Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



Walking in the light audio (6MB)

1 John 1:1-10

John is a passionate writer. Maybe he realises that he’s coming to the end of his life and he doesn’t have much time left to get his message across. Maybe he looks around at the church and realises that the inexorable drift from the gospel to religion is impacting on those he’s spent his life pastoring.
It seems that at the time John was writing this letter there were some in the church who were suggesting that there were other ways of seeing things than the way the apostles had taught them. These people were saying let’s not worry about all that gospel stuff, let’s just get on with our spiritual life. They were looking for deeper spiritual experiences. They wanted to be transported into the seventh heaven, removed from these earthly realities, set free to worship and enjoy God.
But it wasn’t as simple as that. Sadly, the result of their false teaching was that people were confused. They began to question whether they were really saved. Was this new spirituality right? Were they missing out on something extra? Nothing’s changed in 2000 years has it? What’s more, this false teaching affected their evangelism. Why tell people about the cross of Christ, if there were other ways of coming to God that were just as effective, if not more so? Why worry about moral behaviour if all that matters is what we experience on the spiritual plane?
John at this stage is in the last years of his life, possibly in his 80s or 90s. He’s the last remaining apostle, the last witness to Christ, so he wants to ensure that the apostolic witness is preserved. You get a real sense of his concern for the people he’s writing to in the way he addresses them. There’s a real sense of affection in his words. (1 John 2:1 NRSV) “My little children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (1 John 4:7 NRSV) “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God;” And he writes to assure them of their salvation: (1 John 5:13 NRSV) “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
There’s a real warmth of pastoral concern in what he writes, yet at the same time there’s a solid assurance of the truth of what he writes. In fact there’s a hard edge to much of what he says. For John, truth matters. As we’ll see in a moment if we don’t hold to the truth, then we can’t really have fellowship together. Remember it was John who reported these words of Jesus in John 17 talking about his disciples: “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:16-17) He also reported these words of Jesus, talking to the Pharisees: “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NRSV) So truth is vital if we’re to be in fellowship with God and with one another, and one of Satan’s greatest weapons is to use lies to turn us away from the right path.
Well, that’s where John begins in addressing the issue of how we’re to have true fellowship with God and with each other. In fact he says that there are 3 things that are necessary if we’re truly to have fellowship with one another, and with God: we must believe the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, truly human and truly divine; we must walk in the light; and we must admit our sins and ask God to forgive us and cleanse us from them. All have to do with the truth, as we’ll see in a moment.

Belief in the Apostolic Witness.

John begins his letter by reminding us of the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. We lose something of the passion and emphasis of his opening in the NRSV translation. The NIV gets it a bit better: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim - concerning the Word of life.” Can you see what’s at the centre of the proclamation of the gospel? It’s the Word of life. The Word of life who’s become one of us. The Word who’s lived among us.
He’s at pains to point out the ‘hands on’ nature of his witness, isn’t he? What he’s witnessing to he’s heard, he’s seen with his eyes, he’s looked upon, and he’s handled. He isn’t passing on a mythology or describing how the early church understood their spirituality. He’s speaking of what he’s witnessed in the flesh.
What’s more, what he’s witnessing to isn’t just a man who lived on earth for a short time. No, he’s witnessing to much more than that. He’s witnessing to the one who is the word of life. Jesus wasn’t just a man, he’s life incarnate. He says, v2: “this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.” He deliberately echoes the opening of John’s gospel, using similar wording to remind us of how his gospel starts. When he speaks of the “Word of Life” we’re meant to think of the message that brings life but at the same time to think of the one who is the “Word”, who is the “Life”. When he says “what was from the beginning” it’s both a reference to the apostle’s witness to Jesus Christ, but at the same time to Christ himself, the Word who was in the beginning, who was with God and who was God. You see, what John’s trying to get across to us is the profound mystery of the gospel. Here is something we’ll never quite grasp. We’ve seen him, and watched him, and heard him, and touched him, he says, but that doesn’t mean we have a handle on him. This is impossible to imagine. Jesus is eternal life personified.
That, of course, is one of the major themes of John’s gospel. You find it in chs 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 14 and 17, with the ultimate statement being John 14:6: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus has come not just to show us the way to God, but as the way itself, as life itself. Why? Because eternal life is bound up with a relationship with Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
But notice why John tells us all this. vs3,4 “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” These things matter, because they’re the basis of our fellowship with one another and with God. In other words, if we don’t agree on these things, we can’t really have fellowship together. Does that sound hard? Uncompromising? Intolerant? Well if you’ll forgive me for going from the sublime to the ridiculous, it’s a bit like someone wanting to join the Collingwood Football Club. It’d be no good joining Collingwood when you knew that Sydney was the best team, would it? Well, at a much deeper level, it’s no use claiming to have fellowship with other Christians if you deny the basic truths about Jesus Christ.
What do you understand by the word fellowship? Some people equate it with that sense of belonging and warmth you get after an inspiring service, when the band’s been on fire and the congregation’s been a good size and it feels good to belong. But it’s much more than that. In Greek it was used of relationships where there was something in common. (That’s its literal meaning.) It was used of marriage, it was used of a business partnership and it was used of the Christian’s relationship with God. So it’s much more than a mere feeling. It depends on much more than an emotional response. Which is good, because you won’t always have a positive emotional response to other Christians. So what is it that generates true fellowship? What is it that we have in common? Well, what has John been at pains to emphasise in these first few verses? Isn’t it the reality of the historical Jesus? He’s saying first of all that to have fellowship with one another and with God, we need to acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. But even that isn’t enough. It isn’t just a matter of mental assent. Just believing the right things isn’t enough. What matters is that we have a relationship with the one who is life. The purpose of telling us about Jesus, isn’t just that we’ll know about him. It’s that we’ll know him personally. That we’ll come into a personal relationship with him. This is what we have in common as Christians. That we have a personal relationship with the true and living God and his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. But that depends on believing the propositional content of the gospel, the message that was proclaimed to us: that Jesus truly walked on earth, that he died and rose again, and will return to take us to be with him forever.

Walking in the Light

But there’s more to our fellowship with God and with each other than simply entering into that relationship in the first place. Part of the proclamation of the gospel is this fundamental truth: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”(v5)
This was an important statement for John’s readers because they lived in a world where people believed one of two things about good and evil. Either they saw the reality behind the universe as being essentially unitary, with both an evil and a good side, or else they saw it as dualistic, with good and evil battling it out for supremacy. Every Star Wars fan knows about ‘the Force’. Luke Starwalker depends on the good side of the Force, while Darth Vader gets his strength from the dark side of the Force. They’re each complementary parts of the one reality. The second view is seen in those who believe that the material world is evil and we need to escape it in order to reach spiritual purity. There’s an element of that in Buddhist teaching. But the message of the gospel is that neither view is true. God, the one who created the universe, is pure light. The origin of life is 100% good. Just to emphasise it he repeats it in the negative: ‘in him there is no darkness at all.’ What’s more this isn’t just speculation. This isn’t just another philosophy, another opinion on the same level as all other human theories about good and evil. No, this is the message we’ve heard from Jesus himself. This is a truth that God has revealed through Jesus Christ his Son.
Well if this is the case, how is the Christian to respond? Well, it’s pretty simple isn’t it? If we claim to have fellowship with him who is light, we can hardly expect to be able to walk in darkness, can we, and still maintain that fellowship? If we do we’re fooling ourselves. We’re living a lie, John says. We’re in denial.
But what does it mean to walk in the light as opposed to the darkness? Well, it means shunning all that’s evil in the world. There are plenty of lists in the New Testament that show us what that means. According to Col 3 it means turning away from sexual immorality, impurity, evil desire and greed. It means getting rid of anger, rage, slander, malice, envy, and lying. It means putting in their place compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. It means bearing with one another, forgiving them when they wrong us, showing them love in all things. It means living in peace and thankfulness. John will say more about all that later in his letter.
What’s more walking in the light implies being open to the scrutiny of those around us, particularly God. I remember when I was a teenager - back in the olden days. We’d go to a party and they’d have a UV light in a darkish room. And when you walked under it, anything white glowed brightly. Well, that was fine if you were wearing white, but if you were wearing something dark, what it did was to show up all the bits of fluff and dandruff. A bit embarrassing! Well, that’s what it’s like to walk in the light. There’s a transparency of life that’s implied by living in the light, because if you live in the light, you can’t hide your faults.

Confessing Your Sins

And that brings us to the third thing that’s necessary if we’re to live in fellowship with God and with one another. That is, an attitude of repentance. You see there are three false responses to being exposed to the light of Christ. The first, as we’ve just seen is to live in denial. That is, to pretend that it doesn’t matter how we live. The second is to claim to be without sin (v8). Again those who say that are fooling themselves. The third response is to say that we haven’t sinned, either because we’ve reached such a state of spirituality that sin no longer has any power over us, or because we deny that there’s any such thing as sin. In either case we make God a liar (v10). Why? Because God says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No, if we’re truly walking in the light, then the light will show up our failings and we’ll admit them. We’ll be open to God’s gaze, God’s scrutiny of our lives.
And what are we to do then? Well, then we’re to take God at his word. We’re to confess our sins and trust him to do what he says he will. That is to forgive us and cleanse us. Notice that God is faithful and just in doing this. He’s faithful because he does what he’s promised to do. And he’s just because although he forgives our sins the punishment for them is still paid. That is, the punishment that was due to us has been placed on Jesus.
Now don’t miss this. What he says here at the end of chapter 1 is critical for understanding what he says later, about righteous living. You see, you can get quite confused if you read bits of 1 John by themselves. That’s because he says things like this: 2:3: “Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.” Or, 3:6: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” But he says that in the context of 1:9 “9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is primary. First we come to faith in Christ. We come to him for forgiveness and cleansing, and then we seek to walk in the light as he is in the light, knowing that we’ll continue to fail, but that when we do we can come back to him for forgiveness and cleansing.
Let’s not think, though, that the forgiveness Christ offers can ever be taken for granted. That’s where we started this section. Those who think they can just sin as they like and then ask for forgiveness and everything will be OK, aren’t walking in the light, they’re walking in darkness. No those who walk in the light should be seeking at all times to do what God wants.
So truth matters. Truth in belief and truth in behaviour. It matters what we believe about Jesus. It matters how we live. And it matters how we respond to our failure to live righteous lives. Without truth in these 3 areas we can’t have true fellowship with one another and we certainly can’t have true fellowship with God and his Son Jesus Christ. So hold to the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, truly human and truly divine, strive to live a life that’s consciously directed according to God’s revealed nature, and be open to God’s gaze, admitting when you fail and asking him to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.

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