Three Lies We Tell Ourselves About Sin
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just 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. 1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 1:5 – 2:20)
It is hard to believe my little boy is over thirty years of age. My wife, Beverley, and I were talking about his first intelligible word. While I was putting a fresh diaper on him one afternoon, he pointed up at the ceiling and said “God.” Well, you can imagine the excitement of a young father who is a preacher that his son’s first word was “God.” Over the next couple of weeks, I would proudly notice that when he was brought into a room he would look up or point to the ceiling and say “God.” Suddenly I realized that he was looking at or pointing to the light fixture on the ceiling of his nursery and calling it “God.” Naturally, I wondered why he referred to the light as God and if I should try to correct this misunderstanding. Next, Sunday while I was preaching at one point in the lesson I pointed up and said “God.” Immediately, my son, Jamin, looked up at the light fixture that hung over the podium. So, should I have corrected him? Why should I? After all, he was right – God is Light.
Nature of God is the Basis of Fellowship
Now that John has establish his credentials as an eyewitness to the Word of Life, he begins with his first point. “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you” (1:5a). John did not come by this message by his own reasoning but from God. He begins by focusing on the nature of God which has been clearly demonstrated to man by the life of the Son.
First there is the positive aspect of the Divine nature “God is light” (1:5b). Light has been connected with God the Creator since the beginning when He said, “let there be light” (Gen 1:3). Jesus is “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). God wraps Himself in light (Ps. 104:2) and He had made His “dwelling in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16).
Second, John mentioned the negative aspect of God’s nature: “in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5c). Perhaps there is no simpler contrast in the Bible than light with darkness. Light is the power of God and darkness is connected with the power of the Devil (Acts 26:18). The “works of darkness” are in conflict with the “armor of light” (Rom. 13:12-14). Also, the kingdom of darkness is the opposing realm to the Kingdom of light (Col. 2:12-14). God is so bright and the source of all light there will be no need of a sun in Heaven (Rev. 21:23).
Contrary to mankind God has no darkness in Him at all. He does not have some sinister aspect of His will hiding in the dark shadows. He has no deep dark secret about His character. God is truth and never lies. God is holy and never does evil and cannot even be tempted to do evil (Js. 1:13f).
John seems to be very fond of sets of three. Next, he will give three lies found among dissenters in the congregations of his day whose view of personal sin in their lives is in conflict with having fellowship with the God of light. All three are introduced with the phrase: “if we say…”
First Lie: We Can Walk in Darkness and Maintain Fellowship
The false notion about fellowship with the God of Light and sin is the belief that a Christian can “have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness” (1:6a). This walk is not a single misstep into sin any more than walking in the light represents a Christian just taking a single step now and again in the light. Walking in darkness involves a continued and even deliberate practice of sin while trying to maintain one’s fellowship with God. As Paul asked the Corinthians, “for what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14b). In 1 John “darkness” is a symbol of deceptive lies and sin (1:5,6; 2:8,9,11).
The first of two consequences of the lie of sinning and maintain fellowship with God is: “we lie” (1:6b). Sin is the transgression of God’s Law (3:4). One cannot break the law and maintain a good standing as a citizen of the Kingdom. Fellowship with God is lost by sin (Is. 59:1,2; Ps. 66:28). The second consequence is: we “do not practice the truth” (1:6c). The fact of the matter is light cannot possibly mix with darkness. These two are mutually exclusive and incompatible with each other.
Truth: Walk in the Light
The correct response to sin and the maintenance of fellowship is for the children of God to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1:7a). Walk is the entire continued conduct of the Christian’s life. This fellowship is not a reference to two Christians getting together for donuts one morning or having a conversation in the foyer after worship. That type of fellowship can be had by a couple of atheists. Such would be association not the spiritual fellowship to be enjoyed by those of like precious faith. Christ did not come and die on the cross for God’s children to eat, drink and play. He died so we can have a deep, active relationship with the God of Light and with the rest of His children of light.
By obeying this truth and walking in the light, John promises two blessings will result. First, “we have fellowship with one another” (1:7b). The basis of our fellowship both with God and our fellow Christians is our continued walking in the light. Second, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7c). Sin makes us unclean and therefore separated from the Holy God of Light. “The cleansing is present and continuous” (Vincent 521). Just as walking in the light is a continuous action so is the cleaning. Keep on walking and He will keep on cleansing. Stop walking in the light and God will not keep cleansing one from sin.
Note that this section abounds with John’s use of the literary device called, parallelism. This is where an author uses two statements to say the same thing again by using synonymous phrases.
Second Lie: We Have No Sin
Next, some Christians came to a conclusion that was even more dangerous: “we have no sin” (1:8a). Notice the deception is not they have no “sins”, but they do not even have a single sin to confess. Perhaps they felt they could handle the consequences of sin themselves before God or they denied they have sins since the moment they were baptized, or they are so mature or strong in their faith they never once have yielded to temptation since obeying the Gospel. Most people do not like to be labeled a sinner, but these have gone so far as to claim they have no sin.
The first consequence of believing this lie is “we deceive ourselves” (1:8b). Perhaps they are under the delusion that sin is something that is of no concern. Sin is not a big deal to them, so they fail to see how big a problem it is for the God who is light. Using parallelism John restates the first consequence of this lie: “and the truth is not in us” (1:8c). The truth is: Christians do sin.
Truth: Confess Sins
In contrast to self-deception John tells them to confess themselves as sinners. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). David tried hard to cover up his sin with Bathsheba only to find himself deeper in sin and further from God.
Confession is not saying, “well, if I might have done something wrong, then I am sorry.” Confessing means “to agree together with” God. God does not call sin a mistake. Confession is admitting one’s guilt before the One who knows all and sees all. God says you are a sinner and confessing is an agreement with Him about your condition.
Whenever men have come into close contact with the God of Light, they are all immediately convicted of their dark and sinful soul. When Isaiah beheld the glorious light of God’s throne he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:5). When Peter recognized the great power of the Light of the Word he told Jesus, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). When Paul saw the light on the road to Damascus, he fell down and asked the Lord what he was to do. Later, he claimed of himself, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Those who are willing to confess their sin have fellowship with Christ who “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1:9b). He can have all charges dismissed against us and can cancel out the debts of sin we have incurred. Two reasons are given why Christ can and will do this for those who keep on confessing their sins. God is always faithful and keeps his promises. God is just and always maintains a holy and righteous standard of justice.
The next blessing is Christ’s ability “to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9c). The word “cleanse” if from the Greek katharizo from which is derived the English word, “catharsis”. It is the process of releasing one from an inner pain and thus giving relief. No sin is so dark nor the stain of evil upon the soul so deep that the blood of Christ cannot remove it. No sinner has sinned so often he has exceeded the ability or willingness of God to forgiven.
Third Lie: We Have Not Sinned
The third and final lie is when Christians “say that we have not sinned” (1:10a). John’s “use of the perfect tense ‘have not sinned,’ asserts a past condition of sinlessness which continues to the present time” (King 35). The condition of this liar is worse. The first liar admitted sin but claimed he could still have fellowship. The second liar claimed he did not have sin in his life at that present moment. Now the claim is they have never, ever committed a sin. For modern man, the guiltiness of sin has been explained away. Man is no longer a sinner but diseased or a victim of poverty or great wealth. He needs therapy to help him with his addictions and drugs to balance the chemicals in his brain.
▸ Two Consequences:
The Christian has now made a very serious accusation against the Son of God in that this lie they “make Him a liar” (1:10b). Christ is the only one who never committed a transgression against the Law of God (Heb. 4:15). God has declared all men to have sinned (Rom. 3:23). God says every man needs a Savior from his sins. This belief argues that man has no sin and therefore does not need a Savior. Paul said, “let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). The second consequence is God’s “word is not in us” (1:10c). This is serious because the Word is able to save our souls (Js. 1:21; 1 Tim 4:16). If the Word is in us we will not continue in sin but try to avoid it. David wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).
▸ Truth: We Sin But We Do Not Have To
John does not want to keep his “little children” (2:1a) bound by the guilt of sin. Quite to the contrary. He is writing this so they “may not sin” (2:1b).
There can be no doubt about it. Every Christian who lives long enough in Christ will sin again and be in need of God’s second law of pardon. As long as we live in this world where Satan is prince and his servants manifest themselves as angels of light, we will face trials and temptations. At times even the most mature and faith of children of God will chose the dark side.
▸ Three Blessings:
When John writes, “and if anyone sins” it is by no means John’s endorsement of sin. “The Greek grammar of the phrase ‘if anyone sins’ is instructive. The verb is an aorist subjective third-class conditional that conveys the strong probability of actual occurrence. John’s expression could be translated ‘if anyone sins, and it will happen’” (MacArthur 45). No Christian can argue, “if sin is inevitable and forgiveness is assured by just confessing than why not just give into sin?” Because Christ blood will only keep on cleansing us from sin if we continue to walk in the light and keep on confessing our sins. This attitude is one of continuous walking in darkness.
Forgiveness or cleansing of sin is not done automatically. One must repent of sin, confess the sin, and pray for God’s forgiveness. If one does sin and he will God has a plan to save the Christian through the continued work of redemption and pardon through Christ. John gives us three descriptions of Christ’s role in the second law of pardon, which is, the steps a sinning Christian is to take to have his sins pardoned.
First, if we sin “we have an Advocate with the Father.” This is a legal term. Our word paraclete comes for the Greek term used here. Literally, an advocate is one who comes “along side of” another to provide help are assistance. Jesus used this same word in His promise to send the Holy Spirit as a Comforter or Helper (Jn. 14:16,26; 15:26).
In the court of sin and lawlessness God is the Judge (Ps. 7:11; Heb. 12:23). His Word is the Law. Satan is the accuser (Rev. 12:10). All men are guilty. Sin is a capital offense and eternal life of our soul is on the line. We need a court appointed lawyer to argue our case. One who loves and will do the best for us even though He knows we are guilty God appointed His Son to be that Advocate.
Jesus is a different breed of defense attorneys. He will never argue before God that His client is innocent, that is, he did not sin or never has sinned. He will not claim that we have never sinned and still in good standing with the court and the Kingdom of Light. Christ will not parade others before the Judge showing how many will attest that we have a good and sincere heart or try to enter into evidence all the good deeds we have done as a means of outweighing all our evil deeds in the eyes of the court. He pleads for a not guilty verdict by means of His own righteousness or perfection and having paid the price of sin by means of His own death on the cross. Only through Jesus as our Advocate can the Judge acquit us as not guilty and dismiss the charges of sin and its consequences.
Second, if we sin, we have “Jesus Christ the righteous.” His sinless life is our hope. According to the Law of God “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a) and “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4,20). However, Jesus came to be our substitute, because He never sinned. We do not have a defense attorney who is defending our life against the death penalty while he himself has been charged with a capital crime by the same court.
Finally, if we sin, Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sin.” Propitiation is not the appeasement of an angry god by offerings, but the satisfying of God’s Holy law and need for justice through the atoning blood of His Son. God accepted the death of Christ as a sacrifice or covering or satisfaction of payment of the penalty of our sins. Justice is appeased through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God. Although animal sacrifices or even sacrifices of sinful humans would never cover sin, the sinless Son of God did and does and will continue. Not only is Jesus the Judge’s Son, He is our defense attorney who is completely righteous and has paid our debt already. “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34).
John ends this sentence by pointing to the fact that Jesus is not only our Savior, “but also for the whole world” (2:2). He is the redeemer for every living soul who sinned and walking by faith before Christ died on the cross, and for all those today who walk in the light. There is the potential that all men can be saved. This is the desire of God that all men come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). Christ died as a “ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5). Some have construed John’s statement to promote the false doctrine of universalism. This is the belief that God will save every sinner no matter how wicked they are. Instead, John is telling sinners that Christ’s work of pardon is universally needed by all men and adequate for all sinners.
Men love the darkness of sin (John 3:19f), because they do not love the God of light. Perhaps all sinners can learn from children who fear the darkness. If they are in the dark all their father has to do is flick on the light switch and all the monsters hiding the darkness vanish away. For the saint in the darkness of sin all he has to do is keep walking in the light, confessing his sins, and all the monstrous consequences will be washed away by our Father is who is light.
– Daniel R. Vess