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The Basics - 1John 1:6-10

John sets forth to his general audience the fundamentals of true religion, biblical Christianity, while at the same time refuting false doctrines of his day and ours

1John 1:5-10, 4:6; John 3:16-21; Isaiah 6:5

Feb 02, 2014 12:00 PM

Several weeks ago we began our study of 1John by looking at a verse from chapter 4 which we consider to be the key to understanding this book.  There, John says:

[6] We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

While that certainly sounds arrogant and self-righteous, it is nevertheless true because of who is writing this letter, and because of who he represents as an apostle.  John represents Jesus Christ, eternal life in the flesh.  God in flesh.  He, along with the other apostles, has seen, heard, and handled the Word of Life, the One who spoke the universe into being.  John is His representative, His ambassador to the world, endowed with authority from Jesus Himself to preach the gospel.

Acting in that capacity, he delivers to all of his readers including us--in a very concise, very abbreviated form--what he refers to as the message from God, through Jesus, to the world.  And this is the message: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (V5)

That simple statement is absolutely laden with theological truth.  It explicitly states what may be the most fundamental and inescapable truth in all the universe: the perfect holiness of God.  But that truth also points very clearly to the fundamental spiritual problem all men have: sin.

John uses the scriptural and metaphorical terms of light and darkness to communicate to us in an abbreviated manner the basis for man’s relationship with God.  Rather than use strictly theological terms, the words “light” and “darkness” are illustrative of the plight of fallen man.  God is light and He dwells in unapproachable light.  Sin is darkness and it is that darkness in which men walk naturally.  The two, light and darkness, are incompatible.  They do not mix.  All men are naturally at odds with God and holiness because all men are sinners and walk in darkness.  Everything John says here in 1John 1 he also recorded for us by writing the words of the Lord Jesus in John 3:

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21 ESV)

This is the explanation for the crucifixion of Jesus.  He is God.  He is light.  As He came into the world, His light (i.e. His righteousness) exposed the wickedness and sinfulness and unrighteousness of the most self-righteous, self-satisfied, hypocritical religious leaders the world has ever known.

He exposed the evil of their hearts by the light of His own righteousness.  Religious hypocrites especially hate the light that exposes them for who they are.  The light of the holiness of God exposes the sinfulness of all men.  When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, Isaiah was immediately exposed, he felt naked before God, because the light of God’s presence made him ashamed of who he really was.  Isaiah saw his own spiritual condition as he stood before the light of God and he immediately began to despair of his own life:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV)

That is what happens when sinful men step into the light of the holiness of God: Instantaneous total exposure; Spiritual nakedness.  No darkness to run to.  Nowhere to hide from that holy light that reveals the darkness of men’s hearts.

John’s letter is concerned with these spiritual basics: God is holy, we are not, and we do not have fellowship with Him.  In fact, we are God’s enemies, if we do not have Christ.  The only means of a right relationship and of intimate fellowship with God is through the work of Jesus Christ who, by the shedding of His blood, takes us out of spiritual darkness and deadness, and transfers us into the light and holiness.  He makes the unclean, clean.  He makes the unholy, spotless in God’s sight.  Jesus Christ, and He alone, is able to give sinners fellowship with God who is light.

That is how important the Person and the work of Jesus is.  And that is why John says, We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. It isn’t arrogance, or self-righteous pride, or self-delusion.  It is just a fact of spiritual reality: without Jesus Christ, sinful men have no hope of eternal life.  But with Christ, we have fellowship with the God who is light, and in whom there is no darkness at all.  This, beloved, is an amazing and absolute truth.  These are the fundamentals of salvation.  Whoever disagrees with this is in grave danger:

Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18 ESV)

Now, I want us to take one more look at chapter 1 and verses 5 through 10.  After John makes the proclamation that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, he then makes three statements which all begin with the words, if we say.

6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Did you notice the progression?  There is a progression in these three statements from bad, to worse, to unthinkable.  In verse 6, John says in effect, “We are liars if we say we have fellowship with God while living a sinful lifestyle”.  Being a liar is not good.  In verse 8, he says ”We are self-deceived, we are lying to ourselves if we say we have no sin”.  It is even worse when you’ve lied to yourself and believed it. And in verse 10 he says, “We’re calling God a liar if we say we have not sinned at all”.  That is infinitely worse because it is blasphemy directly against God.

These three “if we say” statements point out three possible scenarios.  John gives a response to the first two in verses 7 & 9.  He states the possible, which others may be accusing them of, and then refutes those possibilities with what is actually true.

In answering the first possibility, namely, that he and others don’t really have fellowship with God, he refutes that by saying in verse 7, “We are not walking in darkness, we are not lying, and we are practicing the truth.  You know that of us!  We are walking in the light, we do have fellowship with God, and the blood of Christ DOES cleanse us from our sins.”

The second possible scenario is in verse 8: that he and the other witnesses claim to be sinless.  So in verse 9 he responds with, “We do have sin, we are not self-deceived about that, and the truth IS in us!  If (and when) we confess our sins, we are forgiven and cleansed by God!”

And what seems to be the third and final accusation against them in verse 10 is not refuted, because it is not necessary: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. It is a rhetorical statement.  Of course, we have never said we have never sinned.  The accusation that we have said such a thing is preposterous.

It seems these statements and refutations of John in verses 6 through 10 were intended to address what was quickly becoming a huge problem within the first century church: Gnosticism.  There was one man in particular, according the writings of the early church fathers, who appears to have been a powerful enemy of the gospel and an early promoter of what eventually became Gnosticism, a man by the name of Cerinthus.

Cerinthus believed and taught that Jesus and the Christ were two separate entities.  Jesus was not a supernatural being born of a virgin.  Rather, He was the son of Mary and Joseph.  He also taught that the Christ was a separate spiritual entity who came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him during His crucifixion.  This is because Cerinthus and, later, the Gnostics, believed that the physical world was evil, including Jesus’ physical body, but the spiritual world was good.  Therefore God could never inhabit a human body because human flesh is inherently evil.

So you can see why Cerinthus was an enemy of the gospel, and of everything John is saying here.  According to Gnostic beliefs, as long as a person is spiritually good, it doesn’t matter what he does with his physical body.  In essence, they denied personal responsibility for sinfulness.

John is speaking in these verses as though someone is accusing him of saying and teaching such things.  Or, he speaks this way in order to make a very clear distinction between himself and the thinking of Cerinthus and his followers.  And at the same time, he is denouncing Cerinthus and Gnostic teachings.

All of this talk about light and darkness, sinfulness and righteousness, and the cleansing power of the physical blood of a physical Jesus Christ who is able to remove every stain of sin from us and make us holy in God’s site--all of this is the very core of the doctrine of salvation.  If we get this wrong, we lose the gospel message itself.  If we really are not guilty of sin, if we really have no sin, if we believe we can have fellowship with God while we simultaneously live a profligate lifestyle, then we have abandoned the Scriptures, denied the faith, and made God a liar.

That is chapter 1.  This is the foundation of the rest of the book.  It is the general introduction with the fundamentals of the gospel spelled out.  God is presented as holy.  Man is presented as sinful.  Christ is presented as a real flesh and blood Person, the singular means of attaining fellowship between God and man.  That is the gospel in a nutshell.

But this is also the answer to the multitudes of people who cry foul against Christians because of our hypocrisy.  We are indeed sometimes hypocritical.  We sometimes do not walk as Jesus walked.  Chapter 2, verse 6 tells us, Whoever says he abides in [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. We fully agree with that!  Not to do so is to be genuinely guilty of the charge of hypocrisy.  And we are guilty far more often than we really want to admit.

If the truth were known, we’re all guilty of far more than just hypocrisy.  But we are also the ones who confess such sinfulness.  We are the ones who admit it, TO GOD, when we fall short of the mark.  We KNOW we are hypocrites!  And we know what to do when we are hypocritical, or greedy, or lustful, or covetous, or hateful or envious or any one of a hundred ways in which we sin against God.  We go to God.  We don’t hide our sin from Him who is Light.  He sees us, He knows us, He loves us, and when we confess those sins, He forgives us and cleanses us from our sin every time we confess them to Him.

What John has done for us is define basic Christianity.  This is the Christian life.  This is salvation.  He has explained in these verses two things: What Christianity is, AND what it is not.  Both are necessary.  It is not enough to say, “Well, we just believe the Bible.”  There are very few religious groups that say, “We reject the Bible as a holy book.”  All major religions accept the Bible.

But Christians should be the first to say all religions are not created equal.  We do not believe:

  • It is a service to God when we lie and kill and murder our own family members for the sake of the honor of our families and our religion.
  • We do not believe God is capricious and impersonal and He needs us to convert the world for Him.
  • We do not believe cows are sacred or idols should be worshipped.
  • We do not believe we will eventually become gods and inherit our very own planets.
  • We do not believe in three gods, or that the true God manifests Himself in one of three forms throughout history.
  • We do not believe Jesus was just a very good man who came into the world to be an example of how very good people should live.
  • We do not believe Jesus was a disembodied spirit that did not actually die and shed His blood upon the cross.
  • We do not believe Jesus was crucified but did not actually die.
  • We do not believe Jesus was simply another of many prophets, and we certainly don’t believe He is inferior to any other prophet.
  • We do not believe we can earn merit points with God through church membership and baptism and confession of our sins to a priest and participation in the re-sacrificing of Jesus upon an altar over and over and over again.
  • We do not believe in praying into the air with smoke and candles to an unknown and unknowable higher power that may or may not actually be there.
  • We do not believe we contribute in any way to our own salvation by means of good works, or self-generated faith, or any effort in our own strength.


What we do believe is men cannot have fellowship with God apart from Jesus Christ.  And we believe that fellowship is a holy fellowship.  It does not involve some compromise on God’s part with our sin.  God has dealt with our sin through His Son.  On that basis, and upon the basis of Christ’s continuing work as our great High Priest to forgive our sins, we have intimate fellowship with God.

And to quote John once again:

We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

We want to be sure to listen to John.



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