Description / Transcription
Our great God and heavenly Father, we thank You that You light our darkness. You are the One who lights our lamps and even the darkness is not dark to You, so we ask, Father, that You would give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand Your Word to us tonight. We pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.
If you would, please open your Bibles, if you have not already, while you are turning to the book of 1 John let me apologize for my voice. I sound a little froggier than I usually do. Many of you maybe haven’t talked to me so you don’t know that, but I do apologize for the basso profundo this evening.
We are continuing our new series in 1 John. We began this morning. Pastor Tom preached this morning, if you weren’t there. I unfortunately missed it because I wasn’t feeling well but I did watch. You did not miss a whole lot. You missed out, but you didn’t miss much because it was just the four verses. The book of 1 John is a short book. It is basically a sermon-like letter sent by John, the disciple of Jesus, because there was some kind of split occurring in the early Church. We don’t know exactly what the details were, but we know that John was writing to the church because there were some who were leaving, there was some kind of division taking place.
There were some who were saying things that sounded plausibly similar to what the apostles had been saying. They were saying things that must have sounded appealing in some way, they must have been sounding current and nuanced. We’re going to see how tonight how John addresses some of the things that they were saying and nuances them right back.
John has a simple goal in writing this letter. It is to deal with bad teaching in a confused culture. One of the things that we can learn from the book of 1 John is that the best way to deal with bad teaching and confused culture is to go back to the basics, to keep it simple. That’s exactly how John starts his letter.
We heard this morning from Pastor Tom about core Christianity, keeping things simple, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks to Jesus we can have fellowship and joy.
But to have that to the fullest we need to avoid some basic mistakes, mistakes about who God is and who we are, and that brings us to our passage.
Read 1 John chapter 1, verses 5 to 10 along with me.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of His Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Being in the dark isn’t something that most people enjoy. I’m sure that most of us in the room tonight have memories from childhood of being afraid in our beds at nighttime. I certainly remember that. Thankfully I never had any real reason to be afraid at night. I was never in any real danger. It was just the things in my head that I found frightening.
I vividly remember how those things got there because sometime right around the age of 7 or so my older brother, Tom, thought that it would be a great idea for us to watch Ghostbusters 2 together. I don’t know where my parents were in this picture, but I am here to tell you tonight, if you haven’t seen Ghostbusters 2 recently that it is utterly terrifying as a 7-year-old. What really did me in was not the Stay-Puft marshmallow man as much as it was that scene where they are walking through the abandoned subway line and they get run over by the ghost train. Anybody remember that scene?
So anytime I would hear bumps in the night or creaks or groans, I was convinced that there was, in fact, something strange in the neighborhood. But I could always ease my fears just a little bit with some light, even if it was just the faintest, dimmest night light, it was just enough to take the edge off. Of course, when the full light of day came the following morning, I never gave the ghost train a second thought. That’s the kind of experience I think is pretty universal.
It’s part of how God made us as His creatures. We are made to love the light, to long for the light, and to live in the light. That is the basic idea at work in our passage tonight.
Now despite being an inspired apostle, John does not always write with the tightest logical prose. Just the first four verses of the book tonight, you have noticed, can be a little elliptical if we read it closely. But our passage tonight is a little different. John, at least here, makes a set of fairly clearly structured points and counter points and that makes my job a little bit easier despite the fact that I’ve got a cold, so we’re going to break things up this way tonight.
First, we’re going to start with the key idea that John emphasizes in verse 5 and then we’re going to see two alternatives in Christian character. Actually, they are sets of alternatives and kind of go like this. If A then B, or if C then D. Pick one or the other. There are two of those in verses 6, 7, 8, and 9. Then we’re going to see a final alternative, a much more dire alternative, in verse 10 before we look at application.
So with that, let’s get started with John’s key idea in verse 5. Here it is: This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
God is light. It’s a pretty basic point, isn’t it? But what does it really mean? Well, it’s certainly not the only thing we could say about God. It’s not the only thing we should say about God. It’s not the only thing, in fact, that John says about who God is.
John says elsewhere that God is love and he also says that God is Spirit. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that. So we don’t have to take John’s point here in verse 5 as an all-encompassing statement of God’s nature or identity, but what he does say is something to help us understand who God is and it does so in two ways. It tells us that God is a standard and it tells us that He is a source. God is light. He is not a light, He’s not one light among many, He’s not a light-bearer, He does not have light.
You can maybe think of that old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Right? God is light in the sense that everything else is dark in comparison with Him. He is the standard. Right? The things of earth grow strangely dim, the light of His glory and grace. God is the standard.
But He is more than just the standard. Notice how John says in verse 5 that saying God is light is the message. He’s saying that statement is actually part of the Gospel in some way. He’s saying that it has implications for Christian life, for Christian character. I think we can understand that the same way we might say that water is life. Speaking of which… When we say that, we don’t mean that water is literally life, what we mean is that without water there would be no life. Water is the source of life, it’s the basis for life, and in the same way, without God no light. So God’s character, I think we can say, is the standard and source for Christian character. That is the key idea of our passage tonight. God’s character is the standard and source for Christian character.
But there’s a flipside to that, because if we misunderstand who God is, we’re going to misunderstand ourselves, and that is exactly what was happening among some in the early church and that is part of why John writes this letter. It brings us to the first set of alternatives in verses 6 to 7.
We can boil down these first alternatives to a simple question. Excuse me. Are you going to talk, I’m going to try, or are you going to walk? Okay, talk or walk.
Remember that John is dealing with certain people who are making claims that are at odds with the message of the Gospel. Verse 6 represents one of their claims. I think we can sort of reverse engineer it like this. They’re saying we have fellowship with God, oh, also we walk in the dark. At the same time.
Now we don’t have to guess what walking in the dark means. Scripture is full of passages that describe this kind of imagery. One of the best occurs in Proverbs 2 where the virtue of godly wisdom is explained vividly. Verses 12 to 14 tell us that wisdom from God will deliver from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, those who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness. We can see the kind of walking imagery, the pathway imagery, the light and the darkness, righteousness is a good path, and those who do evil are the ones who walk in the crooked devious paths of darkness,
That’s exactly how we are to understand what John is saying here. Some in the early Church that John is writing to were claiming to have fellowship with God through Christ and yet they rejoiced in committing sin.
Now I think there are two ways that that might have been happening. One is openly, committing sin openly, and the other is committing sin in secret, and both are certainly problems.
We know that some in the early Church heard the message of grace, of the Gospel of God, the forgiveness that they could have through Christ, and they said, “Great. Now we don’t need to do anything good anymore. We don’t have to worry about God’s commandments. We’re forgiven. So we can do whatever we want.” John wants to address both open and secret sins like that by saying, in verse 6, that such people lie and do not practice the truth. To claim to be a Christian and to continue to sin in secret is a lie. That is hypocrisy, isn’t it? To claim to be a Christian on the other hand and yet continue in sin openly is to fail to practice the truth. John’s addressing both possibilities.
We know that John wasn’t the only person to deal with this during the early Church period. Paul, in Romans chapter 6, writes, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means. Can we who died in sin still die to sin, excuse me, still live in it?” That is the kind of faux Christianity that both Paul and John were dealing with. It’s the kind of Christianity that sees repentance as a one-time event, confession as a one-time event. It’s a kind of faux Christianity that says pray the Sinner’s Prayer and then just sit back and wait for heaven. That’s not the Gospel.
Paul goes on in Romans 6 to say that we are buried with Christ into His death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead so we, too, might be raised to walk in newness of life. That’s what it means to walk in the light. The Gospel transforms our lives and that’s the implication of what John goes on to in verse 7, where he presents the alternative.
Now it’s interesting to me that the first group says that they have fellowship with God. They will talk about that even as they continue to sin. But John doesn’t mention the talking for the second group. The second group doesn’t talk, they don’t broadcast, they just walk. They walk in the light as He is in the light. Remember, God is light. He is the standard and source for Christian character. So walking in the light means walking like Jesus. WWJD after all. Right?
When our character and our conduct are conformed to Christ, Jesus tells us that it is transformative. We have fellowship first with one another, like we heard this morning. There’s no more lies, no more posturing, except for a posture of humility. We in fellowship with one another, we also have fellowship with God. No more hiding and no more shame.
So the first set of alternatives boils down to a simple choice – wallow in sin, deception, and darkness while we claim to have fellowship God, or walk in the light, walk in the paths of obedience and humility and have fellowship and forgiveness in full.
But there’s another set of alternatives, too, in verses 8 and 9. We can boil these down to a question as well. Here’s that question – Are you going to accept or are you going to deny? Well, accept or deny what? John has moved on, I think, to the second claim that’s being made by some in this church context and we can intuit that claim from verse 8. It went something like this – “Oh, but we do have fellowship and we do walk in the light and we know this because actually we have no sin.” That’s how that second claim goes.
The second claim is connected to the first claim. I think it’s a sort of response. We can imagine a kind of back and forth discussion or argument. They begin, “We have fellowship with God.” That’s the first claim. John responds, “No, that’s a lie. You actually have no fellowship and no forgiveness.” The second claim they respond, “Oh, yeah? Well, we don’t need forgiveness anyway because we didn’t sin.” You see the second claim is doubling down, and I think if we let imaginations wander a little bit, maybe we could imagine them continuing with their response – “In fact, John, not only do we have no sin, it’s you who needs forgiveness because you were so mean when you accused of sin. How dare you. Just because you even said that, you’re the one who is in sin and we are the victims.”
Maybe you know some people who react like that. I think it’s important to understand the kind of sin that’s being discussed here. I think this is a particular sin in a particular kind of situation. The debate here is not over John saying “you sin in a general way.” The debate here, I think, is over John saying “that think you did last week, that email you sent, that webpage you visited, that was sin.” The sin issue is situational, it is specific, not generalized, and the way John phrases this in verse 8 I think makes that clear. The way he says it is “if we say we do not have a sin,” that’s the way it’s phrased in the original language and John uses that phrase a few other places. Whenever he does, he’s talking about a specific sin in a specific situation.
Now, why does that matter? Well, it comes back to the question, “Accept or deny.” When someone tries to hold us accountable for a situation where we sinned, especially if there is some kind of plausible deniability, what are we going to do? Well, we deny. No way, I did not do that and I never would do that. Are we going to deflect? Oh, you should have come talked to me about that sooner. I can’t believe you didn’t come to me. Are we doing to go on defense? We both know that you struggle with arrogance. I can’t believe you would attack me like that.
Are we going to do some of those things? I know I’ve done some of those things. Are we going to deny? Or are we going to accept. Are we going to be open to correction? Are we going to receive accountability?
On a basic level, I think John’s point in this second claim is that you always have some sin in every situation, and to believe otherwise, he says, is delusional. It’s self-deception.
But there’s an alternative, and that is humility. Humility in the face of conflict or correction, even if we genuinely don’t know how we might have sinned, but the fact is you probably have something you can confess in any given situation.
Now maybe that sounds a little crazy to you, maybe a little overstated. If that’s the case, let me ask you this. Do you really think you can parse your own heart accurately?
Well, David didn’t think he could. Here’s what David wrote in Psalm 19: “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins.”
Now notice that David does not say “declare me innocent from those who say I have hidden faults.” He doesn’t say “keep back your servant from presumptuous people who claim I’ve sinned.” The reality is Scripture is full of passages that describe how sin is blinding.
I’m not saying, certainly not saying, that every sin is equally grave. I’m not saying that every sin is equally offensive to God or others. But I am saying, because I think John is saying, which would mean that God is saying, if I’ve got this right, that sin is so pervasive, it has such a tight grip on our hearts, that there will always be some portion of it that we cannot see. That is why we need to walk in the light. We need the fellowship we have with one another to help us see our sin.
Did you notice for John walking in the light does not actually mean not sinning? Look at verse 7. Part of what it means to walk in the light is to receive cleansing from sin, and that means that there is sin. How could that be? Look at verse 8. Acknowledging our sin is truthful, confessing our sin is what leads to cleansing, confessing our sin to God and to one another. That is how we have true fellowship. It means we can be perfectly assured that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all of our sin.
So there’s actually an interesting paradox involved in walking in the light. The people who do the most to look like they are not struggling with sin, hide it, deny it, those are the people most likely to lack fellowship and lack forgiveness, but the people who are quick to acknowledge sin, to confess it, those are the people who have fellowship and forgiveness.
Now notice the sin is there either way, so John is telling us counter-intuitively that humility concerning sin is actually what fosters the greatest assurance that the blood of Christ covers it all. That beautiful reality is very perfectly expressed, I think, in just the first verse of chapter 2, just to peek ahead to next week. It says in verse 1 of chapter 2, “My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.”
I love the juxtaposition of those two things. Such assurance. If we sin, we have an advocate.
Let’s look briefly now at the final alternative in verse 10 before making some points of application. Now at first glance, verse 10 sounds like it’s repeating the second claim. Verse 7 says “if we say we have no sin” and verse 10 says “if we say we have not sinned.” What’s the difference? Some commentators would tell you there’s not a difference. That might be right, but I think there is.
Here’s my take on this. Remember what I said about the phrasing in verse 7, it’s different here in verse 10. It’s different in a way that makes the claim totalizing. It is generalizing in verse 10. This claim amounts to the claim “we do not sin, we have never sinned.” This claim is a denial of fallen nature altogether. To me, the giveaway here is what John says is really happening if we make this claim, which we should not, he says if we make that claim, we’re making God a liar.
So again we can boil this verse down to a simple question – who is more trustworthy? You or God? Because God is very clear that all of humanity is fallen. That idea is all – over Scripture, probably most well-known Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is what God says, yet those are there in John’s day who said otherwise. Just as there are in our day.
That is the basic message of mainstream American pop therapeutic culture. Right? It’s a message of empowerment, a message of self-acceptance. It says you are totally fine just the way you are. In fact, all you have to do is to do the work to embrace yourself. It is a completely different message from the message of the Gospel in Scripture and one of those two messages is a lie. One of them is self-deception.
To deny our fallen nature is to deny Christ, who did not come for those tell themselves they’re healthy. Christ came for those who know they are sick.
What’s the alternative? John doesn’t give one for this claim, but we can workshop one ourselves. If the problem is denying our sin nature, then the clear alternative is to acknowledge it. To grapple with the reality that we fall well short of the glory of God and stand under His righteous judgment and then to embrace the good news that God doesn’t require us to be sinless to have fellowship with Him.
The only condition for fellowship with God is to acknowledge that you don’t meet the conditions, but that Jesus did and that He did it for you. When we trust that promise, our faith is no longer in ourselves, our faith is in Christ and His life, in His death, and in His resurrection. So actually, ironically, there is a kind of sinlessness possible, but only in Christ, whose sinless life is credited to us, and when our faith rests in His work, Christ, the Word of God, dwells in our hearts by His Spirit and we are transformed. No longer do we walk in darkness, no longer do we hide our sin or revel in it or deceive ourselves or others. Instead, our character is gradually conformed to His.
I think that’s what John would say it means for God’s Word to be in us.
John goes on in chapter 3 to say that whoever keeps God’s commandments abides in Christ and Christ abides in him. He says we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
To receive Christ in the Gospel is to begin a process of growing to love God more and more, and the more you love God, the more you love His Word, including His laws. As our character becomes more conformed to God’s, it is the same law that condemns us that we ultimately grow to love. It becomes refreshing to us. It becomes a guide for our flourishing.
We read in our passage earlier tonight from Psalm 119, I think John might have had Psalm 119 on his mind as he wrote this passage. In verse 105 it says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” God is light. He is both the standard and the source for Christian character.
With that in mind, drawing our time to a close, I want to make three points of application.
First point is this. Check your path. I like to give cutesy little titles to my application points, so this is the first one. Check your path.
What I mean is this. Where are you walking day by day? John says that if we say we have fellowship with God, if we claim to be Christians but we’re walking in darkness, then we are lying. We’re failing to live out our Christian character. So where does your route go? Where do you find yourself walking? You find consistently in places that are a little darker than they should be? Maybe that involves sin that you’re hiding out of shame, sexual immorality, substance abuse, financial fraud.
Or maybe you’re walking in darkness in a subtler way. Maybe you are caught in sin patterns that you don’t have to hide because they are socially acceptable. Pride, fits of anger, harshness, workaholism, prayerlessness. I’ll stop there.
Both kinds of sins, the hidden and the open, can turn into paths into routines, and if you’re not willing to acknowledge them, you’re not going to confess them, and if you don’t confess them, you are choosing to walk in darkness. You’re hiding from God.
If that’s you tonight, know that the Lord invites you to walk in His light. As Christians we need to have people walking with us, people who can be partners, who we can talk to about our patterns of sin, who can help us avoid the darkness or lead us out of it. That’s one of the major blessings of the fellowship of the saints is it makes it hard to hide our sin.
So check your path.
The second point of application is this – check your circuit breaker. Okay. Stick with me for a second. Check your circuit breaker.
Here’s what I mean. If your lights are flickering, are you going to do anything about it? You’re probably familiar with the word “gaslighting.” Gaslighting means manipulating someone by making them doubt their ability to see reality correctly. It actually comes from an old movie called Gaslight, excuse me, set in England in 1940 when apparently houses used natural gas in the interior lights, which sounds crazy to me. In the movie there’s a nefarious husband who slowly drives his wife insane by making some of the lights dim occasionally, and whenever she asks why it’s happening, he tells her she’s just imagining things, the lights aren’t actually dimming.
Part of what John says that if we’re not careful we can deceive ourselves, we can gaslight ourselves.
Now it seems to me that the whole problem in that movie could have been avoided if the wife had just bothered to check the gas lines to see if the problem was real or not. That’s what I mean by check your circuit breaker to update the lighting technology metaphor.
Are you being honest with yourself? If you think your spiritual lights are flickering in some area of your life, don’t just brush it off like it isn’t happening. Remember that sin is blinding and self-delusion can become a coping mechanism for shame.
So check your breaker.
If you find yourself regularly insisting that others are the problem, that others have sin whether it’s your spouse or your kids or your coworkers or your roommate, they have sinned and you have done nothing wrong, let me suggest to you that that might be a flickering light.
So check your breaker. Ask the Lord for a spirit of humility and honesty. Ask Him to allow you to see your own sin, to come to repentance and to receive cleansing forgiveness.
So check your breaker.
The third point of application is this – check your cleanliness.
John in this passage, you might have realized by now, has a little something for everybody. That includes those who do not yet know God as the light, for those who have not yet believed when he tells us that we are totally mired in sin, slaves to evil and stuck in the dark. That’s not an easy message to hear. We would much rather hear that God is love than hear that God is light.
John, like I told you, will eventually go on to say that God is love, he will say that in chapter 4 verse 16, but first John tells us that God is light. Light comes before love because it uncovers what is hidden. It purifies what is unclean. God is eager to cleanse those who eagerly come to Him and come into His light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
So come to Him, confess your sin, and let His light shine upon you. It’s only then that the blood of His Son Jesus can cleanse us from all of our sin and all of our unrighteousness.
Let me pray for us. God, we thank You that in Your light we have forgiveness, we have cleansing. We thank You that although at one time we were in darkness, now You are light, You are our Father. Help us to walk as children of light. We praise You for your mercy towards us in Christ and we pray in His name. Amen.