THE BASIS OF OUR FELLOWSHIP
1 John 1:5 - 2:2
In his prologue, John introduced the concept of fellowship, the idea that we have things in common with other believers on the basis of our union with God. Now he proceeds to develop that principle by explaining what is the basis and the foundation of that union. The following mechanical layout will be helpful in visualizing the flow of thought:
5 This is the message
we have heard from Him
announce to you,
that God is Light,
in Him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him
and yet walk in the darkness,
we lie and do not practice the truth;
if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light,
we have fellowship with one another,
the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin,
we are deceiving ourselves
the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and righteous
to forgive us our sins
to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned,
we make Him a liar
His word is not in us.
2:1 My little children,
I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
And if anyone sins,
we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous;
He Himself is the propitiation for our sins;
not for ours only,
but also for those of the whole world.
This section will be composed of two main parts. First, John presents a contrast between the concepts of light and darkness (1:5-7). Then he turns to the problem of sin in relation to those who are walking either in the light or in the darkness (1:8 - 2:2).
LIGHT AND DARKNESS
There is nothing so elementary as light and darkness. The problem is that we tend to see things in terms of shades of grey. What John is going to present in this chapter is an absolute.
1. There is a Corollary between Light and the Nature of God: This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
God is light. This is the very essence of His being. It is unqualified. John does not say that God produces light or that He is like light or even that He is THE light. Those things may all be true, but that is not what John says. God IS light. This is an absolute. It is explained by way of contrast. In God there is no darkness at all.
There are no grey areas here. There is no middle ground. There is no half light and half darkness. This is an absolute. God is light. It is His nature. It cannot change.
To what does this “light” refer? It refers to God's quality of TRUTH. Light allows you to see what is. God does that. He not only tells the truth and speaks the truth, He IS the truth. The implications are obvious. If we are to have fellowship with God, then we must necessarily be walking in the light.
2. There is a Corollary between Fellowship with God and the Walk of the Believer: If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6).
This is the first of six hypothetical conditional clauses that John presents in 1 John 1:6 - 2:1. Each of these will be introduced with the word “if.”
• If we walk in darkness (1:6).
• If we walk in the light (1:7).
• If we deny our sin (1:8).
• If we confess our sin (1:9).
• If we claim not to have sinned (1:10).
• If we walk fall into sin (2:1).
I want to suggest that John is moving back and forth in contrasting the believer with the unbeliever, the one who is walking in the light with the one who is walking in darkness, the one who is confessing his sin with the one who is denying his sin.
He walks in darkness (1:6)
He walks in the light (1:7)
He denies his sin (1:8)
He confesses his sin (1:9)
He claims not to have sinned (1:10)
He has an advocate when he sins (2:1-2)
John begins with the man who is walking in darkness. Such a man might be claiming to have fellowship with God, but it is a lie. We can picture the situation like this:
God is Light
Do you remember our definition of fellowship? It refers to having things in common. The man who is walking in darkness has nothing in common with God. This is as absolute and as definite as the truth that God is light and has in Himself no darkness in Him. If God has absolutely no darkness in Him, then He cannot possibly have anything in common with one who is in darkness.
Who is the man who is walking in darkness? It is the natural man. It is the man who is still in his sins. It is the man who is apart from Christ. This is vividly illustrated in the teachings of Jesus.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12).
Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. They are unbelievers. In verse 44, He is going to tell them that their father is the devil. They are not followers of Christ. They are following Satan. If they had been following Christ, they would have been saved.
It is important to underscore that this is not speaking of discipleship as something separate and distinct from salvation. The difference here is between those who are saved and those who are not saved. These Pharisees were walking in darkness, but if they will turn to Christ, then they will not walk in darkness any longer.
This brings us to a question. What does it mean to follow Christ? Does it mean that I have to do certain good works? Does it mean that I come to a place where I am able to stop sinning. Does it mean that I must make certain promises to God? No, it does not. I think the answer is found in John 10.
The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and THEY FOLLOW ME; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:24‑28).
Do you see what is implied? Those who did not believe were contrasted with those who were following Jesus. You are either in one group or you are in the other. There is no middle ground. To follow Christ is to believe in Him. Either you believe in Him or you do not. Either you are saved or you are not. Either you are walking in the light or you are in darkness. Either you have eternal life or you do not.
Therefore we can conclude that the man who is walking in darkness is a description of the man who is unsaved. His situation is not neutral. The man who is in darkness eventually comes to hate the light. He is in darkness because he likes to be in darkness.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:19‑21).
We are given a picture of the man who is in darkness. He hates the light. Why? Because the light condemns him. Light has a tendency to show things. When you go to a dermatologist and his looks at a blemish on your skin, he shines a bright light onto it. Things are seen in the light. That includes good things and it includes bad things.
Light has a way of bringing sin out into the open. Whenever you get close to the light, you find yourself coming face to face with your sins. The natural man hates this. He does not want to be condemned. He would much rather justify himself. He would rather believe in a god of his own making. He is a blind man in a dark room searching for a god who is not there.
When we come to verse 7 we see another sort of man. We see one who walks in the Light as He Himself is in the Light. He is the one who practices the truth. He has confessed the reality of his sins and he is born of God. He comes to the light. He is no longer in darkness. He does not love the darkness. He loves the light and comes to the light. Why does he come? It is because he has been drawn by God (John 6:37, 44).
3. There is a Corollary between Fellowship with the Church and the Cleansing of the Believer: But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Up to now we have been looking at the idea of having fellowship with God. But John speaks here of fellowship that we have with one another. Those who have fellowship with God also have fellowship with one another. We are part of a covenant community.
Notice the condition that is presented here. The fellowship that we share with one another and with God exists only if we walk in the light in the same way that God is in the light. In which way is God in the light? All the way! God is in the light in an absolute sense. That is why John said at the outset that God is light and that in Him there is no darkness at all. The believer who is in the light is in the light in an absolute sense. He is completely in the light just as God is completely in the light.
The result of being in the light is that now we have things in common with one another. We now share a common union in Jesus Christ. This common union leads to a common cleansing — the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
The believer is one who has been cleansed from his sin by the blood of Jesus. This is never said of unbelievers. They are still in their sins. They are under the penalty of death. But our sins have been cleansed. The penalty has been paid in the blood on the innocent One.
The description here is of blood that cleanses. That is striking because blood usually stains. We speak of one whose hands are stained by innocent blood. When you get blood on clothing, it stains. Yet the blood of Christ is described in terms of its ability to cleanse. It can cleanse because it is the sign of the penalty of death that was paid on our behalf.
THE PROBLEM OF SIN
Verse 7 ended with the reference to the problem of sin and how that sin was cleansed by the blood of Christ. Now John takes up this issue of sin to show its relationship to both the believer and the unbeliever.
1. The Denial of the Existence of Sin: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).
We turn back to the case of the unbeliever. He is described as denying that he has sin. This can take many forms. Perhaps he is denying the existence of sin. Or maybe he is claiming that sin is really not that bad and that God can easily overlook it. Or he is stating that his own sin is not that bad when compared to that of others. Whatever the case, he is claiming that sin has not totally and eternally separated him from God.
It is because the unbeliever is in darkness that he cannot see his sin. He is blinded to his true condition. It is only when he comes to the light that he can see his sin for what it really is.
There are two truths presented here about the one who is in darkness. They are two principles that are true of all unbelievers:
• He is deceiving himself.
He thinks that he knows the truth, but he is lying to himself. He is a blind man standing in a dark room saying, “I can see!” Yet he cannot see the sin in his own life and recognize it for what it is. He is deceived and he participates in his own deception. The description is reminiscent of Pharaoh who is both described as having his heart hardened and also as hardening his own heart.
• The truth is not in him.
If you are a believer, then there is truth in you. But the unbeliever does not have such truth in himself. He is lacking something within himself that is characterized by truth.
What is truth? Pilate asked the question and washed his hands. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 16:6). The Holy Spirit is described as the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) and God is described as the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16).
The unbeliever has no principle of truth within himself. He has no means of perceiving spiritual truth. This is why he does not agree he is in darkness. This is graphically illustrated in the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees:
And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41).
In the context of this conversation, Jesus had just given sight to a blind man. This blind man had been given physical as well as spiritual sight. Both of his needs were met in Jesus. However, the Pharisees had consistently refused to admit they had any spiritual needs. If they had agreed with God concerning their lost condition, they could have been saved. However, because they claimed that they were already in the light, they remained in the darkness of their sin. This brings us to the truth presented in verse 9 and the importance of confession of sin.
2. The Confession of Sin: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9).
This is a very familiar verse. It is usually used to describe haw a Christian is to get back into “fellowship” after he has sinned. I agree that this verse tells how a person comes into fellowship with God. However, we have seen that John’s concept of fellowship is that the believer has entered into a spiritual union with Jesus Christ at the time of salvation. I do not believe that John has suddenly changed the subject. He is still continuing the same progression of thought that was begun in the previous verses. He has been contrasting the believer with the unbeliever and that contrast continues here.
The unbeliever is the one who says he has no sin
The believer is the one who agrees with God concerning his sin
The word “confess” is translated from the Greek root homologeo. It is a compound word, made up from the joining of two words together. A compound usually consists of more than the sum of its parts, but in this case, it is helpful to look at those parts.
• Homo refers to something which is the same as another. A homosexual is one who desires the same sex.
• Lego is the verb “to say” or “speak.”
The resulting compound means “to speak the same thing.” This is what confession means. It refers to agreeing with God about something. In this case, we agree with God concerning our sin. We agree that we are helpless to remedy our sinful situation and that our only hope is to trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
3. The Forgiveness and Cleansing of Sin: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Now we see the results of this confession. There are two things that take place when we agree with God concerning our sin.
• God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins.
What kind of forgiveness is this? It is the same type of forgiveness that deals with our sin in verse 7 where we read obtain through the blood of Jesus. This is the forgiveness that comes as a result of Christ’s death on the cross for us.
When did this forgiveness take place? It took place when you believed. Prior to that time, you were still in your sins. But when you came to Christ in faith, trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior, you were eternally forgiven.
• God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
This is the same word for cleansing that is used back in verse 7 when we read that the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. We are cleansed from all sin and we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.
When we place verses 7 and 9 side by side, we find that they are talking about the same thing.
If we walk in the Light...
If we confess our sins...
As He Himself is in the Light...
He is faithful and righteous...
The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
...to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
Do you see the implications? Walking in the light produces the same effect as confessing our sins. Therefore, we conclude that John presents the man who comes before God and agrees with God that he is a sinner in need of a Savior. It is this man who will find that his sins have been forgiven and that he is now walking in the light.
4. The Denial of Specific Personal Sin: If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:10).
Now we move back to the unbeliever. This time we are looking at the case of the man who says he has not sinned. This is subtly different than what we saw in verse 8. There we saw a denial of sin. This could include the existence of sin or the idea that sin is not really that bad or that there is a sin nature or that sin has separated man from God.
Here there is a change. This is the case of the man who might admit that sin exists in the lives of others and that it is evil and that it separates people from God. However, he claims that none of this applies to him because he does not feel he has sinned. He is saying in effect that he does not need the work of Christ on the cross, though it is a good thing for others.
This man is trying to make God a liar. God declares that all have sinned and this man says, “But not me!” The truth is that he is unable to confess his sins. He is in darkness. He cannot see his true condition. It is only when he is brought into the light that he will be able to see his true condition and agree with God concerning his sins. It is only when he believes what God says and agrees about his sins and his need for a Savior that God forgives those sins.
5. The Motivation to Avoid Sin: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin (1 John 2:1).
John has just finished demonstrating that the man who has fellowship with God is the one who agrees that he has sinned and is in need of a Savior. But John does not want his readers to think by this that he is condoning sin. To the contrary, the very reason John is writing is so that they will avoid sin.
This is not a new concept. Christianity has always called the believer to walk in righteousness. Grace can never be taken as a license to sin.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1‑2).
It is only the Christian who has any true basis on which to live a life that is free from sin. The Christian has been declared to be righteous. Now he has a reason to live up to that righteousness and to try to live like what he has been declared to be. He has been legally pronounced dead to sin and he is called to live a life that is alive to righteousness.
The believer also has the Holy Spirit living within him. This gives to him, not only the motivation, but also the means to live this kind of life.
...for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
This brings us to a question. Does this mean that a believer can come to a point where he will never sin again? That is exactly what it means. However, the believer will only reach that point when he enters the presence of the Lord. It will only be in that day that we shall finally be like Christ.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2).
Now this brings up an important question. If sin is contrary to the righteousness of God and I am being told that I should not sin, what happens if I do sin? The answer is found in the next section.
6. The Solution to Present Sin: And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1b‑2).
Here we have the instance of the sinning believer. What is to be his attitude? He is to recognize that he has One who continually speaks in his defense. It is Jesus Christ. He has settled the sin issue. He has appeased the wrath of God. He is the propitiation—the satisfaction—for our sins.
Don’t miss the implications of this! It means there is nothing that can ever stand in the way of our relationship with God. Jesus Christ speaks for us. Who can speak against us? He does not defend us by claiming we have not sinned or that our sin is not that bad. Our defense is the finished work of Jesus Christ. Our defense is the cross. Our sins have been judged. The penalty was death. They were dealt with on the cross and can never be brought against us.
When John says we have an Advocate, he uses the Greek word parakletos. It refers to one who has been called to our side (para means alongside and kaleo is to call) to speak on our behalf. This same word is used in John’s gospel to refer to the Holy Spirit.
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16‑17).
We have two advocates, but they are really One. First there is Jesus Christ who speaks to the Father on our behalf. John says we have an Advocate with the Father. There is also the Holy Spirit who speaks to us on behalf of the Father and the Son. But they are really One, just as Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).