Any news bulletin about an allegation seems inevitably to include the phrase that the accused “denies any wrongdoing”. It seems to indicate a reflex response of stoutly resisting the glare of scrutiny. Whether accused in the court of public opinion or the law courts, no guilt can be admitted. Its constant use gives the impression of a society of either very scrupulous or unscrupulous consciences. It comes straight from the lawyer’s office of course. It is used in the narrow sense of breaking civil law and the liability that this would involve. The phrase makes us think more deeply, however, about the nature of what is required from us morally. Can any of us say that in any action or event we have not been guilty of any kind of wrongdoing whatsoever? Are we tempted to claim that? What should be our response to the claims of God’s law on us?
Scripture makes it clear that we cannot say that we are without sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20). There is a constant battle (Galatians 5:17) in which we all offend in many things (James 3:2). None of us are able “perfectly to keep the commandments of God” we “daily break them in thought, word, and deed” (Larger Catechism, Q149). Sin is present with us in our best actions (Romans 7:18-19). But do our prayers, words and attitudes reflect this? In this updated extract, Hugh Binning addresses this in applying 1 John 1:8,10, verses that deal with denying our sin. Isn’t it striking that the same phrase is repeated in those two verses?
1. Does Anyone Really Secretly Deny Any Wrongdoing?
Solomon gives a challenge to the whole world, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). No one is so great a stranger to themselves that they will not confess this. If they soberly and calmly retreat into their own heart, the very evidence of its impurity will make them confess it. Inwardly they feel what outwardly they deny. They cannot but sometime or other be filled with horror and anguish in their consciences. The time will come (either when the mighty hand of God is on them here, or when they must enter eternity) that they will awake. They will find all their iniquities mustered by the Lord of hosts in battle array against themselves in their conscience.
2. Can Believers Implicitly Deny Any Wrongdoing?
But this verse does not only restrain those who openly profess sinless, spotless sanctity. There is another way of saying this than by the tongue. There are many other ways of self-deceiving; they are more dangerous, because less discernible. Even true believers may fall into something of this.
(a) If We Think Too Much of Our Progress
Some are ready to think too highly of themselves. They have attained fervent desires and progress in relation to holiness and walking with God. They have something of the presence of God in the soul filling it with some sweetness. Perhaps they are ready to look on others with some disdain. There is no sense of their true condition and a humble mourning with it; rather they measure their attainments by their desires. This is in effect, really saying, “we have no sin.” It is a self-deceiving delusion. We are actually infinitely below either our duty or our desire. We must be reminded of this often. Otherwise we are in danger of being drunk with self-love and self-deceit in this.
(b) If We Are Not Concerned About Making Further Progress
There are many Christians who once had a powerful experience of sorrow for sin, fear of wrath and comfort by the gospel. But they have not progressed. They are accustomed to certain public and private religious duties. But they have stopped here and do not think about further progress. They think that if they keep that condition all is well. They have few concerns or attempts for greater communion with God or purification from sin.
This makes them degenerate into formalism. They wither and become barren. They are exposed to many temptations which overcome them. But is this not really saying, “we have no sin?” Is it not living as if you had no sin to wrestle with, no more holiness to aspire to? Is it not as if you had no further race to run to obtain the crown? Do not deceive yourselves by thinking it is enough to have just enough grace as may (in your opinion) put you over the line. As if you seek no more than what is precisely necessary for salvation. If you continue without stirring up yourselves to a daily conversion and renewal, you do much to blot out the evidence of your conversion.
(b) If We Only Confess Sin in a Vague and General Way
You confess you are sinners and break all the commandments, but if we come to specifics not one in twenty seriously admit any sin. What you grant regarding sin in general you retract and deny in relation to specific sins. This is the danger of being strangers to the real truth of it and being over-blinded with self-love. Is a general acknowledgement of sin a mask to deceive yourself or a blind to hide you from yourself? Many justify themselves when they are challenged for committing or being inclined to any particular sin.
(c) If We are Content to Continue in Sin
Do you live in sin as impenitently as if you had no sin and no fear of God’s wrath? Most people’s lives proclaim that they think they have no sin. Do you live without any earnest and serious striving to change your ways and purify your hearts? Though you confess sin in general, does your whole conduct declare that you do not think it is a thing to be feared greatly? Does your life declare that someone may go on in sin and it will be well with them in this life and the one to come? Is this not denying the very nature of sin and deceiving your own souls?
3. Why do We Deny Any Wrongdoing?
“If we say we have no sin, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). Why is this repeated again? It is to show us (even Christians who believe in Christ and are washed in His blood), how hard it is to know ourselves aright. Worldly people scarcely acknowledge they have any sin. Any they do acknowledge are not seen in their vile nature. So they live in peace as if they had no sin. This self-deceiving is not so subtle but quickly seen through. But this verse speaks against you Christians, who are to some extent acquainted with yourselves.
(a) Sin Doesn’t Seem So Obvious
When we get peace from the conviction of sin and hope of pardon we often cease to know ourselves. Sin may not break out so visibly. So you remain strangers to your hearts. You ought rather to believe what is in you based on God’s testimony rather than wait to see it breaking out. The goodness of God restraining our corruption should increase rather than diminish the sense of our own wickedness.
(b) Self-Love Blinds Us
We look on ourselves through self-love and it makes everything seem more beautiful than it is. “We deceive ourselves, and make God a liar.” It is strange to think how clear someone’s assessment can be against the evils in others which he cannot see in himself. How many Christians are ready so spot the least appearance of sins in others and condemn it who are partial in judging themselves. How often people declaim against pride, covetousness, self-seeking, and other such evils! They pour out a flood of eloquence and zeal against them. But it is strange they do not easily perceive these evils predominate in themselves (Romans 2:1).
Judge yourself in anything that others can judge. Strive to know your personal evils before others can know them. This will keep you humble and preserve you from much sin. You will not deceive yourself nor dishonour God in making him a liar.
(c) We Measure Ourselves By Others Rather than God’s Law
Commonly we judge ourselves by comparing ourselves amongst ourselves, which is, as Paul says “not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). We do not measure ourselves by the perfect rule of God’s holy Word, but rather by others who come short of that standard. We compare ourselves with the worst, and if we are not as bad as they are, we think ourselves good.
Others will compare with those who are good, but with the worst in them not that which is best. How often people identify a good man who is subject to certain weaknesses. Thus, self-love flatters itself, and, by flattering, deceives itself. But when we do this our pride and self conceit ascends, but the higher we in our own esteem the lower we are in God’s account. But the higher God is in our account, the higher we are in His (Matthew 23:12).
4. How Do We Avoid Denying Any Wrongdoing?
What should we do then, since sin is always within? Between 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 1:10 which warn against denying our sin is 1 John 1:9 which speaks of confession and forgiveness. This confession should continue as long as we are in this life. Confess your sins as long as you have them. Continually mourn over your daily failings. If that stream of corruption runs continually, let the stream of your confession run as incessantly. There is another stream: Christ’s blood. This runs constantly too, to cleanse you.
This shows the deceitfulness of many of our public and private confessions. They soon dry up and are not constant. There is no daily humbling of ourselves. It is merely by fits and starts responding to certain fleeting convictions. Thus, we quickly cover and bury our sins in oblivion and forget what kind of persons we are.
You have two desires and prayers to Christ: (a) that your sins may be forgiven; (b) that they may be subdued. Christ has two promises to satisfy you: (a) to forgive your sins; (b) to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. This is the great desire of such a truly penitent heart, to have sin purified and purged out of us as well as pardoned. The promise is not only to pardon sin, but to purge from sin. It is not only to cover it with the garment of Christ’s righteousness and the breadth of His infinite love. It is also to cleanse it by his Spirit effectually applying that blood to the purifying of the heart. Believe He will both forgive you and in due time cleanse your heart from the love and delight of sin. Believe His promise, for “he is just and faithful to forgive sins.” His justice being now satisfied, is engaged to forgive, not to punish.