We know from the Scriptures that John was the disciple whom Jesus loved, yet I must confess that there are times when I struggle with John. On the one hand, he writes the powerful statement, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins” (1 John 1:9). God is faithful, dependable, and trustworthy to forgive our sins because Jesus is our defense. He is our Savior, our righteous advocate before God. On the other hand, John writes, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 3:3–4 NIV). Putting these two statements from John’s epistle side by side, I wonder if John listened to himself. The first offers the sweet gospel to the wounded soul; the second gives no quarter for sin: “if you do not do what Jesus commands while you profess to know Him, you are a liar.” Talk about an identity crisis. We know that we are sinners; therefore, does our sin mean that we are liars, and the truth is not in us?
While it is uncomfortable, there is no answer but “Yes.” Yes, we are liars, and the truth is not in us when we fail to act on our profession as Christ-followers. To deny this truth would be to diminish the power of the first truth—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John’s words do not create the tension; they reveal the tension that we experience as we stand firmly in God’s merciful arms of grace through Christ, even as we struggle with thoughts and actions that deny the commands of God. Paul describes this tension at the end of Romans chapter 7:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (Romans 7:18–20).
Paul ends chapter 7 by describing the tension: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, for through Christ we have peace even amid the war between our new life created in Christ through Baptism and our old sinful nature as it kicks and screams on its deathbed.
The Lenten season gives us space to contemplate our relationship with God as sinners and saints; to experience refuge in God’s abundant grace. He gives us mercy not because we are sinless but because Christ’s righteousness covers all our sins. Lent provides an opportunity to be renewed as we seek that refuge while living in the tension of sinner and saint. Girolamo Savonarola’s words in the Lenten hymn Jesus, Refuge of the Weary remind us of God’s amazing gift of grace in Christ Jesus, even as we struggle with the ugly reality of our sinful nature.
Jesus, refuge of the weary,
blest Redeemer, whom we love,
fountain in life’s desert dreary,
Savior from the world above,
often have your eyes, offended,
gazed upon the sinner’s fall;
yet, upon the cross extended,
you endured the pain of all. *
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