“Walking in the Light”
1 John 1.5-10
Last Sunday we began our study in the Book of 1 John. John opens his letter by emphasizing that his message comes from an eyewitness to Jesus. As one of the twelve apostles (and one of the inner circle of disciples), John testifies that he had heard, seen and touched the Word of Life – who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He zealously wanted his readers to know that the Life was made manifest. Jesus was revealed to the world. And because of this, John was compelled to testify of Him and proclaim Jesus to the world. His hope was that he would spur others on to do the same and to experience fellowship with one another as with the Father. In this is great joy.
One of the reasons I believe that he found this to be critical is because his readers were likely being influenced by false teachings. His letter speaks of “those who went out from us” in chapter 2 verse 19. John refers to them as antichrists and false prophets in 4.1. And I think that much of John’s content is an attempt to refute some of their claims and actions.
But it certainly is not without relevance for us. We talked about this a bit in weeks past. There are many people who claim to be Christian and yet whose lives do not reflect their claims. There are many who continue to live a sinful lifestyle. There are many who have no association with the gathering of God’s people as the church. There is no depth to their understanding of their relationship to God, no responsibility to obey what Scripture calls us to, no zeal to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet many still believe themselves to be a follower of Jesus.
As we mentioned last week, John sets out to clear up some of the confusion. In fact, his purpose is to answer the question, “What is a real Christian?” THIS is how we know… And this isn’t merely so that we can point fingers and accuse others. Rather, it is to give confidence to those who do meet the criteria that John lays out, and also to lovingly restore or call to repentance those who do not.
We are in 1 John 1.5-10 this morning. Please turn there with me in your Bibles. READ. The first point we will address is God is Light. This one isn’t too difficult to find. We see it right there in verse 5. John begins by saying, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you… God is light.” So, this is a good place to start.
We know that Scripture elsewhere confirms this conclusion as well. James 1:17 says that “17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Psalm 27:1 “1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
The first significance that God is referred to as light is because of his moral purity – his righteousness. Light is a natural symbol for attractive righteousness. We will see the contrast momentarily – the darkness is a fitting illustration for the blackness of sin.
I think, secondly, that to indicate that God is light also communicates that he is omniscient. Nothing is hidden from the light. And in this respect, we can admit with the Psalmist in 90:8 “8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” It’s the same way that we tell our misbehaving children that “God is watching you when you do that – even when I’m not around.” Right? Everything happens in the full view of God because he is light.
Thirdly, the light also communicates the truth of God. We know this to be the case when we speak of God’s Word, the Bible. Psalm 119:105 “105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:130 “130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” And to see the consistency of the New Testament, Peter writes 2 Peter 1:19 “19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
In the same way that the Bible reveals God, we know that his Son Jesus came to reveal God. John 1:18 “18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Hebrews 1 tells us that God has spoken to us in the last days by his Son. And we visited this great truth during the Christmas season when we looked at some of the prophecies referring to Jesus. Isaiah 9:2 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” And in the New Testament, Luke 1:78–79 “78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
We learned a bit about the trinity this morning in our Doctrine class. We noted that the three members of the trinity are equal in their deity and attributes. And so when Jesus comes on the scene, he too is attributed this nature of light and claims it as his own. He refers to himself as “light of the world” in John 8.12. And whoever follows him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
John also includes here the opposite. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” In the Greek text, John uses a double negative that literally reads “darkness in him not is none.” Contrary to English, where a double negative makes a positive, the Greek uses it for emphasis. “There is no darkness in him AT ALL” is the way the ESV renders it. Given this understanding, we would conclude that, in God, there is no falsehood, no unrighteousness, and nothing is hidden from him. God is light.
This is important because God’s character is mimicked by those who know him. And the opposite is true as well. The second point is Walking in Darkness. In the five verses that follow, John will use these conditional sentences that begin with “if”. If we do this, then this.
Verse 6 introduces the first conditional sentence and an inconsistency. John writes that “if we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” The Bible often speaks of “walking” to refer to the manner in which one lives their life. And so it is here. If somebody claims to have fellowship with God, we would expect their lifestyle to reflect the character of God. God is light. So we would expect someone who claims relationship with him to live a “light-like” life.
John says that to demonstrate otherwise nullifies your claim. Words alone do not bring fellowship with God. Anyone can say that they are in relationship with God. But it is our transformation that confirms it. This isn’t to say that our works establish the relationship – only confirm it. It is only by faith in Jesus that a person can have fellowship with God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:15–20 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” This is what’s going on here. John is trying to protect his Christian readers by being influenced by false teaching by those who say they are Christians.
Notice that John adds this interesting phrase. He says that such people that walk in darkness “do not practice the truth”. We often think of truth being a cognitive thing. We don’t naturally associate it as an action. Yet John does here. I believe the idea here is that truth demands a response. It is not static. God’s truth grows legs. The truth that God has made known must be lived out in the lives of his people. And when it doesn’t, it provides clues that things may not be as they appear.
James presents us with an elaboration on this point when he writes James 1:22–25 “22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
Look down at verse 8. Here is another conditional sentence. John says that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And now verse 10. John says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” We’ll try and tackle these together as further evidence of those who walk in darkness.
I think that what is going on in verse 8 is a counter to what the false teachers were saying. It is likely that they believed that they had received a special anointing because of their claims to God. In chapter 2, John points out that they would have continued with them if they were truly in fellowship with them. And then he emphasizes that the true Christians were anointed by the Holy One in verses 20 and 27. This leads many to conclude that these false teachers believed that they had arrived to a form of perfection and no longer sin. And so John says quite clearly, this is NOT the case. Rather, he says that they deceive themselves and show that they never really embraced the truth of God’s Word. Hold that thought.
In verse 10, sin is once again ignored or minimized. John indicates that those who say that they have not sinned, make God a liar and again show that they have never embraced the truth. What is the truth? Why would John say in verse 8 that the truth is not in the one who says he has no sin? Why would he say that God’s word does not reside in such a one?
Well, I would suggest that a fundamental understanding of the Bible would indicate that all God’s dealings with people rest on the basis that they are sinners in need of salvation. We see this right at the beginning in the Book of Genesis. In the beginning of time, God had created a world that was perfect. He made the earth and water and creatures and people. Yet, the people chose to rebel against their Creator and introduced sin to the creation. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were given laws to abide by and provisions to deal with their ongoing sin problem. The Scriptures continued to point to a future Messiah who would remedy this problem once and for all.
And when Jesus Christ arrived on the earth as a man, he offered himself as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. Salvation would be offered to those who would repent of their sins and look to Jesus in faith. At the core of repentance and faith is the understanding that there is salvation to be found nowhere else. There is a recognition that we are sinners and lost without Jesus. Paul says in Romans 3:23 “23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And earlier in the chapter he indicates that there is none that is righteous. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside and have become worthless.
And these people that John speaks about do not seem to have grasped a very significant and foundational truth. He says that the truth does not reside here. His word is not in them. And consequently, they make God out to be a liar.
This issue really brings us face to face with the good news of Jesus. It causes us to consider that there is a clear dividing line between those who are truly Christians and those who only profess to have fellowship with God.
Let’s notice the contrast in our third point, Walking with God. In verse 7, we encounter the contrast. John says, “but.” “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.” And in verse 9, John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We notice that the structure of this section swings back and forth between those who walk in darkness and those who walk in the light.
As we considered that God is light, we noted also that those who would have fellowship with him should also imitate God. Ephesians 5:1 “1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” A few verses later, Paul adds, “Ephesians 5:8–9 “8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”
Notice two consequences of imitating our Father. First, we have fellowship with one another. A relationship with God includes a relationship with family. One commentator notes, “those who do have fellowship with God as they walk in the light will also have fellowship with one another. Or, to put it another way, there is no real fellowship with God which is not expressed in fellowship with other believers.” This something that we have been investigating over the last little while. Believers in Jesus Christ belong in community, not isolation. When we trust Jesus, we are transferred from one kingdom to another. This includes an eternal relationship with all others who profess the same faith. In fact, our relationships become even more intimate than those of physical family. Also take note of the second consequence. The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. Wow!
Here’s what I think is going on here. Walking in the light involves walking in humility and honesty with God. I think that verse 9 paints a parallel picture. Those who trust in Jesus for salvation understand their overwhelming sinfulness. As we come to Jesus initially, we recognize that we are completely dependent on him. This is not a one-time deal either.
John is not saying here that when you become a Christian, you no longer sin. Rather, it no longer characterizes you and you no longer need to hide from God. Knowing that our salvation comes from God alone, we make it our aim to walk openly with him. And this will involve an ongoing search of our hearts and actions. As you probably know, as we become accustomed to doing this, we will always be aware of our sinful hearts. But walking in the light provides us with the ongoing opportunity to come to him and confess our sins.
Walking in the darkness is loving sin and avoiding God. Walking in the light is abhorring sin and embracing God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Walking in darkness is characterized by pride and deception. Walking in the light is about humility and honesty.
Where do you find yourself this morning?
John 3:19–21 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Now back up a couple of verses. John 3:16–18 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Have you believed in the name of the only Son of God? Have you experienced the forgiveness of sins only to be found in him? Or do you find yourself hating the light and doing wicked things? Without remorse?
We continue to see that there is no middle ground. You are either condemned or redeemed? You walk in darkness or light? Allow me to plead with you to turn to the God who is light and walk in fellowship with him. Let’s pray.