In the first four verses of this letter, John addressed the heresy that was confronting his little children in the faith. False teachers were denying the humanity of Christ because they believed the physical world to be evil. They could not accept that a holy and good God would stoop to becoming a man and taking on flesh. This belief had a terrible impact on their practice of religion.
One of the results of their view was complacency with sin. They believed that once their soul had been redeemed, it no longer mattered what they did with their physical bodies since they were merely a shell for their redeemed soul. Since the physical was evil, it could not be expected to commit righteousness, thus they could deny their own sinfulness. This is the issue that John addresses in 1 John 1:5-2:2.
In vs. 3, John stated that the purpose of the Apostles message was the restoration of fellowship with God and neighbor. In vs. 5 he gives the content of their message. The message they had received from the incarnate Christ was that God was light and that there was no darkness in him. They received this message not only from what Christ said, but what he did (vs.1-3). It was a message they had not only heard, but seen as well (John 14:8-11).
There are two ideas that can be drawn from the concept of God as light. First is the self-revelation of God. Without God’s self-revelation to man we would most certainly remain in darkness. Darkness cannot produce light; it must come from an outside source. Likewise, man who is spiritually blind and dead in sin depends upon the grace of God to reveal himself.
In this passage it can rightly be concluded that light refers to God’s own righteous character. God is light (righteous) and in him there is no darkness (unrighteousness). The righteous character of God had been revealed to the Apostles as they observed it being lived out in the life of Jesus Christ. The word of life, the eternal life that was with the Father, was manifested to them (vs.2). They knew that God was light not because of some special knowledge like the false teachers claimed, but because the incarnate son of God had revealed it to them in both word and deed, in what they had seen and heard.
In vs. 6 we see the first of three “If we say” statements where John directly addresses the heresy of the false teachers. Apparently, they were insisting that they had fellowship with God yet they continued to walk in darkness. They made a verbal profession, but they continued to walk (live) in darkness, or unrighteousness. John simply states that if we continue to walk in (practice) sin with no repentance, our verbal profession is a lie and we do not practice the truth. That is we do not practice righteousness. How many, in the church today, have made a profession of faith but still walk in darkness?
It is not enough to make a verbal profession or walk down an aisle, true fellowship with God results in righteous behavior. That is to say that because God is light (righteous), if we walk in the light (practice righteousness), we can be sure we have fellowship with one another (vs.7a). We might expect the Apostle to say we can be sure we have fellowship with God, but he has already established in vs. 3 that the gospel restores fellowship with God and as a result with one another. Thus, in the beginning of vs. 7 our practice of righteousness with one another is testimony to the fact that we have fellowship with the Lord.
This is made possible by the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all of our sin (vs. 7b). By no means is John proclaiming a works based salvation. Consistent with vs. 3 he described salvation in terms of our restored fellowship with God. This restored fellowship and the resulting practice of righteousness is accomplished by the blood of Jesus that atones for all of our sin.
In the second “If we say” statement, John addresses the claim of the false teachers that they had no sin (vs. 8). It is likely that they were claiming not to have a sin nature. Their view was that God had either eradicated the sin nature in them, or at least in their soul. How many today claim a form of spirituality while rejecting the presence of sin in their lives? If we do this, John says we are self-deceived and the truth is not in us. If we deny our own sinfulness, then any behavior becomes acceptable. There is no moral standard. This was the case with the false teachers and many in our society as well.
If we acknowledge and confess our sins however, God who is faithful and just, will forgive us (vs. 9). In vs. 8 he spoke of sin (sin nature) and in vs. 9 he says we should confess our sins (sinful acts). Again, a denial of the sin nature results in no perceived need of confession. Conversely, an acceptance of our sin nature will lead to confession of our sinful actions. When we acknowledge and confess our sins we can have confidence that God will forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
This is because he is faithful to his promises. The Lord has promised to forgive the sins of his children. This is clearly seen in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) among other places. The Lord must forgive sin if he is to remain faithful to his promises. This poses a problem though because John said that God was not only faithful but just or righteous. How can God maintain his righteousness if he does not punish sin? He cannot! Therefore Christ was the propitiation for our sin; he satisfied God’s wrath in bearing our sin and dying on our behalf. In this way God was both just and the justifier (Rom 3:21-26).
In the third “If we say” statement, John deals with the claim of the false teachers that they had not sinned (vs. 10). Not only did they deny their sin nature, but they denied that they had committed a single sin. Whether they were referring to their being sinless prior to their profession of faith or that they had not sinned since in either case John says such a view makes God to be a liar. In his word, the Lord has made it clear that all have sinned (Rom 3:23). Further, Paul described the war in his flesh as he wrestled with sin stating that sin dwelt within him and caused him to do evil instead of the good that he desired to do (Rom 7:13-25). To deny this present reality for the believer is to make God a liar and to give evidence that we are not in fellowship with him.
Having thoroughly disputed the false teaching regarding a lack of sin, John is quick to correct in the opposite direction. Lest he be perceived as accepting sin, he states definitively that he is correcting the false teachers so that his dear children in the faith would not sin (2:1). He is not minimizing sin, but rather calling them to walk in the light; to understand the truth and practice righteousness. Should we fall into sin however, we know that Jesus Christ the righteous is our advocate with the Father.
Jesus is righteous because he lived a righteous life, thus he can approach the Father on our behalf. He is our advocate before the Father. Therefore, when we sin we need not be afraid because the Lord Jesus intercedes for us. He alone is qualified to do this because he is the propitiation for our sins (vs. 2). As stated above, in his substitutionary death on the cross he satisfied the wrath of God against our sin. God is just and must judge sin so Jesus bore that judgment on our behalf. He was uniquely qualified to do that because he alone lived a righteous life, the very life he manifested, which the Apostles proclaimed.
This view of propitiation should not be confused with a pagan view of sinful men attempting to appease an angry or disinterested God. That is the total opposite of the truth. It was God who initiated this propitiation. He sent his son to die in order to satisfy his wrath against sin and provide for our forgiveness (1 John 4:10). According to John the scope of this satisfaction of wrath is global and is sufficient for the sins of the world.
It is clear that salvation should be seen in terms of restored fellowship with God that results in proper fellowship with one another. This is demonstrated by walking in the light (practicing righteousness) which transcends personal holiness and includes how we love one another. This is made possible by the blood of Jesus, which satisfies God’s wrath and cleanses us from sin, making restored fellowship possible for all who believe in repentance and faith.