We start a five-week walk through the Beloved Apostle John’s first letter. As you may have noticed, there was no OT reading in our service today. This is due to the emphasis in the church calendar to consider what the resurrection of Jesus means for the Church. That is, we read from Acts instead of the OT during this season right after the Resurrection—a forty-day period that ends on Pentecost Sunday.
You’re going to notice several aspects in this letter that I want you to be aware of before I read our passage today. Each of these elements should be read as a continuation of John’s Gospel. As we work through it together, I will reference some of these elements from John’s Gospel, but of course will not be able to mention all of them.
The earthiness of the Christian faith
Light and Darkness
Love and Obedience
Abiding in God
It would be beneficial to read John’s Gospel in one hand and 1John in the other.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
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. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Eternal life is about life right now…on earth. John 17.3: “This is eternal life…they know you God.” It is, of course, life with God in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. But that life is a fulfillment of and a continuation of the eternal life that we start to live here on earth. Have you considered that the new eyes and new heart and new life you have received by the Spirit of God when you first came to know God is the heart, mind, and life you will enjoy God forever?
We see this earthiness of the life we have from the beginning of John’s letter. Verses 1-3. Note the senses involved in what John conveys to his readers: Heard. Seen with our eyes. Touched with our hands. That which we have seen and heard we proclaim.
At the time John was writing this letter, there were the beginnings of a heresy going around called Docetism. It comes from the Greek word dokeo, which means “to see.” This teaching taught that God did not really and truly become human, but that he only appeared to do so. This is the easy way to reconcile really hard teaching in the Christian life. We try to make it palatable and understandable—confining it to our finite mind. How can the Infinite become finite? Well, it can’t therefore it only appears to be finite. He’s a mirage. BUT this is not the Christian way. Earth is not bad. Soil is not unclean. The entire Creation is resplendent with Christ’s glory. The Creator.
This is why John tells us that the Resurrected Jesus ate fish for breakfast with his disciples. And this is why he is at pains to show us that the very same eternal Word of God from the first chapter of his Gospel—“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” This self-same God blessed bread and ate it. He was baptized. He took baths. He changed clothes. He cried real tears and laughed real laughter. “That which was from the beginning” was made manifest—he not only appeared…he ate and drank and sang.
If we’re not careful, we can make our faith very ephemeral. Disconnected from the stuff of life. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are meant to float on clouds above the cares of the world. But the beauty of the Gospel is that it redeems men and women. It manifests itself by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind.
The Christian faith is not one disconnected from reality. The physical manifests the spiritual. The spiritual necessarily works itself out in flesh and blood. The very story of all of our salvation comes through the hearing of the proclaimed message. Without the hammer, anvil, and stirrup of the ear, there can be no confessing with the tongue. Embracing this reality helps us to see the utterly practical nature of the Gospel. The Christian life is not merely about ideas and knowledge…it is about life. Yes, eternal life.
Verse 5 serves as the banner over the rest of the chapter. This is the message we have…
This earthiness works itself out with the conditions John walks through in the second half of our text. A list of five (5) conditional statements show the importance of what we do with our hands and mouths and eyes.
Verse 6: If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, [then] we lie and do not practice the truth.
John is at pains to show that allegiances are black and white. To use his terminology—light and darkness. You cannot live in the shadows and say you are in the light. This is a HUGE tendency here in our culture where people walked down and aisle or raised a hand or even led a Bible Study for some time. As time goes on, the true allegiances of the heart are brought to the light. When this happens that person has to reckon with their true allegiance. Will they bring it out into the light or will they retreat into the dark and keep their sin safe and secure.
As God invites us to deeper intimacy, he’s beckoning us into more light. To be closer to him. This oftentimes comes through adversity.
By virtue of living and breathing you are doing. We are constantly doing something. Either we are lying or we are, literally, “doing the truth”. The truth of the Christian life is lived out. It is acted upon, not merely a truth to be ascended to. It is a truth that grabs you and moves you.
We will see next that abiding in Christ (in the light) means abiding in his community.
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.
This is the converse of the previous verse. We see that living the Christian life is a perpetual walking and breathing. It is much like what we will be seeing this summer. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a pretty pasty white guy. When Ashley and I first got married, I learned just how much of a sun baby she was. We went to the beach with her family one July 4th week and I wanted to show her that I could hang with her and all the other sun worshipers, so I laid on the beach for several hours. My prior length of time in the sun was about 30 minutes. That night, I couldn’t hold any food down. I had sun poisoning. You go to the beach and you can tell those who have been in the sun longer than those who haven’t. The Christian life is one of living in the light and being changed from one shade of glory to another.
Verse 8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
To guard us from pride and from thinking that walking in the light means we are without sin, John reminds us that the emphasis of the Christian life is the sun that shines on us. We do not produce the light. We walk in the light. God is not expecting you to manufacture some kind of inherent goodness within you. You have, indeed, been made in the image of God…but the life we are called to live is one of enjoying and basking in the glory of Another. In this way we see that the light is a safe place to show that we have blemishes. We have imperfections. We have sin. This is one of the purposes of the light.
To take the previous illustration a little further, but hopefully not too far!, when I get in my bathing suit this summer, those around me will see my imperfections. More specifically, they will see moles on my skin. This could be an embarrassing thing, or it could be a protection for me. Imagine that my dear wife sees a mole on my back that I cannot see. She sees it in May at the beginning of the summer and then she notices in August that that mole has changed shape. It’s grown! “Hey Babe, you probably need to go to a dermatologist.” Not merely to change the way we look as we walk in the Light, but it points out things that can be detrimental to us.
The light is a place we can be healed. It shows us our imperfections and it overwhelms us by Jesus’ perfection and love for us in light of that sin. This is the point of the next verse! The point of being brought to the light is to be healed. To be cleansed. To be set free. Not to condemn.
Verse 9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But the ability to confess is often avoided because we don’t like to admit how messed up we are. You and I can hear this beautiful news this morning, that we are loved and accepted and welcomed by God and yet run away from the very place he wants to do his work of surgery.
Verse 10: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
If we lie and say we don’t have sin, then we make him a liar. Takes our lives up a notch. God wants to live his life through you. The Christian life is meant to be a life of congruence. One of integrity. One of honesty. There is safety here. There is healing here. The sooner and the more frequent we make these confessions, the more opportunity we have for healing. Instead of wishing the mole would go away or simply because we can’t see it we claim that it doesn’t exist. The Gospel gives us the courage and confidence to confess and come to the only place that it can be healed.
But we have to ask why does John speak so candidly and directly about living in the light and a life of integrity? Why? He gives three reasons in this text. And we’ll work backward.
Verse 9 is so that, quite simply, we will be cleansed and be forgiven. God is standing at the ready to forgive even the most heinous sin in your life. He is faithful when you have been faithless. Maybe you have been walking in dark. He standing ready to receive you! He will make good on his word to forgive you. He is just. What he says, he will surely do. He split the Red Sea. He resurrected his Crucified Son. Will he not surely receive you and wash you?
John has a second reason in Verse 4. It’s a self-serving reason in some respects. He proclaims the glory of the Gospel so that his joy may be complete…brought to its fullness. Have you considered that the folks you and I interact with everyday can bring you joy? They are not meant to merely be hindrances to your joy. Even though you may think so many days. They are God’s means to bring you even more joy. Every time you draw near to that one who is unlovely or annoying, seeking to enjoy the Light with them, your joy is magnified. Like a magnifying glass on an ant, the joy burns up those tiny annoyances in our lives.
John gives one more reason in Verse 3. It’s not just about bringing someone to the Light, as in a “See, I told you so!” Rather, this magnification of our joy, the bringing to its fullness is when we are changed and fellowship with one another. As each of us is along the way we are being changed, shade by shade…and the beauty and sufficiency and glory of the sun helps us enjoy all that he has for us even more!