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The Threat to Our Fellowship

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5 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. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Last week we suggested that the goal of the gospel is fellowship and we studied what the Bible (and John in particular) mean when they use that word. One of the things we learned was that fellowship in the Bible is viewed as a partnership where active participation is expected by all involved. So fellowship with God is never to be assumed by anyone. It is something that we must actively strive for. This becomes especially true in this text because there is one thing that will prevent us from having fellowship with God every time. There is a deadly enemy that must be defeated if we are to experience the goal of the gospel. The enemy is sin. And it is a real problem, even for those who are believers in Jesus.

THE TWO REALMS

Verse 5 is the first verse in John’s letter after his introduction. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you.” We are about to be given something of a thesis statement, so it is very important that we get a hold of the next few words. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” John says this is the message that he heard from Jesus himself and is now passing on to his readers. While we don’t find these exact words attributed to Jesus anywhere in recorded Scripture, we do find Jesus using this imagery of light and darkness in a few places. For example, in John 8:12 Jesus claimed to be “the light of the world.” In John 12:46 Jesus said that he had come into the world “as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

This “light and darkness” imagery is common in the history of religion, often depicting man’s quest to find God. The metaphor ably communicates contrast, and so it “fits” as a description for God since in light there is no darkness, “none at all” as this verse says. So the idea that “God is light” is easily understood to refer to the fact that God provides the revelation necessary for men to know how they ought to live. Psalm 27:1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The apostle Peter explains that believers in Jesus are those who have been called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

Another association the Bible makes between God and light is holiness. John Stott says of God, “It is his nature to reveal himself, as it is the property of light to shine; and the revelation is of perfect purity and unutterable majesty.”[1] That’s why Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God “dwells in unapproachable light.” And the Psalmist said, “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty.” (Psalm 104:1).

I don’t think many of us are in danger of thinking too highly about God. We have the opposite problem. We don’t meditate enough on the fact that God is infinitely delightful and awesome. We could never get bored with him. The fact that we often do get bored with God indicates that there is something terribly wrong with us. Jesus told us the problem:

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

You see there are two realms, the realm of light and the realm of darkness. God exists in the realm of light because God is the light. He is infinitely wonderful, beautiful, and desirable. Those who enjoy fellowship with God in his light are forever satisfied. Their joy is complete and it is everlasting. If you are missing out on that kind of joy it is because of sin. Sin is what breaks our fellowship with God and puts us in the realm of darkness. That is a dangerous place to be. When you find yourself in that place, beg God to let you see his glory again. The problem is not that his glory is not bright enough. The problem is that we do not have the eyes to see it.

4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)

YOU HAVE A PROBLEM! DON’T DENY IT!

John wrote this letter to people who were in the church and who claimed to be followers of Jesus. He wrote with the goal that they might find fellowship with God and experience with him complete joy. But these professing believers had a problem: sin. It is the same problem you and I have. It is sin that will keep us from fellowship with God every time.

We must not deny or be deceived by the effect of sin in our lives. In verses 6-10 John responds to three false claims that evidently had been made by some within the church. He then offers three positive responses to the truth that these claims denied. All three false claims are variations of the idea that sin is not a problem in one’s life.

1. The claim that sin does not affect fellowship (vv. 6-7).

The first false claim is that sin does not affect one’s fellowship with God. “If we say we have fellowship with [God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

John is concerned that his readers not be fooled into thinking they have fellowship with God when in reality they do not. Talk is cheap. It is easy to say you have fellowship with God, but the real proof is when we “practice the truth.” It doesn’t matter so much what we profess if our profession is not backed up by our behavior. Fellowship with God is dependent upon doing the truth, or, to put it negatively, it is dependent on our not “walking in the darkness.” We cannot have fellowship with God if we are living in ways that are at odds with the ways of God.

Now when the verse says that fellowship with God—who is light—is impossible for those who “walk in darkness” it is referring to those who determine to live in the realm of darkness and sin rather than choosing to live in the realm of God and light and holiness. The word walk refers to a continual way of life. It is doubtful that many of us who call Jesus Lord would admit to choosing such a lifestyle.

But the danger I fear for all of us is that we would assume that we do not “walk in darkness.” And the reason I fear this is because sin is deceitful. That’s why biblical community is so important, because any of us can be deceived by sin. We need to help each other over and over again. Listen to the warning of Hebrews 3:12-14:

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Last week I mentioned Hebrews 12:14: “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” We talked about the necessity of active participation in our sanctification. We argued that the Christian life cannot be merely assumed. Behavior matters. This week I hope you hear how critical it is to help each other in our sanctification. We must be in each other’s lives, especially concerned about the spiritual health of one another. We must fight together against sin and unbelief. The victory is secure because Jesus has secured it. But that doesn’t mean we can stop fighting. May God make Crosstown a church that fights sin with blood-earnestness.

Verse seven is the response to the first denial. “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.” Sin—any sin—will prevent fellowship with God every time. There is no darkness in him at all. So what we need is a solution to our sin problem, and God has provided it through the blood of Jesus. We will say more about this remedy a little later.

2. The claim that we can become sinless (vv. 8-9).

The second claim that John wanted to refute was the claim to have achieved perfection in this life. The first claim was, “Yes, I sin, but that does not affect my fellowship with God.” The second claim is, “I used to sin, but I have overcome it and I sin no longer. The claim is found in verse eight: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

There are some Christian traditions that claim Christian perfection in spite of this verse. But John states in no uncertain terms that whoever thinks that he can completely rid himself of sin is deceived. Perhaps the problem lies in a faulty understanding of what sin is. For many people sin is merely “doing bad things.” To be sure, one way to define sin is lawbreaking (see 1 Jn 3:4). But the main law that we break with every sin is the first of the Ten Commandments, that is, putting other gods before the God of the Bible. And what does that mean? It means “seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than you relationship to God.”[2]

So sin is “any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”[3] And what makes sin so bad is not just its destructive and harmful effects, but the fact that it is always against God. It is the way things are not supposed to be in a universe created by him. It is therefore what is wrong in the deepest sense of the word.[4] 

And according to the Bible, mankind is a sinner by nature. The Scripture says that the heart of man is “desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). This doesn’t mean that humans are as bad as they could be. But it means that even when we are at our very best, we still come up short of the perfection of God. Even the good things we accomplish are in some way tainted by sin. John Calvin argued “The most perfect thing which proceeds from man is always polluted by some stain. Should the Lord, therefore, bring to judgment the best of human works, he would indeed behold his own righteousness in them; but he would also behold man’s dishonor and disgrace.”[5]

So to claim to be sinless in any way is to be self-deceived. The truth does not reside in those who make such claims, else they would see themselves the way God sees them. But once again we find a remedy to our problem, and it is the same remedy offered in verse 7. Forgiveness from sin and cleansing from all unrighteousness is available. What must be done to receive this remedy? According to verse 8 we must “confess our sins.”

Confession is the admitting of wrongdoing. But in verse 7 cleansing from sin is dependent upon walking in the light, maintaining fellowship. Confession therefore must mean more than simply admitting something to be true, because simply admitting something will not in itself move us out of the sphere of darkness where we do evil things. Indeed, the word used here “implies consent to something felt to be valid, and in such a way that it is followed by definite resolve and action.”[6]

So confession includes repentance, or it is not really an agreement that something is wrong. But when we repent, God forgives us every time (he is faithful) because he has the right to forgive us (he is just) on the basis of the blood of his Son.

This message of Christianity, that we are sinners in desperate need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, is in and of itself good news. It is not hard to see that there is something wrong with our world if not with us. But we are not at the mercy of this problem. There is a remedy that we may freely accept. There is forgiveness and cleansing available to all.

3. The claim to have never actually sinned (1:10-2:2)

The third false claim that John responds to is found in verse 10: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” This is the most blatant of the claims. One may agree that sin breaks fellowship with God, and may even agree that he has a sinful nature. But this claim made by some was that in spite of all that, they themselves had never actually sinned. Thus fellowship with God had never been broken and there was no need for his cleansing and forgiveness. John’s response equals the intensity of the claim. Those who make such a claim “make [God] a liar, and his word is not in [them].” God says we have sinned (Rom 3:23). He says we all need forgiveness and cleansing. We either believe God or in effect we are calling him a liar.

John gives something of a response to this false claim in the next chapter, which we will get into next week, Lord willing.

SINNER, BEWARE

It’s not just unbelievers who need to hear this message--John is writing to all of us who claim to be believers in Jesus. We need to have a healthy respect for the damaging effects of sin in our lives. We may not say that sin doesn’t matter or claim to have reached Christian perfection and completely eradicated sin from our lives. But do we live as though we believe that? Do we fear sin and go to battle daily against it because we know it threatens our fellowship with God? Or do we assume that sin no longer affects me because I believe in Jesus? According to these verses it would seem we have two choices. We can be those who live as though sin has no affect in our lives or we can be those who confess it and repent of it. Which choice do you claim? Which choice do you live?


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[1] John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988), 75.

[2] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 162.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 490.

[4] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 490.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.15.3.

[6] Otto Michel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964–74), 5:200.

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