Wednesday, June 22, 2016

1 John 1:5-7 and Walking in the Light

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-7)
In the prologue to his first epistle (1 John 1:1-4), John asserts that he was writing about things he had heard, seen, and touched. And in the text above, he began with something he had heard. This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you. By the words “from Him,” John no doubt meant from the Lord Jesus Christ whose Incarnation he had just referred to (vv. 1–2). The content of this “message,” as John expressed it, is that God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all. This precise statement is not found in the recorded words of Jesus, but the author was an apostle who heard much more than was “written down” (cf. John 21:25). There is no reason to think that John did not mean just what he said. This is a truth he had learned from the Lord.

In describing God as Light, which John frequently did (John 1:4–5, 7–9; 3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35–36, 46; Rev. 21:23), he was no doubt thinking of God as the Revealer of His holiness. Both aspects of the divine nature figure in the discussion of sin and fellowship in 1 John 1:6–10. As Light, God both exposes man’s sin and condemns it. If anyone walks in darkness, he is hiding from the truth which the Light reveals (cf. John 3:19–20). Thus revelatory terms such as “the truth” and “His Word” are prominent in 1 John 1:6, 8, 10.

Since “God is Light,” it follows that a Christian cannot truly claim communion with Him while living in the darkness. As John warned, if we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. John knew that Christians sometimes feign spirituality while engaging in acts of disobedience. For example, the Apostle Paul had to deal with a case of incest in the Corinthian assembly (1 Cor. 5:1–5) and laid down a list of sins for which church members should come under church discipline (1 Cor. 5:9–13). Spurious claims to fellowship with God have been a tragic reality throughout the history of the church.

A Christian who says he is in fellowship with God (who “is Light”) but who is disobeying Him (walking “in the darkness”) is quite simply lying (cf. 1 John 2:4). Ten times John used “darkness” to refer to sin (John 1:5; 3:19; 12:35 [twice]; 1 John 1:5–6; 2:8–9, 11 [twice]).

As he notes in verse 7, there can be only one sphere of real communion with God—the light itself. Thus John insisted that this is where a Christian will find that communion: But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. The Greek pronoun for “one another” (allēlōn) may refer to the two parties (God and the Christian) named in the first part of the statement. John’s point is that if Christians live in the light where God is, then there is mutual fellowship between Himself and them. That is, they have fellowship with Him and He has fellowship with them. The light itself is the fundamental reality which they share. Thus true communion with God is living in the sphere where one’s experience is illumined by the truth of what God is. It is to live open to His revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. As John soon stated (v. 9), this entails believers’ acknowledging whatever the light reveals is wrong in their lives.

It is significant that John talked of walking in the light, rather than according to the light. To walk according to the light would require sinless perfection and would make fellowship with God impossible for sinful humans. To walk in it, however, suggests instead openness and responsiveness to the light. John did not think of Christians as sinless, even though they are walking in the light, as is made clear in the last part of this verse. For John added that the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from every sin. This statement is grammatically coordinate with the preceding one, “We have fellowship with one another.”

The statement of verse 7, in its entirety, affirms that two things are true of believers who walk in the light: (a) they are in fellowship with God and (b) they are being cleansed from every sin. So long as there is true openness to the light of divine truth, Christians’ failures are under the cleansing power of the shed blood of Christ. Indeed, only in virtue of the Savior’s work on the cross can there be any fellowship between imperfect creatures and the infinitely perfect God.