I am working hard at getting back into the regular habit of prayer and scripture meditation/study. With two young kids and two hours of commuting per day, I’d all but lost any meaningful time w/ God. However, my wife and I are both trying to support one another in getting time with God regularly.
My study tonight was 1John 1:5-10.
A. What God is Like
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
It’s funny that John, the Apostle of love, or as Jesus called him, a son of thunder, would state THE message in this way – not a clear statement of the gospel as in John 3:16 – it seems in his old age he began waxing metaphoric, climaxing in this crazy visions of Revelation. Needless to say, this perspective on God and this summary of "the" message, is enlightening ;).
First, we see no yin and yang here. John is clear that there is NO darkness in God. This metaphor, however, is probably one of the best and most informative in scripture.
- Light is Revealing: To me, one of the most frightening things about God, and His presence, is that, when I am close to Him, my own sins are much clearer and less excusable. Paul speaks of being blinded, while John, in seeing an angel, whose glory and purity are only a shadow of God’s, said "I fell down as a dead man." When we see God as He is, not just intellectually, but experientially, our own self-deceptions, hidden angers and lusts, and petty pride and arrogance are painfully obvious. This is why it is good to experience God in private prayer and public preaching and worship – the light of His presence can drive our illusions about our own goodness to the hills. This is not because we enjoy feeling small or condemned, but because, seeing these putrefying things, we can forsake them and get closer to God immediately!
- Light is Purifying: I guess after revealing, purification is the next logical step. Just like prolonged exposure to sunlight can purify and bleach items, our prolonged exposure to God and His words can, of their own power, cleanse us. It’s hard to believe, but most of what we have to do in prayer is not work hard to cleanse ourselves, but work hard to expose ourselves to God’s truth and presence, and they purify and cleanse and change us. This pattern of active efforts in order to allow passive change is clearly seen in James 1:4, where James encourages us to *allow* patience to have it’s work in us – to not squirm out, but allow difficulty to form us.
- Light is Life-Giving: Many secularists love to pose the canard that faith is anti-science, and they love to trot out the Galileo affair, in which the Catholic church persecuted Galileo, supposedly for supporting the Copernican model of the universe. Of course, this is a liberal rewriting of what actually occurred, but what is true is that there were some theologians who believed that an Earth-centered galaxy was more theologically correct. In reality, they were probably the first humanists, putting man at the center of things instead of God ;). I’d say that a sun-centered universe is more appropriate, theologically speaking (hindsight is 20/20, I admit). Our own Sol is a perfect metaphor for God – giving life through warmth and energy, but also a consuming fire if you draw too close. And our solar system functions with it at the center.
The main reason, as we will see, that John is describing God this way is to highlight his purity, and by comparison, our own sinfulness. This gives rise to a problem – how to we bridge the gap? How do sinful humans walk with and enjoy a holy God? This is not merely a theological problem, but a practical one. John outlines two human errors in bridging this gap, and God’s solution for each.
B. Bringing God down to our level – "God doesn’t care about sin"
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth
Many people claim to be Christians, or spiritual, but fail to acknowledge and forsake sin. Sure, they admit that we are all imperfect, but since that is the case, they feel no desire or need to forsake darkness in order to have fellowship with God. In fact, they will claim that they know God, yet often openly advocate sin, and live in it as if it is not that big a deal, as if God is not so sin-focused as bible thumpers would have you believe.
I admit, some bible thumpers are not only obnoxious, but noxious and poisonous, with their pathologic focus on sinfulness. As I have said elsewhere, man is both divine and fallen, and fundies are known to focus only on falleness. But let’s not make the opposite mistake of using the "nobody is perfect" excuse to continue in sin, when the scriptures are clear that such a perspective is not Christian.
- 2 Timothy 2:22 – Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
- 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 – For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For
see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also
what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what
longing, what zeal, what punishment!
- James 2:14-17 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and
one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without
giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
My own experience was that, after I asked Jesus into my life, I instantly had a change of heart regarding purity in my own sex life, to the point where I wasn’t even comfortable kissing my girlfriend, much less sleeping with her. Being totally unchurched, and having yet to be indoctrinated into any kind of "holiness" doctrine, the mere presence of God in my life brought a desire for holiness automatically.
And that is the point John is making. The one who says he has fellowship with God yet continues in darkness and sin? Here’s John’s response to such "liars" (his words, not mine):
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship
with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all
If you are a true believer, you walk in the light – that means exposed, honest about your faults and sins, but not excusing them either. When we are open about our inner lives, and seeking to repent and walk on, that’s when we truly have fellowship. And we have the assurance that Jesus’ blood continues to cleanse us – i.e. we can keep seeking forgiveness. As John says later in this letter
- 1 John 2:1 – But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
C. Bringing Man Up to God’s Level – "There is no sin"
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
So, the first group, who said that sin doesn’t really matter to God, and that we can have fellowship with Him without being concerned about what is holy or sinful? John calls them liars. This second group says something different – that man is not sinful, that this is just a negative religious construct used to guilt manipulate and control people. John calls this group self-deceived.
While the idea of our sinfulness and guilt most certainly is abused by unhealthy spiritual organizations, that doesn’t mean that there is not a truth to be found in that idea. If you want to walk with God, who is light, you have to deal with your sin problem. God? Holy. You and me? Sinful, and separated from God by our sin. This works similar to our human relationships. When we hurt or offend another person in relationships, offenses separate us until they are resolved. So it is with God – if we throw up offenses and sins in His face, we need to remove them through repentance just like in human relationships, because God is personal and real.
John continues his solution from above (really, the same one) – if we want to commune with a pure and holy God, we have to be in the light, and seek forgiveness for the sins that are revealed there:
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 we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Confessing our sins, however, is not something we do to a priest – it is something we do to God AND to one another. James talks about this later in James 5:16 –
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Lastly, John makes an interesting theological conclusion – if we say we have not sinned, we are basically calling God a liar, since He has said unequivocally that we are sinners.
God is light, John proclaims, "this is the message." He is repeating the gospel message, but he does so in a more symbolic format to help us grasp both God’s nature, and our own, and how despite the gap, we can enjoy God. But let us all take care to ourselves, that we really are walking with God, not just wearing a Christian label. We need to be in the habit of exposing our souls and lives to the truths of scripture AND to the manifest presence of God in private prayer and public worship, in order to be freed and cleansed from our sins, to be transformed inwardly, and to have real, honest, life-giving fellowship with God and one another.