By Pastor Glenn Pease
John has made it perfectly clear that Christians are still sinners even as saints, and that to claim that one is without sin is to call God a liar. He is not defending sin, but warning against a false kind of perfectionism. The Gnostics attained their perfection by simply denying that anything they did in the flesh was sin. Sinlessness is fairly easy to attain if it is all a matter of words, for all you have to do is define yourself into a state of perfection. Lust is a sin, but if you call it aesthetic appreciation of art, you could define the man who lusts into innocence.
As long as men are deceived into thinking that truth is basically a matter of words only, they will be able to rationalize anything as being consistent with perfection. Pious words can be weapons against the truth, and we all need to be aware that virtue is far more than one's vocabulary. Men mean different things by the same words. Humpty Dumpty boasted to Alice in Wonderland, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less." It was no wonder that Alice was puzzled at his use of the word glory, for he meant by glory "A nice knock down argument." This kind of irresponsible use of words has no place in the Christian life. He is to avoid deception of himself and others by calling sin what it is and dealing with it instead of eliminating it as the Gnostics did by playing with words.
Our fellowship with God is not based on words but on our walk, and if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we do not have to rationalize our sin away, for God has made provision through the blood of Christ to cleanse and forgive us. Christian perfection is to be realistic. It is a matter of a very real and practical condition, and a very real and practical consequence, and it is these two things we want to examine as they are revealed in verse 7.
I. THE CONDITION.
If we walk in the light we have fellowship with God, but if we do not, we have neither fellowship with God nor forgiveness of sin. This then is no incidental truth, but is essential to the Christian life. No one can be a Christian who does not fulfill this condition. Notice that the believers condition does not consist in making great claims like the Gnostics. They were all talk and no walk. John would caution us against bragging about our marvelous fellowship with God. Beware of laying bare your soul before men, and exalting yourself by speaking of how intimate you are with God. This leads to a superficial and sentimental mysticism that is not edifying to believers nor appealing to unbelievers. The Christian who is edifying and witnessing is the one who does not have to boast because his attitudes and actions make it clear he is walking in the light. He shares the truths and treasures he discovers in fellowship with God, and let's them speak rather than boast of this fellowship.
The condition all of us are to strive for is not to talk about light, but to walk in it. Walking has these two characteristics:
1. It is voluntary. The Christian is not one who walks in the light because he compelled or pressured to do so. He gladly performs Christ like acts, not because they are required, but because he chooses to do them, and would have it no other way. When Christians do only what the organized church requires, the church has become an institution rather than a living organism, and is a hindrance to the true mission of the church. Christians are to voluntarily do what they know must be done, and what is right and good regardless of any other consideration. He loves and serves just because he loves to serve and be a partner with Christ in reaching the world. Out of gratitude alone he wants to walk in the light, and lead others into the light. If a Christian is fulfilling this condition he will be one who lives for Christ voluntarily, and not because he is pushed.
2. Walking is not only voluntary motion, it is continued motion. It is a series of steps. One who takes two or three steps is not walking. The believer may take a step or two into the dark, but this is not walking in darkness. One walking in darkness makes a continuous series of steps in sin, and, therefore, is out of fellowship with God. The unbeliever may take several steps into the light, and do acts in harmony with God's will, but these steps are not walking in the light, for they are not continuous and consistent. To be said to be walking in either sphere of light or darkness means one is making continuous strides in that sphere.
In Jer. 9:3 we read, "...falsehood and not truths has grown strong in the land, for they proceed from evil to evil." This is a description of walking in darkness for it is consistent and progressive. They were going on from lesser evil to a greater degree of evil. Paul gives us the same picture in II Tim. 3:13, "Evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived." In contrast, one who walks in the light is proceeding from one stage of glory to another. A Christian who is fulfilling this condition is not in the same place today as he was last year. He is making progress in godliness, and is developing more fruit of the spirit. If you are not conscious of being more Christ like as time goes on, it may indicate you have ceased to walk in the light.
Christians can be compared to the strange substance called selenium which is used in photoelectric devices. When it is in the dark it is an insulator, and electricity will not pass through it, but when it is in the light it is a conductor, and the current passes through. The greater the intensity of the light the more effective it is as a conductor. It changes its nature and function according to its environment. It is the chameleon of the non-living realm. It illustrates the truth that the man who walks in the light of God's truth will be a conductor of that light to others, but if he walks in darkness the light of truth will not flow through him. He is a closed channel in the dark. The greater the intensity of the light, or the closer one walks with Christ, the greater will be his communication to others. Walking in the light then is essential to be an effective Christian. John then goes on to describe-
II. THE CONSEQUENCES.
The consequences here are so important that it forces us to realize just how much the complete Christian life demands of the believer. Fellowship with God and forgiveness of sins are both conditional upon the believers walk. For the sake of clarity, let me emphasize that John is writing to believers. Therefore, this not referring to a condition of salvation. These are saved persons who need instruction on how to go on and be fully sanctified. This means that all of the acts and attitudes of the believer are important in becoming what God wants him to be. When he walks in the light, the first benefit will be-
1. Fellowship with God. This is one of the basic goals of the Christian life, and one of the main purposes for John writing this letter. Fellowship with God is essential to the full Christian life. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, "Opinions about God are a roadway to God, but the end of the journey is a personal fellowship that transfigures life; and to seize opinions as though they were the objects of faith is like a man who tries to reach his destination by firmly clutching the dust of the road." The poet said,
By all that God requires of me,
I know what He Himself must be.
God requires us to walk in the light for fellowship with Him, and this is just another way of saying that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. When the believer walks in light he has all things in common with God, and, therefore, has fellowship with God. The second result is-
2. The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. This means that though the Christian is yet a sinner and cannot claim he has no sin, he can claim to be cleansed from all sin, for this is the promise to those who walk in the light. It is not the light that cleanses, but the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ cleanses from all sin ought not to be quoted out of this context, however, for it is not true unless the condition is fulfilled. It does not cleanse the sin of any who do not walk in the light. Like selenium, it only works in the light.
The atonement of Christ is adequate and available for all men and for all sin. But since is only cleanses those who walk in the light, many will never be cleansed, for they love darkness rather than light. Cleansing here is different from forgiveness in that it indicates a removal of the stain of sin, and the desire for sin in the person. It is a part of the process of sanctification. One can be forgiven and yet still go on sinning, but to be cleansed implies a victory over sin. Forgiveness is a change in God, but cleansing is a change in us. This means that one consistently walking in the light could be constantly cleansed, and at least temporarily be sinless. If we take the "all sin" literally, then one could be totally free from sin in his life. The only way to maintain it, however, would be to never take a step out of light into darkness.
Here is the possibility of being restored to perfect fellowship just as Adam had with God before the fall.
Oh, how sweet to view the flowing,
Of my Savior's precious blood,
With divine assurance knowing
He has made my peace with God.
The sacrifice of Christ was once for all, but it is of perpetual effectiveness. Cleanses is the present tense. The blood of Calvary is still working today, and will wash away the sin of the believer. The sacrifice at the cross was unconditional grace, and God's once for all provision for all sin, but the actual application of that blood's power to cleanse in our lives is conditional upon our walking in the light.
The two consequences of walking in the light are external and internal. One is made right with God and can fellowship with God. And one is made right in himself so there is inner peace and harmony as he is cleansed from sin. Our action of walking is met with God's action of cleansing. Our words of confession are met with God's word of forgiveness. We see here that just as we are justified through the blood of Christ, so also we are sanctified. Faith in His sacrifice without works saves us, but it is faith plus works that sanctifies us. It is in sanctification that faith without works is dead. Faith alone justifies, but faith and works sanctifies.
Since the greatest blessings of God, and the greatest benefits that can be gained from the atonement of Christ, can only be ours if we are walking in the light, it is to be our primary concern to make sure that it is in the light that we walk. The degree of our sanctification, as well as the quality of our eternal life, are dependent upon our walk. Certainly nothing more could be added to challenge us to go forth and voluntarily and persistently walk in the light.