“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5–10, ESV).
The apostle John begins this letter with rich imagery of light and darkness, familiar to Scripture. The simple message is that “God is light.” Here are the benefits of “walking in the light” (walking with God through Christ):
- Fellowship with God
- Fellowship with one another
- Forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ blood
Traditionally, I think the contrast between walking in darkness and walking in light is taught as the difference between living in sin and living a holy life. Darkness=sin; Light=holiness/righteousness. There is certainly biblical warrant to make a distinction like this; however, I don’t think it’s what John has foremost in mind.
Notice the contrasting themes of deception and truth in the passage. We walk in darkness if we say we have no sin; we’ve deceived ourselves and the truth is not in us (v 8). Christians still struggle with sins. In Paul’s letters when he speaks of God’s work in our lives in relation to sin, he always uses the singular, implying that while God has broken the power of sin for us, we still may struggle with sins. As the image of Christ is cultivated more in us by the Spirit, we find increasing victory over these sins, but perfection eludes us until we enter the garden of rest before the final resurrection.
The point in all this is that walking in light can’t be to live a sinless life. But it can refer to truth and honesty. Darkness shrouds things, hides the truth. Light is revealing, honest; walking in light means bringing the truth—not matter how ugly—into the open. Thus, I think John’s intended contrast in the darkness-light imagery is particularly between deception and truth. Said another way, we walk in darkness when we hide the reality of our sins, whether in ignorance, pride, or fear; but we walk in light when we confess our sins (v 9), brining our broken selves into God’s healing presence.
In John’s gospel, Jesus said that the truth would set us free (John 8:32). In the first part of that statement, Jesus said that we are truly his disciples if we abide in his word. That is when we know the truth and are set free. Today, where are you abiding?—the light or the darkness? Have you been deceived? Have you been deceiving yourself? Healing and freedom only come from honest confession. God’s light has remarkable power. But it’s only accessed through truth.
I invite you to read Psalm 32, especially vv 1-5. Notice the contrast between hiding our sins and confessing them. Today, come into the light by being true. And then The Truth will set you free.