Fellowship With God
1 John 1:5–10
Fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ is the message the apostle John proclaims throughout this epistle. For believers to have fellowship with God, they must walk in the light revealed by His Word. A professing believer cannot claim to know God and say he walks in God’s light while indulging in habitual sin.
Yet John faced this situation in the church of his day, and he called on all those indulging in duplicitous practices to stop. He concluded his message in this section with a word of hope: To all who confess their sin, there is cleansing, forgiveness, and renewed fellowship with God.
Character of God
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (literally, “not one single bit of darkness”; 1 Jn. 1:5).
What John and the apostles heard was a direct message from God the Father through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God (cf. Jn. 1:18). It unveiled the nature and character of God the Father and His Son. This was a new revelation, and John and the other apostles were commissioned to “declare” to the world what they had received from Jesus.
John’s message is both positive and negative when it comes to explaining God’s nature. His declaration “God is light” (1 Jn. 1:5) implies more than the absence of darkness. It does not say God has light or created light, but that He is uncreated light, which states the essence of God’s nature.
Scripture says God was covered with light (Ps. 104:2) and dwelt in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16) before He created anything. Throughout Scripture, light symbolizes God’s purity, holiness, virtue, morality, truth, character, and glory. Thus light best defines and describes God’s true nature.
John added, “and in Him is no [Greek, “no, not in any way”] darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5; cf. Jas. 1:17). He emphasized there is not a bit of darkness in God. Darkness, like light, is used symbolically in Scripture and always speaks of evil, wickedness, and deception; and it ultimately leads to death.
God’s nature became visible in the person of Jesus Christ at His Incarnation. Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). Just as light is necessary for physical life on Earth, so spiritual light is necessary for one to have spiritual life. Christ is the true Light of the world (1:9).
Conduct Before God
John listed a number of conditions that inhibit believers from having fellowship with God and other believers. Beginning with 1 John 1:6 through the end of the chapter, he used five clauses that all hinge on the word if. (He also used another in 2:1.) He did not point out a specific case but was hypothesizing that some professing believers were leading double lives before God. They claimed to walk intimately with Him, but were walking in the darkness of sin.
John did not exclude himself from this possibility, using the word we. It is possible for Christians to believe they walk in true fellowship with God and be unaware of their actual spiritual state concerning sin in their lives.
“If [So] we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1:6). The phrase walk in darkness refers to the wickedness of a person’s thoughts and deeds. In this context, someone who professes faith in Christ but practices sin as a way of life shows he is not saved. Such a person speaks falsely and neither lives nor practices the truth found in the gospel.
“But if we walk in the light as He [Himself] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7). True believers consistently and continuously order their lives in the light they have received from God. Their thoughts and conduct revolve around God’s light, which others see in them; and they have true, unbroken fellowship with God.
Two results are evident in the lives of true believers: fellowship and cleansing from sin:
(1) “We have fellowship with one another” (v. 7). Naturally, when Christians walk in the light, they will be in fellowship with God and other Christians. Scholars are divided on whether this verse refers to fellowship with God or with fellow Christians. Most lean toward fellowship with God because of the theme in verses 5–7.
The words we and one another seem to speak of the believer’s fellowship with God and God’s fellowship with him or her through the relationship with Jesus. Christians must have fellowship with God before they can have fellowship with one another. If a believer has trouble fellowshiping with Christians who walk in the light, then that individual had better question his or her claim to having fellowship with God.
(2) “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7). John emphasized a number of key issues in this short phrase. First, believers are cleansed through “the blood of Jesus [His human name]…His Son [His divine name].” John’s point puts to rest the Cerinthians’ heretical teaching that Jesus was only a man and not divine, as well as the teaching of Docetism that Jesus’ humanity was not genuine.
Second, Jesus voluntarily shed His blood on the cross as an atonement that has the power to cleanse believers from every sin. The word cleanses is present tense and speaks of continual cleansing from sin. This cleansing removes sin and its guilt at the time of salvation and continues to cleanse from sins of omission and commission—no matter what form they take or how they are manifested while the believer walks in God’s light on Earth.
Confession to God
John also addressed a hypothetical objection from those claiming to walk in fellowship with God: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (v. 8). The word sin is singular and lacks the definite article, which means John was speaking of an individual’s sin nature, not specific acts of sin.
Claiming to have no sin would indicate a belief in either antinomianism or sinless perfectionism. Antinomianism is the belief that Christians are under grace and therefore free from the need to observe any moral law—a position strongly held by Gnostics in the first century. Such people claimed to be uncontaminated by sin because they believed sin was committed in the flesh, and thus did not defile their spirits.
On the other hand, John might have been referring to a type of sinless perfectionism that teaches Christians can reach ultimate sanctification in this life. This view holds that holiness is reached by God’s sanctifying grace through faith, setting one completely free from sin in this life. These beliefs, held in John’s day and through church history, are also prevalent in some church groups and cults today.
John strongly condemned such beliefs: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (v. 8). Our sin nature still exists. It has not been eradicated. By denying it, we delude ourselves. For sure, we do not deceive God, relatives, friends, or acquaintances for they are aware of our sins. People who believe they don’t sin are outright liars, and the truth of the gospel is not in their hearts.
John used another “if” clause to explain how the self-deceived should deal with their sin: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9).
To “confess our sins” means to say the same thing God says about a particular sin and acknowledge it openly as sin before Him. It involves contrition of heart over the sin, hatred of it, admission of guilt, and determination to forsake it.
The word sins is plural, meaning the confession should include naming specific sins when asking God’s forgiveness. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word confess is used in reference to sins.
God will be “faithful” or trustworthy to perform what is true to His own nature and to keep His promises. He is also “just” (righteous), meaning He acts in agreement and conformity to His own nature, which demands it. The price for sin was paid by Jesus Christ through His shed blood, making it possible for God to forgive all who repent (cf. Rom. 3:23–26).
God responds in two ways to all who confess their sins: He will “forgive” and “cleanse…from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). When God forgives, He remembers that sin no more. The same is true concerning cleansing. The moment someone sincerely confesses sin to God, the defilement of that sin is removed; and the individual is restored to fellowship with Him.
John addressed a final claim that some professing believers might make: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (v. 10). People who vehemently refuse to admit they have ever committed sin contradict God’s revealed Word and claim He is a liar. Such heretical beliefs directly attack God’s nature, character, and veracity and indicate that person does not possess saving faith in Jesus Christ nor believe the gospel message nor believe in the inerrant revelation of His Word. Unless such people recant their ungodly positions and confess their sin with repentant hearts, they are without hope and cannot walk in God’s light.
We all need to examine our lives and see if there is any known sin that needs confessing, so we can enjoy true fellowship with God.