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The Word of Life Declared (1 John 1:1-4 ).
‘That which was (imperfect) from the beginning, that which we have heard (perfect), that which we have seen (perfect) with our eyes, that which we beheld (aorist), and our hands handled (aorist), concerning the Word of life, (and the life was manifested (aorist), and we have seen (perfect), and bear witness (present), and declare to you (present) the life, the eternal life, which was (imperfect) with the Father, and was manifested to us (aorist)); that which we have seen (perfect) and heard perfect) we declare to you also (present), that you also may have fellowship with us (present): yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full (or ‘fulfilled’).’
The main verb in this complex sentence is ‘we declare to you’. This letter is a declaration, and John’s purpose is to declare Christ in all His fullness. But the question is, what does he wish to declare? And his answer is, ‘That which was (imperfect) from the beginning, that which we have heard (perfect), that which we have seen (perfect) with our eyes, that which we beheld (aorist), and our hands handled (aorist), concerning the Word of life.’
1) ‘That which was from the beginning.’ In the light of John 1:1 this can only signify the eternity of ‘the Word of life’, of Christ and of His powerful and life-giving word. ‘In the beginning the Word was already in existence’ he had said in John 1:1, and that Word had created all things, and in Him was life which was as a light to men (John 1:1-5). Now he declares again that from the beginning there was that which already in existence before the commencement of the beginning, that which began the beginning, the Word, the Source and Creator of all things, for He spoke and it was done (Genesis 1:3; Psalms 33:6), and the Source and Creator of all truth and life. And here his especial emphasis is on Him as the Word of life. He is thus about to speak of the Eternal Life Who is the source of all life, and Who gives eternal life to His own.
So from the beginning of all things there was that which already was, that which already existed before time began, that which still continues in being, and ever will, that which was, that which is, and that which will be (compareRevelation 1:4; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8). And it is that which John seeks to declare.
The use of the neuter pronoun ‘that’ stresses the all-pervasiveness of what he is speaking about. ‘That’ which is spoken of was all in all. It was everything. Apart from ‘that’ there was nothing. The masculine pronoun (which would have indicated ‘the Word of life’ as a person) would have drawn attention away from the fact that what he was describing was this all-pervasive ‘everything’. God was all. Prior to the beginning there was nothing apart from God and His Word and His Spirit. And he will now reveal and declare that which already existed when the beginning began, and has been ever since. And it is ‘concerning the Word of Life’ Who also existed in the beginning.
So what John is telling us is that He Who was always in existence in the beginning, He Who was everything, came out of eternity into time, He came as the One Who ‘was continually in existence even in and before the beginning’, and He came in Jesus. Thus he is declaring that this Jesus Christ of Whom he will write has eternal essence and existence, and comes from the Source of all things, because He is essentially in His being of the Source of all things. The use of the neuter pronoun ‘that’ draws attention to the fact that he wants us to look at What Jesus is rather than just Who He is. Here is the Almighty, pre-existent One, the All-in-all, come as a Word from God bringing life, come from the Beginning, personally revealing God to man (John 14:6-11; Hebrews 1:1-3).
2) ‘That which we have heard (perfect), that which we have seen (perfect) with our eyes, that which we beheld (aorist), and our hands handled (aorist), concerning the Word of life.’ But now he moves on to the wonder of it. ‘That which was from the beginning’ has actually been heard and seen and gazed at and handled. The Eternal Word of Life has come and revealed Himself to man, indeed has become man and lived among them to be seen, heard, observed and handled.
John is bringing out two aspects here. The first that ‘we’ (those who had been with Jesus) had heard Him and seen Him with their own eyes (1 John 4:14), and still did so. The perfect indicates something happening in the past and continuing into the present. He cannot forget the glory of it and it is still with him. We heard, and we still hear, we saw, and we still see. He is stressing that it was a real experience and that so it will ever be with them. There is both an emphasis on their actual hearing and seeing of Him as He was in the flesh (John 1:14), and on the fact that spiritually that hearing and seeing still goes on in a deeper way, for it is imbedded in their hearts, illuminated by the Spirit, and experienced daily in their lives because He is the living One, the Word of life.
To John and those who had been with Jesus, Jesus is ever present, continually heard, continually ‘seen’, for though His physical presence has departed, His spiritual presence is ever more near, not just in memory but because He is with them always even as He promised (Matthew 28:20). And what was true for him and for them was true for all those who have walked with Jesus and are truly His, whether living or dead. And was in a very real sense true still for all those who now followed Jesus.
‘That which we have heard.’ Throughout the ministry of Jesus they had heard His words, they had wrestled with them, and then finally through the Spirit’s illumination those words had sunk deeply into their hearts, and they had finally understood them. And all that they had heard from Him he wishes to communicate, and all that they had come to understand that those words meant he wishes to communicate. Through hearing they had not only received the word of life, but had also come to understand and more fully appreciate He Who was the Word of Life (John 14:6), and they longed to communicate Him to others.
‘That which we have seen (perfect) with our eyes.’ They had not only heard, they had seen. They had seen the wonder of His life, the depths of His love, the awe-inspiring holiness of His light (John 3:16-21). They had watched and they had wondered. They had seen His glory manifested in the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1 onwards). They had beheld His advance into suffering. They had experienced His self-revelation through His word in the Upper Room. They had seen and handled Him in His glorious resurrection body. And at last finally the Holy Spirit had illuminated it all in their hearts so that they were as men who saw clearly. And what he had seen he now longs to declare, to pass on, that others might see Him too.
The second aspect, lest we spiritualise too much, is to emphasise boldly the actual physical aspect of the seeing and the handling. We saw, and our hands handled. The aorists emphasise the once for all nature of the seeing and handling, and the handling stresses the physical aspect. It happened to us all (those who followed Jesus in His life on earth). We actually saw Him in the flesh, and we handled Him in the flesh, and He was truly flesh, He Who was from the beginning, God made man. Here the thought is of witness from the past rather than of continuation into the present, and the ‘handling’ especially has in mind the words of Jesus to Thomas (John 20:27 see also John 20:20) and to His disciples, ‘see My hands and My feet that it is I Myself, handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see Me as having’ (Luke 24:39). He can assure them that Jesus really was a man of flesh and bones, a true human being.
3) ‘Concerning the Word of life.’ This is what it is all about. One had come Who was in Himself the Word of life. In the beginning He already was ‘Life’, the Living One. And He Who was the Word had brought the word of Life from the Father, coming as His Word, as His self-revelation, and that life was given to those who received and responded to God’s word (1 John 1:10, 1 John 2:5, 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:14) and to Him Who is God’s Word (John 1:4-5; John 1:14; John 1:18). Here was God’s eternal Word to man, seen in a man, and heard and received from that man. For when we proclaim Christ we proclaim Someone and not just something. The word of God is so because it points to the personal, living Word of God. And to respond to His word, if meaningful, is to respond to Him Who is the Word.
In spite of some commentators it is not enough here to see but the message. The message was the Man. It was of Him that they heard, it was He Whom they saw, it was Him that they beheld and handled, both in day to day life and in His glorious resurrection body. And He was the bringer of life. He was the Word of Life, and was Himself the Life, and the great life-giver (John 14:6; John 11:25; John 5:21), communicated through the word of life.
We could spend hours just considering the significance of what it means that He is the Word of Life (John 1:4-5), for He is the life-giving Light of Life (John 8:12, compare 1 John 1:5 here), and the life-giving Bread of Life (John 6:35). He creates life within and feeds the souls of men. He spoke at creation and life came into being. He is thus the source of all life, and of all living things. But that, while wonderful, is here secondary. For now He has spoken in a deeper way and His word brings a greater and more wonderful life to men’s hearts, a new creation, spiritual life, a life that is Himself (John 14:6), a life that comes from Him as the light of life (John 8:12), an ‘eternal’ life (1 John 1:2). John wants them to see that they are to receive not only a teaching, but a life-giving Person. For when the word truly enters men’s hearts so does the Word Himself (Ephesians 3:17). And then they too enjoy eternal life (1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:25; 1Jn 5:11 ; 1 John 5:13; John 5:24) as a present possession, a life imparted by Him Who is the Life, which will result in the final glorious resurrection of life (John 5:29; John 11:25).
‘(And the life was manifested (aorist), and we have seen (perfect), and bear witness (present), and declare to you (present) the life, the eternal one, which was (imperfect) with the Father, and was manifested unto us (aorist)).’ Having mentioned the Word of life John now wants to emphasise in parenthesis what he means by that Word of life. It is not a teaching, but a Person. He was ‘manifested’ in a once for all way in His life on earth and in His resurrection. The aorist stresses the fullness and completeness of that manifestation. And the Life consists of the Eternal Life Who had ever been with the Father, but Who came down to earth, and was seen, and can now be testified to by those who saw Him and knew Him, and who now declare Him to all. He indeed is ‘the Life’ (John 14:6), the eternal Life (John 17:3), the source of all life (John 1:4), the provider of eternal life to His own (John 5:26), Who was with the Father but had now become Man.
‘The life was manifested (aorist).’ There had been a fullness of manifestation once for all. In Jesus that Life had been made fully known.
‘And we have seen (perfect), and bear witness (present), and declare to you (present).’ And now those who had been privileged to be witnesses of that Life, and were indeed continually so, were now continually bearing witness and declaring it to those who would receive it. And his hearers were to recognise that what they received they received from the testimony of eyewitnesses, and from the testimony of those who had continually experienced Him through hearing, sight and touch.
‘The Life, the eternal one, which was (imperfect) with the Father.’ This is what is declared, He Who is the Life, the Life of the ages, Who was continually (imperfect) in existence in the closest of permanent relationships (pros ton patera - compare John 1:1, ‘pros ton theon’) with the Father. He Who is therefore the Eternal Life par excellence, Who is the source of all life in His face to face and intimate relationship with His Father (John 5:26). (Pros with the accusative indicates intimate relationship).
‘And was manifested to us (aorist).’ Here is the wonder to John He was not only manifested, He was especially manifested to His own disciples, ‘to us’. He was seen and known by those who heard Him, who saw Him, handled Him and touched Him. This was not brief manifestation of glory (although there had been that - Mark 9:1 onwards) but a continual daily manifestation over a period of years as true man, and yet as the One Who was the Life Who had come from God.
‘That which we have seen (perfect) and heard (perfect) we declare to you also (present), that you also may have fellowship with us (present): yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ Having digressed in order to expand on his theme John now comes back to the main point. He has been declaring Christ as the Word of Life, the Word of life Whom he and his fellow-disciples had seen and heard, and Whom they still saw and heard in a different way, He Who is the Eternal Life. And his purpose was that through receiving from him that word and that witness which will bring home to them the Word of Life his readers too may be joined together with them ‘in fellowship’, sharing all spiritual blessing in common, including the blessing of the eternal word of life, and being joined together with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ in the same ‘fellowship’ in God that they, His disciples, had known with and through Him, and now knew with and through Him, a fellowship which brought them into sharing this life in common with God (see John 17:20-21). For in knowing the only true God, and especially as knowing Him through the One Whom He had sent, Jesus Christ, they would have eternal life. Indeed that was eternal life (John 17:3)
The word ‘koinonia’ (fellowship) indicates a closeness of relationship. It can signify the marriage relationship, a true and working partnership, a oneness of many, and it can mean to be so close together that all is shared, that their aims and goals are shared, that they have all things that are important in common. It represents a mutual sharing, in this case of spiritual life. It is an enjoying of the oneness of the spiritual life, that sense of being bound together that all true believers enjoy because they have received life from God, and it is a ‘fellowship’, a unity, that they will also share with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Each enjoys individual life and yet in koinonia it is a shared life, a life that blends with other lives, a life that comes from the Word of Life, and makes all one (John 17:22). And through this we are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and know the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3) in a similar shared relationship.
‘With the Father.’ That is with the One Who is over all, the Father of lights (James 1:17), the One after Whom every fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named (Ephesians 3:14). ‘Of lights’ may there be a plural of intensity signifying the fullness of light, or it may be signifying that of all the glorious lights on earth He is ‘the Father’, enjoying in Himself an intensity of light that is greater than all, so that He Himself is the true light, so full and so glorious and so enduring that it is a light that cannot be limited by shadows, for He is the Unchangeable One, the Father after Whom every fatherhood in Heaven and on earth is named. In this is depicted His holiness and His great overall authority. Thus the calling is to the ‘fellowship’ of the close knit spiritual family with and under the Father in His glorious light and authoritative and loving fatherhood.
‘And with His Son Jesus Christ.’ Here ‘His Son’ is specifically connected with the Father on the divine side of reality. Their essential oneness in essence is revealed here by the word ‘Son’. He is ‘the Son’, the One Who comes forth from God and is of the very nature of God. And our being united with the Father is also our being united with His Son. For here especially He is ‘His Son’ as over against us, and yet having fellowship with us. And that Son is clearly identified, He is Jesus Christ, the One Who walked on earth as a man among men. He is both God and man. So from the earthly hearing, and seeing, and handling, from the earthly relationship with the Word of Life, we move on into the enjoyment of a heavenly relationship with Him in a glorious spiritual relationship such as redeemed men can have with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
This title ‘His Son Jesus Christ’ is the equivalent of Paul’s ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’. Both signify Godhead, the former by relationship the latter by being exalted and given the name LORD (Yahweh).
‘And these things we write, that our joy may be made full (or ‘fulfilled’).’ Finally John declares that his reason for writing is that his joy might be made full, might overflow, as he sees his readers participating in and enjoying the same fellowship with God and with fellow-believers as he enjoys. Nothing was more joyous to John than to see others entering into spiritual blessing.
An alternative well attested reading is ‘that your joy might be full’. In this case the idea is simply that they too might know the joy that passes all understanding, joy in God and in Jesus Christ.
God Revealed As Light Which By Its Nature Constantly Reveals Man’s Sinfulness and Calls Him To Repentance (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:2 ).
‘And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.’
If you asked most people what the message of Jesus, the Word of Life, was, they would probably reply, ‘it is that God is love’. But John here tells us differently. He points out that the message of Jesus is that ‘God is light’, a light in which there is no darkness, a light of self-revelation (compare Psalms 27:1; Psalms 36:9; Isaiah 49:6), a light where there is no alienation for those who walk in the light, a light where there is no moral deviation, where all is true, and pure, and good. But for that reason for those who are in darkness, both intellectually, because they have spurned God’s self-revelation (Romans 1:18-23), or morally, because they spurn their consciences, there is no place in the presence of God. This was the first essential basic of the teaching of Jesus, that God is holy, and pure, and true, and righteous, and none can come to Him but those who can bear the light. That was why He declared that He Himself had come as a light into the world so that people might let that light shine on them revealing the truth about them, and then respond to that light by turning from sin and receiving forgiveness through His name, and by that means thus coming to Him Who is ‘light’.
This is of crucial importance. His later declaration that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16) must be seen in this context. ‘God is light’ is primary. In His essential being He is light. And in the context this means both moral light and self-revealing light. And the result of coming to that light and walking in it is that such men will love one another and will love God and keep His commands (1 John 5:3), both because they are loved by Him (1 John 3:16; 1Jn 4:9-11 ; 1 John 4:16; 1 John 4:19), and because they see truly, and they will thus experience the glorious reality that God in His essential being is love, pure love, holy love revealed in that sphere of light (1 John 4:7-9; 1 John 3:14). But it is not a love that tolerates darkness. It is not a love that overlooks or tolerates sin. It is a love revealed in His begetting as His own those whom He draws to Himself (1 John 4:7; John 6:44), in supplying them with ‘life’ (1 John 4:9) and in providing for them propitiation for their sins (1 John 4:10). It is a love revealed in light. It is thus impossible to walk within that sphere of light and not reveal love for the brethren (1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:21; 1 John 5:1). We note here that the love of which he speaks is love for God and for one another in Christ. Love for outsiders is not mentioned here although it will result. For God’s people walk in the sphere of light and love, and have love for one another.
He said elsewhere that in the coming of Jesus, God’s light had come into the world (1 John 1:9; 1 John 3:19), for He had come from Him Who was light, revealing and shining out that light (Hebrews 1:2), but that because men were sinful they loved darkness rather than light and turned from His light and thus they turned from God. They were like crawling insects hiding from the light under a stone, who once the stone is removed scuttle immediately for cover seeking a welcome darkness. But He also indicated that there were those who would respond to the light, letting it shine on their lives revealing all their moral ugliness, so that they might then turn to Him to have that ugliness removed and be transformed. Then they might walk with God and be approved by Him (John 3:19-21).
Isaiah saw that light in Isaiah 6:0, and it made him cry out, ‘Woe is me, for I am destroyed. For I am a man of unclean lips -- and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ And it was only through the blood shed on the coals of the altar that he was able to find forgiveness and restoration. So it is with all who come to God. At some stage they become aware of their total unworthiness as the light of God shines on them revealing their true condition, and then they seek forgiveness through the blood of His cross. Only then can they know Him and rest content in His presence.
This is no easy believism, no being mollycoddled into the Kingly Rule of God. It cries out that men recognise that God is pure light, and that if we would know Him and enter into His presence it can only be by being made fully clean, fully whole, able to face the light. There is no exemption from this, no exception, for God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. That is why the offering of Jesus Christ once for all as a sacrifice for sin was so necessary. Only through His pure righteousness being put to man’s account, and man’s sin being punished and paid for through His cross, could men ever come to the God who is pure light.
So John stresses that God is pure light, and that there is no place in His presence for those who walk in darkness. The ideas of light and darkness as related to the divine were ones that were well known in John’s day and were found in a number of religions, and especially from this point of view in the writings of the Qumran community (included in the Dead Sea Scrolls) and thus current in that time. But the idea as taken up by Jesus and by John is given its own unique moral significance. God is light in that He is wholly moral and wholly self-revealing to those who can receive it, with the result that sin and spiritual ignorance, which are symbolised by darkness, are abhorrent to Him, the sin and ignorance which are due to man’s rebellion against Him, and result from the refusal to respond to His light. And God’s light makes men aware of sinfulness (John 3:19-21), and reveals their spiritual ignorance (John 1:4-5; John 1:9-12) and is consonant with His life which He offers to men (John 8:12) which brings them light.
In the light of John 8:12 we can indeed say that ‘God is light’ could be equated with the idea that ‘God is life’. Jesus there declared that He was the Light of the world and as such brought men the light of life, the life which can be the light of men when they respond to Him, eternal life, relieving their darkness, illuminating their souls and bringing home to their hearts His moral demands. For His life is light. Thus the Word of life (1 John 1:1-2) brings home to men the God Who is light and makes them aware that if they come to Him they come to the light. They cannot have the One without the other.
‘If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.’
Here he makes that position crystal clear. Because God is light no darkness can survive in His presence. To say that we have fellowship with Him, that we share a life in common with Him, that we live in His presence, that we have an open relationship with Him, while walking in darkness, that is, while not allowing Him to reveal to us the awfulness of our sin, and to illuminate our hearts concerning Jesus Christ, is to lie. It means that we are not acting in accordance with the truth, that our lives are a lie and that we are deceived, that we have failed to come to the light of God.
There is, says John, no way of having dealings with God until we have, as far as we are aware, brought the whole of our lives into His light. For God is not available to those who cling to sin, and live deliberately in darkness. They have no part in Him. God is light, and until we recognise that fact and respond to it by letting Him deal with us about our sin, we have no part in God. We are rejecting the truth and deceiving ourselves. It is true that to begin with our awareness of that light may be dim, and that we will grow as we come to know Him better, but as we do become more aware of Him, and do come to know Him better, that light will shine ever more brightly in our hearts and we will become more and more aware of our own sinfulness, and of the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ Who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4) bringing continuing salvation to our souls. This is what being a Christian is all about.
And he could have added, Did not Jesus Christ Himself say, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). So He too is light as God is light, and we cannot follow Him and walk in darkness.
‘But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.’
Here is the other side of the matter. If we do come to God. If we do walk in His light, responding to His word and to His commandments. If we do open up our lives honestly so that He can reveal to us our sin and deal with it. If we do walk with Him Who gives us the light of true life which shines continually within us. Then we are coming to God as He really is (not as man thinks that He is), we are coming to the One Who is the light, Who dwells in light, and recognising Him as such. And the result will be joyous fellowship with all true believers, with all things open between us, with no sin hidden, and the further result will be that the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, ‘goes on cleansing us’ (present tense) from all sin.
It is true that John is not here dealing with the question of entry into salvation, for he assumes that already for his readers (although warning against complacency - 1 John 2:4). Rather he is talking of walking truly with God. But let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that if we see ourselves as ‘saved’ we need not then worry. That we can ignore this and leave it for others. For if God is light, and that light is not producing the effect in us that the light of God should, then we must seriously ask ourselves whether we are saved at all, whether we truly know God. If God is light and we come to Him but are not affected by that light, the question is, have we come to Him at all, or simply to a god of our own imagination? For when God saves He makes His salvation effective. It may take time for that effectiveness to break through, and there may even be times of stumbling, but eventually that salvation must fully break through. And if it does not we must ask if such a person is really ‘saved’, and ‘being saved’. God the Saviour does not fail in His purposes.
But on the other hand the comforting thing about it is that if we are heavy laden with our sins, and are feeling aware of our guilt, we can come constantly to God’s light with a longing to be delivered, and cry to Him for forgiveness, then we can be certain sure of the cleansing that comes through the blood of Jesus. His blood (His effective sacrifice on our behalf) will cleanse us continually from all sin, known or unknown and we will be kept wholly clean in His sight.
In the words of the hymnwriter,
‘Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary,
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me,
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
Let not this ransomed sinner die.
And note finally the stress again on the fact that Jesus Christ is ‘His Son’. John continually stresses this uniqueness of Jesus, for there were those who failed to recognise it. He is, he says again, God’s true Son, of the same nature and essence, distinct and unique and on the divine side of reality. That is why His blood, His sacrifice of Himself, can be continually effective on our behalf.
‘ If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’
Those who are His are very much aware of sin, the sin that plagues their hearts and lives and seeks to draw them away from His ways. For the truth is that if we are His the light of God will shine on the hearts of His own, revealing to us our sinfulness. But it will also bring home to us Christ as our Saviour and Lord. And being such men we will never doubt our own sinfulness as we are in ourselves.
This ‘sin’ is defined in 1 John 3:4 as ‘lawlessness’, the refusal to respond to and obey God’s law. Thus John is declaring that there is within us all a streak of lawlessness, of rebellion, of unwillingness to submit. And the response to such is to come to the light and be open with God and with each other for the purpose of submission.
The message that John brings is not that men have been purified as a result of some religious ordinance and can therefore come into God’s presence without a qualm, (which probably some were declaring), and therefore do not need continual forgiveness. It is that men without exception are sinful. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ Note the singular for sin. This may be because it speaks of the sinful tendency within our nature, the sin that is so much a part of what we are, deeply rooted within us, our lawless nature. Or it may refer to sin seen as a whole, differing in sins done from one to another although all coming from the same root and all disobeying the law of God. Or it may be referring to the guilt associated with sin. Or it may include all with each left to apply it to his own situation. It tells us that to deny this fact, or to claim that some religious ordinance or experience has totally removed it, is not to improve us or increase our worthiness. It is to deceive ourselves about what we are and to avoid the truth. It is to ignore the fact that morality is of prime importance. It makes us liars to ourselves and to God. It means that we have not truly come to Him who is pure light. For if we had so come we would be aware of our sinfulness within from which we can never be fully free in this world, although we may be victors over it. If we would come to God we must first face up to sin and morality.
For the truth is that we are all made up of sinful flesh which constantly seeks to drag us away from the ways of the Spirit, to drag us down into sin and disobedience (Galatians 5:16). And to be aware of that is to be on our guard and with Christ’s help and the uplifting power of the Spirit to find deliverance from it. But let us drop our guard and grow careless towards God, and sin will have us in an instant. Once we deceive ourselves and fail to recognise the truth, we are undone and will soon find ourselves constantly sinning. As Cain was told so long ago, ‘if you do not do well, -- sin crouches like a wild animal at the door’ (Genesis 4:7).
‘The truth is not in us.’ If we say that we have no sin we are controlled by falsehood and not by truth. Truth has not been allowed its way within us. It has been turned out and rejected.
‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
The way to deal with sin is not by denying it or hiding from it, but by being open to the God Who is light. Then we can bring to Him those sins that grieve Him, that are revealed by His light, openly admitting them and acknowledging them to Him, and then know that He is the faithful God, the One Who is true to His promises and to His covenant with us, and that He will justly forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The last fact is most important, ‘all unrighteousness’. He does not just forgive the sins of which we are aware, but also those of which we are unaware. When we are open with Him He cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
The word for ‘confess’ means ‘say along with’. To ‘confess your sins’ means to say along with God how He views your sins. To join in with Him in His decision about them. To agree to see them as God sees them, as they are, and not to seek to dismiss them as merely blunders or errors without a moral significance. Thus to be honest and open with God about them. Being open about moral failure is the first step to being free of it.
Note first here the stress on the faithfulness of God. If we are His He constantly watches over us and He is faithful to us, for He has brought us within His covenant (see 1 Corinthians 1:8-9) and we are His. And because of that faithfulness forgiveness is assured. There can be no room for doubt. For He Who made the provision for our sin through the shedding of His blood, will also faithfully apply it when we call on Him, to remove every blot and every stain (1 John 2:2). Then we will not only be forgiven, but will be made fully clean. It is a day by day cleansing, and it is complete.
And note secondly that God does it justly. There is here no casual overlooking of sin. He Who is light cannot be casual about sin. He is rather able to cleanse us from sin because it has been borne by another. God does not go against His own righteousness in forgiving, for He has Himself ensured that the guilt of that sin has been placed on the One Whom He sent as Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14). ‘He has made Him sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God through Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). ‘Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24). For when Christ died, we who are His died in Him, and through Him therefore we have paid the price of sin and have been given resurrection life (Galatians 2:20).
But that forgiveness, while in one sense once for all (Hebrews 10:10-14), because we have been sanctified by Him, must be constantly applied because we still continue as sinners in our flesh. And here the assurance is given that when we are continually totally open with God about our sins His blood continually cleanses (present tense) us from all sin and delivers us from all unrighteousness.
We note here that God does not demand great things of us. He does not call on us to in some way do a great penance for what we have done wrong. He does not demand great sacrifices. He recognises what we are and He freely forgives. And all that He requires of us is that we are open with Him and bring our sins openly to Him and seek his forgiveness and cleansing, with the determination to as far as possible be done with sin (1 John 3:5-6) and to walk in His light. Forgiveness, at least to us, is free, although to God it was very costly, for it took the life of His Son.
This may then raise the question, does this mean that we can then continue in sin so that God’s forgiveness can abound? John answers that question immediately in 1 John 2:4. Those who truly know God will not even think like that. They know Him as the light and they want to be like Him. They want to walk in His light. No one who deliberately disobeys His demands can say that they ‘know Him’. Indeed it must be so for He is light. Paul answers the same question even more strongly from a different angle. ‘God forbid!’, he says, ‘shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?’ (Romans 6:2). The words here are of great comfort to the weak sinner who weeps over his sin and longs to be free from it, and yet seems constantly to stumble in it. He knows that there is a fount of forgiveness constantly open for him in his need. But they are no comfort at all to the complacent sinner. The latter will rather one day hear the voice that will say, ‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46). He said that the ruin of their house will be great (Luke 6:49).
This is not a question of earning salvation by the way we live. To make such an effort would be the utmost folly. We would finish up crying with Isaiah, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone’. It is but to recognise that those whom Christ begins to save must change because He will ensure that it will be so. It is to recognise that those who come to the light must necessarily be affected by the effect of that light. All we can do is respond to His work within us because His Spirit enables us, and even that is through God’s working (Philippians 2:13) but the work of His Spirit is never ineffectual and therefore the effects will be seen, and John is describing them here.
‘If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.’
John once again returns to the question of those who declare themselves in no need of forgiveness. They, he says, are in the wrong. They have clearly not come to the God who is light. They most of all need forgiveness for they are liars. ‘If we say that we have not sinned we make God a liar’, and have clearly not received His word. For does His word not say that sin is to come short of the glory of God? (Romans 3:23). And is there any living man who would dare to say that he in no way comes short of the perfection and holiness of God? Such men are deceived and unaware of the reality of sin. They may achieve their own petty little standard, but they have failed to be aware of God’s true standard which requires total moral and spiritual perfection, a perfection beyond their present capability. It was such men as this that John had in mind when he wrote these words, men who had come into a false position, men who had dismissed morality as irrlevant, men who needed to be renewed in an awareness of their own sinfulness, that they might return to the true light, and to the true God and His true Son Jesus Christ.
That Christians can have victory over known sin through Christ and His Spirit at work within them is gloriously true. But in all there will be sins of omission, sins of falling short, which while they may not be obvious to them will at times be obvious to others. Thus, says John, we must all acknowledge that if we say that we have not sinned we prove our own folly and make God a liar (that is One Who teaches falsehood - 1 John 2:22).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 John 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14