A sermon on 1 John 1:5-2:2 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 14 February 2021
Today’s message is about integrity. Integrity is more than honesty. It is more than truthfulness. Integrity is about wholeness. It is about transparency. Integrity means being the same on the outside as you are on the inside. It means being the same person in private as you are in public. It means more than pretending to be the person you seem to be, but being the person you seem to be. Integrity means more than believing the truth or saying the truth. It means walking in the truth and living by the truth.
Unfortunately, as a purely human virtue, done in our own strength according to our own standards, the demand for integrity usually either leads to hypocrisy, or to resentment or to despair. We expect integrity from others. We demand integrity from community and religious leaders. From politicians and policemen. From ministers and elders. From shopkeepers, tradesmen and employees. But people tend to judge others more harshly than they judge themselves. People tend not to aspire to integrity, but to the appearance of honesty. They modify their behaviour in public or when they are afraid they will be caught. But this thin veneer of honesty sometimes only covers a dishonest heart.
The demand for integrity can just as easily lead to resentment. A man might decide that he is sick of pretending to be someone he isn’t. He’s going to tell the truth as he sees it. He’s going to let people see the real person he is. Only to discover that people don’t like the truth as he sees it and as he says it and they don’t like to see the real person he is. He’s only being honest. But they see him as pushy and arrogant and opinionated. People say they want others to be honest. But often the truth just offends them.
Lastly, the demand for integrity can lead just as easily to despair. We demand integrity and many people even aspire to it. But the Bible says that the human heart is deceitful above all things and the demand for integrity sets a standard of honesty that no one can meet. And the person who is most honest to themselves is most aware of it. Some people live a lie. Some people tell lies. But the devil has won no sweeter victory than when he gets people to believe their own lies.
Real integrity does not begin within us, but with God. 1 John chapter 1 verse 5 says
God is light. In him there is no darkness at all.
God is light and light is honest. It reveals the truth. Light banishes our nightmares and phantasies and the lies we believe because it shows us what is real. God is light because he is real. He isn’t our imaginary friend. He is the creator of heaven and earth. He can be trusted because what he says is real.
God is light and light is power. By the light of the sun plants convert carbon dioxide into sugar. What we emit as exhaust from our bodies or from our machines, plants turn into food by the power of light. We use light to make power or use power to make light. But God is light. Nothing is too hard for him. Impossible is a word two letters too long. He has the power to do whatever he wants. And in his light all darkness disappears.
But he does not use that power to destroy. Because God is light and light is life. Plants need light and animals either eat plants or they eat each other. Without light life on earth would return to mushrooms and bacterial slime. God is light. He is the source of our life, our love and our joy. Everything worth having is his gift to us. Life without him just isn’t worth the name.
God is light and by his light we see. By the light we can read, we can work, we can play, we can live. Before people found ways to make light they went to sleep after dark. Our eyes don’t have any power to see. They are simply windows to let the light into our minds. God is light because he makes us see so that we can live by his light.
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. The true and living God is not just like us but expanded into superhuman form with all the powers of the universe at his fingertips. Like Superman or Wonder Woman. God is not created in our image. We are created in his. And so he is good and true and fair and just and dependable and trustworthy and loving. And he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the true light of the world. In Jesus Christ, in the choices he made, in the things that he did, we see the inner heart of God. Because God has integrity. He is who he seems to be. He is on the inside what he is on the outside. And Jesus Christ is the man of integrity. What he did and said in public, God is in himself. Because he is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
And because he is light God calls us to live a life with integrity. To live in the light and to walk by the light. John wrote in verse 6,
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
There must be a match between what we say and what we do. Anything less is dishonesty. So if we say we have fellowship with God who is light in whom there is no darkness, and yet we walk in darkness, we are both speaking a lie and living a lie. To walk in darkness is to close our eyes to his light. It is to oppose God. It is to resist his grace. It is to hate his love. It is to be at war with his peace. It is to deny his truth. To walk in darkness is not just to do what is wrong. It is to knowingly and wilfully fail to do what is right. Fellowship with God, the holy communion to which we are invited to have with the true and living God through faith in his Word, his Son Jesus Christ, calls us out of darkness, calls us out of the sin for which Christ died, to live by the truth and grace and love of God. A truth that is not only believed. A truth that is truly lived.
As John says in verse 7,
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, purifies us from all sin.
This verse doesn’t mean that salvation, that forgiveness is the reward for doing what is right. Walking in the light doesn’t mean that we are morally perfect. It doesn’t mean that we don’t make mistakes. By nature we are creatures of darkness. We are clothed with flesh. We are children of wrath. But when God’s light shines into our loves in the grace of his Son Jesus Christ, he calls us to come out of the darkness and to walk into the light. It means accepting the truth about ourselves.
So walking in the light means initially the exact opposite of being morally perfect. It means first of all admitting that we aren’t perfect. That we have sinned. That we have rebelled against God. That we have lived in darkness. As John says in verse 8
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Integrity means being honest with ourselves. It doesn’t mean pretending to be good and denying that we have any problem. It means admitting who we are and what we have done and what we would deserve without God’s mercy and grace. Coming into the light, receiving God’s grace through Christ is like walking into the sunshine of the first day of spring after the months of cold and gloom in winter and feeling like it’s the first time you’ve been alive in ages. It’s like being born again. Because it is being born again, made knew by the Spirit of God.
Coming into God’s light in Christ, walking in his light means knowing that the darkness in our hearts is real, but also that the light of God banishes it from every corner because Christ died for us. He took our sin. He took our darkness and died with it in himself. So when we trust in him, when we receive him as our own personal Lord and Saviour, we are forgiven of our sin’s penalty, we receive the Spirit of God who fights against sin’s power over us and we believe the promise that one day we will be removed from the presence of our sin forever.
As John says in verse 9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
God is faithful and just. Not to condemn us. Not to destroy us. Not to banish us from his presence. But to forgive us and to purify us. Because his light does not destroy our life. It restores our life.
This is integrity. It means to believe the truth. It means to admit the truth. And so it calls us to live the truth. As John says in chapter 2 verse 1:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.
Christ did not die for our sin so that we could live in sin. God did not bring us into his light so that we could return to the darkness. But so that we might live in his light by his light.
To be honest it can feel like we have to believe in two completely opposite things. I have to admit that I’m bad but I have to try to be good. I can’t say I don’t sin, but I have to try not to sin. But the two truths are united like opposite sides of the one coin in the one man of integrity, Jesus Christ. The one who by his death and resurrection is both Saviour and Lord. His death teaches me that my sin was so great that it held him to the cross. But his resurrection teaches me that my sin was not so great that it could hold him in the grave. He died for my sin but he lives for my righteousness. As my Saviour he gives me his promise. As John says in verses 1 and 2
If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Again he is not righteous in order to condemn but in order to save. He is the atoning sacrifice. His death removes my sin and appeases the judgment of the Father. And because his one perfect life is enough for the sin of the whole world, it is more than enough for mine. My darkness is helpless before his light. As my saviour he gives me his promise. But as my Lord he lays on me his command. As John says in verse 3,
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.
We will say more about this in our next message next week. So perhaps on this point today it is enough to quote John back in chapter 1 in verse 6.
This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
This is integrity. It doesn’t mean pretending we’re perfect, when we’re not. It doesn’t mean laying on ourselves an unreachable standard. It simply means being on the outside what we are on the inside. It means transparency. It promises wholeness. Completeness. It means believing the truth, admitting the truth and living by the truth of the God who calls us out of darkness into his kingdom of light.