“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:7
As stated in previous articles, the book of I John is not written to non-Christians telling them how to get to heaven, but to genuine Christians instructing them how to enjoy intimate fellowship or closeness with the apostolic eyewitnesses, and ultimately with God the Father and God the Son (1:3-4). Hence, it is not surprising that John begins the body of his letter with a discussion on fellowship. In I John 1:5-2:2 he shares basic principles for having fellowship with the Lord.
Today we will look at the first condition John addresses for having fellowship with God. “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5). John speaks of “the message” that he and the other apostolic eyewitnesses “heard from” the Lord Jesus (1:5a) Whom they had heard, seen, and touched (1:1-2). Christ taught the apostles “that God is light” (15b). The nature of God as light determines the conditions for fellowship with Him. 1 If we want to experience close fellowship with God, we must embrace the fact that He “is light.”
When John says, “God is light,” he is probably thinking of Jesus’ words, “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). 2Evans explains, “The function of light is to reveal things as they truly are. Light exposes. If you shine a light down a city alley in the middle of night, you’ll see cockroaches scatter because they want to do their dirty work in secret. If you want God’s personal presence and activity in your life, you must be willing to allow His light to expose your sinful thoughts, attitudes, speech, and actions that are inconsistent with His character.” 3
As “light,” God reveals His absolute holiness which both exposes our sin and condemns it. So, if anyone walks in the darkness, he or she is hiding from the truth which the Light reveals (cf. John 3:19-20). 4
Next John tells us “In Him [God] there is no darkness at all” (1:5c). “Darkness represents sin and anything contrary to the character of God.” 5 There is nothing sinful or deceiving about God’s character. God cannot produce darkness or sin.
And as light, God cannot be contaminated. He cannot be in the presence of our sin. Psalm 5:4 says, “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You.” This is why Lucifer and his fallen angels had to leave when they rebelled against the Most High God (Ezekiel 28:15-19; Isaiah 14:12-14). Evil has no part in heaven and no part of God. 6
The Bible tells us that all people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). How then can sinful people be close to a sinless God? More pertinent to John’s epistle, how can sinful Christians get close to a sinless God? John will answer this in this section.
John writes, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (I John 1:6). Notice that John includes himself and his Christians readers (cf. 2:12-14; 5:13) when he uses the word “we” in this verse which means Christians are capable of walking in darkness. When Christians claim to be close to God (“have fellowship with Him”), but they are dishonest and distant from God, they “lie and do not practice the truth.” John understood that Christians can claim to be in fellowship with God while living in disobedience to Him (“walk in darkness”). Such a claim is a “lie” and failure to “practice the truth” because as “God is light and in Him there is not darkness at all” (1:5), it follows that darkness is a sphere where God is not, so to walk in darkness is to move in a realm devoid of God. Walking in darkness is living as though God did not exist. The only place to experience God is in the light, not in theology, not in head knowledge, but in the light. A Christian who claims to be close to God when walking in darkness or sin has lost touch with a completely holy God and is behaving contrary to “the truth” about God’s holiness. 7
The idea of walking in darkness suggests a desire to hide from God and His influence, much like Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden after they disobeyed Him (cf. Genesis 3:8-10). Believers in Jesus can rationalize walking in darkness or sin with the best of hypocrites. Anderson lists some of our favorite rationalizations:
1. “Well, nobody is perfect.” Oh, that’s a good one. Since none of us can be perfectly sinless, I might as well raise the white flag and succumb to temptation. Hey, this is my sin and that’s yours. I won’t judge you; you don’t judge me.
2. “Everyone else is doing it.” This is what we hear from so many young couples who live together before marriage and expect God to bless their union. Of course, if everyone else is doing it, it must be OK. And what about drugs and beer? “All my friends are doing it and they go to church. It must be OK.”
3. “It’s a new generation.” Don’t you know the rules change from generation to generation? Really? Does God change from generation to generation? Does His standard of holiness change? I don’t think so.
4. “My needs aren’t being met through the normal channels. Therefore, it must be OK with God for me to get my needs met outside the normal channels.”
5. “The Bible doesn’t address this activity, so there must be freedom.”
6. “My dad makes lots of money. He won’t miss a couple of twenties from his wallet.”
7. “God created us to reproduce in our early teens, but in our culture, people are postponing marriage until their mid to late twenties. Surely God doesn’t expect us to deny ourselves for ten or fifteen years.”
8. “He started it.” Now there’s a good one. I can always blame my sin on being provoked by the sin of another. “Ya, I hit her, all right. But she shouldn’t have made me mad. It’s really her fault.” 8
All of us can be very creative when it comes to rationalizing our sin. But the reality is this type of rationalization can plunge us deep into the darkness 9 where God is not. Believers in Jesus who secretly or openly live in sin will experience misery. The apostle Paul writes, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6). When Christians set their minds on carnal desires, they will experience the opposite of “life and peace.” They will experience “death” or varying degrees of separation from God. This “death” can include the torment of pain, depression, continual guilt, shame, and fear.
O. Hobart Mowrer, a prolific psychiatric writer in the world states: “Everyone in psychiatric hospitals for other than physiogenic reason is there because of unresolved guilt.” 10 Unresolved sin and guilt can make us miserable. Darkness is death. I think you will agree that this is bad news!
But the good news is seen in the next verse. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7). One of the conditions for fellowship with God is to “walk in the light as” God “is in the light.” Notice John says to walk “in” (en) the light, not “according” (kata) to the light. Walking “according” to the light would refer to sinless perfection and would make fellowship with God impossible for sinful people. But the preposition “in” refers to walking in the sphere of God’s light where there is no darkness or dishonesty. In other words, to have fellowship with God we must be open and honest with Him, not sinless, as we walk in the light with Him.
“How do we do this? If I enter a lighted room and walk around in it, I am walking in the light; I am moving in a sphere which the light illuminates as it shines not only on me but upon everything around me. If I were to personalize the light, I could also say that I was walking in the presence of the light. Since according to this passage God not only is light (verse 5), but He is also in the light, to walk in the light must mean essentially to live in God’s presence, exposed to what He has revealed about Himself. This, of course, is done through openness in prayer and through openness to the Word of God in which He is revealed. By contrast, to ‘walk in darkness’ (verse 6) is to hide from God and to refuse to acknowledge what we know about Him.” 11
“It [walking in the light] is … to be responsive to the light which God sheds into the heart. It is an attitude of willingness to confess immediately every sin as soon as it is recognized to be sin. Such confession brings the Christian at once into moral agreement with God.” 12
Walking in the light means “to live in God’s presence, exposed to what He has revealed about Himself, and to ‘walk in darkness’ (v 6) is to hide from God and to refuse to acknowledge what is known about Him. The believer who wants fellowship with the Lord must maintain an openness to Him and a willingness to be honest in His presence about everything that God shows him.” 13
Hence, walking in the light has nothing to do with sinlessness, but a willingness to see sin and to treat it for what it really is. So, as we walk in the light in which God dwells (“as He is in the light”), His light will reveal any unconfessed sin in our lives. We then have a choice to make. We can either agree with God and confess our sin (1:9) or we can disagree with God and deny our sin (1:8, 10). Denying our sin will cast us into the darkness of broken fellowship with God. Confessing our sin will enable us to maintain close fellowship with God.
When we are open and honest with God, the Bible says we will “have fellowship with one another” (1:7). As we saw last time, “fellowship” (koinōnia) means a “close association involving mutual interests and sharing, … close relationship.” 14 Being open and honest before God enables us to share the light with Him. As we live in this sphere of light, our experience is illumined by the truth of Who God is. The “one another” refers to God and Christians in the context. 15
How can sinful believers enjoy fellowship with a sinless God? How can sinful Christians be close to a God Who does not allow sin in His presence? The last part of the verse explains. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Right now, you and I are not aware of all the sin that is in our lives. But God knows about it. And being the gracious and merciful God that He is, He does not reveal all our sin at once. If He did, we would be so overwhelmed by all our sin it would probably kill us on the spot.
But the reason we can enjoy closeness with our holy God even though we have all this unknown sin in our lives is because the blood of Christ “cleanses us from all sin.” Notice the present tense of “cleanses.” We do not need to do acts of penance to be forgiven and cleansed of our sins after we become Christians. 16 We simply keep walking in the light, as God is in the light, and although we remain sinful people, the blood of Jesus Christ keeps cleansing us of all our sins. So, no matter how badly or often Christians have sinned, the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse them of all their sins when they are living openly to God’s revealing truth. Christ’s death on the cross for all our sins (cf. I John 2:1-2; Colossians 2:13-14) provides the basis of fellowship between a sinless God and sinful human beings.
While it is true that those who believe in Jesus for eternal life are positionally cleansed and forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future (Acts 10:43; I Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-7), “they still need ongoing cleansing based on Christ’s blood that enables imperfect children to have a genuine experience of sharing with a perfectly holy heavenly Father.” 17 Hence, the blood of Christ makes provision for both our positional forgiveness/cleansing of all our sins which enables us to enter God’s heaven (cf. Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 9:22-10:18) and our practical or fellowship forgiveness/cleansing of sins which enables us to enjoy fellowship with God on earth (cf. I John 1:9; Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
It is important for Christians to understand that it is not their responsibility to uncover their own sin. They may have overly sensitive consciences and are worried that they have unconfessed sin in their lives, so they spend a lot of time examining themselves instead of focusing on the Lord. The Bible makes it clear that it is God’s responsibility to reveal our sin to us through the Holy Spirit and God’s Word (cf. John 16:8-11; 2 Timothy 3:16). But it is our responsibility to be open and honest with God when He does point out the sin that is in our lives so we can confess it to Him. The Bible promises that when we do confess our sin to the Lord, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9).
How can sinful Christians be close to a God Who does not allow sin in His presence? The apostle John tells us we simply keep walking in the light, as God is in the light, and although we remain sinful people, the blood of Jesus Christ keeps cleansing us of all our sins. This is good news that is worth sharing with others!!!
Prayer: Lord God, please help us to perceive You as You truly are. You are light. You are all that is pure, holy, gracious, love, merciful, and true. There is no darkness or deceit in You. As we grow in our understanding of Who You are, we choose to be open and honest with You, Lord, because You are a good, good God who is eager to forgive us and cleanse us, not forsake us nor condemn us. When we focus on our sin and shame, we can so easily retreat into the darkness where You are not. We shut You out of our lives because we perceive ourselves to be too bad for You to love us. But the truth is Lord, You know us better than we do, and You still love us and cherish Your time with us. Please help us to say “good-bye” to the lies that isolate us from You and Your family. Please cleanse us of those lies and hold us in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold us tight, Lord, and never let us go. We don’t ever want to be alone again. Thank You for letting us be open and vulnerable with You. Thank You for listening to us and loving us as we are. Oh, how we appreciate Your gentleness and graciousness with us. We love You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, and Holy Spirit. You all are the best. Thank You all for loving us far more than we deserve or can comprehend. In Jesus’ matchless name we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 20 cites Edmond D. Hiebert, “An Expositional Study of I John,” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1988) 145:331.
2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2333.
4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3486.
5. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 39.
6. Ibid., pg. 40.
7. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 589.
8. Anderson, pp. 41-42.
9. Ibid., pg. 42.
10. Ibid., cites Orval H. Mowrer, The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion (Princeton: Van Nostrand Company, 1961), pp. 81-102.
11. Constable, pp. 22-23 quotes Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, Tex.: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pp. 60-61.
12. Constable, pg. 23 quotes Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-48.), Volume 3, pg. 101.
13. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 552.
14. Wilkin, pg. 589.
15. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3502 to 3506; Wilkin, pg. 589; Evans, pg. 2333.
16. Anderson, pg. 43.
17. Wilkin, pg. 589.