Quick thought experiment: try to pretend you’ve never read 1 John before. Read 1:1-6. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Now, on to v. 7: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with ______….”
What word would you expect in that blank, based on what you’ve read so far?
“Him,” right? You would expect John to parallel v. 6 and say, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with Him.” Have you ever thought how surprising it is that John skips right over that, and promises fellowship with one another?
Hold that thought; we’re going to want it in a minute.
I have a confession to make. Ever since the day I memorized 1 John 1:9 as a child, I have thought of it as an entirely individual affair. I go into my prayer closet, confess my sins to God, and He forgives me.
Now, that’s true as far as it goes…but it’s not really what John has in mind. John is thinking about how we relate to each other as well, and he has that fully in mind all the way through the passage.
To really see that, we need to start by correcting a common misreading of the master metaphor in the passage. We tend to read “light” as moral righteousness, “darkness” as sin, and therefore “walking in the light” as not sinning, and “walking in darkness” as living sinfully. There are certainly passages that talk that way, but that’s not primarily what’s in view here, and we see that most clearly in verse 7. Read verse 7 that way — substitute “don’t sin” for the light language and see what happens: “If we don’t sin as He doesn’t sin…the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Did you catch that? If we can manage not to sin, then Jesus cleanses our sin. Helpful, no? In that case, what sin would He be cleansing us from?
But that’s not what it’s saying. Light reveals; darkness hides. Imagine a street as the sun is coming up: one side of the street is lit by the rising sun; the other side is deep in shadow. Walking in darkness is hiding in the shadows; walking in the light is choosing not to hide.
So God’s nature is to reveal; He gives us no place at all to hide (v. 5). If we claim to have fellowship with God, but we’re actually skulking in the shadows, hiding ourselves, then we’re lying rather than living the truth (v. 6). But if we don’t hide, if we allow the light to reveal us as we really are, what then?
Our fear tells us that if we allow ourselves to be revealed, nobody will want anything to do with us. With our sins on display, why would anyone bother? Our sin will blow up all our relationships and ruin everything. Our only hope, the fear claims, is to keep hiding and hope nobody sees.
God promises the exact opposite. If we don’t hide, the promise is that we have fellowship — not just with God, but with each other! How is that possible? Jesus promises that He will take care of the sin. If we will let the light reveal us, Jesus will clean us (v. 7).
Now, some of us will be silly enough to say that there isn’t anything to confess, no ugliness for the light to reveal. No sin here! That’s just self-deception, and shows that you haven’t let the truth take root in you (v. 8). But if we confess our sins, if we come clean, God forgives us, and cleanses us from everything (v.9). Again, if we dodge by trying to claim that what we did wasn’t actually sin…now you’re just calling God a liar! You really need to get more of His word into you (v. 10).
And crucially, all this is happening in front of other people, the people that we have fellowship with in v. 7. Read in context, this isn’t confession to God alone in a prayer closet. This is refusing to hide from my people.
Church is a hospital. We take in the sick, the wounded, the broken. It’s just unseemly to complain that someone’s bleeding on the Emergency Room floor again — that’s what it’s for! That’s what we are for: to hear the truth of our sins and failures, and assure one another of God’s cleansing mercy. So go forth into the body, and tell the truth. Trust Jesus: He will take care of the sin.
Tim Nichols is a pastor at large with Headwaters Christian Resources and a massage therapist in Englewood, Colorado. He is a coauthor of the Victorious Bible curriculum.
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