1 John 1:5-10 Walk in the Light of God (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
Walk in the Light of God
Please turn in your Bibles to 1 John chapter 1. In the pew Bible, you can find that on page 1210. Last week, we began our new series in 1 John and we looked at the first 4 verses.
They introduced the author and his letter. The purpose of the first four verses was to establish the author’s credibility. He was a disciple of Jesus. Even though the author doesn’t mention his name, it’s fairly clear from the content and from when it was written that this is the apostle John.
And he tells his reason for writing the letter. He wants them to believe in and have fellowship with God through Jesus, just as he does. And really, as we saw last week, all of it comes back to Christ. He is the source of their credibility. And he is the message that they are proclaiming. Why? Because Jesus Christ is God. He existed from the very beginning. He is eternal life. And he came to us, as a man, to bring us life.
So, that’s the first half of chapter 1. The letter is a credible testimony from Jesus and about Jesus.
And now, this morning, the second half of chapter 1: the letter’s message. These verses introduce the letter’s main idea. They are like the theological foundation of the letter. So, let’s turn to them. We’ll start with verse 5 and go to the end of the chapter.
Reading of 1 John 1:5-10
A few years ago, the President of the United States was asked a question: “Have you ever prayed to God for forgiveness?” The President responded, “I am not sure I have.”
This former President had talked about his Christian faith. He claimed to be a Christian. His answer set off a flurry of concern in Christian circles (to put it mildly!). And when follow up questions came, the President said this: “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?" He added, "…I'm an honorable person.”
In those few words, we were given insight into his understanding of God, of sin, and forgiveness. Each of those categories is a central category of the Christian faith. God, sin, and forgiveness. The way we understand each of them and put into practice that understanding reveals our true hearts and our faith.
To my knowledge, no one quoted 1 John 1:5-10 back to the President, but someone could have. It directly speaks to his beliefs. And it’s more than just a corrective. These words are penetrating and dividing words. Look at verse 8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I wonder how this former President would have responded to that verse.
Just to be clear, I’m not making a political statement here. His comments are very relevant to what John is addressing in this letter.
And let me say, these are matters of life and death. It’s critical to understand who God is, the presence of sin in our lives, and what to do about it. If you misunderstand or misapply that understanding, John is saying that you may not be a Christian.
How does that sit with you?
Last week, we talked about the main purpose of the book. It’s to help you know whether your faith is authentic faith. For the true Christian, part of John’s goal is to give you assurance of faith. You know, confidence that you are a believer. Well, it sure sounds like John’s trying to get us to question our faith. Doesn’t it? Verse 10 is similar to verse 8. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Again, it’s a very strong statement on the negative side. If you say you have not sinned, you are not a Christian.
Let me put it this way: in order to give us confidence in our faith, he needs to be clear about what is authentic faith and what it looks like, and what is inauthentic faith and what it looks like.
It’s like John has pulled out his sidewalk chalk. And he’s draws a line across the parking lot. He’s saying, “here’s the line. This one side of the line is true faith. People on this side of the line believe these things and live out their faith in these ways. But here’s the other side of the line – inauthentic faith. People on this side of the line believe these other things and they are not living out a true faith.”
One line, two sides.
He’s drawing a line because he wants them to be on the right side of the line. True faith. “Come over here,” he’s saying. “This is true faith. If you say these other things or live these other ways, that’s not true and right and good.”
And remember, John was writing to a specific church situation. Part of their problem was new teachers teaching views that contradicted what the disciples and apostles had taught them. They didn’t have the New Testament yet to evaluate what was being taught. And so, John needed to tell them what was true and right, so they could evaluate truth from error, light from darkness.
Actually, we can see all that right here in the text. Let’s spend a minute to work through the structure, then come back to work through the meaning.
Look down at verse 5. It begins, “This is the message.” He is saying, “what I am about to write to you summarizes the main point of my letter.” And then notice, this message is not his message. He says, “this is the message we have heard from him.” He’s talking about Jesus. “Don’t believe it just because I, John, am saying it, no, believe it because it’s coming from Jesus, the son of God.” John had just told them all about him in the opening verses – the word of life, eternal, manifested to us.
So then, what is the message? … it’s right there at the end of verse 5. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” That is the chalk line. It’s the dividing line. We’re going to come back in a minute and see why that’s the case.
The rest of the verses, here, 6-10, speak to one side of the line or the other side.
Now look at the beginning of verse 6. It begins with the phrase “If we say…” And now look at the beginning of verse 8 “If we say…” And now look at the beginning of verse 10. “If we say…”
Three times. And each time, John starts with the negative side. The side of the line of false beliefs and false living. Those beliefs and actions indicate an inauthentic faith.
But then, two out of the three times, John also talks about the other side. Look at the beginning of verse 7. “But if…” He’s switching over to the other side of the line – authentic faith. It’s the contrast to the negative “If we say” from verse 6.
Verse 9 is similar. It begins “If…” And it’s referring to verse 8. We’ll see that the idea in verse 9 is the contrast to verse 8.
So, he draws the dividing line, and then he identifies each side of the line.
But John is not telling them something theoretical, something out there. No, this is real to his readers. He uses the phrase “if we say,” because people were actually saying these things. These verses give us a clear indication of what John was hearing and seeing. This is a rubber meets the road letter. We can’t read this without asking ourselves and our church, “which side of the line are we on?”
So, the dividing line – God is light.
And then the back-and-forth description of each side.
What does that mean, though, “God is light?”
John Stott, late pastor and author, put it this way: “Of the statements about the essential being of God, none is more comprehensive than God is light.” Stott said, “It is [God’s] nature to reveal himself, as it is the property of light to shine; and the revelation is of perfect purity and unutterable majesty.”
“God is light” means that his very nature is pure and holy and true. When verse 5 says that “in him is no darkness,” it affirms this. It reveals that there is no unholiness, no injustice, and no impurity in his being. Everything about him is right and good.
And he shines the light of his character and nature. He reveals himself. That’s part of what light does. It means that darkness is exposed. Nothing is hidden from his sight.
In 2010, scientists discovered a new star. Well, the star wasn’t new, the discovery was new. It’s part of the Tarantula Nebula (pretty cool name). They named the star R136A1… just in case you wanted to look it up. The amazing thing about this star is that it is twice as big as scientists thought theoretically possible for stars. It is 300 times bigger than the sun, 7 times hotter than the sun, and millions of times brighter than the sun. Millions. Imagine how bright that would be.
When it comes to God in his grandeur and holiness, his brightness is beyond even our capacity to understand. Yet we can know that he is light. God has revealed it. And the light of his nature exposes all things, and that includes you and me.
God knows you. He knows everything about you. As the author of Hebrews says in chapter 4, “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Everything is revealed and that includes sin. Sin is anything we think, say, do, or don’t do that is contrary to God’s nature as light – contrary to his perfect holiness, justice, and truth.
So, “God is light” describes his holy character and “God is light” describes his illuminating nature. But also, “God is light” describes the path that he reveals for us. That is very relevant to these verses because we’re called to walk in his light. Much of the rest of 1 John is about that. Walking in his light. It’s applied in different ways and different situations.
But it begins here. It begins in these verses. The metaphor that God is light is immediately applied here. John uses this understanding of light and darkness as the dividing line between true faith and counterfeit faith.
The first example of that is verse 6. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” He’s saying, if you say you are a believer in Christ, yet your life does not reflect that belief, then your faith is really an empty faith.
This idea of walking is all through the Scriptures. It’s kind of shorthand for living. It’s how you live your daily lives. What are you doing? What are you thinking? What are you saying? What summarizes your life as lived out? If you are walking in darkness, it means your life is not reflecting God and his light. These verses are saying you are living a lie. Again, the language is strong because the very question that John is addressing is which side of the line are you on.
John’s audience included false teachers who were saying, “all you have to do is believe in God. After that, it doesn’t matter how you live.”
Let me get a little technical here. A false belief called Gnosticism was just appearing in this time period – the latter part of the first century. We call Gnosticism a Christian heresy. It’s a false view that contradicts main tenants of faith. The Gnostics saw all matter, including our physical beings as bad, as evil. Physical matter was unworthy and unholy. They believed the only thing important was a person’s spiritual being. That included our gnosis, our knowledge and what we believe. A pursuit of a higher spirituality was their goal - spiritual experiences disconnected from their bodies. The implication of that belief, was that it didn’t matter how you lived out your life in your body. Your physical body was evil and doomed to destruction. Gnosticism had no categories of morality as related to your physical self.
In these verses, John is confronting Gnosticism head on. The thing is, though, the Gnostic would have been fine with the idea that God is light. It fit in with their pursuit of a higher out-of-body experiential spiritualism. What would have confronted them, however, is how the light of God was to affect their living, their practice. Look how John puts it at the end of verse 6. He says, “if you walk in darkness, you lie and do not practice the truth.”
On the contrary, true faith is a faith that is lived out – both in our minds and in our bodies. Verse 7 goes back to the light metaphor. “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light [meaning Jesus], we have fellowship with one another,” and he adds, “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” In other words, how you live your life testifies to whether your faith in Christ is genuine. Walking in the light means seeking the things of God, pursing his commands, and desiring to please him…
Think about the different areas in your life. Your daily responsibilities, your interactions with family and friends, your finances, the entertainment you watch. Ask yourself… Am I seeking to walk in God’s light in those areas?
We all struggle and fail, but if you have that genuine desire to honor God in your life and you are seeking to pursue that, then verse 7 is about you. The fellowship you claim to have with God and one another is a true fellowship. You are on right side of the line. And because you’re on the right side of the line, you can know that the cleansing blood of Jesus is for you. That’s what John is saying. Walking in the light does not qualify you to be cleansed but it assures you of it.
That’s the first contrast – walking in darkness versus walking in the light.
The second and third false claims are related. Verse 8, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” and verse 10 “If we say we have not sinned, we make him [Jesus] a liar.” The difference in the two false claims is the first is present tense, “I believe I don’t have sin in me now.” The second false claim is past tense, “I believe I have not sinned.” Both are contrary to true faith in Christ.
This is very important. These verses teach that sin is still a reality in the Christian life. Walking in the light does not mean that you no longer sin. No, these verses are clear. Sin still exists in a believers life. To believe that you no longer sin is rejected here.
You ask, “ok, but what’s the difference? How can I walk in the light and yet still be a sinner? If I still sin, am I not walking in the darkness?” That is THE question, here. The answer is this: walking in the light means you are not making a practice of sinning. Rather, as verse 6 says, you are practicing truth. It’s the pattern in your life.
I have found understanding the 3 “P’s” of sin helpful. The penalty, the power, and the presence of sin. The penalty of sin has been dealt with by Christ. And the power of sin has been removed. Sin no longer has power over us. However, we still live with the presence of sin. Again, the penalty and power of sin are no more. The presence of sin sill remains. By the way, I’m not sure where those 3 “P’s” originated. I’ve heard them used by pastor Harry Reader at Briarwood Presbyterian.
And these verses really clearly teach that understanding. For the true Christian…
•The power of sin has been removed. We’re able, now, to walk in God’s light and not to walk in darkness. The Holy Spirit is not emphasized in these verses, but he is the one who enables us to walk in the light.
•The penalty of sin has been removed. That’s there at the end of 7. “the blood of Jesus, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin.” There is no more condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
•But we cannot say that we no longer sin. As verse 8 and 10 say, that is deception and a lie. No, sin is still present in us. And that’s the point of verse 9. We’re to confess our sin to God. It’s a recognition that the presence of sin is still in us. And I would add, being in the habit of coming to God in confession is part of what it means to walk in the light.
For the children here. I want to make sure that you are understanding me. There’s a big difference between coming to Jesus for the first time seeking his forgiveness… and confessing your sin daily. The difference is, when you first believe by faith (and it doesn’t matter whether you remember when that happened), when you first believe in Jesus, God forgave you, cleansed you. Jesus died in your place. You are his. He will never let you go. When you come to God daily to seek his forgiveness, it’s not because you need to be saved again. No, you’ve been saved. Rather, it’s because you want to be more like Jesus. That’s his call for you. That’s what it means to walk in his light. I hope that make sense. I would love to talk more if that would be helpful.
So, we still live with the reality of sin in our lives, even though the penalty and power have been removed. If someone asks you, “Have you have ever prayed to God for forgiveness?” Would you say as the former President said, “I’m not sure I have?” No! Your answer needs to be “Yes! Even though the penalty of sin has been paid for, I still sin and need to come to him.”
I’m pretty sure that no one here would actually say or believe that you no longer sin. For us, though, it’s a little more subtle. Instead of making a blanket statement that we don’t sin, we pick certain areas of sin. And what do we do? We justify our sin, rename our sin so that it doesn’t sound like sin, we minimize it… somehow, we try to explain it away or make it seem not sinful. Part of the call here for believers is not to lie to ourselves or God about our sin, but instead to identify it and come to God in confession. And then to be renewed to walk in God’s light.
Now, I want to recognize something. We’ve been talking today in generalities. God is light in general terms. Walking in darkness in general terms. Walking in the light in general terms. Sin in a general sense. And you may have this internal feeling like, “ok, I see the line that John is drawing. On one side, true faith seeing that God is light, and the call to walk in that light and acknowledging our sin… and on the other side, false faith, displayed by a denial of sin and a life that is walking in darkness. But besides the general categories of God, sin, and forgiveness, can you give me example? I need details to think through these.”
Well, I’m glad you asked! Because as we work through the rest of this letter, John goes there. He teaches us more about love, and living, about God and forgiveness and more about Christ.
But this here, is where it begins. Understanding that there is a line and what that line is. “God is light and in him is no darkness.” Understanding God as light and walking in that light…. seeking him and forgiveness in him. And understanding the reality of darkness… of sin, of false belief, and lies.
God is saying, through the apostle John, that he wants you to be in his light. Are you in his light?