Summary: Experiencing God’s love and forgiveness we walk in the light with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What is the result of encountering the God of Light, the God in whom no darkness dwells? This was a burning question for those early followers of “The Way.” They realized that being a Christian involved more than merely giving intellectual accent to a theological doctrine. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self was part of the life of Christians, but a life of faith was more than that. Good people could act in a loving manner toward others without being religious, let alone a follower of Jesus Christ.
The writer of 1 John addresses this issue in his letter. Though we have the examples of a multitude of saints, who have gone before us, it is still beneficial for us to reflect on the teachings and insight of this early disciple and leader of the church.
WALK IN THE LIGHT
John plays a lot with the images of light and darkness in his writings. God is light—burning brightly with love, grace and forgiveness. The world is darkness filled with rebelliousness, selfishness, greed and hate. We can certainly bear witness to this truth in the indiscriminate killing innocents by religious fanatics and terrorists, the selfish use of sex and the “me too” movement, the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in our nation and in the world and in the greedy, short-sighted use of the earth’s resources.
Some would be followers of “The Way” believed that their encounter with the light had no effect on their lives. They could continue to live selfishly—seeking only their own welfare and hating those who were different than themselves. The writer of this letter condemns such a practice by his words in verse 6, “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.”
Another response to encountering the light was not only to seek to walk in the light, but also to strive to eradicate all darkness from one’s life. There were (and still are) Christians who believe that they are sinless. As a good Pharisee, Paul believed that he kept the law perfectly (though later he confessed to be the chief of sinners). In order to be perfect, a person must concentrate only on outward actions and eliminate all the little sins in one’s life.
• The person ignores or even denies that sinful nature that is a part of all of our lives.
• A smug self-righteousness can develop that looks down on others who don’t “clean up their act” as well as the righteous person.
The writer is critical of such a response to the light. In verse 8 he states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
INTEGRITY THROUGH CONFESSION
The writer of this letter is realistic. He believes that encountering the light has a transformational effect on people. He also realizes that followers of Jesus still live in the world and that the darkness still affects their lives.
Martin Luther address this condition of Christians as being “At the same time sinners and saints.”
Living lives of integrity, as people who are at the same time sinners and saints, requires that we regularly confess our sins.
• Confession is an act of humility. We admit that we are not perfect and never will be perfect no matter how hard we try.
• We confess to a God who we believe will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Cleansed from our sin and freed from our guilt and shame, we are able to move forward, live in community and serve others.
WE ARE NEVER ALONE
Sin separates us from one another. All of us have experienced the strained and broken relationships that are the results of sin.
There are times when entire communities shun a person because of his or her sin.
Though sin may separate us from people or even from a community, the writer of this letter assures his readers that we are never separated from Jesus. Jesus is our advocate. Jesus reminds us that his work on the cross frees us—and not only us but also the entire world.
We are people who have encountered the light. We encounter the light in the Word of God, in baptism and in Holy Communion. In response, we live in the light. We live lives of integrity, lives where confession and forgiveness, death and new life are daily realities.