I know what self-justification and self-protection looks like, because like all of us, I do it far too often. Into a world of self-justifiers (like me) where we defend ourselves from any responsibility for any specific wrongdoing, the words of Jesus by the hand of John’s gospel cut through to the basic motivations behind such self-protection:
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21)
My simple observation here (which I don’t want to clutter up the sermon for this Sunday night) is that Jesus is not contrasting ‘evil’ people with ‘good’ people, as if life were so simple. Instead, the one who “knew what was in humans” (John 2:25) contrasts those who do “evil” and those who live “by the truth”. The words used to describe their actions are also contrasted. Those who do evil stay in the darkness not wanting their “deeds” to be exposed, while those who life by the truth can cope with “what they have done” being in the light of day, as well as the sight of God.
So the point of difference Jesus is making between these two kinds of people seems not to be that some have been naughty and others have been nice. Some seem to see God as a God who is out to condemn the world, while others seem to trust that God, as Jesus says a few verses earlier (3:17), “did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.“ Fear drives some to hide their sin, while faith/trust (Greek: pistis) enables others to confess it. Johannine material elsewhere in the New Testament agrees.
“8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)