A Study of 1 Jn.1:5—2:14
The first requirement for fellowship is to walk in the Light <1 Jn.1:5-7>. The message that John received and was directed to pass on is that: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” <1 Jn.1:5 (NIV)>; and the issue is our response to “the light”. In the darkness of our sinful ways, we have degraded God to a representation to which we bow down and worship, and this can encompass many different forms as we consider all that we acclaim as more important than our worship to God: our job, our pursuits and anything else that replaces God in our life <cf Rom.1:21-23; 1 Cor.10:7, 20>; these may not be an actual sculpture but becomes the symbol, and God is shut out of our life. “Light” as used here signifies God’s truth, goodness, and joy, as opposed to what “darkness” is – falsehood, evil, jeopardy, death. Therefore, the first condition for fellowship with God is to walk in “the light”. “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” <1 Jn.1:6 (NIV)>
The second requirement for fellowship is confession of sin <1 Jn.1:8—2:2>. The character of God determines the condition of our fellowship with Him, and since the Scriptures declare that He is “light”, the next condition that we face is our attitude towards sin. We must understand that our salvation is in three “stages”. First, we are saved from the penalty of sin <see Rom.6:23>; secondly, we are saved from the power of sin <Rom.6:14; 8:2>; third, we will be saved from the presence of sin <Jn.14:2-3; Phil.3:20; 1 Thess.4:17; Rev.21:27>. So, as believers we should understand that in this present life our fellowship with God depends upon our attitude towards sin and what God requires of us: “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, purifies us from all sin.” <1 Jn.1:7 (NIV)>. We must also understand that in this life we are still under the influence of sin, and that it is possible for us to sin by our thoughts, our words and our deeds: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us……If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” <1 Jn.1:8, 10 (NIV)>; therefore, this perception must always guide our life.
The Old Testament taught the meaning and reasons for the sacrifices offered, and one was for the sin offering; it was mandatory for specific unintentional sin, confession of sin, forgiveness of sin and cleansing from defilement <see Lev.4:13, 22, 27>. This offering was necessary to restore fellowship between the Lord and the worshiper, and taught that sin must be dealt with before any other form of worship was acceptable to God. In the New Testament we see this explained by Christ <Jn.13:10>. Christ explained that the feet needed to be washed since they had become dirty by the person walking from one place to another. We see this in our daily living as we too can become contaminated by sin as we interact with other people, influencing our thoughts our words and our actions; and although this may be unintentional, in God’s view we are guilty and are required to seek God’s forgiveness; not from our original sinful state for our salvation is eternal, but from the contamination of our daily living. So, John instructs us as to how we deal with this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” <1Jn.1:9 (NIV)>. He concludes by reminding us how our forgiveness and cleansing is possible; “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” <1Jn.2:1-2 (NIV)>. So, we must be sensitive to The Holy Spirit’s guidance and seek to be obedient, acknowledging what The Spirit desires in our life <see Rom.8:5b>. Confession of sin is therefore necessary for our fellowship with God.
The third requirement for fellowship is obedience to His commandments <1 Jn.2:3-6>. The life of a true believer is characterized by obedience to The Word (The Lord Jesus Christ); “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” <1 Jn.2:3 (NIV)>, and this is confirmed to each individual believer by The Holy Spirit <cf Jn.16:13-14>. In contrast to the individual who may say “I know him (Christ) but does not do what he (Christ) commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” <1 Jn.2:4 (NIV)>. Obedience to Christ’s commands then, is the distinctive mark of discipleship and “God’s love is truly made complete in him” <1 Jn.2:5 (NIV)>; that is, God’s love moves the individual to full obedience <cf 1 Jn.3:18-19>. This is the confirmation that we belong to Him; “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” <1 Jn.2:6 (NIV)>, meaning that the life of Christ must be reflected in the character of the individual believer <cf Eph.4:1>.
The fourth requirement for fellowship is love for each other <1 Jn.2:7-14>. Just prior to His trial and crucifixion, our Lord Jesus demonstrated what humility really meant, He performed the act of a servant (slave) and washed the feet of His disciples; even though He knew that one would betray Him and the others would disown Him. It was at this time that He expressed what He expected of all His disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” <Jn.13:34-35 (NIV); see also 14:15>. It is very likely that John was referring to this occasion in his letter stating that he was not writing a new command but an old one <1 Jn.2:7>, one that his readers had from the beginning. This new command was demonstrated by Christ in His love to us that He expressed in His death for us on the cross, and that he expects His disciples to grow in this love as they express their love to each other, for that was what He taught the disciples <see Matt.5:43-48>.
So, here John expands on this teaching to show why it is important for us to demonstrate love for each other: “Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” <1 Jn.2:8-10 (NIV); cf Jn.8:12; 12:46>. Our love for each other demonstrates that we are living in the Light (Christ), and where that love is not expressed, shows that such a person is not living in the Light. So often we have seen this in our society where people are despised because of the colour of their skin, their ethnicity, their place in social circles; and unfortunately, this happens in our churches; and John is expressing here that this should not happen; it is NOT LIKE CHRIST! Where this occurs “believers” (if they really are) are not living according to our Lord’s command, they are still in the “darkness of sin” and need to confess as he has already taught <1 Jn.1:8-9>. But it should be noted that John is not condemning his readers, for he addresses them as “fathers”, “children” and “young men”, who have known “him who is from the beginning… and have overcome the evil one” <1Jn.2:12-14>.
Therefore, as we walk in God’s Light, meaning that we are controlled by The Spirit of God; as we are quick to confess our sins that have contaminated us during our daily living; by our obedience to God’s Word; and by our love expressed to each other; our fellowship with God is evident and that overflows to others as we live our daily life.