5 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. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 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 you haven’t yet read the previous 2 entries in our study of 1 John, Part 1 and Part 2 let me encourage you to do so before continuing in this one, that way continuity and context is maintained. Here, in this section of John’s first chapter, we again see his eyewitness testimony, this time in the form of hearing a message from Christ and proclaiming that message to the Churches to whom he’s writing (and subsequently all believers). His message that he’s relaying is, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”. In this passage, some have pointed out that light has 2 characteristic meanings as it relates to God. The first is that the light is life, namely eternal life. Support for this can certainly be found in John 1:4, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” and John 8:12 “Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In these passages we can see the link between the light of God and the life of God. Without going into greater detail with this possible implication of “God is light,” let’s look at the second one.
It would seem in our passage from 1 John that the more natural interpretation of “God is light” relates chiefly to the holiness of God. In context, it seems that this is the most likely intention because it is contrasted in the same sentence with “in him is no darkness at all”. The flow of John’s argument in the following two verses maintains this contrast of light vs. darkness as it relates to an individual’s walk or daily life. Therefore, it seems best interpreted as a distinction between holiness and sinfulness or perhaps better stated as godliness vs. ungodliness. This leads us to the first test that John provides which he begins with the statement, “If we say”.
John’s test is as follows: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” The parts to this test are simple and have great implications for us today. In his test, John outlines a common If/Then statement of logic. If we, as professing Christians, say that we have fellowship with God, (remember we defined that fellowship last time as being adopted into the family of God, thereby having communion and a relationship with Him) yet we continue to walk in a pattern of sinfulness, then we are liars and our profession is a lie. The application of this test to your own heart should convict you. Are you one of the many Christians in name only who profess Christ but display no visible evidence of being in fellowship with Him? Is your life marked by a pattern and lifestyle of sin, rather than a pursuit of holiness? Do you detest sin and have a burning desire in your heart to love the things of God, namely His Son, His Word, and His people? This is the test that lies before us today. Do you fail or pass?
Not leaving us alone with just the negative implications of the test, John provides the solution for his readers in verse 7: “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.” Here he exhorts genuine believers to walk in holiness, as God is holy, such that we have fellowship with one another and efficacy of Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice. Working through John’s logic backwards we can see that a consequence of Christ’s atonement is cleansing from sin, fellowship in God’s family, and a life marked with holiness. Justification, adoption, and sanctification.
The significance of Christ’s blood here cannot be understated. It’s not to be dismissed or classified as gruesome as so many liberal theologians are apt to do, but must be understood as necessary to bring life to the unbeliever and cleansing from sin. The entire foreshadowing of the OT blood sacrifices is significant to the bloody death of Christ on the cross. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” This echoes the Old Testament passage “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Leviticus 17:11 Christ Himself emphasizes the significance of His blood as marking the establishment of His New Covenant, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” Matthew 26:28 and Paul points out for us in Ephesians 1:7 that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” and again in 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
This is an oft-neglected and misunderstood aspect of Christ’s atonement, but as we’ve seen it’s essential, not for mystical powers as some have claimed, but for its significance of marking the New Covenant in which Christ’s atoning sacrifice brings cleansing and forgiveness of sins and thereby life to the sinner who repents and puts their faith in Him. The test that John lays out for us in the passage should either convict or reassure the hearts and minds of those who read it. Conviction should come to those who understand and realize that their lives are not marked with holiness nor a desire for godliness, but instead are a display of sinful patterns of behavior. If this is you dear reader, then it is time for you to repent and turn from your sins. Turn to Christ in faith and trust in Him for the cleansing and forgiveness of your sin. God alone is holy and it is the righteousness of Christ that you are in need of. Call on Him today.
Believers, this should either be a wake-up call to you or proof of the genuineness of your faith. If you are battling besetting sins, then you need to realize that the mark of a genuine believer is walking in holiness. As we will see in the coming verses, confession of our sins gives evidence of true salvation. Return to God today, confess your sin, and seek a life of godliness.
Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):
- What is the next “test” that John offers his readers?
- If believers are already forgiven of their sins, past, present, and future, why does John exhort a pattern of confession (vs. 1:9)?
- What is the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?
- Using a good Bible dictionary or commentary, define propitiation (vs. 2:2). [Note in some Bible versions this word may be translated as ‘atoning sacrifice’; the Greek word is hilasmos]