1 John has always made me slightly uncomfortable. I think it’s the apostle’s “all or nothing” style of writing. He says things like:
If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10).
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (2:4).
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (2:15).
I know I don’t keep his commandments perfectly…does this mean the truth is not in me? And I know that sometimes I love the things of this world more than Christ…does this mean that the love of the Father is not in me?? What does John mean?
Firstly, John is refuting a specific false teaching (which we will cover in-depth tomorrow!) But also, if you read closely, he is not demanding we have to be perfect – because mixed in with all of John’s “all or nothing” statements is the gospel…John reminds us that we will still struggle with sin, but “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). He also reminds us who rescued us from sin… Jesus, “which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1:1). He is the propitiation for our sins…in other words, He made atonement for our sins to satisfy the wrath of God!
It is in this context, of seeking forgiveness and God’s grace, that John exhorts us to live in the “light” and not in the “darkness.” Living in the light is only possible because of the life of Christ. If we are true believers in Christ, he has regenerated our hearts and empowered us with His Spirit so that we might obey his commands (2:3-6). Without the help of Christ, we are left in the darkness. But because of Christ, we are forgiven; we are able to know him, and we have overcome the evil one (2:12-14).
I’m sure John struggled with sin, so he is not commanding us to be perfect. But he is exhorting us to strive to live in the light – in both knowledge and holiness – to pattern our lives after the light of Christ.
I’m thankful to be reading Psalm 139 on the same day as 1 John! For in this Psalm, David reminds us that – as children of God – we will never be separated from His presence. That even the darkest places are light to God – and we are never hidden from him. He knows us, intimately, and still pursues us. This gives us confidence to draw near and confess our sins as John commands us in 1 John 1:9. He is our loving Father. He is light!
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24).