I don’t like to be lied to, deceived, or have theological sunshine blown up my behind; especially by the Bible. When I read the concluding verses of this week’s epistle lesson (1 John 3:1-7), is how I feel I’m being treated. Somebody, deep in the mists of ancient time, is feeding me a line of theology that is not only hard to buy but impossible to believe. What is the source of this incredulity? John has gone on at great length about sin, the nature of sin, and how Christ came to take away sin. If we are in relationship with Christ, we do not sin. According to John, if we sin we “haven’t seen him or known him”. (1 John 3:6) I’m a pastor. I claim to know Jesus. I do not, however, claim not to sin. In fact, I’ll say just the opposite. I’m a big fat sinner. Yet John would insist (and probably some of the readers of this blog) that I’ve never seen or known Jesus. That brothers and sisters is a lie. I have seen Jesus. I know Jesus and yet I remain a sinner. One of the people who I undoubtedly saw Jesus in was an Irish woman of Malaysian decent named Mary McConnell. She was a member of my last congregation in Northern Ireland. After a brief battle with cancer, she died yesterday. I am a sinner and in her life I saw the risen Christ. Why would John lie to me? Why would John dispute my reality? Who is this guy to tell me what I know to be true is wrong? He doesn’t know me. He sure didn’t know Mary.
He continues, “Little children (that us) make sure no one deceives you.” I think John is the one deceiving us by telling us that sinners can’t somehow see or know Christ. John is the deceiver. Verse 7 finishes, “The person who practices righteousness is righteous, the same way that Jesus is righteous.” Let me get this straight, if I practice “righteousness” I can be righteous in the same way the Jesus is righteous. Honestly John! Do you have any idea what or who you’re talking about? Do you even know who Jesus is or the church claims Jesus to be? You’re honestly going to sit there and tell me that I can be righteous in the exact same manner in the son of God? John, my friend, how do you think this is going to work out for the vast measure of fallen humanity? Not good, it’s not going to work out well at all. In one verse, John is telling me I’m a sinner practicing rebellion. In an adjacent verse, he’s telling me I can be as Jesus Christ. Are you schizophrenic? No one can live up to, be like, or successfully imitate the life of Christ. He was one of a kind. It is impossible to be just like Jesus was righteous. John, do you want to set Christians up for failure, misery, and spiritual exhaustion? People will come into church and realize they are being lied to by the men in robes or hipster goatees. If I tell people from the pulpit, “if you’re righteous, you can be righteous just like Jesus”, I’m going to look like a fool. It’s meaningless spiritual hyperbole that doesn’t impact how people live their lives. People don’t want to be righteous like Jesus; they want to be loving, compassionate, and empathetic like Jesus. The world needs less righteousness and even less of John’s religious distortions.
We want to live good lives; lives in tune with Christian teachings and the life of Jesus Christ. Until we come to terms with our own sinfulness in the midst of a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, words like “righteousness”, “deception”, and “rebellion” are best left to science fiction movies; not laid on people trying to sort their lives out.