If a Man Sin
November 13th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
IF A MAN SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 2:1 – 8
11-13-1960 7:30 p.m.
Now in our Bible, we are preaching through the First Epistle of John. And let us turn to 1 John, almost at the end of the Book. Turn to 1 John, chapter 2. The text is the first verse. Do we have it? Now let us read the first eight verses, all of us reading it together, 1 John chapter 2 and the first eight verses together:
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.
He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
[1 John 2:1-8]
It is an old pastor who is writing, ninety years of age, a hundred years of age, an old shepherd of God’s flock. And he calls the members of the congregation teknion, my little children; it’s a word of endearment, of love, of affection. “My little children, my flock, the sheep of God’s pasture, these things write I unto you that ye sin not.” And yet, as he wrote it, he had just said “If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us” [1 John 1:10].
We try to walk as saints, but however we try, the infirmity of the flesh and the weakness of nature is always with us. Our spirit, however willing to serve God, is yet imprisoned in this old body, and the old man Adam we drag along with us as long as life doth last.
“These things write I unto ye, that ye sin not. And if any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” [1 John 2:1]. That “if” there: “if any one sin,” that “if” ought to be written in the smallest type. It’s a supposition that is a certainty; “If any one sin.” All of us come under that condemnation of lack, and of need, and of shortcoming. “If any one sin”; he is writing out of the gentleness of his heart, and out of the kindness of his spirit, this aged pastor, John. So he writes it like that, in a tender and in an affectionate way, “My little children, I write these things that ye sin not, but if any one sin” and we all do, “if any one sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
This is the reason why we sin: it is a part of the infirmity of our nature. We cannot escape it. It is something we have inherited from our forefathers that has reached down even unto us. It is a part of us, and we can no more escape it and no more deny it than we can escape breathing and still live. We shall continue to sin because of the depravity of our nature until the funeral knell is tolled for us, and we are no longer imprisoned in this house of death, and we rise to be with our Lord, to see Him as He is, and to be like Him in His own glorious life. Until then, the presence of infirmity and shortcoming is in us. It mars our repentance; we can’t repent as we should. There is unbelief in our faith. We just can’t grasp God and stay true to the Lord in all of the ways in which God would delight in us as we ought. Our very tears are colored with our shortcoming and our infirmity. It is always with us. And in the presence of the pure and Holy God, how stained we are! And how full of need, and weakness, and lack we are. To the great God of heaven even the heavens are not pure [Job 15:15], and He charges the angels with folly [Job 4:18]. How much more so a poor man who is made of the dust of the ground and is kin to the worms of the earth. We sin, if any one sin, we sin because of the infirmity of our nature.
We sin in our daily lives, in the walk of our lives, in the course of our life day by day. There are sins of omission, we hardly realize how extensive is the nature, and the quantity, and the numerical number of our wrongs in God’s sight. We sin by omission. There are multitudes of things that we ought to do that we do not do. Don’t you have the feeling many times lying down at night, and however you’ve tried, and however you’ve worked, and however you’ve given yourself and spent yourself, you have a feeling of lack? “I still haven’t done it. I haven’t been able to encompass, to put my arms around all that I should have done”—this feeling of need, and of lack, the sins of omission.
And then, of course, there are the sins of commission that daily characterize our life. We sin against the Deity; we sin against God the Father, we sin against the entreaties and the tenderness of Jesus, and we sin against the Holy Spirit. And we sin in failing to do things that we know we ought to do and we do not do, and we don’t measure up. There is always in our daily life that attendant evil and that feeling of shortcoming and infirmity.
Did you ever go into a room and it looked perfectly clear, the atmosphere was just as clear as it could be, and then a sunbeam shined into the room, and in that sunbeam there was a host of little motes, millions of them, and particles, and molecules, and germs, and things that you never dreamed were there. That’s the way with our lives. We live in an atmosphere that is moted, and that is polluted, and that is germ-laden. And our lives are filled with that shortcoming and that infirmity. We cannot escape it. And if a man is honest with himself, and honest with God, he will admit that to the Lord. “There is a great shortcoming, and a great need, and a great lack in my life.”
Now I grant you that we can meet together in little companies and we can present ourselves, and we usually do, with our finest appearance and introductions. And we have a little touch here and a little touch there to make us look a little more presentable. And we love to be in a circle of friends that speak well of us. And we love to talk about ourselves, and they listen to us if we in turn will listen to them glorify themselves. But whether it’s one witness or a thousand witnesses,, we don’t need one or a thousand to know that we’re not like that before God, Him before whom all things are naked and opened [Hebrews 4:13]. All of us are sinners [Romans 3:23], and we realize it. And in our daily walk, we feel that shortcoming and that infirmity.
Another way that God’s people sin: we sin by the peculiar propensities of our own dispositions. You can’t help it, you’re just born that way. You’re made in a certain way, and you have a certain turn in your life, and it’s a weakness and you can’t help it. It’s just in you. And it’s natural to you, you’re just made that way. And however you war against it, it’s always with you and will be with you until you die. You’re just born with a certain propensity, and a certain affinity, and a certain infirmity, and a certain weakness. And you can’t help it; that’s you!
For example, some people are proud in their spirit, and they are easily offended. And they constantly feel that people do not show them due deference. And they’re hurt. I had a woman in this church come up to me and say, “Pastor, why is it that when I come you always turn your back on me?” Law me, in heaven above, as the Lord is my witness, I never turned my back on anybody when they came to me. There are times to say “amen,” and that’s one of them.
Why, I believe if I met the devil, I wouldn’t turn my back on him. I’d look him right square in the face. That’s another time to say “amen.” I wouldn’t do a thing like that. It isn’t my nature, it isn’t my turn. I’d never even think about doing a thing like that to the lowest, humblest sheep, to the highest, bestest, the finest, the greatest. I’d always like to be gracious, and kind, and charitable, and amenable, and sweet, and everything that God would want me to be as the undershepherd of this flock. And yet that dear woman said, “Every time I come to you, you turn your back on me.” She’s proud. And she is sensitive. And I don’t hate her for it. She can’t help that. She was born that way.
There’re others of us that are born volative and tempestuous. And we seethe on the inside, and we burn on the inside, and it’s just like sticking your finger in a hot electric receptacle to touch them, and they are easily made angry. They’re just born that way. And then there are others of us that are depressed in spirit. We just always speak of things in lugubrious tones, and things turn black no matter what color they are. If we’re up on the mountaintop we’re afraid we’re going to be blown away. And if we’re down in the valley, we’re afraid an avalanche is going to fall on us. We just always are down, just always that way.
Then there are others of us that are falsely ambitious. And it leads us to do things in the business world that ordinarily we wouldn’t do and to make choices for our selfish interests that ordinarily we wouldn’t do. And it makes us domineering in the house and in the home. In a thousand ways that I haven’t time to mention, we sin in the peculiar infirmities that characterize our own dispositions, and our own course in life. Even the chiefest of all of the apostles who said he was not one whit behind the greatest of the apostles [2 Corinthians 11:5], he referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” [1 Timothy 1:15]. And if Paul so looked upon himself and so regarded himself, how much more so with us is the presence of infirmity with us?
Whenever we raise our visor, there’s a stone that hits us from the infernal sling. And whenever we leave off just a piece of our armor, the foeman discovers our nakedness, and he cuts us deep. And the scars last for the rest of our lives. God’s children sin: “If any one of us sin, my little children” [1 John 2:1], if we sin, and we do.
Now, may I say there is a great difference, there is a heap of difference, between the way an unregenerate man sins and the way a regenerate man sins. A regenerated, born again Christian man sins, that’s right, but he’s a child of God, and the holy seed is in him. And the Spirit of God is in him. And he belongs to a peculiar people and a holy family. And there is a vast difference between the way that a godly man sins, a Christian man sins, a born again believer sins; there’s a big difference between the way that a Christian sins and the way that an unregenerate, worldly, lost man sins.
And I point out three of those ways. First, first, the first big difference is this: that the Christian man never honors sin in his life. Never. Never. Never! Sin enters our hearts and we can’t keep it out, but he never has the throne. Never! We never honor sin by raising it to the throne of our souls and our lives, never. In the town of Mansoul, sin lurks in the dens and the dives and the corners, but he’s never honored in the streets, never!
I don’t know of a better way for me to illustrate what I’m trying to say than to tell you the difference that I found between Oklahoma and Texas when I came down here in 1944. Oklahoma was a dry state. And however the weaknesses of the prohibition, and the weakness of the dry laws, whenever you drank liquor in Oklahoma, you did it from the hands of a bootlegger, and you did it furtively and clandestinely. And you bought it underneath the counter and in a back alley. And it was a disrespectable thing to do. And it was not honored, and it was not openly flaunted. When I came to Texas, the first thing I noticed was this liquor store right next to St. Paul, right next to us on St. Paul. Here in Texas it was honored, it was flaunted on the street. It was advertised in neon signs. It was almost found at every corner. That’s the difference that I’m talking about. A Christian man does not honor sin in his life! It’s in the corners, and it’s in the dives, and it’s in the joints, and it’s not something of which he is proud. He doesn’t honor it in his life.
The second difference; the difference between a man that sins who’s an unregenerated man and the difference between him and the man who sins as a Christian man is this: the Christian man will never boast of his sin, and he will never gloat over it as a conquest. Never. Never. Never. Never. When I was a youngster I went to a medical fraternity and stayed for a week in the house of a medical fraternity in one of the cities here in this state where there is a great medical school. And I do not exaggerate it when I say that every night, every night, every night those foul-mouthed pre-med students compared notes, and they gloated, and they boasted in their sexual conquests of the night before. And if she was a virgin, they were twice as boastful and twice as proud.
I was reared in a Christian family. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a boy. And when I listened to those men, those young fellows, I could hardly believe and I could hardly believe such a thing could happen in the earth. I didn’t know men lived that way. To boast of it as though they had made a great achievement in debauching and seducing some girl who had never, up until then, known what it was to deny the virtue of her life and to promiscuously squander it on a heel and a rake. Why, you could weep over a thing like that. That’s the unregenerate; proud of it and boasts of it—makes you sick, makes you sick.
Or a gambler who’s proud of his earnings that he’s taken away from men who ought to be buying shoes for their families. Or the liquor man who stands at the cash register and counts out the earnings of the day, and he’s proud of the achievements and the money that he makes. But every cent that he’s made is blood money. And it should have gone to buy milk and to buy shoes and to pay rent. He gloats in it. He’s proud of it. “Look what I’ve done. Look what I’ve achieved.” That’s the difference between the sinner man who’s a Christian and the sinner man who’s unregenerate and lost.
There’s one other thing. There’s one other difference between the sins of an unregenerate man and the sins of a saved man, and it is this: the saved man, God’s man, the Christian man will always feel himself out of his element when he’s in sin. He has the conviction, He has an accompaniment, he has the shadow, he has the voice, he has the conscience that, “This isn’t where I belong; this isn’t where I ought to be.” And that’s always attendant with him. He’s out of his element. A swallow may come out of the sky and dip its wing in the brook, but it’ll always return to the blue. But a duck will not only swim on the water, he’ll dive into it. It’s a difference in nature. When you drive the swine and the sheep together and come to the mire, the swine, the hogs, the pigs will wallow in it, and they will like it. But a sheep that falls in the mire will get out of it just as soon as he can. That’s the difference between an unregenerate man and a regenerate man.
The unregenerate man is in his element when he’s in sin. He likes the world and the blandishments of it, and the lusts of it, and the iniquity of it, and the vile filthiness of it. It tastes good to him. And he enjoys it, and it’s a good time for him. But a regenerate man is miserable in the company. His soul is vexed with the filthy conversation. He doesn’t like the looks of it. He doesn’t like the smell of it, and he doesn’t like the association of it. And he doesn’t like anything about it. There’s a great difference between the man who sins in unregenerate lostness and the man who sins who’s a child of God.
Now this appeal here from the apostle John is directed to people who sin who are Christians. “My little children,” the endearment affection by which this old pastor speaks to his people; “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. But if any one of us sins,” and that includes us all; that’s the smallest “if,” the supposition is a certainty I say, “if we sin” and we do, what does God do with us? What does the Lord do with us? “If any one of us sins, we don’t have an Advocate any longer.” Is that what it says? Just says the opposite. “If any one of us sins, we have an Advocate with the Father” [1 John 2:1]. Doesn’t say “If any one of us is godly we have Him.” “If any one of us is righteous we have Him.” It says in the text that “If we sin, we have Him.” There is a way in which a man can say it bluntly and boldly like this: “There is a way in which Jesus is only mine if I sin.” Isn’t that a bold, barren, hard, harsh way to say it? But it’s the truth.
There is a way in which Jesus is only ours when we sin. He is no Advocate for those who are not sinners. But all of us who are conscious of sin, “If any one of us sin” and we do, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” [1 John 2:1]. The only reason we’re saved is because of that great undying, unwearying, loving advocacy of Jesus our Lord. For you see our salvation is not built upon the covenant of works. Not on the shifting sands of our godliness and our righteousness, but our salvation is built upon the enduring rock of His sovereign grace. Pure grace! [Ephesians 2:8]. Why, were the Lord to judge us according to our lives, we all would be lost.
But we’re saved according to His mercy, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy did He save us” [Titus 3:5]. And when He saves us, He keeps us forever [John 10:27-30]. We may sin, and we do. Fall short, and we do. Find ourselves encompassed with infirmities, and we do. But we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [1 John 2:1]. If any one of us sins, we have a pleader before God’s throne of grace who remembers us. And isn’t that the sweetest and most precious and most comforting of all of the assurances that this preacher could ever find in the Book and ever be preaching about to you tonight? We have an Advocate with the Father when we sin.
Why, just think of it! We’re not going to be lost! We’re not going to fail of heaven. We’re going to be there by His side some of these days, some bright and glorious day despite all the weakness of our souls and all of the sins of our lives. We’re going to make it. Our Advocate is going to see to it that we’re there in the presence of God some of these days [Hebrews 7:25].
Did you ever notice how our Lord was? Peter fell into sin, and Jesus washed his feet [John 13:6-10]. Jesus washed him. He didn’t disown him. He washed him. He needed washing, and Jesus washed him. And He washes us day by day. Our feet get dirty as we walk through the course of this life, and our Savior washes our feet. He said to His friends, the women, after He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-6], “Go tell My brethren that I will meet them at a such and such place in Galilee. Go tell My brethren” [Matthew 28:10]. Why, they had everyone just denied Him! [Matthew 26:56]. That didn’t matter to Jesus. “Go tell My brethren.” They’re His brethren still, even though they just forsaken Him and just denied Him. “Go tell My brethren.”
We’re baptized into the body of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13]. Could you imagine a fellow with a body, and one day they take off his arm, and then the next day they put it back on? Then the next day they take off his leg, and the next day they put it back on? What would a, oh my, the thought of it, it’s impossible! Putting off limbs and taking off limbs; do you think the body of Christ is like that? One day He puts us on, then the next day He cuts us off? Then the next day He grafts us back on again, and then the next day He casts us away? And you wouldn’t know whether you were on or off, and the Lord help us if we were off when we died. Wouldn’t that be terrible? Wouldn’t that be terrible? Why, it scares you to death just to think about a religion like that.
We belong to the body of Jesus, and we’re ingrafted into His very soul and nature. And we’re His bride, and the righteous garments we have are not those of our own weaving and dyeing. They’re white, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and they’re given us by the grace of Jesus our Lord [Revelation 7:13-14]. Why, it’s the most marvelous thing you could ever dream of. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father” [1 John 2:1]. He doesn’t let us down. Nor does He forsake us [Hebrews 13:5]. Nor does He send us away or cast us off. But He washes us, and He cleanses us [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. And He keeps us the better and the nearer and the more preciously to Him.
“If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” May I point out one other thing in that text before I close? He uses a legal term, “Judge.” He uses a legal term. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate,” a pleader, a court representative, a lawyer for the defense to take our stand and to plead our cause! Now these fellows that don’t ever sin, why, of course, they don’t need a pleader in court. There’d be no need for Jesus. They wouldn’t need a Savior; no. Why, it’d be the most foolish thing for me to do to run down to the court and say, “I want to plead my case, and I’ve got a pleader here, I’ve got a lawyer here, and I want to plead my case.”
And the judge says, “Why, is there an indictment against you?”
“Well, has anybody brought suit against you?”
“Well, what you doing taking the time of this court coming down here telling me you want a pleader for you, an advocate for you when there’s no suit against you and nobody’s got anything against you?”
Why, he’d say I was crazy and then really they might arrest me and put me on the funny farm or in the bughouse. Isn’t that crazy?
You see, to the man that says “I don’t sin,” and to the man that says, “Other people may fall short but not I, I’m perfect in all of my ways, and I don’t need a Lord, and I don’t need a Savior, and I don’t need the blood, and I don’t need any Advocate”—you see, he doesn’t have any claim in Christ, and he has no part or share in the love and mercy of Jesus. He’s a sham sinner, and all he needs is a sham savior, and then he’d be lost forever. For the gospel is addressed to real sinners. And that’s me. And the gospel has a message pointing us to a real Savior, and that’s Jesus.
If you are a sinner and if you feel in your soul the infirmity of the flesh; if any one of us sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus the Christ, the righteous [1 John 2:1]. Just this little word: look at His name, Jesus. Why, He came down here just for me. Just for me. Incarnate came down here to this earth, Jesus, just for me. Just for us. “His name is Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]. That’s what brought Him down from heaven, not because we were lovely, or strong, or able, or mighty, but because we were weak, and sinners, and dying. He came down, Jesus, Jesus, incarnate that He might understand us, and that He might suffer with us, and that He might enter into our trials, and our troubles, and our tribulations. And He is that great Advocate, and Pleader, and Mediator, and High Priest, for “He was tempted in all points such as we are,” and He knows what it is to walk through this weary world. “Wherefore, come to Him boldly,” says the great author of the Hebrews, “boldly, and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16].
Jesus Christ: that’s His anointed name. That’s His official name. He is God’s appointed court representative for us. And He is able, and He is qualified, and the Lord God places in His hands our cause, our case, and He will never fail. And Jesus Christ, the righteous, the righteous, and He stands there before the Lord when we’re accused [Hebrews 7:25]. We all are accused [Hebrews 7:25]. All of us. We’ve all sinned. And He stands before the Lord, and He says before the great God of heaven at the judgment bar, He says, “I have kept the law for him. And I have been obedient for him. And I have paid his debt. I have done it.” And God never asks payment twice for the debt. “I paid his debt.” And the Lord Jesus clothes us with His own imputed righteousness [Isaiah 61:10].
Why, even the angels are clothed, they are garmented, they have the raiment of perfect creation. That’s not comparable to what you and I shall have. We shall be clothed with the righteousness of God Himself. And we stand in His presence without blemish [1 Peter 1:18-19], without sin, without stain, washed and pure, and clean, and white in the imputed righteousness of Him who kept the law for us, who was sinless for us, who was without blemish for us, and who paid the debts we owe to God so we don’t have to pay.
And we receive this loving, generous gift of salvation, this righteousness of God, this God kind of righteousness, we receive it by imputation [Romans 4:20-24]. We receive it by just taking it. We receive it by just taking it. “Here, Lord, are my empty hands.” And He fills them. “Here, Lord, is my needy heart.” And He is the answer. And it’s just for us in the asking.
And it’s for you for the having and for the taking. All God asks is that we come and receive it. He can’t give it to us with our hands closed. And He can’t come into our hearts when they’re barred against Him. All that He asks is just the invitation. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone open the door, I will come in” [Revelation 3:20]. And He will, and brings with Him all of the rich gifts that only heaven could afford, and they’re for you. They’re for you. They’re for you.
We’re going to stand in this moment and sing this hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, “Savior, like a shepherd lead us, Much we need Thy tender care,” while we sing it, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord. Would you come and stand by me? The throng in this balcony ‘round, down one of these stairways, there’s time and aplenty to come. Make it tonight. The throng on this lower floor, somebody you, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. Tonight I give my heart in trust to Jesus.” Or, “Tonight we’re coming into the fellowship of the church. Here’s my wife, these are my children, this is the whole family of us.” A couple of you, or one somebody you, while we sing this song and make the appeal, will you make it now on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing?