Walk in the light – 1 John 1

To walk in the light is a key message of 1 John. A contemplation of it demands that we think deeply about God and our relationship to him.

We’re starting a new series in the 3 letters of John. They’re beautiful in many ways, but they were written to address specific problems in specific churches. This is the same John who wrote John’s gospel and the book of Revelation. History suggests he lived in Ephesus in his later years, before being imprisoned on the isle of Patmos.

It looks like some people had begun to teach new things – things different from what John himself had said and taught. John isn’t writing to address the false teachers. This letter is to remind you of the truth, to keep you living in it, and ultimately to give you assurance of your own salvation.

Because false faith means false living.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

The gospel is of God (1-4)

The place to start anything is with God himself.

In Romans 1:20, Paul says that God’s “invisible attributes” are actually visible to everyone who contemplates the universe around us; they display God’s “eternal power and divine nature”.

  • Everything that exists in the universe has a source.
  • That source must be independent of the universe itself.
  • God must be independent of his Creation to be able to create it – his divine nature is clear.
  • And since time itself if part of creation, God is seen to have “eternal power” – timeless power. He simply “is.”

Can such a Being be communicated to finite creatures? Yes. The writer to the Hebrews opens his letter saying that God “has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature” (Hebrews 1:2-3). Like a mould of the infinite God, the Son radiates the Father and is a perfect expression of him.

And that Son is the communication of the glorious creator to his creatures. So, John 1:1-4 (CSB):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

  • This Word, this exact expression of the Father.
  • He is inherently glorious by nature. He is Son of God. As people beget people, God has begotten the divine Son.
  • Jesus: Uncreated, divine, eternally begotten of the Father.

The Word of Life in the flesh

And that eternal one did something amazing: John 1:14, “The word became flesh.” He walked, talked, ate, laughed, cried and sang. And John was there.

Read 1 John 1:1. John’s writing style is often poetic! English translations have to manage that and keep it readable to us. John here uses words and phrases from John 1, and it’s clear that the Word of Life here is Jesus, the Word who was God and was with God in the beginning.

The infinite creator is expressed in the Son, the Word, and John walked with him on the earth. He physically saw and touched the one who’s eternally of the Father.

Would you like some other message, from some other source? John didn’t make anything up! Read 1 John 1:2. He was “with the Father” just as the word was “with God” (Greek: προς).

So we have a key point in 1 John 1:3. We have fellowship with God the Father and Son. If you also do, then you have fellowship with us. That’s a theological fact, and needs to be expressed in the flesh. There’s no such thing as an individual Christian; we all have fellowship with one another in Christ. Equally, we need to beware false separations from other believers over minor secondary issues.

When someone you believed to be a Christian pulls away, it’s a concern. John was worried that his readers were being led away both from him – and, by inference, from truth in Christ. So read 1 John 1:4. 

He writes to keep you in truth, in Christ, in fellowship, in joy. To be in truth in Christ is to know God and live in him. So John makes a statement about God and then shows how that impacts everyone who says they’re a Christian.

God is light (v5)

Read 1 John 1:5.

To contemplate God as light is to hold up a beautiful diamond and examine all its faces – then step back and wonder at it all.

God is perfect in holiness and purity. Everything he does is done with purely good motive. There’s no greed, or malice, or bad feeling. There’s no hint of wanting to do harm or bring hurt to anyone.

If something’s a bit hard to read, you might bring it to the light. God is light. He has perfect vision of you; nothing is unknown to him and you can’t conceal anything from his light.

God is dazzling in his glory. The shepherds on the hills near Bethlehem were terrified at the glory of the Lord as it was reflected in the angels. When Jesus’ glory was glimpsed at his transfiguration, he shone from himself with a supernatural brightness. Saul of Tarsus and his companions couldn’t look at the light that shone on them. Even John hit the dirt when confronted with the dazzling brightness of the glory of God.

All this means he’s unapproachable by anyone who carried darkness in their minds or conduct; if you try to conceal anything from the God who is light, you’ll be shown up for who you are.

And like the sun shines 24 hours a day, sometimes obscured to us by the night, or by clouds, or even the moon, God (the uncreated light) shines eternally, unchanging, un-dimming, forever.

The triune God, source of all

And like the sun brings life to our planet through warmth and natural processes, the sun’s creator is the eternal source of all life. God doesn’t reflect anyone else’s light, like the moon. Nor does he generate light through chemical or nuclear processes, like the sun and the stars. He is light; the eternal source of light; the source of life.

And as this is true of God, it is true of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.

Walk in the light (v6-7)

So because that’s what God is like, what comes next is clear. Read 1 John 1:6.

John isn’t saying someone who sins is necessarily not a Christian. He’s talking about habitually walking in sin. It’s one thing to get caught for accidentally doing 35mph in a 30 zone; but that’s different from being someone who always decides for themselves what speed they want to go at.

If you say you have fellowship with God, then since God is light you can’t possibly be someone who stays in the dark. You can’t say “I’m a child of God” and in the same breath say “I choose to maintain this sinful thing in my life; I won’t give it up.”

No, if you’re a Christian then you’re united to Jesus. You are a new Creation, and your very nature has changed. Read 1 John 1:7.

God is light. He is in the light by nature. So, as Christians in fellowship with him, in union with him in Christ, you are to walk in the light by nature – it’s who you now are. As we do that, we naturally have fellowship with each other.

We’re cleansed by the blood of Jesus. It’s not that walking in God’s light earns you cleanliness from sin by Jesus’ blood. It’s the other way round; living in the light by nature is evidence that you are a new creature, cleansed of sin by Jesus’ blood, being changed by him into his likeness.

Sin separates us from God as dark is separate from light

Until you come to Jesus for forgiveness of your sin, you’re a stinking offence to God; you are dark to his light, dirt to his purity, and you are separated from his fellowship.

  • Your sin will forever exclude you from God, unless you ask for his forgiveness.
  • He delights to forgive all who will ask, and Jesus’ blood and sacrifice are counted as him taking the punishment your sins deserve.
  • Then, forgiven, you’re dead to your old self and alive in Jesus. You’re a new creation, united to God, who is light.

Some people object to the idea that you become a Christian by faith – they say it’s a silly excuse to “keep on sinning because everything will be ok because of Jesus”. But no! As a Christian you’re united to Jesus. He creates in you a whole-life holiness, a redirected heart, and re-tuned desires. Holiness is who you are, not an add-on or a new leaf. But for those who walk in light, you’re clearly not yet perfect:

God forgives your stumbles (v8-2:2)

While you are a new creation in Christ, you know you still sin. So read 1 John 1:8. Make no mistake about this: It is expected that even though you are a Christian you will still sin. You won’t automatically stop being a Christian if you sin; v8 makes it clear that you will be normal – even though it’s not what you actually want!

No, God’s forgiveness and grace are bigger than your sin. Read 1 John 1:9.

  • If you confess your sins to a priest or a therapist, it won’t do you any good with God.
  • You confess to him, because only he can forgive you.
  • He’s faithful to forgive because he’s promised to.
  • He’s just to forgive because Jesus has been punished, and God can’t justly punish both you and Christ.
  • So in Christ you’re cleansed from all wickedness meaning you’re cleared for fellowship with the God who is light.

Read 1 John 1:10. It’s obvious, isn’t it? If you say you’re without sin then you mock the cross of Christ. You say Christ died for nothing, because you don’t need forgiving anything or cleansing from sin. So John explains what he wants: Read 1 John 2:1a. Walk in the light. Don’t dawdle about in the shadows. Don’t go looking for the edges of grace, wondering how far you can go with something before it becomes sin.

Hope because Jesus lives

Walk in the light, of the light, to the light. And when you do sin, there is hope: Read 1 John 2:1b-2.

Jesus lives.

  • He is eternally the infinite Son of God. 
  • Jesus is the sacrifice that appeases God’s wrath against you (he’s your propitiation) and that cleanses you from guilt and sin (he’s your expiation) – the sacrifice of atonement.
  • He stands, our great High Priest, representing us all in the Most Holy Place.
  • He is your advocate. When Satan, the accuser, points the finger of blame at you, Jesus stands by your side as your advocate before the judge saying, “the price is paid in full.”
  • He is the Word of Life, who gives you eternal life.
  • Christ is forever glorified and honoured.
  • He is life and light, and you live only because of him and you are to live in his light.

So shed your sinful ways; step into the light. Have fellowship with God and all his people. Reflect on who God is, and what it means for him to be light. Let his nature (and your union with him) direct your steps. And when you sin (as you will) don’t go to the shadows, go to the light. Confess in the light; he will forgive and bless.