Volume 13, Issue 2: Exegetica
In the Light/John 1:5-7
The original readers of this epistle were being deceived by men called antichrists (1 Jn. 2:18), who were corrupted both in morals and in doctrine. They apparently denied both their sinfulness and their sins (1:8, 10; 3:7) while also denying the incarnation of Christ (4:3). The apostle John wrote to combat these errors and to encourage the readers in their faith, doing so in this section with a declaration (v. 5), a warning (v. 6), and a promise (v. 7). "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn. 1:5). John speaks here as one who has heard from the Lord Jesus Christ himself the message he declared, a message Christ delivered in his final days: "Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not wither he goeth. While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light’" (Jn. 12:35—36). Just as the darkness of the antichrists had both moral and doctrinal elements, so the light of Christ represents both moral purity and doctrinal truth. The word light is used throughout the Bible to picture righteousness and holiness (Ps. 112:4; Mt. 5:16) as opposed to the darkness of sin and impurity (Prov. 4:19; Eph. 5:3—11). Light also symbolizes truth, knowledge, and understanding (Ps. 43:3; Jn. 3:21; 2 Pet. 1:19), as opposed to the darkness of ignorance and self-deception (Eccl. 2:13—14; 1 Jn. 2:11).
God is light. He is the source and standard of all truth and goodness, "who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9, cf. Jn. 1:9; Prov. 2:6). We do not create this light within ourselves, for how could darkness produce light? Rather, it is a gift of God: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Thus light conveys both knowledge and righteousness, two concepts often intertwined throughout this epistle (1 Jn. 2:3; 3:24; 5:2).
God is light. John repeats this thought using a double negative for emphasis: "in him is no darkness at all." The Lord is thrice holy and infinitely wise. Though omnipresent He cannot dwell with evil, though omniscient He cannot look upon sin. This is why lying is so hated by God: it contradicts both His righteousness and His truth (Prov. 6:16—19; Tit. 1:2). And thus John gives this stern warning: "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth" (1 Jn. 1:6). We come into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, and we remain in that fellowship as we walk with Him in wisdom and holiness, in the light of His goodness and truth (Jn. 12:35). Communion with God is thus incompatible with a life of sin. Any claim to have fellowship with God while living in sin is a lie, and a damnable one, for it is a lie about God. Such a man deceives himself and others, and stands condemned before God. "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (Jn. 3:19). This is one reason that the neglect of church discipline is so reprehensible. Those churches which allow a man to remain in gross sin within their fellowship implicate themselves in his deception. Churches which tolerate a little darkness in their midst soon become very shadowy places indeed, and those who want to remain in darkness can unfortunately find themselves very comfortable there. But we are to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).
At the same time, however, we must recognize that true Christians can and do sin. Those who walk in the light can turn aside for a time to the darkness. Or, to modify our metaphor, walking in the light does not mean we never get dirty. Rather, it means that we can see the dirt so that we can be made clean, not by our own effort, but by the blood of Christ.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7).
Light reveals all things and shows them in their true nature, without itself becoming stained. Even so God shows us our sin while remaining holy. He does so by the preaching of the word, as the apostle Paul was sent, "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 26:18). We who have been brought into the light and walk in it have fellowship with God, and He with us. Note how John changes his metaphor: We walk in the light, not as God is light, but "as he is in the light." God dwells in His own light. We are made holy, not by following an abstract list of rules, but by walking with Christ in His light. As we behold the character and nature of God in our daily communion with Him, we are transformed into His image: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18).
Walking in the light brings glory to God as His work in us is revealed. "But he that doeth truth cometh into the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God" (Jn. 3:21). As God gives you light through His word, so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God.