LIVING IN LIGHT 1 John 1:1–2:2
“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, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).God cleanses us that we may live Christlike lives.
In the first century, religions were generally evaluated by their antiquity. A faith that was ancient was assumed to be true. Those in the upper classes generally thought that there was one great God. They believed that this great God, along with lesser gods, was worshiped by different peoples under different names and by differing rites. As long as the worship practices of a nation or people had roots that could be traced back to antiquity, that religion was considered true. It was not unnatural in such a society for some to view Jesus as a great and wise man, a worshiper of the great God. But Jesus could not be God Himself, for no religion introduced into the world a hundred or so years earlier could possibly be true. It did not pass the test of antiquity. The soul of Jesus might, upon His death, have attained the status of a lesser divinity. But He could not be God, as orthodox Christians claimed. This issue, with others, was addressed by John in this brief but powerful letter to the churches of Asia Minor, where John lived out the last decades of his long life. As the Christian movement spread through the Roman world, false teachers did corrupt Christian teaching in an effort to make the new faith fit in with contemporary ideas on religion. But, as John showed, Christian belief is radical, and calls for a complete change of mind about religion, about one’s condition as a sinner, about salvation, about godliness, and about the person of Jesus Christ.
John based his teaching on personal knowledge of Jesus and continuing fellowship with God (1:1–4). One who claims to be without sin is in darkness (vv. 5–8). Confession of sins brings forgiveness and purification by Christ, our atoning sacrifice (1:9–2:2).
Understanding the Text
“That which was from the beginning” 1 John 1:1. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The same thought is expressed here. Having faith in Jesus is not worshiping a newcomer on the scene of religion. Jesus existed from the very beginning, for Jesus is God: the source of earthly and eternal life. “We have seen with our eyes” 1 John 1:1–3. John emphasized his role as an eyewitness to the Incarnation. God isn’t someone far off, distant, unknowable. In the person of Jesus, John had seen God with his own eyes, touched God with his own hands, walked beside God on Palestine’s rugged trails. When false teachers trot out philosophical arguments to prove that God could not become man, and that no human being could share substance with the great God, John had a simple answer. “I’m not talking arguments. I was there. I’m talking what I’ve seen and heard.” You and I need to have this same kind of confidence. Not that we see and touch Jesus as John did, in the flesh. But today you and I can experience Jesus too. We can know the peace He brings when we are overcome with anxiety. We can sense His leading. We can feel conviction and know a joy that only the Holy Spirit brings. When we know Jesus in this deep, personal sense—when we experience Christ—we KNOW. The most logical-sounding arguments of scoffers have no compelling force when we know, by personal experience, that Jesus is God. “So that you also may have fellowship with us” 1 John 1:3–4. The word translated fellowship appears over 60 times in the New Testament. The root concept is that of sharing; of having something in common. English versions have translated the Greek root by fellowship, communion, participation, partnership, and by sharing a common life. Two thoughts are important here. First, “fellowship with us” precedes “fellowship with the Father” in these verses. Perhaps John was saying that we best experience God in and through the community of faith, not on our own. If you want to experience God at work in your life, become part of a church in which God is presently at work. But John was saying more. He was saying that a person must experience Jesus for himself to have the assurance that possessed John. Knowing about God isn’t enough. Believing that God exists isn’t enough. You must commit yourself to Jesus, and in faith’s link with Christ, that common life you will share with Him, you will experience Him for yourself. And then, you too will know. What a wonderful thing to be able to say to scoffers, or those who doubt and hold back: I can tell you what I have seen and heard; I can tell you of my experiences. But why not try Jesus for yourself? Why not touch, and see, and hear the truth, as Jesus works in your life today? “If we walk in the light” 1 John 1:5–7. John frequently contrasted light and dark in his writings. At times the emphasis is moral: darkness represents moral corruption, and light holiness. Here, however, light and darkness are reflections of reality. Those who walk in darkness can’t grasp the true state of affairs. Those who walk in the light see, and are able to deal with, reality. John was saying something that modern counselors have come to realize is basic to all human relationships. Unless you are willing to be honest with yourself and others, no basis for a close personal relationship exists. You can’t say you have fellowship with God if you’re not honest with Him and yourself. And you can’t say you have fellowship with others. You may think that you have things in common. You may assume that your relationship is intimate and close. But if you’re not in touch with reality, you are fooling yourself. God can handle anything in our relationship with Him, except deceit. He can even deal with sins! John said that if we walk in the light as God is in the light—if we’re honest with ourselves and with God about our sins—the blood of Christ will keep on purifying us from all sins. Don’t pretend with God, or yourself. When you do something wrong, face up to it. Admit it, and let God forgive and purify (see DEVOTIONAL). “If we confess our sins” 1 John 1:9. The word “confess” is homologeo. It means to do an about face concerning a sinful act: to recognize it as sin, and to acknowledge it as sin to God. When we acknowledge our sins for what they are, God is able to act in us. He not only forgives us, but He keeps on cleansing us from all iniquity. Augustine wrote, “He who confesses and condemns his sins already acts with God. God condemns thy sins; if thou also dost condemn them, thou art linked to God.” “That you will not sin” 1 John 2:1–2. Lots of people don’t understand how God does business. Tell us ahead of time that if we confess our sins we’ll be forgiven? (1:9) Not even mention punishment, penance, remorse, or repayment? Just, confess and be forgiven? Why, if it’s all that easy, why not just go out and sin all you please? All you’d have to do is drop in on God, say, “I did it,” and go on home scott free! I can understand why they’re puzzled by this. In essence John was saying, I want you to know that Jesus completely satisfied the wrath of God against sinners, and that Jesus is there now, pleading His blood whenever you are accused of any sin. Jesus is saying, “That one’s paid for, Father.” And it is, so you go free. John understands though. “I’m writing this,” John wrote, “so that you will not sin.” The thing that keeps Christians from sinning is not fear of punishment. It’s love for Jesus. The more we realize the depths of our sin, and how much we’ve been forgiven, the more love we have for the Lord. The love that assures us forgiveness awakens our love, and we freely choose not to sin, for our lover’s sake.
“Not Me, Lord”(1 John 1:5–10)
One of the characters that appears regularly in Family Circus cartoons is “Not Me.” He’s a ghostly figure, and every time Mom asks who broke the lamp, or who got into the cookies, the kids quickly blame “Not Me.” He was a familiar figure even in the first century. John pictured him in these verses of his first letter. “Anyone around here sin?” he asked. And everyone pipes up, “Not me.” To John, this is serious and not at all funny. “If we claim to be without sin,” John writes, “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (v. 8). We’ve stepped out of the light, and lost that intimate contact with God that we maintain only by being honest with ourselves and with Him. There’s even more. If we refuse to acknowledge our sin, our sins will go unconfessed. We’ll miss experiencing the flood of forgiveness that deepens our love for the Lord. And we’ll cut ourselves off from the cleansing work of God’s Holy Spirit: a work that can only take place in those who are honest with themselves and honest with God. So next time you get angry and strike out at a loved one, don’t pass it off as “righteous indignation.” Next time you fudge on your income taxes don’t think, “Everyone’s doing it,” and excuse yourself. Next time your spouse says he or she needs to talk, don’t turn your back in bitterness or indifference. And never, never claim—even in your dreams—to be without sin. Take your place with the rest of us: weak, vulnerable, trying, and at times failing, but walking honestly with God and with others, and by God’s grace growing better than we have been, and better than we are.
If you deceive yourself, you are in darkness indeed.
There may be virtue in the man Who’s always sure he’s right, Who’ll never hear another’s plan And seek no further light; But I like more the chap who sings A somewhat different song; Who says, when he has messed things up, “I’m sorry; I was wrong.” It’s hard for anyone to say That failure’s due to him— That he has lost the fight or way Because his lights burned dim. It takes a man aside to throw The vanity that’s strong, Confessing, “Twas my fault, I know; “I’m sorry; I was wrong.” And so, I figure, those who use This honest, manly phrase, Hate it too much their way to lose On many future days. They’ll keep the path and make the fight, Because they do not long To have to say—when they’re not right— “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” —Herald of Light