Dr. Timothy J. Keller
…Only for people who see themselves as a moral failure. Only people who see that they are not worthy to go in, that they need someone to go in for them. If you don’t see that .. if you don’t see yourself as so sinful that you don’t have the right to just go to God and speak to Him you haven’t gotten the first point … You are not able to experience intimacy with the Father. Now, having said that, I immediately realize that you are going to fall into two categories here: As I just said, that John says, you have to see that you are sinner, such a sinner and so morally inadequate that you don’t even have the right to go in before God. As a pastor for almost 20 years now I have talked to people a great deal over the years and I have heard people’s reaction to this particular teaching of the Bible. And in general the teaching divides people. I find that people fall into one or the other category. Either they have a lot of trouble with this and they really don’t have that sensation at all … they don’t sense … they don’t feel that they are moral failures. They don’t think they are that bad, they don’t think they are that wicked. They don’t have this sense and they don’t see any reason why they can’t go to God and pray and talk to Him. They feel like, you know I have tried my best, I do pretty good. I am not perfect but I certainly have the right to go in. So some of you just don’t have nearly enough of this sense, according to the writer here. And others of you have an overwhelming sense of it. That are you just crushed under it. You can hardly look at Him. You don’t want anything to do with Him. Everybody [has the tendency] to go into one side or the other. Let me say something to both of you:
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (
1 John 1:8-2:2)
1st: Because it’s New York, maybe it’s wrong to say this … I would think that most of you …maybe not. More of you would tend to be in the first category … that you say, “I don’t feel that way … I don’t feel like I am such a rotten sinner. I know the Bible teaches this and I know conservative churches still teach this but basically that is an outmoded doctrine. We don’t believe that anymore. I don’t sense that at all, I don’t feel that way, I don’t see it that way.” But John says …look at … see verse 8. “If we say we are without sin we deceive ourselves. John says [in essence] beware you will not want to admit it. It is natural to deceive yourself on this. It is natural to say what you are saying. You will hide from yourself how self-centered you are, you will hide from yourself how much evil there really is in there. You won’t see it … you’ll repress it.
Everybody is talking about Union South Carolina, aren’t they? And the one thing that is so interesting since my wife and I ministered, we had a church in a city just like Union South Carolina. Similar size, similar kinds of people, it’s amazing. Same accent. Same phrases. And after it was discovered that the woman actually had killed her two children, the quotes in the newspapers from their friends went something like this: “she came from a good family – I knew her people - I sat with her in church, she praised the Lord, how could she do such a thing? I can’t believe it.” But what they mean is: “she’s just like me. She is my kind of people. I went to school with her. I went to church with her. She is just like me and I do not believe that I could do that.” And the reason they are so shattered and the reason they are so disillusioned and the reason they are so amazed is because of bad theology. They may be religious and may go to church and may even consider themselves conservative Christians but they are not reading their Bible. And as a result they are shattered and disillusioned. WE ARE capable of all sorts of things.
I think a lot of folks say, “Yeah, this is dirty pool, you shouldn’t pull this on us. I feel that person must be sick. To be capable of evil and wickedness … certain people are but I just don’t feel like I am that bad a sinner. And all I can tell you that no one has done a better job of explaining this than Charles Spurgeon. He is a Baptist minister and he has this great illustration which I have often had recourse to. He says, “Look at an acorn. What do you see in the acorn? He says, I know it is counterintuitive and I know it doesn’t really make sense, it doesn’t seem to be true but if you think about it you will know it is true. When you look into an acorn you will see an ocean of wood. Let me show you that. He says, first of all inside the acorn is a tree, a huge tree. And every single bit of that tree is in that acorn all scrunched up. In other words, there is not one thing on this huge tree that is going to come out of the acorn that is not in that substance. It's in there. And that is counter-intuitive. Not only that, but on the tree that is in there are thousands of other acorns. And each acorn is another tree which means that inside that acorn is not only another tree but one thousand other trees and each one of them is a thousand other trees and he says, one acorn has the power to cover the entire world with an ocean of wood. That’s how much power is in there. But if that acorn falls on the pavement, within a couple of days it rots. All of its power goes to nothing. It doesn’t mean that the power is not there. To see the power, to understand the power, it has to actually fall on the soil; it has to get watered and so on. And Spurgeon would turn around and say, “what do you think murder is?” “What do you think it starts with?” Murder has to start with the thought that says “I wish that person weren’t here. I don’t like that person”… it starts with a grudge, it starts with selfishness, it starts with pride, it starts with self-centeredness. What do you think that is? He says, “in your heart, that acorn cup of your heart, there is and ocean of evil, and if you just happen, by God’s grace, to have fallen on pavement … if you have happened, by God’s grace, not to be in a situation where that evil is really being fertilized, if … you can’t see how much evil is in there it doesn’t mean that it is not there.
Now, if you still, considering all that say, "I just don’t see myself that wicked or evil. I don’t see myself capable of murder and extortion. I don’t see myself capable of any of those things", then I will just say, “Ok fine I am done, I have got to move on. File what I am saying, would you please?” Because the great hymn writer John Newton once said in a letter, “you never learn you are a sinner by being told. You only ever learn that you are a sinner by being shown.” And I suggest to you that someday, some place you will find yourself in a situation in which the only way to explain the way you are acting or the way you are relating or the way you are being treated, is by recourse to the doctrine of sin. As Pascal says [and he was no stupid person] “certainly nothing offends us so rudely as this doctrine of original sin yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.” And if you are not incomprehensible yet to yourself, unless you believe in the radical depravity of the human heart, just wait … just file what I am saying. Alright?
On the other hand, a lot of you are the opposite. You are kind of crushed under the whole idea. In other words when you read this and you see John saying you need someone to go speak on your behalf, you don’t have the right to go in. You are not worthy to go to God. Right away, you immediately know that is true. But you have been crushed … even if you are a Christian. John is writing to Christians here and he knows something. He knows that in the lives of certain people there is a voice that has them nailed to a wall. I have met people … Christians that haven’t stopped going to church necessarily but they have done something in their past that maybe the world calls a great sin. As a result this voice come to them and it says things like, “how could you have done that? All the sermons you have heard, all the promises you have made, all the things you have said, all that you know and you have done this. How can you go to God? How can you expect God to listen to your prayers? How in the world could you even think of yourself as a Christian? You are not worthy to go before Him.” And that voice has you nailed to the wall and it has had you there for years. Maybe you have not given up on your profession of faith. Some of your have, you have completely given up on Christianity. When you get near it the voice just comes at you and you have decided that it is Christianity doing that. And all of its guilt trips. But some of you have stayed in and you’re just crushed. You are bound in shallows and miseries. Well what John has to say is especially for you.
So the first thing you have to see is that you are not worthy to go in. The second thing you have to see is that we have an advocate with the Father. Notice this: Now in chapter 2:1 “if anybody does sin we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…” Now what is this teaching? Let’s ask three questions:
What is an advocate? Now you say “where is the word ‘advocate’, I do not see it.” The real problem is that there is a Greek word here. It literally says “we have, when you sin, a paraclete with the Father.” But in this particular context it’s a hard thing to get this whole idea across with one English word. So the translators actually take this and open it up and taking one [Greek] word and translating it “one who speaks to the Father in our defense” But the word here could be translated “an advocate”. Maybe that is the best way to put it. What is an advocate? What is this person? An advocate is someone who has an official relationship with you so that whatever the advocate achieves, you achieve, and whatever the advocate loses, you lose. An advocate is a legal proxy. An advocate is a legal representative. In philosophical/theological language an advocate is a federal head, from the Latin word foedus meaning covenant. It means you have entered into a relationship with this person so that this person represents you so that what that person does is transferred to you. Here are some examples ... they are all over the place actually:
In the area of negotiations. In most countries, in fact in all countries, the national leaders can declare war and also surrender and achieve peace. You don’t have a referendum on war. We don’t have a popular election to decide whether we are going to go to war or not or decide whether we will surrender or not. You have a relationship with the national leaders so that they have the right to do that and, of course, if they make a bad move we are all involved … if they make a good move we are all involved.
Let me give you an illustration that is a little more clear than that. In ancient times you had the idea of a champion. Here were two great armies coming together and sometimes rather than have the battle and have lot and lots of people killed each army would put forth a champion. In the old days they even had a word for this in the ancient Greek, an Archegos. And the champion would stand forth and would represent the army and the country and would battle against the champion of the other country/army. Of course the agreement is that when you did that it meant that if your champion was skillful you were skillful, if your champion was foolish you were foolish, if your champion had victory you were treated as if you were the victors. If your champion was defeated you were treated as if you were defeated.
And of course the one we often use most nowadays is a lawyer, a legal proxy. Especially a lawyer who has what we call today “power of attorney”. And in that case the lawyer stands in and represents the client so that what the lawyer achieves the client achieves and what the lawyer looses, the client looses. It’s all transferred. Charles Hodge, a hundred years ago was a Presbyterian theologian who put it this way:
“The relationship of Christ to his people is that of a legal advocate to a client. The former personates the later. The lawyer stands in the clients place. It is, while it lasts, the most intimate of relationships. You may not even have to appear in court. You are not heard. You are not regarded. You are lost in your advocate who for the time being is your representative. The advocate, not you, is seen. The advocate, not you, is heard. The advocate, not you, is regarded.”
Now if Jesus is our advocate, what is he doing up there? That is the second question. What does he do? He’s speaking. He’s talking. And if we stick with the lawyer illustration, everybody knows why, because that is the job of a lawyer. You hired the lawyer to talk for you. You hired the lawyer because you say the lawyer can talk. The lawyer knows what to say and the lawyer can make a case I could not. Now when I first became a Christian … I heard about this idea that Jesus Christ was before the Father (there are a number of words in the Bible for this). In the book of Hebrews it says Jesus Christ stands as our high priest before the Father. It means he stands as our representative speaking on our behalf. Our legal proxy, our advocate. And He’s up there pleading before the throne for our sake. When I first heard about this at first it seemed at best foolish and at worst very nerve racking. At best it seemed kind of silly like why are you arguing with the Father. But at worst nerve racking because it means when I sin Jesus says “Oh Father, please don’t wipe him out. For my sake please, don’t wipe him out.” This is what I pictured it as and I saw that I would sin again and the Father would say, “I can’t believe that Tim Keller did that again and Jesus says “I know but wait a minute” (this is my idea) that Jesus gets in front of the Father and says “One more time, just give him one more chance, please for my sake Father.” And then I see the Father looking down at Jesus saying, “well, ok, for your sake, alright, one more time.” You see that is a nerve racking metaphor, you know, you sit there and say, “when does the Father finally say “I’ve had it”? When does the father finally say, “forget it”. But you see it doesn’t say the advocate is standing there as Jesus Christ the merciful. It also doesn’t say Jesus Christ the persuasive. It says, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” and it says what he is saying. You see, a really good lawyer doesn’t just play on the emotions of the court. A good lawyer has a case. And what Jesus case is: an atoning sacrifice, and therefore the teaching of this passage which is so absolutely startling and which is absolutely unparalleled in any other religion, is that Jesus Christ is not just standing up there asking for forgiveness … no. And he is not just up there asking for mercy … absolutely not. Jesus Christ is telling the Father what the law is. Now it is unworthy to think of Jesus as having to persuade the Father. You have to remember that the advocacy of Jesus Christ was the Father’s idea. We read in 2 Cor 5 “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” You have to understand what this is about. What it is about is this: Jesus Christ stands before the Father. Before the justice of God, in other words. And relentlessly and continually says He something like this: ‘Father, yes Tim did do it again but I have died the death he should have died and have lived the life he should have lived in his place. I am his advocate. He is lost in Me. When you look at him you have to see Me. You have to see all that I have done. You have to see all that I am. And therefore Father it would be unjust for you to take two payments for this sin. I have already paid for it. Therefore Father I do not ask for mercy. I demand justice.”
Some people ask “c’mon where does it say that.” It says that in chapter 1 verse 9. “If we confess our sins”, it doesn’t say “he is faithful and merciful to forgive us our sins.” It does not say “he is faithful and loving’. He is of course faith and loving. He is of course faithful and merciful, I am not saying he is not. But it says when we confess our sins because we have an advocate with the Father, God forgives our sins because He is just. Listen, justice has to be stronger than mercy. If you ever have a judge and if that judges son or daughter would come to trial, no judge anywhere would be allowed or would allow themselves to sit and preside over a trial with their own kid. Why? Because justice has to triumph over mercy. Because justice has to prevail or you cannot have a civil order. But incredibly we have a situation in which the justice and the love of God demand that He accepts us. There is nothing beyond this. Nothing at all. “Father”, He says, “I don’t ask for mercy. I demand justice and there is no greater case than that. The justice of God on the scales. The thing we always worry about: the scales. And here are my deeds and my records and here is the justice of the law. And of course my deeds and my records can’t possibly outweigh the deeds of the law and so the idea of blind justice is a frightening thing unless you understand this: We have the law of God not on the other side against us. We have the law and justice of God completely for us. We have the justice of God completely for us. There is no such thing as this anywhere else. No other religion says this. This is far more than forgiveness. Most people seem to think that what it means that Jesus died for you and you go and ask for forgiveness is that “God now wipes off your past slate and your back now on probation, but now you better do a good job.” [rather] Jesus Christ has gone through the probation for us. He puts us beyond probation. Jesus Christ not only gives us forgiveness for our sins but has accomplished righteousness for us. He is not just the one who pays our penalty but is our advocate. He is the one who stands in for us. He is the archegos. It says that in Hebrews. He is our champion, He is the “author and finisher of our faith.” And you know what that word is “author” – archegos. That is in Hebrews 12:2. He is the one who accomplishes it for us.
How does that change your life? That is that last thing we will talk about and I will just tick it off.
Finally you can deal with your guilt. Finally!. Most people cannot deal with their guilt. The person who has got that voice nailing them down: “But I have done something wrong…” But you see God has not just given you forgiveness. People who think that is all that we get. The reason you can’t deal with your guilt is that you believe God is simply merciful. Well He is very merciful. It was mercy that brought forth the whole idea of Jesus dying on the cross and standing in for us but you must understand something else. That not only the mercy of God demands that He love and accept you and shower you with blessings and treat you as if you were His Son. And had done everything that Jesus had ever done, it is His justice that demands it too. Don’t you see the reason why Paul says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”? Don’t you see why Paul will break in during that same chapter and say “who shall bring a charge against God’s elect.” See? ‘It is Christ who died yea rather that is risen again who is even at the right hand of the father. What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” See what is he doing at the end of chapter 8? He is going on and on that this is not just forgiveness. This is righteousness. God’s righteousness has come to us and it showers us and we are living in it. This is the end of the voice. You know, when the voice comes to us and says, “you call yourself a Christian. Look at what you have done.” And of course that great hymn:
Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done
I know them all and thousands more and Jehovah knoweth none.
And if you don’t know the hymn, you have to be able to turn to the voice and say, ‘Jesus Christ is my advocate. Of course I have done these things. God knows that. But when he sees me he sees me in my advocate. I am lost in my advocate and all He sees is a beauty.” Do you know how to do that? If you say I am a Christian but I cannot deal with my guilt. If you say, I am a Christian but don’t feel worthy to go before God you don’t get this yet. Be here’s hope; keep reading about it. Keep thinking about it. Keep talking to somebody because when it dawns on you wait till you see.
But on the other had, what else does it bring you? Also it is the only way to deal with disappointment. I have come to the conclusion that most people get into despondency not over guilt necessarily but over the loss of a hope. Something in their life that is so important to them. Something in their life that is so valuable. Something in their life that means so much and you get despondent. You know why? Most of your deepest yearnings for success are actually efforts to be what only Christ should be for you. These things that you get so despondent when you lose they are your case, your arguments before God. They are the things that you look to and say, “see I am worthy” And when one of them falls through: This person doesn’t love me. This job has not worked out. Why are you so despondent? Because you don’t know the hiddeness.
Let me close with this. When Stephen, the great first martyr… you can read about him in Acts 6&7. When he was preaching and was brought into courts. And the religious authorities were upset that Christianity was spreading as it was. They looked at him and said we are going to execute you. Especially after he explained the gospel to them and told them they were wicked sinners. And it didn’t go over very well. You know the first part of the sermon tonight fortunately most of you probably will not try to execute me but some of you will probably be unhappy. In this case, Stephen was preaching to people who had the power to execute him so they did. And they took him out to stone him but just before they began to kill him God gave him something. He looked to the heavens and said “I see Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.” What did he see? He saw his advocate. And the thing that is so amazing is when on earth he was getting condemned - he was being called a loser, he was getting called a traitor, he was being called a cult leader and a liar. Everything he would want to claim. He would want popularity. He would want a good name. He would want success. He would want a good reputation. It was all being stripped away from him. What did he do in response? When he saw Jesus Christ as advocate standing up there, his face God radiant, it said. He says I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” In other words, to know that his advocate in Heaven, and his Father in Heaven loved him, commended him, acclaimed him and accepted him meant that all of the rejection and even an execution here on earth. - He got so excited he seemed to forget, if you read the text, that he was about to be executed – to the degree that you grasp the fact that you have an advocate with the Father you will be able to take criticism. This guy could take an execution. You will be able to take criticism. You will be able to take rejection. You will be able to take sin and guilt. You will be able to take the things that right now weigh you down. You will have the fullness of the Spirit to the degree that you grasp that when we sin we have one who speaks to the father in our defense: Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The Patriarchs, known as the Avot in Hebrew, are Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob