Walking in the Light or Walking in Darkness
Walking in the Light or Walking in Darkness
1 John 1:5-2:2
Howard Hendricks was speaking at a conference in Dallas, and asked the question of the audience of 2000, “Do you know someone who is perfect?” He was about to go on, when he noticed a lone hand raised in the back of the auditorium. Hendricks asked, “Are you perfect, or do you know someone who is?”
The man replied, “Oh, no, I’m not perfect. But as far as I can tell, my wife’s Father was.”
• We sometimes can get this idea from the way a person talks about someone that they are or were incredible.
• A person can describe their stellar attributes, flawless physical stature, unbelievable character to the point that it is quite unbelievable.
• In fact if the position of God were vacant you might get the impression this person was in the running for it.
• So have you ever met a perfect person?
• I think that all of us would insist that we have not, but what about a sinless person?
• If you were to poll people in this country I bet there would be many that would insist that they did not partake in anything considered a sin by Christian standards.
• This may be a worldly perspective but what about religious circles?
• Did you know that Rev. Moon of the Moonies claims that he is without sin?
• We might say, ‘well okay but they are a cult.’
• Granted they are quite a bit off the evangelical radar but there are Christians who make such a claim.
• There are traditional beliefs within the Seventh Day Adventist church that proclaim that sinless perfection is attainable in this life.
• This kind of thinking is not a new concept, 1 John addresses just such an issue for there were false teachers who claimed that sinlessness was possible.
• So maybe not any of us would have the courage to claim sinlessness, but what about claiming that the Bible was making statements about cirtain behaviors that just did not apply today.
• What was sin for them just doesn’t work today.
• Let’s look together in 1 John to see how he addresses a claim to sinlessness.
John Gives us the Epitome of Light (1:5)
Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
• John continues his letter to the churches in asia minor by explaining the Gospel.
• He states that he is bringing a message that came from ‘him’ now who is John referring to?
• It could be a reference to God or to Jesus and because the message has been heard from Him the reference is more than likely Christ.
• We would normally expect that John may have shared something that we might present in a tract
• Or he might have shared something similar to his Gospel message in verses such as John 3:16.
• This would be the type of message that would come from Jesus
• But John begins by talking about God as light and his relationship with darkness.
• In order for us to understand fully the meaning of light and dark in the Bible we need to take some time to explore it.
• We could discuss all the aspects in the Bible but we will restrict ourselves to the spiritual significance.
• There are nearly two hundred references to light and dark in the Bible with the first coming in Gen. 1:3-4 with light being the first thing created.
• At the end of the Bible, God as light destroys all traces of darkness in Rev. 22:5.
• In the OT we find the evocative image of “the light of [God’s] countenance” (Ps 4:6; cf. Num 25–26). Isaiah’s vision of the final triumph of goodness includes the assertion that “the Lord will be your everlasting light” (Is 60:19, 20). James speaks of God as “the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17). Elsewhere God is simply associated with light as an image of divine glory: he covers himself “with light as with a garment” (Ps 104:2); “his brightness was like the light” (Hab 3:4); “the light dwells with him” (Dan 2:22). Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot (Ezek 1) is a riot of brightness, flashing fire, shining jewels and gleaming metals.
By extension, God who is light inhabits a heaven bathed in light. Here light becomes the preeminent symbol for transcendence, dear to the mystics’ and poets’ expressions through the ages. The classic passage is 1 Timothy 6:16, which speaks of God as the one “who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light” (RSV). Colossians 1:12 speaks of the believer’s being qualified “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (RSV).
As a symbol for God, light takes the more specific form of representing the Messiah. Isaiah’s prophecy predicted, “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” (Is 9:2 RSV). Jesus applied this prophecy to himself (Mt 4:15–16). The song of Simeon calls Christ “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel” (Lk 2:32 RSV). John’s great prologue in praise of the incarnate Word repeatedly applies the mystical language of light to Christ (Jn 1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9). Christ declared himself to be “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). Elsewhere he claimed, “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jn 12:46 RSV).
• Primitive thinking begins by dividing reality into a dichotomy between light and darkness, viewed as combatants in a perpetual battle for dominance. When light dawns, chaos is again averted. We catch the strains of this primitive outlook in the Bible’s creation story, where “God separated the light from the darkness” (Gen 1:4). It is impossible to understand the biblical imagery of light without seeing it as the great antithesis and conqueror of darkness.
• If light symbolizes understanding, darkness represents ignorance (Ps 82:5), folly (Eccles 2:13–14), a silencing of prophetic revelation (Mic 3:6), the state of the human mind unilluminated by God’s revelation (2 Pet 1:19), falsehood (1 Jn 1:6) and the loss of walking in God’s truth “because the darkness has brought on blindness” (1 Jn 2:11 NRSV). If light symbolizes good, darkness is the corresponding image for evil people “who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness” (Prov 2:13 NRSV; cf. Prov 4:19). In Jesus’ mysterious picture of the eye as “the lamp of the body,” physical blindness becomes a metaphor for the lost state (Mt 6:22–23; Lk 11:34–36).
• Considered in itself darkness is thus a strongly negative image in human experience. It is physically oppressive; it is the natural environment for a host of evil happenings; and it is associated with death, imprisonment and ultimate evil. Darkness is in principle associated with evil, opposed to God’s purposes of order and goodness in the universe and in human society.
• With this understanding of the imagery of
light and dark we see that John is stating that God cannot be associated with evil.
• There is no evil in him and he does not have anything to do with evil.
• If the gospel is about establishing a relationship with God then this is the natural starting point; understanding what is required to have a relationship with him.
• There cannot be darkness in us if we want to know God.
John Describes Two Types of Walk (1:6-7)
1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
• At this point John addresses one of the false teachings that had been adopted by the church.
• They had come to believe that one could make claims to a personal relationship with God and yet insist that sin was not an issue.
• He begins with the idea that we saw in vv. 1-4 of having fellowship and if you recall we said that fellowship was a deeply personal interaction with someone else that inferred understanding and intimacy.
• So if we say that we have fellowship with God or if we are of the opinion that we are in an intimate relationship with God but walk in darkness there is a problem.
• The idea of walking in the Scriptures is similar to our own.
• It can describe an action that a person is taking such as going for a walk or using walking as a means of locomotion.
• But spiritually it is used to identify the conduct of your life or how a person behaves or lives.
• It would be insane to think that this verse would be saying that if a person went for a walk in the dark that God has an issue with it.
• It is important also to understand how the word ‘walking’ is used by John- it is more than just that a person is walking but it is that they are doing it intentionally and continually.
• The proper translation should then be “if we say we have an intimate relationship with God and intentionally and continually walk in darkness’
• John very strongly declares that such a person is lying-they are deliberately deceitful in their claims to walking with God.
• For such a person they do not practice the truth.
• The word ‘truth’ has more to do with a relationship with God then it does with obeying a set of things that have been declared right.
• Truth is something that God is-all truth is his and in the context of the gospel and those who claimed that behavior or things in the flesh were inconsequential for the actions of the spirit was what mattered, John clarifies that truth must be practiced.
• Truth here is living or walking in the light-living as God desires and has designed.
• So it is a relationship but it also represents a disassociation with sin.
• To make a claim that one has a relationship with God who is pure light and yet practice those things associated with darkness intentionally means that they are lying about their relationship with God.
• John provides the opposite scene in v. 7
• Again John uses the word walk in such a way that he is saying that this way of living must be a continuous attitude of mind-it is an intentional effort to live obediently to God.
• To John this type of action means that we walk in the light as God is in the light.
• The outcome of such behavior is fellowship with others of the same mindset.
• When two people are of opposite thinking and priority their relationship is extremely hindered.
• A mutual desire to follow Jesus makes people from all over the world have a common link.
• The more significant benefit of living in the light is that our sins are taken away.
• John mentions this because the fellowship that comes with each other has the ability to grow because there was first the fellowship with God by turning to the light.
• This initial fellowship also brings a realization of how far we are from God’s perfection- our sin becomes plain and obvious in the light of God’s holiness.
• When that happens we can despair but John makes it clear that when our sin is revealed we also have Jesus who takes it away.
• In his statement, John is again addressing the heresy of the day-when he mentions the blood he is referencing not only the crucifixion but the humanity of Christ.
• When he declares that Jesus is God’s son he is stating that Jesus is God.
• John wants his audience to understand that living in the light and having forgiveness of sin came from the God-Man and this is the only way to have fellowship with God.
Despite the mind-numbing brutality of the Joseph Stalin regime in the Soviet Union, his propaganda machine did its job well. Many Russians hailed him as a hero and a savior, including a young school girl who was chosen to greet Stalin on one occasion.Years later, this woman recalled Stalin taking her onto his lap, smiling like a loving father. She was starry-eyed, and she cherished the moment for many years. Only later did she learn that during this period, Stalin had her parents arrested and sent to the labor camps, never to be seen again.
• The outward appearance or claims to piety mean nothing when in comes to a relationship with God.
• He knows our heart and when we contend that we are not in the wrong or that God doesn’t care we reveal our hypocrisy.
• To claim to be a Christian but then intentionally living in sin means that you are not a Christian.
John Discusses a Claim to Innocence (1:8-10)
1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.
• The claim has already been made that sin does not affect our relationship with God.
• Now he refutes the claim that they are without sin.
• My version translates v. 8 with the phrase ‘bear the guilt of sin’, this can be a bit deceptive as it may imply that they knew they sinned but that there were no consequences to it.
• A more straight forward reading would be ‘if we say we have no sin’
• John may it clear that this kind of belief is self-deceptive.
• Make note those that hold to this are not being deceived by some outside force but are choosing to think this way, but why?
• The same reason that any person tries to deny their sin-they want to believe that they are in control, that they are not in need of outside help, that they can be their own redeemer and not have to admit their inability to save themselves.
• This kind of thinking does not lead to any kind of healthy relationship with God.
• Once again John describes it in terms of the truth-before he spoke of such a person not practicing this truth and now he is saying it is not in him.
• The implication is that practice comes from belief and belief is something that has to come from the heart.
• These people were living hypocrital lives whereby they made claims to walking in the light but they did not practice obedience to God.
• This disobedient practice was the result of disobedient thinking and beliefs.
• If we skip down to v. 10, John elevates his assertion that God and sin do not mix.
• If a person makes a claim to having not sinned then not only do we lie to ourselves but more importantly we declare that God is a liar.
• The entire reason that sacrifice was required in the OT was because God could not stand sin and because people sinned he could not stand people but he wanted a relationship with them so sin needed to be atoned for.
• The reason for sending Christ to live and die and rise from the dead was because God said that there was the curse of sin on people’s head for which there was no human compensation.
• To say that we are without sin makes the cross unnecessary and calls God a fraud.
• But who would make such a claim?
• While not widely practiced today the Methodist church made the claim that in this life a person could attain perfection-they could live a sinless life.
• More realistically we may not wish to claim moral purity but we do deny our sinfulness in certain areas of our lives.
• We justify our actions all the time, we dismiss our guilt, we ignore the truth just so that we do not have to face our need.
• When we return to v. 9 John provides an answer to the problem that he has revealed which is ‘if I am sinful and cannot escape it how can I follow God?’
• Sin is the one thing that keeps us from a relationship with God and he has provided a means to get rid of our sin.
• John says that we need to confess or admit our sin. The strength of the word in Greek has the idea of public admission of guilt.
• It says that we need to acknowledge that what we have done is wrong so that all will know that we believe it is wrong.
• I do not know about you but this scares me because I have sins that I struggle with that I don’t want anyone to know about.
• To make it worse he is not just talking about acknowledging that we sin in a general way but we are to identify specific sins that we have committed in public.
• John uses the word confess in a similar way to which he used sin earlier by stating that this confession needs to come as an intentional act-it needs to come with sincerity from the heart.
• John now gives us the means of forgiveness by stating that it comes because God is two things: faithful and righteous.
• He is faithful in that he will keep his covenant to forgive those who ask.
• He is righteous in that he just and fair in providing reconciliation to those who ask.
• The end result of our confession and his character is forgiveness of sin and the resulting purification from unrighteousness.
• In essence when we are forgiven in this way we no longer are wicked-we walk in the light and not in the darkness.
• Guilt is like the red warning light on the dashboard of the car. You can either stop and deal with the trouble, or break out the light.
• Just because we deny sin does not mean that it is not still there for us to face.
John Provides the Solution for Sin (2:1-2)
2:1 (My 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 One, 2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.
• John takes on an extremely personal note by referring to his audience as ‘little children’ (only found here in the NT) and speaking to them in the first person.
• He wishes that they would not sin. Again make note that he uses the word ‘sin’ in such a way that he is referring to intentional and habitual sin.
• But he understands that they will sin and has compassion on them.
• He has emphasized throughout this passage that the condemnation through sin does not have to be the final chapter in our lives.
• He has said that there is forgiveness for sin through Christ.
• Now he describes Christ as an advocate or mediator between God and humanity.
• It is impossible for us to plead our case before God on our own or even to approach God on our own.
• We must keep in mind that our sin keeps us from appealing to God directly.
• Jesus is our intermediary who hears our sincere apology and presents it to God who in turn because of Christ’s intervention grants us righteousness.
• Jesus can do this because as John puts it, Jesus is righteous or for more emphasis the righteous one.
• This is significant because John is again identifying the humanity of Christ through the name Jesus.
• To call Jesus the righteous one emphasizes Christ’s ability to be human and righteous without needing reconciliation.
• Then John makes it clear that Jesus is the one that can intercede because he atoned for our sins.
• It is as if Jesus stands in a gap between God and us and turns to his father and says “This person has come realizing his need for me, I died for him, I remembered him as I hung on that cross and because of my sacrifice he can have fellowship with you.”
• To this God responds with open arms, “It is because of my Son’s sacrifice that I accept this person as my adopted child.”
• The solution for sin is not to deny that it affects us.
• The way out of the consequences of sin is not to pretend that we do not have it.
• The only solution to sin is Jesus.
The government of Polish Prime Minister Jaruzelski had ordered crucifixes removed from classroom walls, just as they had been banned in factories, hospitals, and other public institutions. Catholic bishops attacked the ban that had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms.
But one zealous Communist school administrator in Garwolin decided that the law was the law. So one evening he had seven large crucifixes removed from lecture halls where they had hung since the school’s founding in the twenties.
Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well. The next day two-thirds of the school’s six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the church. But the pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning.
“There is no Poland without a cross.”
• Sin is a reality in our lives but it does not have to keep us from a relationship with God.
• This relationship is conditional though- it is conditional upon the cross, the substitutionary atonement by Christ on the cross.
• No other means can satisfy God’s justice, nothing we can do can satisfy except Jesus.
• I believe that the Bible is quite clear that the idea of sinlessness in this life is hard to back up.
• That does not mean that people will not try.
• For the rest of us who understand just bad we can be I think that this passage offers remarkable hope.
• For one thing it tells us that although we will sin, God offers forgiveness and reconciliation if we sincerely confess.
• There is no sin that is outside his ability to wipe away.
• The other thing is that although God is light and there is no darkness in him, we can have fellowship because of Jesus.
• Christ makes us acceptable to God and for that we have much to be thankful.