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1 John 1:5 says,
5 And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
The concept that “God is light” is one of the main themes of John’s gospel as well as his first letter. In John 1:4 he wrote, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Life, then, is equated with light. God is light because God is life. In the next verse John tells us that this light is more powerful than darkness, because light penetrates darkness, but darkness cannot extinguish light. So also life is greater than death.
Later, in John 1:8-10, the apostle takes it further, tying this light to the gospel—that is, to Truth itself. Then he takes it to the next step, giving us the foundational Truth that has shined in the hearts of believers, a Truth which was rejected by those Jews whose faith in their temple leaders remained stronger than their faith in God. Believing this Truth begets “life” as set forth in John 1:12, 13,
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born [gennao, “begotten”] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
So the order set forth by the apostle is that the Word existed from the beginning; in Him (the Word) was life; this life was light shining in darkness; and wherever this light of truth was received by faith, it became seed to beget children of God. In other words, the same Word that created all things is now begetting children of light—earthly expressions of the original Light. The light of the Word is the seed of life (or immortal seed) that begets the children of God.
John 1:14 says, “the Word became flesh.” First Jesus Christ was the Word made flesh. That pattern is now being repeated again and again as the seed of the Word begets an abundance of children in the earth. The pattern of the virgin birth of the First-born Son of God is ongoing, as the Word begets younger sons of God. Hence, as Heb. 2:11 says, “for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
By understanding the logic of John’s thought process, we can understand the foundational principles set forth in his first letter.
1 John 1:6, 7 then gives us a new thought that was not developed in the gospel of John. It is the truth that the children of God are a family in fellowship with a common Father.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
We see from this that some problems had arisen in the decades since the day of Pentecost. The root of all problems is that some claim fellowship, while walking in darkness. Some claim to have fellowship without believing and practicing the truth—that is, without evidence that the truth has borne fruit in their daily lives.
This is similar to the message of James, who insists that “faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). Likewise, he says in James 2:20 that “faith without works is lazy” (argos). I wrote about this in my book, James to the Twelve Tribes, at the end of chapter 12.
Neither James nor John disagree with Paul’s assertion that we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom. 4:1-8). Neither does Paul disagree with his fellow apostles for insisting that living faith is proven by “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10). Each apostle has slightly different ways of expressing the same truth, each emphasizing a different aspect of truth in order to develop his own theme.
Light is the evidence of the Word. To “walk in the light” means to live one’s life in such a way that all can see the evidence that one has been begotten by God. If there is no fruit, then that person has yet to experience genuine faith. The light of truth has not yet truly penetrated. The seed of the Word has not truly been received by faith.
Those who have truly received the Word of Truth and have been begotten by their heavenly Father are able to enjoy fellowship with one another. Further, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Sin is an offence against God or man. There are times when the children of God sin against each other, even while they are technically in fellowship. Yet because they love each other, they are quick to apply the law of blood to the offence, so that the fellowship is not broken. Later, in 1 John 3:4, the apostle defines sin in accordance with its Hebrew definition: “sin is lawlessness,” or, as the KJV reads, “sin is the transgression of the law.” Hence, John makes it clear that believers are not perfect yet, but are on a journey of truth and light.
1 John 1:8-10 says,
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
John makes it clear that believers have no claim to sinlessness while they are yet on their journey. Like Israel under Moses, which was “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38, KJV), believers are on a journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Israel’s example of murmuring and fleshly desires set the pattern for the later church.
A century ago, certain movements, pretending to be Christian, began to teach that in order for our lives to improve, we must refrain from recognizing reality and confessing the truth. They taught that Christians should confess only good things about themselves and never confess their sin. They thought that if they confess sin, they would be embracing it. They taught that if one ignores sin, one can be free of it and can remove any liability for sin.
It has come to the place where some believe that perfection can be achieved simply by refusing to admit (“confess”) that they have done any wrong to their neighbor. Hence, they live a lie, and by refusing to repent, they feel no need to apply the blood of Jesus to their offence.
John says that forgiveness comes “if we confess our sins,” but these teachers instruct us to confess our perfection and innocence. Yet cleansing from sin comes from repentance, freely acknowledging our imperfection and our offence.
Further, “if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar.” Those who make Him a liar do not have His word in them. In other words, they have not been begotten by the Word of Truth.
Having said that, let us also recognize that the divine plan gives us an imputed righteousness up front. John does not develop this idea as much as Paul does, but when we combine John’s writings with those of Paul, we are given a more complete truth. Righteousness has been imputed to us (Rom. 4:8, KJV), for God is calling what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17, KJV).
Therefore, we ought to lay claim to His imputed righteousness. This is not a lie, because we recognize that we are not actually righteous, but that legal provision has been made for us to be called righteous in spite of ourselves. But man’s traditions are different, because many do not understand the difference between legal and actual righteousness. They do not understand Paul’s teaching about imputed righteousness, which he fully develops in Romans 4.
Likewise, many do not understand the difference between physical begetting and spiritual begetting. They do not know that our earthly bodies were begotten in the likeness of Adam, but when we received the Word of Truth, we were begotten as new creatures by our heavenly Father. Hence, we each must deal with two identities, one soulish and the other spiritual. The soulish entity (identity) follows the example of its father, the first sinner (Adam). The spiritual entity (identity) follows the example of its heavenly Father, who does not sin.
We all must decide who we are and then walk accordingly. If we walk after the flesh, we are living as children of Adam. If we walk after the Spirit, we are living as children of God. But as I said earlier, this is a journey. We are still learning to walk after the Spirit. We are still learning to adjust to the change of identity from the “old man” to the “new man.” Our success rate varies, but when we revert back to the ways of the old man, we find ourselves sinning. When we sin, John says, we are to confess our sin and our failure, and thereby receive forgiveness.
More than that, God encourages us by His love toward us to move on, so that we never have to wallow in the deep regrets of past sin. We are reminded that righteousness has been imputed to us, and that God is calling what is not as though it were. Hence, He calls unrighteous people righteous and declares them to be His children.