I learn a lot of things by trying to explain something to my kids. The other day I was explaining to one of my kids that I could tell what really matters to them by what they do, much more than I can tell by what they say. If they tell me something is special to them, but then leave it in the middle of the floor next to a one year old, I can be pretty sure that it isn’t really all that important. If they say they don’t like getting time outs, but then consistently make choices they know full well will lead to a time out, then I know that doing the thing they shouldn’t is more of a priority than avoiding a time out. Of course, we humans are not always completely consistent. Sometimes we don’t think at all, and our actions don’t represent our priorities very well, so individual events are not that great a measure. Still, what we truly believe, what we think is important, what we value most, all of these things are evident in our lives by watching our actions. “Don’t just tell me you’ll obey,” I tell my kids. “You need to show my by actually doing it.”
My oldest daughter is a person of integrity and a kind heart. She loves the Lord, and the result of that is in her life. When I hear that something happened that is out of character for someone of integrity and a kind heart, my first thought is not “She needs to learn not to lie,” or “She needs to learn to be nice and not hit her brothers.” Instead, I assume that I don’t have all of the facts and I need to find out more. Sometimes it turns out that she really messed up. We all do from time to time. But I know her character, and by and large she acts in line with her character. I find that when I find out the facts that it almost always turns out that she indeed acted in conformity to her character. Occasionally I don’t believe her when she tells me something, and then when it turns out she was telling the truth, I feel like even more of an idiot because I know what her character is like.
God of course, is absolutely consistent and trustworthy. Everything he does is wholly in line with his character, and therefore it reflects his holiness, his love, his grace, his compassion and kindness. I know that God is completely trustworthy, and therefore when I see things happening that appear to be out of character for God, I know that I don’t have all of the information. Of course, where God’s actions are concerned I will never have all of the information to judge the situation. At least, not in this lifetime. But I know God’s character, and I know I can rely on him. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember that. I don’t understand what God is doing, or maybe more profoundly I find that my beliefs are not aligned with God and his will, and so rather than examine whether I am in alignment with him I wonder why he’s not in alignment with what I think.
Recently I’ve been reading 1 John. I’m finding that much of what John tells us in this letter is really about how what we do is a true reflection of what is in our hearts. “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments,” John tells us in 1 John 2:3. 1 John repeats this same theme over and over. “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” (1 John 2:9) “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) Our actions are in sync with our true beliefs. In as much as we are consumed with a love of God, our actions reflect that as our lives align with that love.
Jesus said this clearly in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey me.” Similarly, James talks about the impossibility of “faith” without action that demonstrates the faith. You can tell by a person’s action what they believe is true. “By this we know that we are in Him, ” 1 John 2:5-6 tells us. “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” What we say is not always in sync with our actions. That’s hypocrisy. But our consistent actions are evidence of what we really believe, much more than what we say.
We have an amazing capacity to trick ourselves into thinking our hearts are different from how they really are. Jesus said in John 3 that people refuse to come into the light (they do not believe him and thus they reject life) because they love the darkness. We’d like to tell ourselves we’re more rational than that. Romans 1 sets up a shocking progression of sin, and just when we are feeling truly self righteous because we don’t do those things, knocks us over with “and you’re no better than them!” Surely my sins surely aren’t as grevious as yours, right?
And that brings me back to 1 John. In 1 John 1:9 we’re told that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I’ve had some interesting discussions over the years about exactly what that verse actually means, including one with my kids just this week. So this week I dug in some to see what I could learn. It turns out that the word used here for “confess” isn’t really about listing our sins, or even about bringing our sins to God. It isn’t a synonym for “repent,” although the Bible does call us to repent as well. The word in this verse is the same one used in John 1 where John the Baptist “confessed” that he was not the Christ. It is used in Matthew 10:32 where Jesus says “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” In Acts 23:8 it is used to explain that the Pharisees, in contrast to the Sadducees, believe and acknowledge (confess) to the resurrection, angels, and spirits. It is the same word as in Romans 10:9, where we learn that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And it is used in a number of places to talk about confessing Christ as Lord or as coming from the Father, or confessing Christ before men.
“Confess” in 1 John 1:9, it turns out, means “proclaim the same thing as,” and I think this is the crux of understanding how we are to approach sin. We should believe and say the same things that God says about sin, hold the same position as him about sin. We need to be in agreement with God about our own sin, and proclaim with him the seriousness of our condition without his forgiveness. We need to align our hearts and our attitudes about our own lives and about our brothers and sisters, with his heart and attitudes.
How do we do that? I’m pretty predictable and none of this is a deep hidden mystery, so you can guess what I’ll say here. If we want to align our beliefs (and therefore our actions), and our hearts and our attitudes with Him, we need to wholeheartedly pursue our relationship with Him. We do that in the same way we pursue any passion or relationship: by spending our time learning about Him and in conversation with Him. If we’re serious about this, we’ll dive into learning His Word not as an academic pursuit of knowledge, but as a pursuit of intimacy, a pursuit of knowing all we can about someone we love. What is on God’s heart? He has revealed that to us, and continues to reveal it to us as we pursue him through His Word. God, it turns out, is knowable and trustworthy, and is always consistent with his character.