As we begin to look at the letter of 1 John we have to keep in mind who John was writing to. So, let me ask you, Who was this letter of 1 John written to? This was most likely a circular letter and was intended to be passed around to various churches is Asia. The only thing that can be said for certain about the intended readers based on the content of the letter itself is that they were Christians:
These things I did write to you who are believing in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that life ye have age-during, and that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God. 1 John 5:13 YLT
Unlike the Fourth Gospel that was written to bring people to faith in Christ this epistle is written to those who have already trusted Christ, instructing them on how to have fellowship with Yeshua and the Father. I see the purpose of this letter as fellowship.
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Yeshua Christ. 1 John 1:3 ESV
This verse introduces the purpose of the Epistle: "So that you too may have fellowship with us"—this is a hina purpose clause with a present active subjunctive. The main theme of the Epistle is fellowship with Yahweh.
Now I'm sure that you understand that not everyone sees the theme of this epistle as fellowship. One commentator writes, "Now if ever you were looking for the certainty of what the true Gospel is, well 1 John is a good book to go to." No, it is not! That is what the Gospel of John is all about.
John MacArthur writes, "In 1 John, John provides tests by which the church can determine who is a true believer. There is the objective test of doctrine and there are the subjective tests of morality and love." I think he is way off here. 1 John is written to believers! This book is about having fellowship with Yahweh, not about determining who is a true believer.
Believers, this book is about how we, right hear right now, can walk in fellowship with the Yahweh the God of all creation. Psalm 50 says:
The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Psalms 50:1 ESV
This phrase, "El Elohim YHWH" can be translated, Yahweh is the greatest God. And this is the God we can fellowship with just as Enoch did.
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24 ESV
"Walked with God"—is a very significant phrase, it is also used of Noah in chapter 6. This phrase only occurs three times in the Tanakh and none in the New Testament. When God walks with men, it is a really rare thing. The first occasion of this was in Genesis 3, "LORD God walking in the garden." Adam was in that Garden, Adam walked with God in that Garden/Temple. Walking with God depicts a direct divine encounter, a fellowship. Enoch had a holy intimacy with the Creator that separated him from the world around him.
"And he was not, for God took him"—the language of being "taken" by God appears again in the description of Elijah's departure from earth in God's fiery chariot (2 Kings 2). Hebrews also asserts that Enoch did not die, "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death" Hebrews 11:5. Enoch walked in fellowship with God, his life pleased God, and God removed him from the earth without him dying.
Think about this; If you took someone from a different place, a different realm, because you had fellowship with them, and they were pleasing to you, where would you take them? You would take them to be with you! What else would you do with them? Why take them from their place/realm if not to be with you?
Fellowship with God, the highest and greatest human experience, Adam knew it and lost it. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David fellowshipped with God. Elijah fellowshipped with God and was caught up into the presence of God.
If John's readers are to have fellowship with the Father and with the Son (v. 3), they must understand what makes this possible. Some antinomian Gnostics believed that knowledge was superior to virtue and morality, and John's revelation here countered that error.
In the Prologue John claimed, in verses 1-4, that he was numbered among the eyewitnesses of the Word of life, now in verse 5 he defines the content of his message.
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. 1 John 1:5 ESV
This verse provides a basis for what follows in verses 6-10 and, in a sense, the whole rest of the letter. In the Greek this verse begins with the conjunction kai. This conjunction forms the link between the prologue (1:1-4) and the present section, 1:5-2:2.
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you"—John is affirming his personal presence during Yeshua's teaching. He is passing on Yeshua's revelations, not his own! The pronoun "we" refers to John and the other eyewitness and followers of Yeshua during His earthly life. The "you" here is the believers in Asia.
John is saying the message we are proclaiming to you, Christ gave to us, and we are only relaying what He told us. In John chapter 8 Yeshua said:
I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father." John 8:38 ESV
So, there is this chain of communication: God the Father communicates to Christ what He wants men to know; Christ comes and instructs His disciples, and the disciples are sharing with the believers in Asia Minor the message that Christ gave them.
And that message is this; "God is light"—the message is essentially one about the character of God. In many ways the statement that God is light is the thesis of the epistle. It includes a definition of God's character as well as implications for the life of Christian discipleship.
What does he mean by saying, God is light? Lazarus would be drawing his imagery here from the Tanakh. He was a priest; he knew well the Tanakh. In the Tanakh we see that the reference to God as light has several different meanings. Light attends and characterizes God's self-manifestation (Ex 3:1-6; 13:21-22; Ps 104:4). The psalmist pictures God clothed in garments of light:
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Psalms 104:1-2 ESV
Paul says of God in 1Timothy 6:16, "who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light" This "unapproachable light" is an appropriate symbol for the One who is pure, righteous and holy.
Light also speaks of God's revelation through the spoken and written word. That word offers moral guidance and direction for living in accordance with God's will.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalms 119:105 ESV
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. Psalms 119:130 ESV
Just as light shows people where to walk when it is dark, so God shows the way in which human beings are to walk:
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Psalms 36:9 ESV
Light is a symbol for truth:
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Psalms 43:3 ESV
Light is also used to symbolizes God's salvation. The psalmist celebrates Yahweh:
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? Psalms 27:1 ESV
Light is a favorite image of the prophet Isaiah to depict God's saving activity on behalf of the people of God:
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1 ESV
The "light" figure emphasizes many qualities in God: His splendor and glory, His truthfulness, His self-communicative nature, His purity. But here, the main idea is that He is holy. As the following context and the introduction of the light/darkness motif make clear, this involves the moral realm and thus constitutes a description of God's character as pure and completely sinless. So, I see the message here as, God is holy!
The Gnostic false teachers asserted that light referred to knowledge, but John asserts that it refers also to ethical purity. Today, just as it was back them the subject of God's holiness is just not popular. If you want to draw the crowds you have to talk about "God is love." Everyone wants to hear that, but people don't want to hear about the holiness of God.
Have you ever asked, "Why is God allowing this in my life? I don't deserve this!" This attitude comes from a lack of understanding God's holiness. If we understand that God is absolute holiness, we will see that we deserve nothing but His wrath, and we won't challenge and criticize God when our life doesn't go as we think it should.
"In him is no darkness at all"—using a strong double negative (ouk oudemia), the author states the same thing negatively. It is an assertion of the unchanging holy character of God.
The symbols of light and darkness are themes which are rooted in the Tanakh and which are drawn upon and applied in the New Testament. Light is a significant metaphor in Scripture, and the word "light" occurs on the very first and very last pages of Scripture and more than 250 times in between. Let's begin with the very first place in which light appears in Scripture:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 ESV
So, we have the darkness over the earth:
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:3-5 ESV
This may seem like a straightforward account of physical realities of light and darkness, but it is much more than this. If you have studied the Genesis creation accounts in their Ancient Near East context, you know that a lot more is going on. In the ancient world the sea and the darkness were synonymous with gods of chaos and death.
In the ancient imagination, darkness was understood to be a problem, so the creation of light and the separation of light and darkness in Genesis intends to communicate Yahweh's dominance over (the gods of) darkness, death, and chaos.
At the beginning of this creation account, the earth was dark and in disarray (formless and void). At the end, it has light and is ordered. The progress is from darkness to light and for disorder to order. Light was created by God to separate darkness and light.
God creates light as something of an antidote to darkness. Light comes from God. Darkness is a problem that needs to be contained. It is from here that the prolific concept of light and dark as good and evil is born:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV
So, we could say that light and darkness are synonyms for good and evil. So Yahweh is light, He is holy, He is good. James put it this way:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 ESV
This speaks of God's goodness, His holiness, His immutability.
Now thinking of God as light with absolutely no darkness let's put ourselves in the position of believers in Asia Minor who were converted idolaters. John's readers were reared in heathenism and they had been taught in their youth to worship the ancient Greek and Roman deities such Zeus, Hermes and Artemis of the Ephesians.
These Gods were so evil in some of their characteristics that Paul said concerning them, "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God". They had gods, and if you studied mythology you know, they had gods who could cheat and lie; gods who were licentious and unchaste; gods who were spiteful and malignant toward men; who were adulterers; who were quarrelsome and abusive towards other gods, and they were accustomed to think of their gods as like themselves: good and evil; kind and unkind; pure and wanton; made of darkness and light.
Now these individuals hearing the Apostles and disciples of our Lord describe a God who is all truth, all righteousness, all goodness, in whom there is no trickery, no wantonness, no evil, no smallest amount of malice or delight in evil, no darkness at all, a God to be absolutely trusted and honored. This is new to them, God is light! That is really good news.
The contrast between light and darkness is also a major theme in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 1:9-10). The metaphor of light and darkness is used frequently in the New Testament and in a variety of ways, and in every case the context provides the clue to its meaning. In our text John is using it as good and evil just as Paul does in:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light Ephesians 5:1-8 ESV
Because believers are "Light in the Lord" so Paul says, "Walk as children of Light"—Paul moves from the indicative of what they are in the Lord to the imperative of how they should live. Just because we are children of Light does not guarantee that we will live that way. So, Paul says, in effect, "Be what you are! You are Light; now, walk that way!" How do we do that? By living righteous lives.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 1 John 1:6 ESV
In this verse Lazarus sets forth the first of his three conditional sentences, which portrays what he understands to be the position of his opponents.
"If we say"—the "we" here is the functional equivalent of "someone". This covers anyone who says this. This is the first of several third class conditional sentences which refer to the claims of false teachers. A first class condition would be "since". A second class condition would be "if and it's not" And the third class condition is "may you will and maybe you won't". These third class conditions are the only way to identify the assertions of the false teachers. Who appear to be early (incipient) Gnostics.
The literary technique of a supposed objector is called diatribe. It was a way of presenting truth in a question/answer format. It can be clearly seen in Malachi and in Romans.
Evidently the false teachers in Ephesus were in one way or another complacent about their own sinfulness. John is not writing to them, but to his own followers in Ephesus who were in danger of listening to those who had left the churches. Their teaching was apparently still influential. Some were saying: "You can have fellowship with God whether or not you are walking in the light in the way John says.
Now in Asia Minor and in the world that John writes to was the false teaching of gnosticism and particularly in the Cyrenthian brand of Gnosticism. They held the view that Yeshua of Nazareth was simply a man. Not really the Son of God, not a divine being, but simply a human being and that at a certain point in his ministry, often associated with the baptism, the Messiah, the heavenly Christ, came upon him and he performed the will of God for a lengthy period of time. And finally, at the cross, that Christ departed from him and so he died as simply a man, Yeshua of Nazareth.
Although John speaks in the first person plural "we", this does not necessarily imply that any of his readers are actually making such claims. Rather, he is using a rhetorical device to make vivid the danger of adopting this viewpoint: "Now imagine if we were to say…" To each of these false statements, then, John advances a theological counterclaim (1:7, 9; 2:1). Each counterclaim consists of two parts: first, he refutes the secessionists' claim to be without sin, to be light as God is light; second, he affirms the importance of the atoning work of Christ for the sinner.
"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness"—some of the cessationists are claiming to have fellowship with God even though they are walking in darkness. They claimed that fellowship was based on knowledge only. This was an aspect of Greek philosophy from Plato. However, John asserts that Christians must live Christlike lives.
"Walk" is a present active subjunctive. This is a biblical metaphor expressing a moral lifestyle. God is light with no darkness. His children should be like Him. So, if we are living in sin and yet saying that we have fellowship with the Father, "We lie and do not practice the truth"—these are both present tense verbs. John's claim here is that the Christian who professes to "have fellowship with God" who "is Light" (holiness), but disobeys Him (walks in "darkness"), is lying.
They are guilty of two offences. First, they are guilty of lying about their relationship with God. Second, they are guilty of "not practicing the truth". The expression "practice the truth" is found only here in 1 John, but it also occurs in John 3:21. In that context, "does what is true" is the opposite to "doing wicked things" (John 3:20), which suggests that here in 1 John "practicing the truth" means living in the light of the truth and seeking to avoid sin.
Back in 2004, the governor of the state of New Jersey, James McGreevey was caught in a scandal. Though he was a married man with children, he was also having a sexual relationship with a man. At the press conference he held to admit this, he began by saying: "My truth is that I am a gay American." Those were very carefully chosen words: My truth. In the thinking of the world today, I have my truth and you have your truth. But Yeshua said, "I am the truth" and the Bible clearly tells us of a truth that is greater than any individual's feeling about it. To "practice the truth" is to follow Christ's teaching.
Some commentators take the phrases "have fellowship with Him" and "walk in the light" as describing salvation. Advocates of this view say that if a Christian does not persevere in holy living, he or she is not a Christian.
One commentator writes, "And for John, to walk in darkness is not describing a 'carnal' Christian. It is describing an unbeliever, Walking in the light is not a description of a class of spiritual believers, who have achieved perfection or some high state of sanctification. Rather, it describes all true believers."
John Piper writes, "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."
As I said earlier, the issue here is fellowship, not salvation. The Christian who temporarily walks in darkness is still saved, but they are not in fellowship with God. John earlier said his aim was that his readers, who were Christians (2:12-14, 21, 27), should enjoy fellowship with the disciples who were eyewitnesses.
So, verse 6 reflects a claim of the opponents, now in verse 7 we have the counter-claim of John.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7 ESV
John's counter point is also in the form of a conditional sentence.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light"—"walk" is another present tense which emphasizes continuing action. "Walk" is a New Testament metaphor for the Christian life:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV
Truth is something we are to live out, not just something we know! Walking in the light does not mean that those who do so never sin, but that they do not seek to hide that fact from God.
By "walking in the light" he means living up to what God shows us in His holy Word as his will. These verses are not "evangelistic" verses. John is challenging Christian people to be in fellowship with God. He is not questioning anyone's salvation (as 2:12-14 makes clear.
"As he is in the light"—in 1:5 John said, "God is light", but here he says that God "is in the light", which indicates that he is going to use the metaphor in an ethical fashion.
Believers are to think and live like God:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1 ESV
As image bearers we are to reflect His character to a lost world.
The consequences of walking in the light are twofold: "We have fellowship with one another"—the first consequence is, we have fellowship with one another. Who is the "one another" here? Is it that we have fellowship with God or with other Christians? Yes! God is in the light so when we walk in the light we have fellowship with Him. Two Christians who are in right relationship with God will also naturally be in right relationship with each other. As people walk in the light with God, they have fellowship with one another. If you are in fellowship with God you will also be in fellowship which other believers who are in fellowship with God. The term "fellowship" is the Greek term koinnia, which means a joint participation between two persons.
The only grounds on which we can have fellowship with another man or woman, as brothers and sisters in Christ, is on the foundation of the Gospel. If they deny the fundamentals of the Gospel, they cannot be considered a Christian, and they're not proclaiming or declaring the Gospel according to Christ, and we cannot have fellowship with them. To proclaim that people must be baptized in water, specifically for the purpose of "the remission of sins" or they cannot be saved is a false gospel. We cannot have fellowship with those who teach a works salvation.
The second consequence of walking in the light is, "And the blood of Yeshua his Son cleanses us from all sin"—this is a present active indicative. By his use of the present tense for the verbs 'to walk' and 'to cleanse', the author represents both the walking and the cleansing as ongoing activities.
The term "sin" is singular with no article. This implies every kind of sin. Notice this verse is not focusing on a one-time cleansing (salvation), but an ongoing cleansing, the Christian life. Both are part of the Christian experience.
God "cleanses" us at conversion, in the sense that He will never bring us into condemnation for our sins (Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 1:7). However, we need continual cleansing from the defilement that sinful daily living brings, because it hinders our fellowship with God. This is the same thing we saw in John 13:
Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Yeshua answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Yeshua said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." John 13:8-10 ESV
What I see is happening here is that Yeshua distinguished the two types of spiritual cleansing that believers experience: forensic and family forgiveness. When a person believes in Yeshua as Savior, God removes all the guilt of that person for sins committed in the past, present, and future. Yeshua spoke of this forensic or legal forgiveness as a total "bath" (louo). After a person believes in Yeshua as Savior, he or she commits sins—and those sins hinder the believer's fellowship with God.
So, in our text John is NOT referring to initial salvation, but to the removal of the obstacle to fellowship, which is consciousness of sin. It is the cleansing of the conscience. One can be a Christian but not (at any particular point of time) be experiencing this. If we—we Christians—do not walk in the light, we will not have fellowship with God, we will not have fellowship with one another.
The "blood of Yeshua" is a metonymy for the death of Yeshua, he is referring to his violent death on the cross, and it is this death which provides purification from sins for those who walk in the light with God. Because the early Gnostics denied Yeshua's true humanity John's use of "blood" reinforces Yeshua's true humanity.
Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing practical sanctification.
So let's talk about sanctification. First, I want you to understand the traditional view of sanctification. It is taught that sanctification is the activity of God that liberates the Christian from the power of sin. Sanctification imparts the righteousness of God to man. Traditionally, sanctification is categorized into three aspects:
1. Positional sanctification—this is that state of holiness imputed to the Christian at the moment of their conversion to Christ. This is positional, if you are in Christ, you are holy:
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
2. Progressive sanctification—traditionally this refers to the process in our daily lives by which we are being conformed to the image of Christ. It is the process of becoming what we are in Christ. This involves the putting off of the old habits of lying, stealing, backbiting, etc., and putting on the Christ-like qualities of honesty, mercy, and love. A text that is often used to support this view is:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
This is talking about progressive sanctification, but it does not refer to us. It is talking about the transition saints; those who lived between the first and second advent of Christ. They were being transformed from the Old Covenant glory to the New Covenant glory. The context of this chapter is the two covenants. The believers were growing into a living temple of God Ephesians 2:21-22.
During this transition the Church was growing to maturity. They were "being built" for a dwelling place of God. During the transition period the Church was growing into the image of Christ. This is speaking about position, not practice. This growth was completed in A.D. 70 when the Lord returned consummating the New Covenant.
So progressive sanctification is something that happened to the first century saints, not us. They were growing in their positional holiness. Now let me say this: I believe that we are to be growing in practical holiness. As you walk with the Lord, your life should reflect His values and attributes. But we are not growing into Christ's image positionally. We are complete in Christ.
3. Ultimate sanctification—traditionally this is said to be that state of holiness that we will not attain to in this life, but will realize when we are finally in the presence of God:
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 ESV
This was written to the first century believers who were waiting on the soon arrival of the Lord. He appeared in AD 70 to that generation just like he said he would.
Alright, so what about us, believers living beyond A.D.70, what does sanctification mean to us? Well first of all, sanctification is synonymous with being in Christ, we are set apart, we are holy. This is our position. But I believe that there should be a "practical" or "experiential" aspect of sanctification to us. I believe that Yahweh has called us to live holy lives. And that is what I see John talking about when he says that we are to "walk in the light."
W. Hall Harris III writes this in 1 John 1:7, "If we understand these statements to refer to initial justification, the force of the conditional construction in the apodosis ("if we walk in the light") would make one's justification contingent upon one's deeds or behavior, and this comes perilously close to making one's salvation depend (at least in part) upon one's good works."
When talking about justification John uses "come to the light":
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." John 3:20-21 ESV
But he uses "walk in the light" to refer to what one does after one has "come to the light," that is, to the process of practical sanctification.
The author is not worried about the initial justification (salvation) of the people to whom he is writing. Rather he is reassuring them about forgiveness of sins committed after having become Christians.
Since walking in the light is being purified from every sin, then walking in the darkness is best interpreted here as walking in sin. Believers, we are all called by God to "walk in the light" we are called to live righteous holy lives following the example and teachings of Christ. And when we do this we live in fellowship with Yahweh the God of all creation.