Studies in I John, II Walking in the Light, Text: 1:5-2:6, Title: Trust and Obey


The Apostle will now go into greater detail in 1:5-2:2 about the message which he has introduced in the prologue to his letter. God is always at the center of the message. The whole point of the Bible and of our salvation is that we know God, The reason there is a revelation is so we can know God. I believe that we are here to glorify God and knowing the character of God is essential to fulfilling that end. To lay bare the relationship between the character of God as light and Christian life as “walking in the light” is the whole point of the first part of the epistle. John says that God is light in verse 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. This is more than an apt symbol for deity which would have been shared by other religions. It is a declaration about the true and living God based on the Scriptural witness. Initially we discover that light attends and characterizes God’s self-manifestation as in Psalm 104:2, and I Timothy 6;15 and 16, He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent, God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. We also discover light as a symbol of God’s revelation as in Psalm 119:105, Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, and Psalm 36:9, In your light we see light. This is closely related to other references which equate light and salvation as in Psalm 27:1, The Lord is my light and my salvation. So, upon reflection we can see that when John calls God light he is not stating a theory in physics but is telling us that light is an attribute of God just as when he says “God is love” and means love is an attribute of God. The expression ‘God is light’ is enigmatic and needs explanation, and that explanation is found in the context. Light here speaks of that aspect of God’s attributes which demonstrate the purity of His perfection-His righteousness, holiness, justice, mercy. etc. The main emphasis in this context is righteousness and love, for light is contrasted with darkness in v.6, and associated with Christian love in v.7. This attribute of God is to be reflected in us as John goes on to show and we can only do this by resorting to Jesus for cleansing and remembering God’s commandments.

I Reflecting God’s Character

Usually the first thing we think of when we contemplate being like God is being good, righteous and holy. However in John’s words here, the most important thing is being honest, not,  being perfect. John  makes this clear in verses 6-10, If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 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 all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. Walking in the light means recognizing our sinful condition and sinful acts. It means owning up to what we are really like. According to this Scripture, if we do not do that, then there is no truth, no divine word and no fellowship with God in  our lives. We are, in a word, without God and without hope. Nothing is more crucial than being honest with God and ourselves. The first inclination of sinful man is to hide from God. We see this in the beginning in Genesis 3: 8-10, Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Fellowship with God will always be characterized by walking in the light, doing the truth, living as God desires. A few years ago an article entitled “Pick-and-Choose Christianity” appeared in a major national magazine. This article summarized the results of a three-year study of Christians of all denominations in a midwestern state. One of the least popular teachings was that regarding sin. The article stated, What many have left behind is a pervasive sense of sin. Although 98% said they believe in personal sin, only 57% accepted the traditional notion that all people are sinful and fully one-third allowed that they “make many mistakes but are not sinful themselves.” Said one typical respondent: “The day I die, I should only have to look up at my Maker and say, ‘Take me.’ Not ‘Forgive me.’ ” Needless to say that is not walking in the light and if there is no recognition of our lost condition there can be no need for a Savior to deliver us. This brings us to our second point: which is what to do about the sin in our lives in order to have fellowship with God.

II Resorting to Cleansing

The beloved Apostle adds to what he has already said about cleansing and forgiveness in 2:1 and 2, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. John has already told us that if we walk in the light we have cleansing because we are admitting our sin to God, and we must regularly confess that we are sinners because, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. As the old gospel song states, if you want to be free from your burden of sin, there’s power in the blood of the Lamb. John says the blood of the lamb cleanses from every sin and, moreover, he tells us that the reason is that God is faithful and just to forgive our sin. In the beginning of the second chapter this is explained simply and fully. God forgives and cleanses us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. God, the Father sent His son into the world to save sinners. The words “atoning sacrifice’ are a translation of a Greek word which was correctly translated in the King James Version of the Bible but somehow modern versions think that they must dumb down the translation for you. The former translation said that Jesus is the “propitiation” for our sins. A propitiation is a sacrifice to appease an angry deity. That is exactly what Jesus did. Atoning sacrifice is a term that more or less directs attention to us, the beneficiaries, but propitiation directs attention  to God who is appeased. This is important because it makes plain why God must forgive us when we confess our sin. His wrath against our sin has been cancelled because Jesus died in our place and the price is paid. Thus we are greatly encouraged to resort to cleansing in the blood of Christ because the outcome is guaranteed in that God is faithful and just and He cannot do other than forgive and cleanse. We should also note that John says, “Not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world.” This does not mean Jesus died for everybody for then everybody would be saved since, as we have seen, the effect of Jesus’ death was to appease God’s wrath against sinners. The expression refers to the fact that in the Old Testament Israel alone was the recipient of God’s forgiving grace through the prescribed sacrifices in the tabernacle and temple, but with the death and resurrection of Christ the whole world, that is,  people of every nation can experience that same favor with God. The “our” in “our sins” means we covenant people of Israel. Thus, now,  all people may enjoy the same salvation if they confess their sins to the living God and believe in Jesus as their Savior.

III Remembering the Commandments

John adds in verses 3-6, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. If we are to be like God and walk in the light we must also have a profound allegiance to the law of God. John speaks here of love and he comes back to that theme often in his epistle. I think we should appreciate the fact that love is the fulfilling of the law as Paul says in Romans 13:10. That means that the law given at Sinai, the ten commandments is actually the explanation of how we can love God and one another. The first five commandments tell us how to love God by worshipping Him alone in the way he has prescribed at the time he has prescribed and through honoring others placed over us. The second five commandments tell us how to love one another by respecting the life and property of others in different ways. When we love we walk as Jesus did, according to God’s commandments. We should also note that although we have great assurance of forgiveness and cleansing through God’s faithful promise and the witness of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless assurance is not a static thing. It is a subjective thing. In other words, while there is no doubt about the promise of forgiveness, I may subjectively doubt whether I am the beneficiary of that promise because of my behavior and conduct. In this way obedience does not merit anything but it does strengthen our assurance that we are children of God. Disobedience causes doubt: obedience causes assurance. Thus John will repeatedly remind us, for example in 2:28, that as dear children we must continue in Him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.