A Light Message: Why the Gospel is Heavier Than You Think
1 John 1.5-10
My dad’s family is from Ludington, Michigan (his mom’s side in particular). My grandmother was the youngest of 5 children, and 3 of her siblings still lived in the Muskegon/Ludington area, and so when we were growing up we’d go visit my dad’s aunts and uncles. My dad’s uncle Bob was a wealthy businessman and owned a mansion on Lake Michigan. I remember spending some 4th of Julys there as a kid, watching fireworks over a giant bonfire on his private beach. It was beautiful.
The inside of the mansion was beautiful as well. To paint you a picture, at this point in time my great aunt and uncle were older and empty nesters, so everything in this house was exactly as it was supposed to be. And then comes the Loginow circus into town – all 5 of us kids. Well, one time we were there visiting and this older couple made the tragic mistake of giving us some sort of red substance to drink. I don’t know if it was punch, Kool-Aid, or pop, but let’s not get lost in the details; the important thing to note is that it was red. It wasn’t long before one of these five kids had spilled this red beverage all over the white carpet of this elderly couple. Red drink, white carpet. For the sake of protecting the perpetrator, I’m not going to tell you that it was Heather that stained the carpet.
Last week we started this new series through 1st John called “Knowing Jesus.” Pastor Kevin led us through the 1st four verses with this epic language about Jesus Christ. He is “from the beginning” (vs. 1) meaning he is God, he is the Lord, he is YHWH. But he is also truly human. The apostles heard, saw, beheld, and touched him. Jesus is the “word of life” that has been revealed (vs. 2). And John is proclaiming this truth about Christ so that we might have fellowship with God and each other and also that we might have joy.
And now he moves into the body of the letter where he is going to expound on this message that he’s received. We call this message the gospel. In verse 5 John says, 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. What a clear summary of the character and nature of God. God is light. Not God is the light, or a light, just God is light. It’s intrinsically true about him. In Scripture light represents illumination and purity.
God is illumination to us. When we see God, we see the truth, for he himself is the very essence of the good, the true, and the beautiful. We know something is good because it is within the light of God’s goodness. We know truth because God’s light shines upon it, revealing that it is true. We know something is beautiful because it reflects the beauty of God himself. Like the moon reflects the light of the sun, so do all good, true, and beautiful things. It is because God is light that we who were once blind, can now see. We can’t see the truth of the gospel because we’re smart enough, or holy enough to change ourselves. We have moved from darkness into light because the light has revealed himself to us.
Light also represents purity. The Bible teaches us that God is incomparably holy. He is perfectly righteous and just. He’s always good. In turn, there is no darkness in him. He never sins. He cannot sin, for sin by it’s very definition is that which misses the mark of God’s standard. He’s never unjust, he never lies, and there is no shadow of turning in God. The gospel begins with the doctrine that God is light.
After seeing God in his shining splendor, we can’t help but see our own stains. Like my great uncle’s white carpet in that Lake Michigan mansion, we have been stained by our sin. John now gives these 5 conditional clauses that begin with the word “if.” These clauses reveal our reaction to God’s light. Do we want to bask in the glory of the light of Christ, or do we scatter like cockroaches, which long to hide in the shadows?
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. This statement is counterintuitive to the contemporary Western evangelicalism that was born during the 20th century. We have perpetuated the lie that someone can live in open rebellious unconfessed sin for years and still consider him or herself a believer. When I was a pastor in Kentucky I remember going to visit the adult son of a church member who was sick. A deacon ran me through a laundry list of vices that this man had been walking in – he lived with a woman for years, never getting married, he was a perpetual public drunk, he had not been to church in decades – but then the deacon said, “but when he was a little boy he asked Jesus into his heart, so he’s a Christian.” What John says here is that that man, and anyone who walks in darkness, is not a Christian.
We’ve bought into this lie that praying a certain prayer, or making a public confession, or being baptized means that someone is definitely a Christian, regardless of their pattern of life. Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace.” Brothers and sisters, God’s grace is free, but it’s not cheap. If you’re living in perpetual, unconfessed sin, you should have no assurance of salvation this morning. John says that you lie and do not practice the truth. The phrase practice the truth in the LXX comes from a Hebrew idiom, which means “show (covenantal) faithfulness.” You’re not practicing the truth if you’re being unfaithful to the New Covenant.
But then John gives us the appropriate response to seeing God’s light. 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 sin. Remember that John is probably reacting to a flavor of Gnosticism that taught that salvation came through a secretive knowledge of Chris that saved one’s spirit. John says, “No! God is light, and believers are those who walk in the light.” Walking in the light means growing in grace. It refers to progressive sanctification. It’s everything we just spent 2 months talking about.
Notice that John says when we walk in the light, there are 2 results – 1) we have fellowship with one another. He doesn't say fellowship with God, like he does in verse 6, he says with one another, that’s the church. That’s because the only way that we can tangibly experience fellowship with God is through the church. Christianity never has been and never will be an individualistic enterprise. 2) John also says that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. This is the stain revealed by the light. This is the red juice on our white carpets. Sin had left a crimson stain, but the blood of Jesus will wash it white as snow.
Now don’t get confused here, John is not blurring justification and sanctification. Justification is the one time act whereby God declares a sinner righteous because of their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ righteousness is then imputed to the sinner and their sin is born by Christ on the cross. That happens once at regeneration. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” But there is a continual cleansing that is happening as we sojourn toward the eternal city. The blood of Jesus doesn’t merely have the power to save you, but it has the power to keep on saving you every single day. Walking in the light means continuous cleansing by the blood of Jesus.
John then takes it a step further. First he said if someone thinks sin doesn’t matter, they’re liars, now he says, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. These are people who say that they don’t sin anymore. The Gnostics may have been teaching that their secret knowledge has made them sinless. Some today teach a form of Christian perfectionism. Of course our culture, thanks to Freudian psychology, believes that sin is a made up category. But John says they’re all deceived. If someone says that they don’t need forgiveness, they’re not a Christian.
We ought not deny our sins, but confess them. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. What a word of hope this morning! If you do confess your sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive you. He’s faithful. Whenever you read about God’s faithfulness to his promises in the Bible, you should think about the covenants. In the New Covenant, God promised to forgive our sins. He’ll do it if you repent. But he’s also just. It’s the right thing for him to do. Why?
God is just to forgive sins because of the cross. Jesus lived the only truly righteous life of any man ever. It was the most human life ever lived. He bears God’s image more faithfully than any person ever has because he’s never sinned. He never broke covenant. He was the perfect law-abider. On the cross he took the sins of God’s people and bore God’s wrath in their place. All of the justice, condemnation, and hell that I deserve for my sin was placed on Jesus Christ. And now his righteousness is imputed to me by faith. This is why God is just in forgiving our sins, because they have been paid for. The great exchange.
It’s impossible to see in English, but in Greek there’s a word play between the words just and unrighteousness. The word for just is δίκαιος and the word for unrighteousness is ἀδικίας. God is δίκαιος to forgive our ἀδικίας because of the death and resurrection of Christ; divine self-satisfaction through divine self-sacrifice.
Chapter 1 ends with the final straw of an unbiblical doctrine of sin. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. The phrase “have not sinned” is the word ἡμαρτήκαμεν, which is in the perfect tense. This is like saying you’ve never sinned and there are no abiding ramifications of sin. They’re saying they’ve never sinned and there’s no penalty incurred because of sin. If this is your position then you’re not just a liar, but you make God out to be a liar, and his word is not in you. What’s the word? It’s the word of life from verse 1. It’s Jesus Christ.
The gospel declares that God is holy and that we are sinful. Not only do we practice sin, but also we have a sin nature. The only remedy for our ailment is Christ. He’s the only vindication for our indictment. He’s the only bridge, path, or medicine. Jesus is the only stain remover. You must trust in the person and work of Christ by faith. And then you must walk in the light. Religion and ethics cannot be divorced; doctrine and life are the couple that make up the marriage of orthodox Christianity.
So, let me encourage you this morning to confess you sin. Confess your sin to Christ. He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you. The white carpet of your soul has been stained by sin, trust in Christ by faith and he will cleanse you. Walk in the light. That means being a faithful part of this community. This is where we can confess our sins to one another and spur each other on to good works.
Can you imagine if my dad’s aunt had brought out a stain remover and scrubbed the white carpet clean, and then our response had been, “great! The stain remover works, let’s spray juice all over the white carpet again and again because it can be cleansed.” That would be an absurd response. The guilt and shame of that red juice may have been washed away with the cleaner, but what should that cause us to do? It should make us mindful of our cup and make us want to strive not to stain the carpet.
You’re never going to be perfect on this side of the resurrection. But the gospel of Jesus Christ should never be a license to sin in your mind. If it is then you’re deceived. You’re a liar. Seeing the beauty of Jesus, God’s light, doesn’t make us want to abuse his grace; it makes us want to walk in that light. It’s the good news that cast a good spell on us. So walk in the light, and when you do sin know that Jesus is faithful and just to forgive you of your sin and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness, even if you spill red juice on your great aunt’s red carpet.