The first epistle of John is incredibly challenging to me. There are so many points in which I am challenged and have to reevaluate my own theology and living. Today’s passage is not different to that.
After giving us a strong eye-witness account in the first four verses, he now gives us the content of the message. He writes simply in verse 5: “God is light!” But what does that mean? Does this make an ontological statement (i.e., a statement about the very essence of God) or does it have more of an ethical tone? Or could it refer to both? Do we need to separate the two?
Though no clear distinction needs to be maintained, this is not a metaphorical but an ethical statement as will become clear in verse 7. That God is light is now stated in the emphatic negative (double negative) – “in Him there is no darkness whatsoever!” God and darkness are not compatible. Pure light casts out darkness. There is no darkness to be found, because God is light.
What now follows in verse 6 is a negative evaluation for the faith community (and the individual within it). But let me first clarify that the term “fellowship” denotes more than mere association; it normally entails a commitment to a common purpose (e.g. the proclamation of God’s message) and is created by God which is shown in verse 7.
John starts the conditional sentence “if we say we have fellowship with him” and ends that conditional sentence with two notions wrongdoings. The first is that “we lie” and the second that “we do not practice the truth” (which pretty much amounts to the same conclusion). But how is it that we cannot claim fellowship with him? Or better: Under what condition doe we lie? Here John is very clear because after he says “if we say we have fellowship with him” he continues “while we walk in darkness”. So the argument is clear: since God is light (and him there is no darkness at all) those who walk in darkness do not have fellowship with God.
So, what is the lie about? It is about our relationship to God. There can be none if God is light and if light does not associate with darkness; as it was also written in John 3:20-21 “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God” (ESV). Which means that in John’s Gospel to do truth is not to do evil. In 1 John this might then indicate that the believer who does practice truth is living according to the light and avoids sin (see Kruse, 63).
It is interesting to observe that the author actually never identifies what is actually meant by “walking in darkness” or “walking in light” (but we might get a glimpse from the Gospel of John 3:19-2 which is partly quoted in the previous paragraph).
It comes as a surprise that John does not say here in verse 7 that if we walk in the light we have fellowship with God, but he emphasizes that we have fellowship with one another. To this Kruse says: “there is no real fellowship with God which is not expressed in fellowship with other believers” (64). This will be treated especially in 4:7-21.
How do we understand the clause that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin? How does such a claim fit into this context? “One lesson that may be learned from this second consequence is that walking in the light does not mean that those who do so never sin, but that they do not seek to hide that fact from God” (Kruse, 64-65). Purification from sin seems also to be equivalent of the forgiveness thereof (see Jer 33:8 “I will purify them from all the sin that they committed against me. I will forgive all their sins which they committed in rebelling against me”).
In verse 8 John intensifies the lying motif. In verse 6, “we lie” but here we “deceive ourselves” which will ultimately result in that we make God a liar (v. 10). Kruse writes: “It is worth noting that to claim to have fellowship with God while walking in darkness makes a person a liar (1:6); to claim to be without sin involves lying to oneself (1:8) and makes God out to be a liar as well (1:10)” (66).
A note on “truth” by De la Potterie (Ignace de la Potterie, ‘The Truth in Saint John’, in The Interpretation of John, ed. John Ashton (Philadelphia/London: Fortress/SPCK, 1986) 64; quoted by Kruse, 67-68):
The Johannine idea of truth, then, is quite different from the intellectualist conception of the Greeks, for whom the truth was the reality, the essence of being, that is revealed to the spirit. In hellenistic dualism, this reality is transferred to the sphere of the divine, and consequently cannot be attained except by escaping from the world, and fleeing to the realm of light; but the cosmic dualism underlying this conception is liable to cut the world off from God. For John, on the other hand, truth is found in the word of the Father turned to mankind, incarnate in Christ, illuminated through the action of the Spirit. What men are required to do with respect to the truth is not to win it by intellectual endeavour; it is to receive and enter into it in faith, to submit to it and to live by it.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” is stated now with the opposite – the remedy – for such a predicament. In verse 9 we find the term “confession”. This one is not often found in the NT (see Matt 3:6; Mark 1:15; Acts 19:18; and James 5:16), but it is interesting to observe that in all those circumstances confession is a public rather than a private matter. And if we do confess, God (taken to be the referent of “he” in this verse) is both faithful and just (see Exodus 34:6-7).
In NT writings we see only three instances where God is proclaimed to be faithful (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; and 2 Cor 1:18). Kruse again observes that in each of those passages “God’s faithfulness is expressed in providing for his people in various ways (presenting believers blameless on the Day of our Lord Jesus; providing a means of escape from temptation; and remaining true to his word by fulfilling his promises)”. Therefore he maintains that here “God’s faithfulness is his trustworthiness in fulfilling the commitments he has made to his people.” Or “God is faithful to believers in that he is carrying through on his commitment to forgive and purify those who confess their sins, something which necessitated the giving of his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for their sins (4:9–10, 14)” (69). God is faithful and just and takes care of His people. We can bathe in the goodness of God, if we confess our sins and do not try to keep them hidden.
In verse 10 John focuses on the action of sinning, whereas in verse 8 he emphasized the state of sin. Again we have another “if” sentence. The result of us saying that we have not sinned comes to a climax in that we actually make God a liar.
John starts out chapter two with first person singular pronoun (“I”) which we encounter for the first time in 1 John. The addressees are called “little children” which connotes an intimate relationship of the readers with the author. The purpose he states in his writing here is that we “may not sin”; sin is the enemy and need not to be hindering the fellowship with God and His children (i.e., the children of light). If we do fail, however, we should not hide it, but confess it, putting it in the open arena (which takes away the battleground for Satan), because we do have an “advocate” with God the Father. [On Christ being an advocate see the earlier blog post: http://afoolsthought.blogspot.com/2010/12/sitting-at-right-hand-of-god.html]
Verse 2 of chapter 2 gives the grounds for the possibility of sins being forgiven. Christ is the “atoning sacrifice”! Kruse again: “Clues as to what the author meant by saying that Jesus Christ is ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’ in 2:2 will have to be sought within the immediate context. And the idea of the atoning sacrifice here is in juxtaposition with the idea of advocacy” (73). We also need to take a look at 4:10 where “the author declares that God himself sent his Son to be that atoning sacrifice. There is no hint of the pagan notion of propitiation overcoming the reluctance of an arbitrary deity. For God himself takes the initiative in providing the propitiatory sacrifice which is needed if our sins are to be forgiven” (Kruse, 74).
God – who is light – provided a way for fellowship with Him. In his Son God has reconciled the entire world with Himself (see Colossians 1:20) and there is now peace with Him. Let us be careful, therefore, and see if we are walking in light as He is light.
We do have an advocate within and without!