I John 1:5-10
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
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. 6 (Therefore) If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 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 allsin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
I see three parts to John’s argument in these six verses. First, verse 5 gives the message of Christ that John has heard. Second, verses 6 and 7 describe some practical implications for life that come from this message. Third, verses 8–10 answer a possible misunderstanding of verses 6 and 7, and so clarify their meaning. So verse 5 is the theological foundation. Verses 6–7 are the practical application. And verses 8–10 are a necessary clarification.
Verse 5: the Foundation
“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.” Theologically John is using what is known as an “ontological” foundation to build a case for his argument. He is stating that the very character of God is the starting point for one to understand what it means for one to walk in the light.
Verses 6–7: the Application
“(Therefore) This is a hinge word from the Greek “dia” which literally denotes that the writer is communicating to the reader, “Take heed to what I am going to say in light of everything I have already written.” if we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” That’s the negative implication from the foundational fact that God is light.
“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 cleanses us from all sin.” That’s the positive implication from the foundational fact in verse 5 that God is light.
Verses 8–10: the Clarification
It could be that the wonderful promise of verse 7 would play right into the hands of people who have a perfectionistic view of the Christian life. John had said, “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” Someone might say, “See even the apostle teaches that all sin is totally left behind when you become a Christian. So John clarifies . . .
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In other words the claim of sinlessness is simply self- deception. Instead of denying our sinfulness, we should confess that it is real and ugly. Verse 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Then to drive home the clarification John repeats the point of verse 8, only with stronger words. Verse 10: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” In other words the claim of sinlessness is not only self-deception; it is also blasphemy. The sentence, “I am without sin,” amounts to the sentence, “God is a liar.”
These are extraordinarily strong words. If this were not an apostle talking, I can imagine someone today saying, “Do you have to use such inflammatory words when you warn people about error?” John evidently felt that so much was at stake the language, “You make God a liar,” should not be softened into something like, “You displease your heavenly Father.” John Piper in dealing with this statement states, “I’m not sure the Scriptures should be adjusted to our emotionally fragile age. I think we need to get toughened up a bit.”
That’s the overall structure of the paragraph:
- Foundation: God is light (verse 5).
- Application: Walk in the Light (verses 6–7).
- Clarification: Don’t claim to be without sin (verses 8–10).
What is the Truth?
One answer would be that God is TRUTH. This comes from verse 6: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the TRUTH.” He might have said, “When we walk in darkness, we do not live according to the LIGHT.” But he puts truth in the place of light. So it seems that truth is virtually the same as light. (See also 5:20.)
In other words, God is light means that God is the source and measure of all that is true. Another way to put it would be that nothing is truly understood until it is understood in the light of God. This is why the Old Testament says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). You don’t even get to first base in true knowledge if you leave God out of account. GOD is light. That is, GOD is truth. He is the source of all that is true and whatever is true is true because it conforms to him. Man being created in the Image of God is given a “Moral Imagination” to steward all that God has entrusted to him. It is the very character of God that is the basis on how one stewards their life and the resources that has been given to him or her. These resources are not simply things but rather it is the gifts, talents, and creative capacity that every person whom is created in the image of God has been given.
No Hidden Agenda – No Small Print – No Divine Comedy of Bait and Switch
The first picture of God that John wants to put before us is this picture of God as light. “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” It means that if you draw near to God, you do not find a dark and foreboding truth. You find freedom and hope and joy. In God the stumbling logs and rattlesnakes and cliffs and low-hanging branches are all exposed and we are made safe from them. Our goal of ultimate and eternal joy is secured in God because there is no darkness in God. That is, there are no lurking shadows in God. There is no hidden agenda, no small print. He is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
The closest example is responding to an advertisement in the paper how a laptop computer is on sale for $500.00. You go to the store and you find out that it is just the hardware that is $500.00 because after you have to purchase all the software and let us not forget the service contract the cost then becomes $900.00. The sales person then shows you how this was in the advertisement in very small print at the corner of the page. Of course one would need a magnifying glass to even find it on the page. God does not “Bait and Switch” and His very “Being” (Remember Ontological) secures the deal.
In the words of one of our Bayside Pastors, Curt Harlow, “Great questions lead to great bible study.” There are three important questions that must be asked:
- What is this walk?
- What does it mean to be cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus?
- What is the connection between the two?
What is this walk?
I have already answered the first question: walking in the light means living under the controlling desire for God instead of the world—the kind of life you live if you see things the way God sees them and share his values. But note, it is a “walk”—that is, a way of life, not just an idea, not just a “position” in Christ (as some might say). Walk means life. It is our everyday lifestyle that is an act of worship to God. It is what one 6th century Damascus monk wrote when speaking of God being “Trinity” because there is no hierarchy in the Godhead he called the “prochoresis” or the “circle-dance.” The idea is in our everyday life to walk in the conscious awareness of God is to dance with Him.
2. What does it mean to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus?
Does it mean that as we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus keeps us from sinning? Or does it mean that as we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus covers and nullifies our sinning? In other words, does it refer to progressive sanctification or to the on-going experience of justification?
John Piper states that it seems that there is good reason for saying it refers to both. 1) It refers to the justifying effect of Christ’s shed blood blotting out all our sins and giving us acquittal and eternal acceptance with God. 2) And it refers to the moral power of the blood of Jesus to help us conquer temptation so that in the end all of our sin will actually be overcome and we will stand really pure and sinless before God (Philippians 1:6).
The reason I think it refers to progressive sanctification is the very strong emphasis in 3:8–9 on Christ’s purpose to destroy sin out of our lives. “He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.”
In other words the reason Christ came was not merely to cover sin but to conquer sin. He came not only to justify but also to sanctify. Not only to acquit but also to reform. And if he shed his blood in order to accomplish his purpose, then his blood cleanses not only in that it covers but also in that it conquers sin. The ongoing effect of Christ’s blood is to cleanse our hearts in such a way that we cannot be content to go on sinning.
As Hebrews 9:14 says, “The blood of Christ . . . will cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” This is the moral effect of the blood of Christ. It is a progressive work in the believer’s heart and, as Philippians 1:6 says, God “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” All sin really will be cleansed away in the end if we walk in the light.
But I also think that the cleansing mentioned in verse 7 refers to the ongoing effects of justification. That is, it refers to the fact that all our sins are already covered and forgiven by God because of the death of Jesus, if we walk in the light.
The nearest piece of evidence for this is verse 9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice that in verse 7 sin is cleansed. In verse 9 sins are forgiven. The condition for cleansing in verse 7 is walking in the light. The condition for forgiveness in verse 9 is confessing our sins.
I think the implication is that one essential part of walking in the light is confessing known sin. Walking in the light does not mean perfection, for then verse 7 would make no sense at all—”if we walk in the light, we are cleansed from sin!” If walking in the light meant perfection, there would be no need for cleansing. Besides, verse 8 warns against claiming to be sinless while you walk in the light.
Walking in the light means seeing things the way God sees them and responding the way he does. We walk in the light when we hate the sin we fall into and name it for the ugly thing it is and agree with God about it and turn from it. So confessing sin is a crucial part of walking in the light. And verse 9 makes forgiveness of sin dependent on walking in the light. Therefore we are warranted in taking the cleansing of verse 7 to refer to forgiveness and not just to sanctification.
- What is the connection between the two?
Now we have asked two of our three questions of verse 7. What is walking in the light? And what is cleansing by the blood of Jesus? Now the third question that we must answer is: What is the connection between the two? John connects them with an “if . . . then” construction. “If we walk in the light . . . then the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” What does this mean?
John does not spell out at this point how walking in the light and being cleansed from sin are related in reality. He is content for now to say that there is no cleansing of sin for the person who does not walk in the light. This does not answer the question, Which comes first? or, Which causes the other? What it does establish is that there is a way of life in which the cleansing effect of Christ’s blood operates, and there is a way of life in which the cleansing effect of Christ’s blood does not operate.
If we are not walking in the light, we have no warrant for believing that our sins are covered. There is no assurance of salvation while you are living in disobedience. “God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). “Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
How is such teaching good news? Some people think that the only way to make the gospel really good news is to deny that changes are necessary in our lives. They say that takes away the possibility of assurance of salvation. They say the way we live after putting our faith in Christ has nothing to do with our salvation. I think my Senior Pastor Ray Johnston does a real great job identifying what the outcome of this kind of thinking leads to which is the birthing of modern-day Pharisees who have much knowledge about the Good-News but they do not practice it. Modern –day Pharisees judge people from a point of arrogance never admitting their own human frailty or their own need to be transformed by the Good-News. Scary!
John Piper declares, “That a powerless gospel is not good news. A gospel that only wins lip service is not different than all the other philosophies of the world. Such a gospel produces a Christianity that is a game of words. It encourages lukewarm church-goers that they are safe from God’s wrath because of some inherited mental assent to the love of God.”
Such a gospel accounts for how 70 million people can claim to be born again in America at the same time that our moral condition is an all-time low of corruption inside and outside the church.
The message of 1 John—that walking in the light is not optional, but necessary for salvation—is good news because it creates the moral atmosphere of urgency in which serious business is done with God. It gives the flavor of eternity to all we say and do. It militates against religious gamesmanship. It honors the purpose of God in Christ to destroy the works of the devil. It takes seriously the necessity of glorifying God in our bodies. It leads people to real faith instead of encouraging them to be content with a lip service that cannot change and cannot save.
But in the end it simply is not up to us to decide whether the gospel is the kind of good news we would like it to be. Ours is simply to listen and submit to the Word of God. And the Word of God says that “if we walk in the light as he is in the light . . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” If we walk in darkness, we cut ourselves off from the cleansing effects of Christ’s blood. And if we cut ourselves off from Christ’s blood, where will hope be found!
The application for me is to be an “obsessive confessor.” Al, what are you trying to say?” Simply, as I confess and get things that are in my life out in the light that which is in darkness no longer has power. Walking in the light is not about perfection it is about progress. I should be able to reflect and ask myself if the same issues that controlled me a year ago are the same today. If the issues are the same then I must acknowledge that in continuing to walk in the light (surrender), I am allowing God to perfect me. Every person has a false-self that desires to walk in darkness. It is realizing that only God can do change us from the inside-out. The key is to become consciously aware of the presence of God in my life. It is in God’s presence that transformation that real transformation occurs. Next we take note of where spiritual transformation takes place. This is the matter of the locus of authentic spiritual formation.
For the most part this is not an external “makeover,” but a heart-transformation. It will have external results, but this is essentially, as Dallas Willard has written a matter of the “renovation of the heart.” Out of a daily abiding in Christ emerges a daily denial of self. This “denial involves, I suggest, negative, false aspects of the self.
As we take up the cross every day, the deconstruction of the self is an everyday thing. This is crucial, since every day the self will rise up and try to assert itself against the ways of God. But God desires to defeat our self-obsessiveness so we can experience renewal and transformation.
One aspect of “walking in the light” is responding to God by practicing times of solitude. This is why Henri Nouwen has called solitude “the furnace of spiritual transformation.” If solitude is a “furnace,” what gets burned away? The answer is: the negative aspects of the “self.” Unless one daily practices self-denial, self-centered ideas will rise up against the ideas of God. And I have a few of these that desire to raise their ugly head. They are:
- Self-love: On the surface this seems obvious. But the self-love issue goes very deep. Self-love, writes Thomas Merton, “is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness – ultimately, it is hell.” How much easier is it to love the self before loving others and living sacrificially in relationship to them.
- Self-hate: The opposite of self-love is self-hatred. Sometimes, I think, there are two sides of the same coin. Self-hatred is as self-obsessively sinful as self-love; i.e., both are manifestations of self-obsessiveness.Unfortunately, I have much personal experience in hating the self. Merton writes: “How are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves and to love one another? The reason why we hate one another and fear one another is that we secretly, or openly, hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”There is a simple and profound solution to self-hatred: Be at peace with God, and you will be at peace with self. Be at peace with self, and you will be at peace with others.
Well you can wait for a further post where I can unpack all the different sides of my false-self but here is a warning – You may come to see that you have a false-self. To walk in the light is to completely be convinced that I must run into the presence of God. It speaks of a “Holy Desperation” for the light.
“Lord, in praying for more of you and less of me I am reminded of the words of John the Baptist who declared, ‘I must decrease so that you must increase,’ but for me I pray with painful awareness of my own survival coping mechanisms for wanting that which is familiar to remain that my prayer is, ‘You must increase and I must decease.’ I desire to surrender to you and run into your presence so that those things that desire to remain in the dark can be placed into the light and die. I desire with all my heart to be conformed into your image and to model who you are to others. I surrender Father – I surrender to your ways and your will. I desire to be the best tool in Your Hands! I now pray this to you God – who is Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – God who is in stereo may your voice echo on my heart as a reminder that I am on a journey. In Jesus Name – AMEN!
 Basic inductive structure comes from John Piper, Let us Walk in the Light of God. Desiring God, February 3, 1985,
 Ibid, John Piper, Let us Walk in the Light of God.
 The concept of a “Moral Imagination” is a term that was conceived by my Graduate Professor, Dr. Douglas Petersen at Vanguard University.
 John Piper, Let us Walk in the Light of God.
 Ibid, John Piper, Let us Walk in the Light of God.
 Ibid, John Piper, Let us Walk in the Light of God.