If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. – 1 John 1:6 ESV
Talk is cheap. Or so the saying goes. In this section – 1 John 1:5-2:2 – John starts out by writing, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you…” (1 John 1:5 ESV). In other words, he says that what he is writing was given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. The same Jesus Christ who “was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1 ESV), who was “the word of life” (1 John 1:1 ESV), “the eternal life” (1 John 1:2 ESV), and “was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2 ESV). This same Jesus, the Son of God, gave to John the message contained in his gospel and in his three letters. And as a good disciple or student of Jesus, John was passing on what had been taught to him. This was exactly what Jesus had told him to do as part of His great commission. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT).
And yet, while John was busy proclaiming or declaring the message of Jesus, there were other voices communicating ideas that were contradictory and confusing. The early church was being bombarded by a cacophony of mixed messages – many of which sounded reasonable and logical. There were opinions being shared and options being offered concerning everything from sin to salvation and even the nature of Jesus Himself. The apostle Paul had repeatedly run into the same thing and was forced to confront the believers in Corinth about this problem. “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). As far as John, Paul and the other apostles were concerned, the content of the gospel was not open to options or other opinions. And a big part of the gospel message was the recognition of man’s sinfulness. It was the very presence of sin in the lives of men and the reality of God’s judgment against it that made it necessary that God provide a Savior. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV). In spite of this, there were those who were claiming to have fellowship or an intimate relationship with God while walking in darkness. They boasted of having a right standing with God, but their behavior didn’t reflect it. Their lives were a lie, a walking contradiction of the truth and the transformative power of the gospel. There where others who said, “We have no sin” (1 John 1:8 ESV). In other words, they were denying the reality of their own sin nature. Those who believe themselves to be sinless have no need of a Savior. Jesus addressed this misconception when He was confronted by the Pharisees who demanded to know why He associated with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus simply responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This was not a declaration of the Pharisees’ righteousness, but of their refusal to admit their own sin and their need for a Savior. Recognition of our sin and guilt is the first step in receiving the free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ.
There was yet another group that John had to address. They were saying, “We have NOT sinned” (1 John 1:10 ESV). Their boastful claim was a direct rejection of the assessment of God Himself. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s declaration of man’s sinfulness had been made clear. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). To reject God’s declaration of our sin is to call Him a liar. Paul summarizes the condition of all men soberly and succinctly. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT). But Paul, like John, knew the good news that followed the bad news. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT). John wanted his readers to know that acknowledgement of sin through confession (agreement with God about it) was the key to finding forgiveness and cleansing. Recognition of our sin leads us to seek a Savior – Jesus Christ the righteous – the propitiation for our sins. What we say about ourselves carries little weight with God. What He says about us is what matters. He says we are sinners in need of a Savior. He says we are sick and in need of a physician. He says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). And Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).