Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 1:5–10

    Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness

The prologue of First John (1:1–4) deals entirely with the incarnation of the Word of life: Jesus. As highlighted in last week's summary, it deals with our personal relationship with God and Jesus. The remainder of chapter 1 has only six more verses. But they begin a long and more complete presentation throughout chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3 that focuses our attention on "light," that is, God's light (φῶς). More to the point, the verses compare living in a world of light with a world of darkness, followed by comparing the gains and losses of confessing our sins versus denying them. The key purpose of First John was to set boundaries on the character of faith while giving believers assurance of their salvation.

Two key words in First John are "know" and "fellowship," which will be highlighted herein. "Know" occurs at least forty times in the NIV while "fellowship appears five times. Dealing with faith in Christ, John's first letter helped his readers examine their individual faith. It also enabled them to know if they were true believers. According to John, believers were to examine their actions. For example, if they loved one another, clearly God was present in their lives. However, if they quarreled, clashed with one another, or were self-seeking, such actions revealed that they didn't know or have a true relationship with Jesus. Note: John didn't expect perfection. In fact, he recognized that believing in Jesus involves admitting our sins and seeking the Lord's forgiveness. Depending on God for a cleansing from guilt, along with admitting our wrongs against others and making amends, was another important part of getting to know God.

Light and Darkness (1 John 1:5–7)

John begins today's passage in v. 5 wherein he brings into focus sin and the nature of God. In v. 6, he directs his aim at God’s sinlessness and our relationship with Him. And in v. 7, he presents the blessing of walking in the light.

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7But 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 every sin (1 John 1:5–7).

Fellowship is an essential element of First John and Christian living. In vv. 3–4, believers might have fellowship with the apostles who, in turn, were in fellowship with the Father and Son. The apostles' joy would be full since all genuine joy comes from participating in godly fellowship. Then in vv. 5–7, we see that fellowship with God consists in "walking in the light," with Jesus being that light. To walk differently is to admit and confess a lack of fellowship with God. The Gnostics claimed that they had fellowship with God, but their lustful, sexual acts repudiated such claims.

These three verses enable John's readers, and us, to answer this personal question: Dear God: What exactly do you want or require of me? The text herein provides help answering it because the church to which John had sent this first letter had, as well, been struggling to answer it. To help his church body know how to correctly answer that and other related questions, he used the imagery of "walking in the light."

So, when we ask ourselves What does God ask of me? . . . and . . . As a disciple of Jesus, what am I to say and do? . . . and . . . How am I to act once I become a faithful Christian in the Lord's eyes? . . . we need to look at John's helpful counsel in vv. 5–7. Therein he lays out specific requirements for those who choose to strive to walk in God's light: We're to follow and model ourselves on God's good name and standing.

John's use of "God is light" (v. 5) aptly reveals to readers that light can reveal safe passage in darkness. Further, thanks to God's divine announcements, we're able to know God and realize the appropriate, well-lit path ahead of us, the path that leads us straight to God. To know God and to live as he requires is tantamount to our redemption, our salvation. "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (v. 5); it comes from the Word of eternal life, which John "had heard, seen, and touched" (1:1). Intentionally using the phrase "from him," the Elder attests that the "God is light" message comes fundamentally from Jesus.

In v. 3 we find John's first mention of fellowship, both between believers and with God. He again picks up on this theme in v. 6. If God is light and has no darkness (v. 5b), then a believer cannot walk with God while also walking in darkness. It would be an overt lie to make such a claim, a lie to one's self, to others in your fellowship, and of course to God.

What 'darkness' has to do with 'sin'

Adding to his "God is light" declaration, John purposefully repeated that point by adding to those three words, "in him there is no darkness at all." In effect, God is pure light. However, for Christians and for God himself, darkness is incompatible with light. When we connect the themes of "light" with "fellowship," it's clear that God has no fellowship with darkness, for he is pure light. John tells us that we children of God who claim to have fellowship with Father God are to "walk in the light," not "walk in the darkness" (vv. 6–7). To "walk in the light" means to develop our inner self, carefully conducting our actions, thoughts, decisions, and teachings by adhering to God's "light" benchmark. As noted above, although God is perfect, John didn't expect perfection for his fellow believers, as he iterates in vv. 8 and 10 (shown below). Instead, we're able to "walk in the light" only when we allow the Spirit of Jesus to guide and guard us so that we uphold the heart and righteousness of God.

John the Elder has a lot more to teach us about how to follow the precept or doctrine that "God is light." Next, in vv. 8–10, he'll present the right and wrong way to handle the ever-present problem of human sinfulness.

Sin and Forgiveness (vv. 8–9)

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us (1:8–10).

Now that you've read this "Sin and Forgiveness" passage, ponder what Augustine (AD 354 to 430) wrote about it: "If thou shalt confess thyself a sinner, the truth is in thee; for the truth is itself light. Not yet has thy life become perfectly light, as sins are still in thee, but yet thou hast already begun to be illuminated, because there is in thee confession of sins." As stated, our confession of sins is a necessary consequence and result of our "walking in the light" (v. 7).

We cannot deceive God who knows everything! Alas, our truthless denials deceive only ourselves. For "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." We have one option only: to confess our sins admittedly, each and every one of them, never choosing to compromise our personal relationship with the Lord by delaying or refusing to follow God's, straight, proper, well-lit path. Corrie Ten Boom said this about the importance of confession.

John begins v. 8 with "If we claim to be without sin." Take note that he uses the singular form of "sin" here, while in v. 9, "sins" is in the plural. "Sin" refers to the corruption of the old self that's still present within us; the stains created by our recurrence of "sins" emanate continually as a result of our old sinful nature. [See what Paul wrote about "struggling with sinful nature" in Romans 7:14–25.] It's essential that we confess and realize the need for cleansing and purification from our sin nature so that we may successfully and effectively "walk in the light" with the "Word of life."

Thankfully for believers, we’re saved eternally. It's God desire that we don't sin. Because he's holy, he can't tolerate sin; it's our sin that separates us from him. Although we’re saved, we still sin, we disobey the Lord, we fail him. Our committed sins (plural) cause us to lose our complete joy (v. 4). After we sin, we know and feel that something’s wrong; we sense that a fellowship barrier has sprung up between us and our Lord. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

Our sins separate us from God because God is righteous; he knows well of our sin; he can’t tolerate it, which is why even a small transgression creates a fellowship barrier between us and God. Big or small, our sins cause us to lose the complete joy of our salvation. We're obliged, therefore, to confess our sins promptly and sincerely. Whether they're small transgressions or serious offenses, we must confess them to the Lord.

Time is of the essence in our sin confessions! Whenever our conscience makes us aware that we’ve sinned, we shouldn’t wait to confess to the Lord. We're told in v. 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” The conditional "If" makes clear that we have a choice to act or refrain. When we choose to act by confessing our sins to God, we see that he's righteous and merciful and he forgives and cleanses us. When the problem of sin is dealt with promptly and our fellowship with him is restored immediately, we experience the complete joy of salvation, again and again.

While the timeliness of our confessions is essential, so is our ongoing fellowship with Christians. When we realize and appreciate the advantages of companionship (as documented in Ecclesiastes 4:9–10), our fellowship with other Christians enables us to maintain our complete joy in the Lord, since one of the greatest joys of living as a Christian is to be with others who love Jesus. Concerning believers’ fellowship with the Lord, Apostle John demonstrates in vv. 3–4 that genuine Christian fellowship is not a duty or ritual but an appreciation of joy. Gathering with other believers to read and discuss the Bible, speak and learn about Christ, and praise the Lord, refreshes us, encourages us, and makes our satisfaction and joy filled to the brim.

The conditional phrase in v. 9, "If we confess our sins," brings to mind what the prophet Micah said about the Lord's compassion on Israel for its sinful nature (Micah 7:18–19). The Israelites' sinfulness brought them into bondage, so God's pardoning of their sin brought them out of it. All who receive pardoning mercy must fully realize and appreciate it. When the Lord eradicates sin's guilt, thereby preventing eventual condemnation, he effectively breaks sin's power so it can't and won't have dominion over anyone. But, as documented in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Colossians 3:10, for us to gain a redemption for our sinfulness, we must be truthful in our confessions of sin, which brings us to chapter 1's closing and compelling verse.

Those Who Claim to Be Without Sin (v. 10)

This verse offers the fifth and final conditional "If" statement in today's passage. Sticking to John's positive-then-negative arrangement in vv. 5–10, this verse takes on the negative. Verse 8 states that if we presently claim to have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Here in v. 10, the words "have not" suggest prior sinfulness. In addition, this closing verse adds two negative traits of those who claim to be without sin.

First, when we claim that we've not sinned, we've actually lied, and lying directly contradicts the words of God, which is the same as calling God a liar. Before reading further, see here how God's Holy Word forbids us to lie. . . Then, as now, lying was considered a remarkable blasphemy.

Second, to claim that we've not sinned implies that the truth of the gospel is no longer present in our lives. When we claim to currently be without sinfulness, we're definitely not telling the truth, and we know that. And when we claim to have never sinned, that exhibits untruthfulness, directly contradicting what Jesus tells: Only he is without sin (Hebrews 4:15 and 2 Cor. 5:21). Even the majority of unbelievers know and admit that they've fallen short of whatever moral code they've adopted. Only a profoundly mislead or deceived person would claim that he or she was without sin. 

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  How is God “light?” . . . Why can there be no darkness in God?
  • Q. 2  What does it mean to “walk in the light” (v. 7)?
  • Q. 3  What establishes fellowship with God?
  • Q. 4  What's the condition of those who say they have no sin (v. 10)? . . . Why?

This Week’s Passage
1 John 1:5–10

New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 1 narrated by Max McLean.]

Intro Video: “Apostle John’s Three Epistles”

     Watch this summary video of “1, 2, and 3 John” created by The Bible Project.

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