Becoming People Who Connect
October 24, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Connected: a series about how to connect with others
Passage: 1 John 1:5– 2:2
We come into the light when we don’t hide sin or hold onto sin.
For most situations in life, we do a cost-benefit analysis: Is this worth it? Is the benefit worth the cost? Is the effort worth it? Am I going to get something out of this that makes all that I put into it worthwhile?
This whole series has been about relationships: how to have more connection in our relationships, how to have healthier relationships, how to reflect God in our relationships. And the reality is, relationships are hard. Ever since sin and selfishness entered our world, relationships have been difficult. And perhaps, like me, you sometimes feel like it’s just too hard. It might feel like you are putting in a lot of effort but it’s not getting better. The pain is too deep and the problems are too many. Maybe it would just be better to not have relationships or at least certain ones. Life would be a lot easier that way.
There’s a book that I’ve actually never read but I like the title. It’s called: Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. That’s what relationships are a lot of times, isn’t it? A mess. There’s fighting. There’s misunderstanding. There’s conflict. There’s tension and strife. There’s picking sides. Stinging words are spoken. Painful actions are taken. Things are said and done that should never have been said and done. You don’t know if you will ever get over that thing they said or that they did. It is seared in your mind. You are frustrated, hurt, annoyed, fed up, tired, angry, and scared. You feel misunderstood, uncared for, disrespected. So is it all worth it? Is it worth it to live in the mess of relationships?
Today we are finishing our seven-week sermon series on connecting in relationships. This final message is about becoming people who connect. Perhaps you feel like you are in a relational rut, like something has to change but no matter how hard you try, it never does. Maybe you feel like you are just spinning your wheels when it comes to having better relationships - you just keep trying and trying and trying but you are getting nowhere. Maybe you make some progress but then they say or do something that sets you off and you fall back into old patterns. If that’s you, my prayer is that today’s message helps you.
There is actually one change you can make that will help you both in your relationship with God and in your relationships with other people. If you want to experience transformation in your life, there is one key practice for you to implement in your life. Now, imagine someone was asking you for one key practice to have better relationships. What would you tell them? How would you complete this sentence: “Genuine transformation requires [blank].” If you are trying to grow and change and be a more loving person and obey God’s commands and be like Jesus, then you are a person who desires genuine transformation. So what does genuine transformation require?
This sentence is the beginning of a quote from a book. Here’s the full quote: “Genuine transformation requires vulnerability.” We may ask: Why is that? Why does genuine transformation require vulnerability? The writer goes on: “It is not the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life-changing. It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally” (Surrender to Love, 74). In other words, someone telling us that they love us unconditionally will not change us. We have to allow them to love us unconditionally and we do that through vulnerability. We do that by opening ourselves up to them. Only when we open up to someone are they able to love us. Turn with me to 1 John 1:5-26 to see how this works.
1 John 1:5-2:2: Are you in light or darkness?
This is a letter that the apostle John wrote to a church around 2,000 years ago. In the opening verses, John tells us that he tells people about Jesus and is writing this letter so that they can have a relationship with God and with other believers. It’s all about relationships for him. So what does he say will bring us into a relationship with God and others? What does he say will help us connect?
John makes a statement about God in verse 5. He says “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Light and darkness are commonly used symbols in religion and spirituality. In the Bible, light primarily applies to what you know and how you live (cf. Rom 1:21). If you are “in the dark” about something, you lack knowledge of it. If you are “in the dark” in regard to how you live, you are doing what is evil or wrong. One scholar says, “Intellectually, light is truth and darkness ignorance or error. Morally, light is purity and darkness evil” (Stott in Tyndale commentary on 1 John, 75).
So when John says that “God is light”, it means that God by his nature reveals - he gives knowledge. God by his nature is also morally righteous and pure. If you are in the dark, you are stumbling around. You can’t see to walk properly. God both enables us to see and in so doing, enables us to walk. God reveals himself and in so doing reveals the way we ought to live.
In the following verses, John draws out the implications of this truth that God is light. John makes the implications very clear and very simple. You have two choices in life: you can walk in the light or you can walk in the dark. A group of people had left the church he is writing to, which can be unsettling. These people had different beliefs than what the New Testament teaches. So John helps this church see that they really do know God and those that left don’t.
In verse 6 he says:
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6)
The claim made by his opponents was: “We have fellowship with God.” They were claiming that they have a relationship with God. But when you look at how they are living, they are walking in darkness. So John says, “Based on the way you are living, you are lying about having fellowship with God.”
In verse 7 he gives the remedy:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
The issue is that there are people claiming to have fellowship with God while living a life of sin. They are walking in darkness morally which means they are also in the dark about knowing God. John says that God is light and is in the light. So if we are not in the light, we are not with him. We don’t know him.
John tells his opponents: “You can’t have fellowship with God if you are walking in darkness by living a life of sin.” Verse 8 assumes that their response is, “But we have no sin.” His response to this is verse 8:
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
It gets even more serious. In verse 10 he says:
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10)
Verse 8 says we are deceiving ourselves if we say we have no sin. Verse 10 says we are calling God a liar if we say we have not sinned.
So what is walking in the dark? Walking in the dark is living in sin while denying we have sin. Notice the repetition of words associated with lying:
- Verse 6 - if we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie.
- Verse 8 - if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.
- Verse 10 - if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar.
And this is the opposite of having the truth or having God’s Word:
- Verse 6 - if we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
- Verse 8 - if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
- Verse 10 - if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John is saying, “If you are living in sin while also denying you have sin, then you are out of alignment with the truth, with God’s word, with the gospel, with God himself. You are out of sync with God and his word. The truth hasn’t gotten in you and changed you. You aren’t putting the truth into practice. You are living in a lie, in a false reality. You are in the dark.” Both denying sin and living in sin are incompatible with God who is light. To walk in darkness means to live a lie and to live sinfully. This is why both hiding sin and living in sin are incompatible with walking in the light. To hide sin or live in sin means we are walking in darkness.
So what does it look like to walk in the light? John says in verse 9:
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Then in chapter 2 verses 1 to 2 he says:
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Walking in the light means that we don’t hide sin or hold onto sin. Instead, we live in honesty and holiness. We confess sin openly and we leave sin behind.
And what do we find when we finally leave the darkness behind and step into the light? We find a God who is faithful and just, who is not only ready and willing to forgive our sins but who is eager to do so. The price has already been paid for them - Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. Forgiveness has already been purchased. God is just waiting for us to come to him to receive it so that the blood of Jesus can be applied to our sin. We don’t have to work for it, we don’t have to show we are worthy. It is undeserved and unearned.
While in darkness, we are weighed down by guilt, shame, and fear. What we experience in the light is freedom. When we come into the light, we are released from the penalty of our sin so that we no longer have to carry around guilt, shame, and fear. In darkness, sin has power over you. Sin feeds on darkness. And as long as you stay in the dark, it will have a hold on you. But God is more powerful than sin. When we come into the light, we are released from the power of sin. And what’s also true is that the light grows us in holiness so that we are also progressively released from the presence of sin in our lives.
The light is where fellowship, relationship, and connection with God is. It’s also where connection with others is. Look at verse 7:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
So here’s a question for you: What’s the greatest barrier and obstacle to connection in your relationships - with God and with others? The answer that perhaps comes to mind is: sin. Or maybe pride or selfishness. It’s true, those things create barriers. But it might surprise you to hear that sin is not your greatest barrier to connecting with God or other people. Why? Because sin is not a permanent barrier. It can be removed. The greatest barrier to connecting with God and other people is denying your sin. Hiding your sin is your greatest barrier to connecting with God. If you will not admit, confess, take responsibility for, and own your sin, you will lack connection with God and any other person.
This is very counterintuitive. We tend to think that the more people see how sinful, how selfish, how prideful, how messed up and broken we are, the less connected we will be with them. We tend to believe that if people actually knew the real us, they would never love us or like us. We tend to believe that it’s safer to keep our sin, our faults, our failures, our mistakes, and our shortcomings in the dark, out of sight of other people. We think that keeping our sin in the dark will give us more connection. We think that hiding our sin is the best way to be loved.
The opposite is actually true. As long as sin is hidden, it can’t be forgiven. As long as sin is hidden, it has power over you. As long as sin is hidden, you can’t be loved for who you really are. As long as sin is hidden, you can’t experience the cleansing power of Jesus. As long as sin is hidden, you are not telling the truth about yourself, you are hiding the real you, and you are pretending you are better than you are.
There are many ways we live in the dark by hiding sin. We try to cover up our sin with good deeds, hoping the good we do outweighs the bad. We show people the best parts of ourselves and hide the worst parts. We blame something or someone else for why we did what we did. We compare ourselves to others - “At least I’m not as bad as them. I’m better than them.” We defend and justify our actions, trying to convince ourselves and others that there’s a good reason to explain why I did that or said that.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve started naked and not ashamed. They walked in the light. But after they sinned, they began walking in darkness. They covered up, they hid from each other and God, and they blamed someone else for their actions. And every human being since that time has done the same thing.
The human race started out walking in the light with God. But we left him for the dark. Now God invites us to come out of the dark, to come out of hiding, and to walk in the light with him again. Disconnection began with lies about who God is, who we are, and the badness of sin. Connection begins with walking in the truth about who God is, who we are, and the badness of sin. Disconnection began with walking in darkness. Connection begins with walking in the light.
Sin only is a barrier to connection with God and others if you hide it and deny it. We have to let go of sin and stop hiding in order to leave the darkness. We come into the light when we don’t hide sin or hold onto sin. Instead, we live in honesty and holiness. We confess sin openly and we leave sin behind.
So here’s the one key practice for better connection with God and other people: honesty. We practice honesty when we tell the truth about ourselves - how we’ve sinned, how we’re struggling, how we’re failing, how we’ve fallen short, what we are feeling. It’s only in telling the truth about ourselves that we experience the truth about God. Until we tell the truth about ourselves, the truth about God will remain outside of us. It will be a concept and not a lived reality. It will not change us. Remember the quote from earlier: “Genuine transformation requires vulnerability. It is not the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life-changing. It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally” (Surrender to Love, 74).
When we are honest with God and others, we are finally putting ourselves in a position to be loved unconditionally. And that is where transformation happens. If you want to be a more loving person, a more joy-filled person, a more peaceful person, a more patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, self-controlled person, then you need to allow God to love you. You need to put yourself in a position to allow God to be all of these things toward you before you will become them yourself.
Here’s a pattern you can see at work in all of Scripture: What God does to us, he wants to do through us. God loves us then commands us to be loving. God gives us grace then commands us to be gracious. God shows us mercy then commands us to be merciful. God blesses us then commands us to bless others. What God does to us he wants to do through us.
Let’s look at one example. In John 13, Jesus told his disciples: the world will know you are my disciples by...what? Your exciting and inspiring worship services? Your knowledge of the Bible? Your stand against evil in the world? Your right doctrine and correct theology? Your ability to convince people that Jesus is real and died for their sins? No, he said the world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.
Let’s step back and consider the situation in which Jesus gives this command. It’s the night that he will be betrayed, arrested, put on trial, beaten, mocked and then crucified the next day. And he knows all this will happen. He and his disciples are reclining around the dinner table to eat the Passover meal together. But there was no one there to wash the dust and dirt that was caked onto their feet. So Jesus gets up, takes a towel, and goes to each disciple and washes their feet. He takes the role of a servant. When he gets to Peter, Peter says, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus says, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter says, “You shall never wash my feet.” Peter can’t stand to have Jesus do such a dirty and humbling action for him. Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” So Peter says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
When Jesus finished, he told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Jesus said this during the last 24 hours of his earthly life, knowing full well he was going to the cross. He gave them this command to love one another just as he had loved them after washing their feet - after loving them as a humble servant. And this act pointed beyond itself to the ultimate act of love as a humble servant: his death on the cross for our sin.
Jesus gives the command to love one another after he has loved them so that they have known and experienced the type of love he is talking about. Throughout the New Testament, the authors say that Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us. And when we have known and experienced that love, it is life-changing. We are loved into loving. But we are truly being loved only when we are honest, when we come out of hiding to walk in the light by telling the truth about ourselves.
In a way, Peter did not want to be in the light when Jesus came to wash his feet. When we come into the light, we are bringing all the dirty parts of ourselves to Jesus and allowing him to wash us. And if we refuse to bring that into the light, we are not connected with him. Perhaps we know we are dirty, but we aren’t willing to allow Jesus to kneel down before us and wash us clean.
This brings us back to why we were created: You were made to be loved by God, to love God, and to love like God. And it happens in that order. You need to first be loved by God before you will love God or love others. We love because he first loved us. We are loved into loving. When you experience God’s love, it leaves you changed. And the only way to experience God’s love is to be honest. We put ourselves in a position to receive from God by being honest - by walking in the light. Then we can give the love we have received.
Being honest isn’t just about telling someone all the worst things you’ve ever done in your life, although it can include this. Being honest means you stop trying to convince people you have it all together. Being honest means you don’t put on a performance for people or pretend you are better than you are. Being honest means when you are in a fight with someone, you can admit what you’ve done wrong instead of defending yourself or justifying your action or blaming.
Unless we tell the truth about ourselves, we aren’t allowing God or others to love our true self. We are showing people a false self - the self we think is more loveable. We have to take the risk of allowing ourselves to be loved unconditionally just as we are. We too often try to walk in the light morally while denying and hiding all the ways we fail morally, which means we are still walking in the dark and have not stepped into the light where true transformation happens. If you want to get out of sin management, then you need to step into the light.
Author and pastor Tim Keller summarizes the gospel this way: “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Growth in the Christian life comes as we increasingly grow more aware of our sin and more aware of how we fall short of God’s glory and holiness so that we can see what we really deserve is condemnation, alienation, separation, and hell. We really do live as enemies of God many times. But this is not where we end. Because when we are aware of our sinfulness and how we fall short, we then are in a position to receive God’s love for us. God loves his enemies and that is what transforms us from enemies into children.
There are two revealing moments to pay attention to in your life: 1) When you sin, what do you think God is like?; 2) When others sin, what are you like? These two moments reveal to you what you really believe about God. We may be able to answer all the right doctrinal questions on a theology quiz, but how we treat people when they are sinful and how we think God treats us when we are sinful reveals our heart-level view of God.
These are two key moments to receive God’s love for us. When you sin, do you hide it? Do you cover it up? Do you justify and blame? Do you avoid and hide from God? In that moment, you can walk in the light and discover how deep and powerful his love is for you. Go to God, tell him what you have done, tell him what you deserve for it, and then receive his love for you. Ask him to give you a deep sense of his love for you. That’s why he gave you the Spirit. Do we really believe the gospel? Are we living in alignment with it? I’d highly recommend these two books for help with this: Gentle and Lowly, Surrender to Love.
When others sin and you are having a hard time loving them, consider this: How does God treat you when you do this exact same thing they are doing? Ask God to Receive his love for you so that you can give it to them.
You might have thought that “repentance” would be the key practice for a relationship with God. But we will not repent if we are not honest about our sin. In repentance, we turn away from all other sources of trying to be right with God - covering up, hiding, blaming, justifying. And when we turn to him as the only source of being right with him, we are forgiven. Forgiveness is Jesus getting down as a servant to wash us clean of the filth of our sin. Honesty leads to repentance and repentance leads to forgiveness.
I want to close with an image. In Surrender to Love, the author talks about what is required to float. There are two ways to stay above water, one way is to kick and paddle and the other way is to just let the water hold you up. In order to float, you have to actually stop kicking and paddling. You have to rely on the water to hold you up.
Many of us might feel like we are just trying to keep our head above water in our relationship with God and in life. We are kicking and paddling, striving and struggling to please God, to convince him to love us, or at least not be mad at us. When we decide to float and let him hold us up, we stop striving and struggling and in fact we have to stop striving and struggling in order to float. And when we do that, we experience freedom. We experience relief. While we are striving and struggling, we can’t have love, joy, or peace. We will feel afraid, anxious, and stressed. But once we let God’s love hold us up, we can feel ove, joy, peace.