Fellowship with the Light (God is Light - Part 1)
Scripture: 1 John 1:1–2:6
Synopsis: God established fellowship with people through the incarnation of Christ. Coming into fellowship with the living God will change your life so completely that Jesus called it being born again. In this message we explore this truth and some of the effects of fellowship with God in a person's life.
In every age, the church faces challenges from both outside and inside. In fact, in the last 2000 years Christianity has been subjected to more criticism and scrutiny than any other religion or philosophy, yet remains standing. This has been going on so long that when we come to the present day, it is hard to find challenges that are actually new. The good thing about this is that we can go back to the letters of the apostles and find answers to many of the challenges we face today.
This week we are beginning a five part series on the 1st letter of John the apostle. In this letter, John was engaging the popular religious thought of his day known as Gnosticism. Specifically, there are two major issues that he confronted which arose from Gnostic philosophy.
The first issue was the growing opinion that Jesus had not really come in the flesh, but was rather a sort of spiritual manifestation of God. The Gnostics believed that all physical things were necessarily evil and all spiritual things were necessarily good. Therefore, they did not like the idea of an incarnation, of God becoming a man.
The second issue was the practical outworking of this philosophy. Since faith/religion is a spiritual matter, it need not have any effect on one’s physical life since physical is all bad anyway. In other words, as long as you perform your spiritual devotions, it does not matter what you do with your physical body.
Now, what do ancient philosophies have to do with us today? Well, there is nothing new under the sun. The religious atmosphere of John’s day and the religious atmosphere we live in today have some striking similarities that make his letter very helpful for us. That is, many people, including some who call themselves Christians, deny some aspects of the incarnation of God the Son. Also today we have this bizarre sacred/secular divide in many places that compels us to keep our faith away from public spheres. What society essentially tells us is that our spiritual beliefs should have no effect on our physical lives.
I’ll admit to you that the first thing I want to do in response to this is argue against these things with all the arguments I can think of. That however is not what John the apostle did in this letter. Instead of arguing against Gnosticism as a system of religion, he went back to the root of Christian faith: The testimony that God, in whom there is no darkness, became a man and initiated fellowship with people.
We begin with the truth that God became a real man in 1 John 1:1-4:
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
I remember my first time drive through a road work zone in Abu Dhabi. It was impossible to miss. On top of the red tape, orange cones, and flag waving mannequin, there were two signs on both sides of the road that said ‘road work ahead,’ two more signs that said ‘reduce speed now,’ and four signs that said ‘max speed 60kph.’ Seeing all this, I thought to myself that they really don’t want anyone to miss this road work zone. It would be impossible to drive through this and say, “I didn’t see it.”
In the same way, John has made sure that it is impossible to read through this passage and miss the physical reality of the God the Son become a man. He speaks both explicitly and with repetition. In v1, “we have heard, we have seen with our eyes, we looked upon, we have touched with our hands.” In v.2 “we have seen it.” In v.3 “we have seen and heard.” There can be no mistake that he was talking about physical reality.
What he and the apostles saw, heard, and touched was the word of life revealed in the real person of Jesus the Son of God. John made it as clear as he could make it that Jesus was not fictional, not a spiritual apparition, not a great idea. He was God the Son in the flesh. He was real, physical, and historical.
This truth is just as important today as it was back then and needs to be emphasized with the same explicitness. Today there are people who say that Jesus never really existed, but that he was a really nice idea that people made up. Others say he was a man who reached “god consciousness.” Still others say that Jesus’ resurrection did not physically occur, but was a spiritual event in the hearts of his disciples.
All of these are ways of denying the incarnation of God. I also want to be clear on this point. You cannot be a Christian if you deny that Jesus was real, fully God and fully man, that he died, and that he bodily rose to life again. Without these truths, Christianity falls apart. If Jesus was just a man, he had no authority to forgive sins; if Jesus was not a man, his sacrifice would not apply to men; if Jesus did not die, there is no forgiveness of sin and we remain under God’s wrath; if Jesus did not bodily rise again, there is no victory over death and no hope of eternal fellowship with God.
Verses 1-5 are a bit of a puzzle in English, but in the original language, the main action phrase in this paragraph is ‘we proclaim to you.’ That is, we boldly declare that God became a real man that we saw, heard and touched. It was not a matter of philosophical systems for John. God revealed Himself in a particular way that ended all discussion on the matter.
Now, this is the core of the gospel, but the problem is that a lot of Christians stop at the point of God’s revelation and don’t take the next vital step. John understood, as we must also, that proclaiming the gospel is not about winning arguments. Proclaiming the gospel is about bringing people into fellowship with God.
Look again at verses 2-3:
2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
The first thing we see here is that God initiated fellowship with people through the incarnation of Jesus. The second thing is that the purpose of proclaiming the gospel is to expand that fellowship with God to more and more people. We don’t need to win arguments, we need to introduce people to fellowship with the living God through His Son Jesus.
At this point, I think it is important to say a word about fellowship because we tend to have a very flimsy understanding of it. I like what one Christian theologian said to illustrate our poor usage of fellowship. “If we talk and drink coffee with a non-Christian, we call it friendship. If we talk and drink coffee with a Christian, we call it fellowship.” Have you ever noticed that? A fellowship meeting nearly always includes tea and coffee. A “fellowship hall” is nearly always a place for eating.
These are good things, but fall far short of what fellowship really means. Fellowship is a partnership based on specific commitments and common goals. One of my favorite fiction books is called ‘The Fellowship of the Ring.’ I mention this because it is a good example of what fellowship actually is. The characters of the book all come together as partners committed to destroying the most evil object in existence with the ultimate goal of thwarting the plans of the villain.
Fellowship for Christians is a partnership based on common faith in Jesus that puts us in fellowship with God. Our goal is to expand this fellowship by proclaiming the gospel so that others may join us in our joy of knowing the Living God.
In the previous paragraph, John went to great lengths to express the fact that he and the other apostles knew God and had direct fellowship with Him through Jesus, the real incarnate Son of God. In the next paragraph, he begins by indicating one important thing he and the others know about God from that revelation and fellowship.
Let’s read verse 5
5 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.
The reason John chose this specific bit of knowledge of God is that there was a philosophy in his day that is still expressed in many religions today that good and evil are two sides of the same coin and God is beyond both of them. To this, John states that God is ONLY light. Light, in this context refers to God’s true revelation of Himself as good, pure, holy, and righteous. There is no darkness or evil in God. Again, this is not John’s philosophy or religious idea. It is what was revealed to him and the other apostles by God Himself, and it has very important applications that John spells out throughout the rest of this letter.
The applications we will focus on today are found in verses 6-10.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 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. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Our tendency when reading this is to swap cause and effect. That is, we read this scripture and conclude that in order to have fellowship with God we need to walk in the light, keep His commandments, confess our sins, etc. That, however, loses the whole point of what John wrote. John’s point was that coming into fellowship with God is a formative experience beyond any other.
A formative experience is something you experience that has a significant and lasting impact on the rest of your life. My wife and I recently shared a formative experience in the birth of our daughter. Some of the effects for me are a powerful sense of the awesomeness of God’s creation, an awe of my wife and mothers in general, and a change in my own identity that now includes the word ‘father.’ From now on, these things will be part of what characterizes my life.
God revealed himself physically and tangibly in Jesus. Knowing and having fellowship with Jesus was an experience that changed everything in the lives of his apostles and continues to do so in the lives of people today. The effect of this experience on a person’s life is so radical that Jesus called it being born again. Also Paul said in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
Therefore, the applications that John points out in verses 6-10 are not the causes of fellowship with God, but the effects of fellowship with God. John gives us these three examples written to address what people in the church were doing and saying vs. what should be the products of knowing God.
1. If you have fellowship with God, you will walk in the light.
Previously John proclaimed that God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. That being the case, those who have fellowship with him cannot remain in darkness.
In v. 6-7 John addresses the practice of saying you know God while still walking in darkness. In other words, as long as I fulfill my religious obligations like going to church, whatever I do outside of that does not really matter. I suspect that there are very few of us who would actually say this, but what John is talking about here is our actions.
Do you keep church at church? Do you avoid your faith at work? Do you put on a holy act in front of your Christian friends while being indistinguishable from your non-Christian friends? John says you are lying to the fellowship of believers and therefore have no real fellowship with them. Lying does not break fellowship as much as it shows that fellowship did not really exist.
Take the example of a husband who hides part of his paycheck from his wife. Can we say that they are in fellowship regarding their finances? If fellowship is partnership based on common commitments and goals, then there is a real problem here. The husband’s commitment and goals are apparently not the same as his wife’s. It is the same in Christian fellowship.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 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.
Fellowship with God means you will walk in His light, without deception. Does this mean that Christians will never sin? No, in fact John makes it clear that we will sin, but we will walk exposed before God in the light of his righteousness, yet redeemed in Christ. In that light we can neither hide nor make excuses for our sin. Instead, we confront our, we struggle against the sinful desires of our flesh, and we keep going back to the one thing that can make us clean: The blood of Jesus. That is, his sacrifice which has atoned for all our sin and brought us into fellowship with God.
The second application of fellowship with God is related to the first in that it is for people who claim that they have come to a point in their religious life where they no longer sin at all. To this, John says, “Stop lying to yourself.”
2. If you have fellowship with God, you will confess your sin.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Again, I don’t think there are many here today that claim to have passed beyond sin in our Christian walk, but there a plenty of Christians who act like it. What I mean by that is the superior “I’m holier than you” attitude that many Christians display regarding other people’s sin. It is truly amazing how well we are able to point out sin of others while ignoring our own.
Naturally, this is not to say that we should ignore each other’s sins because we are all sinners. Sin among God’s people must not be allowed to continue and there are biblical steps to take when it is found. This is to say that you must not be blind to your own sin.
If right now you can’t think of any ways that you have sinned, I would encourage you to read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-8. Adultery is evil, lust is just as bad. Murder is evil, anger toward your brother is just as bad. See how Jesus applies the law to the deepest desires of your heart? Now take Jesus’ way of interpreting the law and read Deuteronomy. If you come through this exercise still thinking you are beyond sin, my friend your condition is even more serious than I thought.
Don’t lie to yourself, confess. God is faithful and just, yet He forgives sin on the basis of the death of Christ. I will not be punished for what Jesus has already born on the cross.
This brings us to the final point of application.
3. If you have fellowship with God, you will not minimize sin.
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
This sounds very similar to the previous application, but there is a difference. Whereas before we were talking about those who think they have achieved sinless perfection, now we are talking about those who believe that sin is a non-issue to begin with.
Minimizing the seriousness of sin is an issue that is growing ever more relevant in today’s church. This is not really a surprising thing if you think about it. Of all the aspects of the gospel, the one that the most people find the most offensive is that everyone is born sinful, everyone proves this by being sinful, and therefore everyone is deserving of God’s eternal wrath.
The bible is very clear that sin is that serious. The bible is also clear that everyone has sin. According to John in verse 10, to say otherwise is to call God a liar. I think we can also infer from this passage that minimizing sin scorns the sacrifice Jesus made to atone for us.
I think it is interesting that this example alone has no counterpoint as the others do. John simply says that “the word is not in us” if we claim not to have sinned. I think this is an important thing to notice since it is admission of one’s sinfulness before God that is the first step toward fellowship with him. If you cannot even admit your own sin, you are far from fellowship with God.
In all of this, John’s point is not to beat us down, but to encourage us not to sin. Again this is not to gain fellowship with God, but to walk in the light as the result of that fellowship. He proclaimed that Jesus is God, he walked on the Earth, he spoke, he ate, and he forged fellowship between God and man through his death on the cross. Through him you can experience fellowship with God that will utterly remake your life.
In closing, let’s read chapter 2:1-6 as a neat summary of everything we have read so far.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
If you are in fellowship with God, there can be no sacred secular divide, you will not minimize sin, you will confess your sin, and you will walk in the light of his goodness and self-revelation. If you are listening tonight and realize that you are not in fellowship with God, now is your chance. You have heard the good news, all it takes is to believe this testimony that Jesus received the consequences of your sin. Then our joy will be complete as you enter fellowship with us and with God.