1 John 1:5-2:2 God is Light
I know it’s a bloke thing, but I love LED torches, which can be incredibly bright. When I went into an old mine in days past I used to take a dolphin lantern and be very happy with the light it threw. In the last few years I discovered LED torches and headlamps, and couldn’t believe how much better and more penetrating the light was. When you’re in a mine with no ambient light to show the way, a good torch is an absolute necessity. As we’ve already seen in today’s reading from John, light is what he wants to proclaim to his readers and also to us.
God is Light
Picture John sitting down to write a letter to one or more of the churches with whom he’d been connected. He’s at his table with a cup of tea to one side, a Tim Tam on a plate, and chewing on the end of his quill as prays and ponders what to write. He thinks back over the whirlwind of the last few years, bringing to mind all he saw and heard when he was on the road with Jesus. ‘If I was going to summarise it all, what would I want to say? I know! God is light, and there’s not the slightest bit of darkness in him.’
Light and Darkness
Light and darkness: I know about those things.
- Watching the news, I know about light and darkness—mostly darkness.
- Seeing a pristine wilderness ravaged in the name of greed—I know about light and darkness.
- Seeing relationships going pear shaped, I know about light and darkness.
Obviously John doesn’t mean literal light and dark, but he uses the words as metaphors in order to help us to understand the character of God.
The characteristic that most comes to mind when I think of light is that it reveals. Back to the mine. If I didn’t have light, I wouldn’t be able to see the minerals in the rock face. Nothing is hidden when it’s in the light. Everything is revealed in the light of God’s presence and his light reveals things as they really are.
Taking it from the other side, the word darkness also evokes images for me: messy lives, violence, anger, hatred, vengeance, unforgiveness, deceit. These are the kind of things I associate with the word darkness. There is NONE of that in God the Father because his light dispels darkness; the two cannot coexist.
Go back again to the picture of John chewing on the end of his quill and musing. ‘I’ve just written that God is light and there’s no darkness in him at all. His light reveals things as they truly are and nothing is hidden. Oh oh! That means there’s nothing in me/us that’s hidden from him. We can say what we like, but God’s light reveals things as they really are. I think the best way I can explain that to the people who hear this letter is by using a couple of examples of what I mean.’
If We Say….
God casts his light and everything is revealed.
If We Say…We Have Fellowship With Him
God’s light reveals things as they really are, not as they appear to be. Saying we have fellowship with God counts for nothing if it’s not backed up with actions. Eventually God’s light will reveal things as they really are.
To claim fellowship with God while in reality walking in darkness is to lie and not do what is true. Primarily truth is not something we hold to but what we do, something we live. Doing truth means living in a way that’s consistent with how things really are in God’s economy, in ways that accord with his character and nature, doing the things and having the same attitude as God himself would do and have. Living in such a way that reflects all the characteristics of darkness—despite what we may claim to the contrary—is both to live a lie and not to do the truth.
…But If We Walk in the Light
On the other hand, if we walk in the light—i.e. our lives are consistent with God and his character—we have fellowship with one another.
Whoa! That’s not what I was expecting. The logic of verses 6 and 7 would say: if we say we have fellowship with God while at the same time walking in darkness, we’re straight out lying. On the other hand, if we walk in the light—i.e. flipping to the positive side of walking in darkness—we really do have fellowship with God. But John says we have fellowship with one another. I may be drawing a long bow here but, by implication, in our expression and experience of fellowship with one another we express and experience fellowship with God. In other words, fellowship with God is worked out in the nitty gritty of our everyday relationships with each other.
There’s a second thing that comes from walking in the light: we experience the benefit of Jesus’ cross cleansing us of all sin . I’m guessing that for most of us there’s been times in our lives when we’ve felt dirty, by which I mean things we’ve done, things we’ve had done to us, an associated sense of guilt and shame. As we walk in the light we experience cleansing from all that, and that is liberating.
What all that means is that as we walk in the light we experience an intimacy of relationship with God and each other. We also experience the inner cleansing that comes from knowing we are washed clean through the death of Jesus on our behalf.
If We Say….We Have No Sin
If we say we don’t have any sin in us, we are kidding ourselves and are big fibbers! But there’s actually even more to it than that. If we say we don’t have sin we make God out to be a liar, not just ourselves . What he means is that we’re kidding ourselves if we think that at base we are essentially good people without much if anything in terms of sin that needs sorting. The fact is that every single person stands guilty before God and is in need of his cleansing work.
…But if We Confess Our Sin
On the other hand, if we come clean about that and honestly and humbly face up to who we are and what we’ve done, then God forgives.
While there’s an element of making a generic confession i.e. we are sinners, there’s also a sense in which confessing specific sin may be needed. As we do that, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse: he is faithful to be just all the time.
So That You May Not Sin
Back to our picture of John musing. By this time he’s only got half a quill left!! ‘I better be careful here. I’m telling these people that God cleanses us through Jesus, that he is always just and forgives when we sin. They could easily get the impression that it doesn’t really matter what we do because God will cleanse and forgive us anytime we sin. Let’s party! Hey people, I’m not writing this to give you licence to sin. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: I’m writing it so that you don’t sin. But I’m a pretty down to earth person. I’m realistic enough to know that despite our best intentions, we’re still going to end up sinning.’
Here’s the good news. On those occasions when we sin, Jesus speaks up on our behalf, pleading our case with the Father . When I say speaks, I don’t only mean in words. Jesus speaks on our behalf to the Father through his action. Jesus died on the cross for our sin, but not only that—the sin of the whole world . What Jesus did at the cross and in the resurrection was sufficient to cover all sin of all time, for all those who come to him in faith.
So my question is, ‘Why do we keep on beating ourselves up? Why do we keep on acting as though we have to redeem ourselves before God through what we do for him?’ If what Jesus did at the cross is sufficient to deal with all the evil of the world and all sin for all time, then it is sufficient to cover anything we may have done or may yet do. He freely forgives. That doesn’t give us licence to keep on sinning, but we seek to walk in the light out of God’s grace toward us.