Saturday, 2 October 2021

The one big thing you really need to know - 1 John 1:5-10

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                Introduction

If you saw a church or a bunch of believers … unbelievers for that matter … in a load of bother and you could tell them just ONE Christian truth, what would it be?

What is the fundamental awareness of God, would you say, that comes out as first and foundational?

Now, that’s got to be a very relevant question in an age when background levels of awareness of God and the Gospel are apparently decreasing pretty steadily, as people's spans of attention are shortened in our increasingly digital age.

What truth about God needs to be portrayed and applied to those who don’t believe yet, or are distracted from seriously considering the truth about God as their newspapers increasingly regularly carry some ministerial or church scandal or other, or some denial of a fundamental Biblical moral principle by ‘the church’ … to their great confusion and deception about where THEY stand with God, propagated by those who are supposed to be leaders?

What truth do believers most need reinforced in their understanding to keep them from theological error and out of moral failure?

And what truth do the religious but not redeemed most need presented to them to get them on track … or which truth do those believers lured away by the fine sounding appeals and pernicious permissiveness of false teachers need to rescue them from their slippery slope?

That is PRECISELY John’s question as he tackles the problem he is faced with in the house churches that he is leading in the area around Ephesus.

As he lays a foundation for the establishment of those churches in God’s truth, and in God's ways, which truth is to be the foundation stone?

Well here it comes ...

 

1)   God is non-negotiable light

For John, this is the absolutely foundational truth that governs the rest of what he is going to say in this book and also for the entirety of humanity’s relationship to God … and John puts it absolutely plainly and succinctly:


v. 5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

 

V. 5 picks up on and explains v. 3’s “What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ)

The message described in v. 5 then is picking up and explaining the things that John and the other disciples had got from the Lord Himself. 

So please notice that John roots the authority for what He is saying in the teaching he ‘heard from Him’ … that is to say this is the sort of thing John said already in the opening verses of the book … “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”

The authority for what I am telling you, says John, rests with the Lord Himself Who told not just me but all the others that this is the truth.

So, John is emphatically NOT pointing to HIMSELF as the authority for this, but to the Lord Himself and what the Lord has taught John and shown him.

We are NOT the authority for what we say about the Lord.

No.

The Lord’s followers are not the Lord’s authenticators but His witnesses, and must always do as John so strikingly does in this case.

What the Lord taught on this subject of light, of course, is that He the Lord Jesus, is the Light of the World.

The Lord Himself very explicitly backed that assertion in John 8 & 9 by healing the blind man in John 9:6 & 7.

So John is pretty clear in what he is talking about because he is asserting here what he heard with his ears from the Lord and what the Lord attested before John’s very own eyes.

This is true truth, in that it is extremely well attested ABOUT the Lord Jesus, but also in that it corresponds with what the Old Testament and the New Testament too tell us about the character of God … and that’s where John now takes us first …


            i) God is light, v. 5a

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: 

God is light”

So what do you mean, John, by ‘light’?

φῶς (fōs) 'light'

light; daylight; firelight

This word is a common one and occurs in the Bible about 72 times.

It refers to the source or dispenser of spiritual light, Mt. 5:14; Jn. 1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9; 8:12; 9:5 and also to pure radiance, perfect brightness, as here in 1John 1:5.

What’s happening here I particular is that John is using darkness and light as polar opposites, but it is significant that he uses light when other opposites would have been available if that’s all there was to it.

Light is an apt metaphor for God because it was the first fundamental property of the universe that was created by God, which created the conditions where life could be created and sustained … so it had to be first to be foundational.

It reveals what would otherwise be hidden and could be a danger.

And it makes life a lot more pleasant … we’d all prefer to be walking in light than groping in the dark, wouldn’t we?

Now, we have to be a bit careful with the statement that God IS light not to take it too literally … we know He dwells in unapproachable light and we know that in the picture language of Revelation, the Lamb is the light of the Heavenly City.

But we do not equate God with light in the sense that light is God.

That would be to fall into the trap of worshipping light sources like the Heavenly bodies and that amounts to pantheism … the belief not that God is behind everything but that he resides in everything.

And that is just bad old-fashioned paganism.

No - light is a metaphor when applied to the personal God, but it is an appropriate metaphor because it burns away the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it … but on the other hand light overcomes darkness.

‘Light’ speaks of clarity, of purity and (this is more apparent to rural than urban dwellers perhaps, but it is a fact known to anyone who keeps livestock) it speaks of disinfection.

Long before we knew of ultraviolet filters killing off viruses during a pandemic we knew that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’.

Now, you won’t read that in many of the Bible commentaries, but you’ll hear it from the old boys leaning on the gate chewing the fat.

And it is TRUE!

God is light … the foundational THING YOU NEED TO KNOW, says John, because of the fundamental character of this light which he takes us on to consider immediately …

           ii)  God is non-negotiable light, v. 5b

So often in Scripture, something pretty positive and appealing gets told us to start with but then the logical negative consequence gets spelled out and THAT is the bit that bites.

‘God is light’ … oh, there’s nice!

But then … ‘in Him there is no darkness at all’ is the bit that starts to really locate the rubber on the road and engage with our actual human nature.

v. 5b “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

            Well, that is what you might call simply an absolute statement.

God has this metaphor set to Him that describes absolute, disinfecting or infection, death and decay destroying light … you can’t negotiate yourself out of that … but He is also THERE – very real ad in the space – so what can you do as a human in this situation?

This character of the God Who is real and whose space in fact you are IN … this leaves us and all other human beings with just two life options to navigate your way through this world with.

2)   There are therefore two life options, vv. 6-7

You see, the consequence of what we have learned about the essential nature of God is that there are simply two clear options … non-negotiable options … in how we relate to this non-negotiably holy God.

If you want to relate well to the God Whose fundamental nature is first of all described using the metaphor of light, you’re going to have no hope of doing that if your choice is to live a life full of darkness.

But John sets that out in an interesting way …

Following the theme statement in 1:5, God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, the author presents a series of three claims and counterclaims that make up the first unit of 1 John (1:5-2:2). 

The three claims begin with “if” (1:6, 8, 10) and the three counterclaims begin with “but if” (1:7, 9; 2:1) in the English translation.

Verses 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 contain references to the consequences of this duality of light and darkness, and this involves a duality between light and its opposite which is darkness.

These are what we call ‘if … then’ statements.

Here are the ‘if’s

 

·       v. 6 ‘If we say we have fellowship with Him’, but walk in the darkness …

·       v. 8 ‘If we say we have no sin …’

·       v. 10 ‘if we say we have not sinned …’

Each of those leads into a statement of the consequences of those things, running up to the huge crescendo that breaks over us in the last ‘then’ statement.

·       v. 6 ‘then we lie and we do not know the truth’ (ouch!)

·       v. 8 ‘then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (double ouch!)

·       v. 10 ‘then we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us’ (mega stupendous ‘ouch!’ So huge that you don’t even want to think of going there!)

 

So, the claim to be in fellowship with the God Who is light (and whose fellowship is the passport to fellowship in the Church) while continuing to sin ‘with a high hand’ is a LIE, says John, and leads into self-deception if that pattern of life is not disrupted by repentance and confession.

Sustained self-deception which rationalises sin away makes the God Who reveals Himself to us through this metaphor of light …

Deceiving yourself about sin by rationalising it away like that implicitly makes Him out to be a liar in all that He says on the subject.

Now, John is fundamentally and gloriously a Gospel man, just the same way his God is a Gospel God, so this logical progression in John’s reasoning is interrupted and disrupted by the Gospel truth that keeps popping out in vv. 7 & 9 that Jesus’s blood cleanses us from all the sin we confess rather than deny … but that right there is the absolutely clear issue. 

And yet please take very good note that John does NOT expose this harsh reality without pointing us all along to the glories of the Gospel of Grace … which is applied consistently to repentance and faith.

Still yet the exclusive duality is emphasised too.

OK, so this truth about God being non-negotiable light leaves EVERYONE with two options in life.

Firstly, you can …

 

a)     Walk without Him in the Dark, v. 6

 

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

‘To walk’ in a Hebrew language context refers to the WAY a person lives, the WAY a person behaves … you get that in Genesis 5:24, Deuteronomy 5:33 and Psalm 1:1 for example (“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
 …”)

 It’s a about having a certain cast of mind which leads you to live out the consequences of that mindset in an on-going and settled way.

The walk is consistent with the mind-set, and that’s the point here.

The walk REVEALS what the mindset ACTUALLY is.

Now, the context of this statement in 1:6 indicates clearly that the progressive (continuative or durative) aspect of the present tense must be in view here.

The relationship of the phrase ‘keep on walking’ to ‘if we say’ is very important for understanding the problem expressed in 1:6. 

So …

·       If someone should say (εἴπωμεν, eipōmen) that he has fellowship with God, and yet continues walking (περιπατῶμεν, peripatōmen) in the darkness, 

·       then it follows (in the apodosis, the “then” clause) that he is lying and not practicing the truth.

We need to get a fresh grip on something here: lying is pretty serious.

We need to underline that because there has been a huge amount of lying going on in public life and therefore all across our news and social media, and this has unsurprisingly, to some extent, normalised that sort of behaviour in our society.

Lying has got well on the road to becoming unaccountable and utterly acceptable.

It has become an accepted pattern and way of life.

In the Bible, though, that is the opposite of what is acceptable, to the extent that habitual lying is characterised as lying alongside some pretty vile things that similarly exclude people from Heaven:

 

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’

Revelation 21:8

 

This verse is saying that to claim to have fellowship with Him but walk in the darkness puts you into this category … you’re a liar, and in Scripture (though not in our contemporary society) that puts you in a pretty sorry situation indeed. 

HOWEVER, it is the general on-going ‘this is the general mind-set which leads generally to the working out of that in the life’ context of this rather than any one-off occurrence that this is all about, as we’re about to see soon.

What I’m trying to say here is that sometimes, as we know, a genuine light bulb will blow … what’s MOST revealing is not that the bulb’s gone and blown, but what always gets done consistently next when it does blow.

It’s walking in the darkness that’s in view in John’s teaching, not stepping into shadow and then out of it.

And this becomes apparent now very soon …

The first option for life is to walk in the darkness but the second one (and the options ARE binary … it IS one or the other) … the second option is to walk in the light

 

b)    Walk with Him in the Light, v. 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, 

purifies us from all sin.

 

We’ve looked at what ‘light’ is about and at what ‘walk’ is about …

But LOOK what it does if we connect those together and DO them!

 Two things:

i)               The fellowship with God we are pursuing creates fellowship with one another

STRANGELY John does not say that by walking in the light we enjoy fellowship with God.

That would be an obvious thing to say.

But this verse introduces the thought that fellowship with God and fellowship with the Christian community are intimately related.

Karen Jobes’s 2014 commentary says: “Only when believers are walking in the light can we have fellowship with God, a fellowship that is embodied as fellowship with one another.”

Now, I think that is helpful.

Church is our fellowship with God EMBODIED in fellowship with one another.

We’re saying that Christian fellowship with one another is the visible, practical embodiment of the fellowship with Himself that the Lord has created for His people … those who’ve turned from sin, trusted Christ and are walking in fellowship with Him embody their fellowship with Him in their fellowship in the Church.

THAT is what constitutes the Church, and NOTHING else does. 

THAT is what church is and that is what no OTHER thing is.

But there’s some more that it does when we connect walking and the light by ourselves walking in the light.

It gives rise to fellowship with one another, which is precious, but then something else happens as well:

ii)              The atonement becomes a benefit that is OURS 

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.

 

‘Sin’ here, ἁμαρτία is “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness” see 1 John 5:17 where ἁμαρτία [hamartia] and ἀδικία (unrigteousness) are related. 

This word occurs 17 times in 1 John, of which 11 are singular and 6 are plural, so it can mean both ‘sin’, the term we use to describe the fundamental character and innate tendency of human beings to veer away from God’s will and also ‘sinS’ … the symptoms of the underlying ailment of sin.  

From all sin. 

Now, sometimes a distinction between singular “sin” and plural “sins” gets made in this way: 

Some would see the singular all sin of 1:7 as a reference to sinfulness before conversion and the plural sins of 1:9 as a reference to sins committed after one became a Christian. 

This amounts to making 1:7 refer to initial justification and 1:9 to sanctification. But the phrase all sin in 1:7 is so comprehensive that it can hardly be limited to pre-conversion sins, and the emphasis on “walking” in 1:7 strongly suggests that the Christian life is in view (not one’s life before conversion). 

In 1 John 1:8 sin appears as a condition or characteristic quality, which in 1:10 is regarded as universal. 

Apart from forgiveness in Christ it results in alienation from God (2:15) and spiritual death (3:14). 

But according to 1 John 1:7, cleansing from sin is possible by the blood (representing the sacrificial death) of Jesus.

So …

if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,

{There’s the condition}

we have fellowship with one another,

{There’s the first consequence of walking in the light}

and the blood of Jesus, his Son, 

purifies us from all sin.

{There’s the second consequence of walking in the light}

So … as that’s John’s analysis of the two available options for how to live your life, two criteria or touchstones of authenticity for professed Christian faith emerge from that.

We said two weeks ago that John gives us three criteria of Christian authenticity that spell out the acronym ‘OLD’ … Obedience to God, Love to one another and (sound) Doctrine.

This first criterion John gives us, arising out of God’s fundamental character described as ‘Light’, comes under the tag of obedience to God.

RENEWED and RENEWING obedience to God … and that’s an important thing to notice what he’s saying here.

It is the commitment to obedience not an always perfect achievement of it that is actually in view.

 

3)   John’s Criteria of Christian authenticity, vv. 8-10

a)    Unrepentant, v. 8

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

And someone will surely say, ‘how DARE you John be so judgemental?!

i)               Judge not!

What qualifies YOU to say such a thing about anybody?

It is NOT for you to judge!

Well, a most puritanical attitude to the perceived sins of others does seems to be all over social media and drives the strongest sales for newspapers so you might in John’s position have shouted back ‘HYPOCRISY!’

But that isn’t the route that John takes.

Absolutely not, it is NOT for me to judge, John might say.

But what I’m telling you is what I’ve seen and heard and (to give just one example) I got this from the Lord of Life Himself, the Judge of all the Earth, so to quote His first recorded sermon at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel when He set off into Galilee:

‘The time has come,’ he said. 

‘The kingdom of God has come near. 

Repent and believe the good news!’

Mark 1:15

And then of course, while I think of it, John could just as easily cite the instance in Mark 2 where some Jewish scribes who were Pharisees were criticising Jesus for welcoming the fellowship of sinners Jesus distanced these very religious people from Him and He from them:

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’

 Mark 2:17

Those who think they are righteous are out beyond the pale.

We have it on the authority of the Judge.

And THIS is what we have on the authority of the Judge …

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

ii)              Self-deception

Now, this issue of self-deception is – in practice – one that rises up to plague all human life.

And Christians know all about it too.

Self-deception is human, and as such it affects both Christians and non-Christians because it is part of all humans’ fallen psychology.

We got it in our dose from the devil back in Eden.

Ever since Adam tried to rationalise his sin by saying ‘the woman gave it to me and I ate it’ … which sounds reasonable … humanity has been rationalising lousy choices away.

Vigilance throughout life is what is called for, turning from each and every self-deceiving thought and act, because …

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

If we claim we haven’t sinned as our consistent response, then that’s a pretty poor indication of where we are with God.

However, the consistent response of repentance from all sin detected is NOT the psychologically pathological phenomenon that modern psychology would lead you to think … not in the case of a believer in any event.

That’s because of the second criterion of authenticity John gives us to judge by.

A genuine Christian is characterised by consistent repentance … the repentance that leads on to receiving God’s mercy, and to life. 

b)    Repentant, v. 9

The New English Translation is helpful here: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.”

The original here is all about the RESULT that arises.

There’s a word used here ἵνα (hina) followed by the subjunctive which is here equivalent to the infinitive of result (an “ecbatic” or consecutive use of ἵνα according to BDAG 477 s.v. 3 where 1 John 1:9 is listed as a specific example.)

The translation with participles (“forgiving,…cleansing”) conveys this idea of result.

If we confess our sins the result is that the faithful AND righteous God responds by FORGIVING us our sins and by CLEANSING us from all unrighteousness … that is presented as the every-time result of repentance.

Conclusion

Christian authenticity is tethered in Ethical Monotheism and Ethical Monotheism builds out from the very nature of the God Who is light.

He repudiates sin from the depths of His heart.

Being the God Who is light, He doesn’t repudiate sin from on-board because it’s NEVER resided in His heart … but He repudiates it from His world and He wants it FROM there!

And being as He wants it gone from His world, the person who has turned from darkness to walk in His light wants it out from God’s world too and repudiates their own sin from their own heart … because it HAS got itself into their heart, His light has shown this sin up in their hearts and they’re baling it out of their bilges while He holds their boat up because they don’t want to be sucked down and shipwrecked because of it.

If you’re treating flooded bilges like a jacuzzi and enjoying your foul bilge-water then the chance you’re a genuine believer is close to zero.

Here’s Jobes (again) “The truth cannot be in those who deny their sin, because by definition a Christian is one who lives by the truth that Jesus died to cleanse their sin. Thus to reassure his readers of their eternal life (5:130, John must address the problem of ongoing sin in the Christian’s life.”

So John is at pains to show that WALKING in the light and WALKING in the dark are not binary.

Right and wrong ARE binary, but in Christ human nature is still tinged with sin … and saying you’re not makes God out to be a liar … the God Who sent His one and only Son to deal with our on-going sin.

Next time we’ll look a bit more at the atonement which is the heart of the Gospel and what it means for US to live as people of the light, but as John has warned us of the criteria of true and false professions of Christian faith as these relate to the way we relate to God in repentance and faith or the practical denial of it, I want to leave you with the glorious truth of the affirmation of mercy to genuine repentant faith, because here’s the truth:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

That is a verse that’s worth LEARNING!

I hope its converse won’t prove true of either you or me.

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