Formations 09.01.2019: “It Wasn’t My Fault!”

Titian, The Penitent Magdalene, 1565

1 John 1:1–2:6

If you struggle to own up to your mistakes, psychological studies indicate you are not alone. Researchers with PsychTests recently analyzed data from over 4,700 people who took their Self-Esteem Test and compared two groups: those who freely acknowledge when they have messed up and those who don’t. The results are interesting, though perhaps not surprising.

The researchers discovered that those who are uncomfortable admitting mistakes hate to look and feel weak. Two-thirds of people in this group fear talking about their faults will make them vulnerable to rejection or mockery, and a comparable number said that they find criticism from others devastating. Such people also admit to having deep-seated insecurities, an extreme need for approval from others, and perfectionistic tendencies. They can also go on the offensive, with a third of respondents admitting they will, for example, point out other people’s mistakes in retaliation.

Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests, explains,

When a person makes a mistake, they may try to cover it up or place blame elsewhere—and while that seems quite underhanded and unfair, it is often motivated by fear and insecurity. It could be a fear of the consequences, of getting into trouble, or of losing face.

At the same time, however, it is possible to learn from our mistakes. Jerabek continues,

Mistakes are embarrassing reminders that we’re not perfect, but they are also valuable learning opportunities. If you’re willing to acknowledge your mistake, learn why it happened and how to fix it, you’re less likely to commit the same error again. Moreover, admitting when you’re wrong takes guts, and that’s something to be admired.

A major theme in 1 John is the writer’s concern that his readers live in the truth rather than in the lies of certain false teachers who had left their congregations. In part, this involves the lies we tell ourselves and others about our own sin—or lack thereof!

We can’t have fellowship with God while walking in darkness, the elder writes. And we cannot claim to have achieved perfection in this life. We all sin, but God has provided Jesus as “the atoning sacrifice.” By grace, we can confess our sins, abide in Christ, and follow his way of life.

Ilona Jerabek, “It Wasn’t My Fault – New Study Looks at Why People Hate Admitting Mistakes,” PRWeb.com, 20 Aug 2019 <https://www.prweb.com/releases/it_wasnt_my_fault_new_study_looks_at_why_people_hate_admitting_mistakes/prweb16495520.htm>.

Discussion

• Do you find it easy or hard to own up to your mistakes? Why do you think this is?
• How can unwillingness to confess one’s faults or sins lead to relational conflicts?
• How can such unwillingness impair our moral, emotional, or social maturity?
• How can Christians be honest about our sins without becoming mired in feelings of guilt or unworthiness?

Reference Shelf

Sin

Sin appears in the Bible within the parentheses of grace. After examining the terms for sin in the Bible, we shall reckon with sin in relationship to God’s grace. Unlike the elements “love,” “grace,” and “life,” which belong to the divine-human order, “sin” represents an intrusion into creation and into human experience. It does not belong; it is a surd in the human equation; it has no ground, no place, no rationale. Sin is a violation of God’s order, a misreading of reality. It is a corruption of the human condition and an impairment of the human possibility. It is a parasite upon the good—this is why it has force but not ground (Augustine called sin a privatio boni). In the Bible, sin is never viewed as a magnitude in its own light—it has no light. Though taken with deep seriousness (in the OT and the NT), it is viewed always in the light of God. Sin is what it is only in relation to God’s reality, activity, and purpose. It roots in prideful self-centeredness and comes to expression through a misguided will and value system. It affects all persons, individually and corporately, placing all under condemnation and sentience of death. The grace of God is its only court of appeal, and faith the only medium of redeeming grace.

Theron D. Price, “Sin,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 827.

Fellowship with God

It is imperative to read 1:5–2:11 at once. It should be seen as a unified section governed by the imagery of light and darkness and by two distinctive sets of boasts. In the first group (1:6, 8, 10) the message of 1:5 calls the tune, and in the second group (2:4, 6, 9) the commandments, of no little prominence in the Epistle, govern the spiritual assessment. Love and hate (2:9-11), as in the other movements as well, disclose a test likely not considered by those who separated from the group. Acrimony, as well as christological controversy, either contributed to the schism or characterized the exiting group afterwards. So far as the epistolary writer is concerned, loving one another and believing in the incarnate Son define the real Johannine believer.

The opponents boast of a privileged fellowship with God, especially in 2:3-11, and a complete absence of personal sin, presumably discounting their own hostility. They were apparently oblivious to the place of interpersonal relationships in true and genuine religion. The opponents and anyone else are exposed for their claim to be without sin and criticized by their absence of love. These six claims are tested negatively and positively. Light and darkness go back to a Palestinian background, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the attitudes of the opposition suggest definite influence from Docetic and Gnostic mindsets, not just a slightly different interpretation of the Johannine tradition. The terminology of sin, knowing God, abiding, and being in the light were held in common but with different nuances.

The rhetorical strategy of the author shows itself in its immediate confrontation with the impressive and influential boasts that have gained a hearing. With no little aggressiveness, the Elder crafts strong counter claims for the tradition he represents (1:1-4) and the criteria for the true believer. The first series (1:6-10), expressed in the language of conditionality, is a little less direct and offensive. The second series (2:3-11) takes a stronger step toward accusation, though still leaving it to apply to whomever. In context, the forceful author has affirmed the special fellowship his group enjoys (1:1-3) but implicitly has denied the claims of fellowship espoused by the others. In effect, he clears the underbrush, discredits the phony false prophets, and opens eyes in 1:5–2:11, eventually moving on to the christological side of the controversy at 2:18-27. The recipients are left to choose. This relentless opening thrust should not prejudice the reader since the insistent presence of the pastoral in 2:12-14 deserves equal billing or more. Though I am unable to embrace the recent assessment of 1:5–2:11 as simply rhetorical, this literary corrective to the historical approach to 1 John is on the right track.

Peter Rhea Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 31–32.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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