a little speech prepared. A little repentence speech. A groveling speech. Sort of, "Father, I'm a low-down miserable worm, not worthy to be your son, so let me be a hired servant of yours." Did the father listen to the speech, and judge the son's sincerity by it? No! Remember? He never even listened to the speech! He was too overjoyed by his son's return! It's as though he said, "Oh shut up, you big lug! Give your daddy a hug! Welcome home, son!"
And that's the point: God is not interested in the content of our little speeches. He isn't interested in our groveling, as if the more miserably we grovel, the more we "earn" His forgiveness. Why? Because He has already forgiven us, and paid for that forgiveness on the Cross. Well, what is He interested in, then? You. And me. He is interested in our fellowship!
If I may paraphrase the Father, he said: "Cut the speech! I get it. Go get the robe! Get the ring! Kill the fatted calf! My son has returned! That's all I want! I love you, son! I love you! Just abide in me. I'll produce the fruit. I know you've failed, and you'll fail again. But that doesn't change my love for you! And I'm at work in you both to will and to do my good pleasure!" (Phil. 2:13)
In our heart of hearts, as believers in Jesus Christ, we don’t want to sin, do we? But the world, the flesh and the devil deceive us, and we do sin. Where do we go? Let’s get in the habit of running to the Father. Don’t walk, run to Him. He will always, always, have His arms open to you, His child, to wrap those arms around you in love. Because our sins are already paid for, remembered no more, as far as the east is from the west, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Oh, that we "may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the fulness of God..." (Eph. 3:18,19a)