THOUGHTS FROM JOHN’S LETTERS

WALKING IN THE LIGHT – 4

Walking in the light, living by the truth, following Jesus – each of these refer to the same reality: that we now live with God. We see and know God by knowing Jesus Christ. We know who God is. We know what he is like. We know what God does. This knowledge is not total, but it is true.

But is important to understand that not only does the person who follows Jesus Christ know God: those who follow Jesus Christ, those who learn from him, also know themselves and the truth about their sin. In knowing Jesus they know that any protestations they might make about their own sinlessness, about their own personal righteousness, bear no weight either with Jesus, the Son, or with God, the Father.

To really see and know Jesus Christ is to immediately see and know oneself as a sinner. Always a sinner. If we do not see that, then, John says, we are still walking in the darkness, still not living by the truth.

In the previous meditation we saw the truth that ‘the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin’ (1:7).

Lest we misunderstand his meaning, John says more about sin in 1:8 – 2:2, and what he says here is a significant part of ‘walking in the light’, because:

Being purified (1:7) does not mean that we are no longer sinners (1:8).
Being purified (1:7) does not mean that we do not sin (1:10).
Being purified (1:7) does not mean that sin is okay (2:1).

In this word ‘purifies’ we are told that, because of the death of Jesus Christ, those who believe in him are forgiven – acquitted, reconciled to God. Their sins are no longer taken into account and held against them (Romans 4:8) because Jesus Christ bore their sins in his body on the cross (1Peter 2:24) – all the guilt, all the condemnation, all the penalty. There is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1) for those united to Jesus Christ, and to his death, by faith. The record of their sins has been cancelled, erased – nailed to the cross of Christ (Colossians 1:14).

Because God has legally and justly dealt with our sins by the substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ, God now relates to those who follow Christ only and always ‘in Christ’. A great and incredible exchange has taken place: Jesus Christ bore our sin – its guilt, its condemnation, its penalty were all debited to him; his righteousness is credited to us. He ‘died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous’ to bring us to God (1Peter 3:18). God now relates to us, not on the basis of our sin, but on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In Christ, God reckons us:

Holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22).
Holy ... perfect (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

Jesus Christ was sinless, but God treated him as a sinner. We are sinners, but ‘in Christ’ God treats us as sinless.
In Christ we are reckoned righteous. But if God were to regard us as stand-alone individuals, without Christ, apart from Christ, it would be very obvious that we are still sinners who sin.

So John teaches that to claim that we are ‘without sin’ and to claim that we ‘have not sinned’ is contrary to the truth, contrary to the light:

‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ – verse 8.

‘If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in us – verse 10.

Did you notice the terrible significance that John gives to any denial of sinfulness:

‘...we deceive ourselves’
‘... the truth is not in us’
‘... we make him out to be a liar’
‘...his word is not in us’ (literal translation of the Greek).

All of this means that the person who claims to be without inner sin or without active sin, is actually not walking in the light, not living by the truth, but walking, living, in the darkness, basing their life on a false belief, on a deception.

God has made it very clear that we are all sinners who sin (Romans 1:18 – 3:20). There is no difference – we all have sinned, and we all continue to fall short of his glory (Romans 3:22, 23). Believing in Jesus does not change this truth that we are sinners who sin. There is never a moment when we could stand in the presence of God and be accepted on the basis of our personal sinlessness. We are always sinners, saved by grace. We are always sinners who, but for the blood of Jesus, would still be banned from God’s presence, condemned, without spiritual life – dead in those sins.

What has changed is our legal status in the presence of God and our relationship with God. By the death of Jesus Christ our legal disqualification from life with God has been removed. We now live reunited with him, reconciled to him, never again to be banned from his presence.

We read in the New Testament:

That it was the sinner, not the man who believed himself sinless, who went home ‘justified’ (Luke 18:9 – 14).

It is ‘the wicked’ whom God justifies, and to whom faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

Let us not be so foolish as to claim sinlessness, and so to distance ourselves, not only from the truth, not only from the light, but also from the redeeming grace of God. It is only those who know and acknowledge themselves to be sinners, who also know and acknowledge their desperate and on-going dependence on the blood of Jesus, God’s Son.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021