Walking in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:6

Let’s play a game. It’s called, “Guess the Bad Guy.” Are you ready?

  • Superman à Lex Luther
  • Batman à Joker
  • Spiderman à The Green Goblin
  • Thor à Loki
  • TMNT à Shredder
  • Rocky 1 & 2 à Apollo Creed
  • Rocky 3 à James “Clubber” Lang a.k.a. Mr. T
  • Rocky 4 à Ivan Drago
  • Peter Pan à Captain Hook
  • 101 Dalmatians à Cruella de Vil
  • Beauty and the Beast à Gaston
  • Aladdin à Jafar
  • Sleeping Beauty à Maleficent


Wow! Great job! You guys know your bad guys. In comic books and movies there are always good guys and bad guys. Heroes and villains. But there are a couple of images from Hollywood that really relate well to what we’re going to talk about this morning.

The first is that of old cowboy movies or TV shows. For those of you who are old enough to have watched these, the good guys always wore a specific color and the bad guys wore another color. Do you remember how you could identify who was the good guy and who was the bad guy? Yes! The good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black.

In more recent times, there was a blockbuster movie series that took on this same theme, but added a little twist. This movie series was called Star Wars. In Star Wars, while the main characters do wear white or black but the primary focus was which “side” they were on – they were either on the light side or the dark side. Of course the good guys were on the light side and the bad guys were part of the dark side.

The Enemy of the Real Life

Did you ever wonder where this theme came from? Well, this morning you are going to find out. Turn with me please to 1 John 1. Today we will be studying 1 John 1:5 – 1 John 2:6. Let’s read it.

Last week we talked about how our world is full of fake things. And we recognized that none of us like this fake stuff. We want substance. We want honesty. We want meaning and purpose in life. We want integrity. We want real life. And John introduced us to “life that is real” last week as he talked about a relationship with Jesus and relationships with others. That is the real life that God has designed us for. And if you want that type of life, here’s what I want you catch from today’s passage: The life that is real has an enemy – and that enemy is sin.

Eight times in these verses John mentions sin. He illustrates this theme by contrasting light and darkness. God is light; sin is darkness.

But there is another contrast here too – the contrast between saying and doing. The Christian life must be about more than mere talk, we must also live out what we believe. If we are in fellowship with God (aka “walking in the light”) our walk will match our talk. But if we are living in sin (aka “walking in the dark”) our lives will contradict our speech revealing us to be hypocrites.

Scripture speaks of the Christian life as a “walk” of faith. This walk begins with a step of faith, but it is crucial that we understand that placing our faith in Christ is just the beginning of a lifelong journey with God. “Walking” involves progress. Christians are supposed to mature in their relationship with God, and as they do, their lives should look more and more like Christ.

John begins today’s passage by commenting on God’s nature. 1 John 1:5 reads, “Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” When we began our relationship with God, He called us out of darkness and into His light. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Yet sometimes when we begin the journey of faith, we forget that it is a journey! We sometimes forget that the invitation was to follow Him. Faith requires growth, not just belief. But John’s opponents were not becoming more like God. They claimed to have fellowship with God, yet they weren’t walking with Him.

Light produces life and growth, but sin is darkness; and darkness produces death and decay. Darkness and light cannot exist in the same place. If we are walking in the light, the darkness has to go. The fact is if we want to follow Christ, we all must deal with our sin. This is the only way we can experience the life that is real. In today’s passage John outlines three approaches to dealing with sin.

We Can Attempt to Cover Our Sin (1:5-10)

The false prophets that John was warning the church about in this letter were guilty of trying to cover their sin with lies. The majority of today’s passage can be outlined by John’s quotes of these false teachers and his confrontation of their lies. He quotes them three times (vss. 6, 8, & 10) and then he teaches them the right way to respond following each quote (vss. 7, 9, & 2:1-2). So he begins in verse 6 by quoting one of their slogans, and I want you to notice this repetitive formula in verses 1:6 – 2:2 that goes, “If we say…BUT…”

The first formula is found in verses 6-7 where John says, “If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. 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 His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Some people in John’s day were claiming that they had an intimate walk with God, that their lives were not stained with sin, and that they had done no wrong.

Remember that in John’s day many people believed that God was detached from the material world, so they believed that behavior outside the spiritual context was unimportant. It was as if earthly things and heavenly things existed in different spheres. These folks were trying to claim that sin was unimportant and that God only looked on the inward condition of a person’s soul. But God wanted them to understand that no such division was possible. A God of light expects His children to walk in His light. In this passage John was pointing out that these false teachers were not simply ignorant, they were lying and living in self-deceit.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between occasionally sinning and then repenting (or turning away from) that sin, and moving forward in obedience to God and living in continual sin. All followers of Christ continue to battle with sin. We all fail sometimes and as long as we live in these fallen bodies we will. But continually living in sin and not turning away from it is what John is referring to here as “walking in darkness.” As we will see in this passage, a relationship with God demands obedience and submission to Him. Living a sinful lifestyle and claiming to have a relationship with God are not compatible.

In contrast, John teaches us in verse 7 that rather than walking in darkness, if we would walk in the light, we could experience real life. Specifically, we can have real relationships with other followers of Jesus and we will be forgiven of our sin. John sees an inherent connection between our relationship with each other and our relationship with God. One is not possible without the other. By the way, it’s interesting that instead of saying that those who walk in the light “have fellowship with God,” John says that fellowship with each other is the most obvious consequence.

Walking in the light reveals who we are and what we’re about. When you walk in the light everyone knows the reality of who you are. We call this “keepin’ it real.” Churches that are wrecked by spiritual elitism and insincerity can only break out of that cycle through confession and forgiveness.

Notice also that John brings up Jesus’ sacrificial death to his opponents who didn’t consider things in the material world as important to help them realize that if material realities are bypassed, an incarnate Jesus with a salvific earthly death was meaningless.

We Can Confess Our Sins (1 Jn. 1:9)

The second formula is found in verses 8-9 which read, “If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [BUT] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So now we discover that not only did these people live in darkness, but they also claimed to be without sin.

In the first formula it appeared that these people were trying to fool others about their righteousness. They said that they had fellowship with God, but then in private, they were walking in darkness. Now, however, they have moved from attempting to fool others to fooling themselves! They have believed their own lies and consider themselves to be righteous even though they were living in sin. This is a dangerous reality for many people in our world today – it is possible to be living in sin yet convince yourself that everything is fine between you and the Lord.

A perfect example of this is King David in 2 Samuel 11-12. David lusted after Bathsheba. Then he committed adultery with her. Instead of admitting what he had done and repenting, he tried to cover his sin. He tried to deceive Bathsheba’s husband by getting him drunk so he would sleep with his wife, and when that didn’t work David had him killed. David lied to himself and tried to carry on with his royal duties. And it wasn’t until the prophet Nathan told David a hypothetical story and David condemned the man in the story that he was awakened to his own sin. We must be careful as well, because once we begin to lie to others, it may not be long before we actually believe our own lies. But John isn’t done yet, there’s one more step in this devolution of lies he is confronting.

The third formula is found in verses 1:10 – 2:2 where John says, “If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. [My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin.] BUT if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” In this third stage of attempting to cover their sin, John’s adversaries have now moved from deceiving others, to deceiving themselves, to attempting to deceive God.

Why does John say that their declaration of not having sin makes God a liar? Because God’s Word is clear that this is not true. Romans 3:10-12 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands;     there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Either everyone has sinned, or God is a liar. Additionally, as we noted earlier, if this were not true, God’s efforts to save mankind from their sin throughout Scripture would make no sense.

We might be tempted to look incredulously at these people for even trying to say that they have no sin, but we need to look in the mirror before we judge too quickly. Often we apply God’s Word to others but not to ourselves. We regularly sit through sermons or Bible studies and are not moved by the Bible’s teachings. Repeatedly we speed through our times of prayer to a holy and perfect God without realizing our need to spend time in confession.

John has a solution for us, He points us to Jesus. He calls Jesus two names that are incredibly important for us to understand: Advocate and Propitiation. The word advocate used to be applied to lawyers. It literally means “one called alongside.” When someone was called to court, they would take an advocate (lawyer) with them to stand at their side and plead their case. Jesus finished His work on earth by giving His life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. But He is presently finishing His “unfinished work” in heaven as He represents us before God’s throne as our High Priest. As our Advocate, Jesus helps us when we sin. When we confess our sins to God, because of Christ’s advocacy God forgives us.

But Jesus is also the Propitiation for our sins. This means that He satisfied God’s holy law. As John said, God is light, and as such He cannot close His eyes to sin. However, as we will see later in 1 John, God is also love (1 Jn. 4:8) and He wants to save sinners. So, how can a holy God uphold His own justice and also forgive sinners? Through the sacrifice of Christ. At the cross, God in His holiness judged sin. But in His love He provided a way for sinners to be forgiven. This is how John could say in verse 9 that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We Can Conquer Our Sin (1 John 2:3-6)

We can attempt to cover our sin, which doesn’t work because God’s light reveals the truth. We can confess our sins and find forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Jesus, which is how we begin a relationship with God. But John doesn’t want us to stop there, he wants us to press on and walk in the light by conquering sin. John makes it clear that Christians do not have to sin. “I am writing these things unto you that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1).

The secret of victory over sin is found in the phrase “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7).

To walk in the light means to be open and honest, to be sincere. Paul prayed that his friends might “be sincere and without offense” (Phil. 1:10). The word sincere comes from two Latin words, sine and cera, which mean “without wax.” It seems that in Roman days, some sculptors covered up their mistakes by filling the defects in their marble statues with wax, which was not readily visible—until the statue had been exposed to the hot sun awhile. But more dependable sculptors made certain that their customers knew that the statues they sold were sine cera—without wax.

It is unfortunate that churches and Bible classes have been invaded by insincere people, people whose lives cannot stand to be tested by God’s light. “God is light,” and when we walk in the light, there is nothing we can hide. It is refreshing to meet a Christian who is open and sincere and is not trying to masquerade!

To walk in the light means to be honest with God, with ourselves, and with others. It means that when the light reveals our sin to us, we immediately confess it to God and claim His forgiveness. And if our sin injures another person, we ask his forgiveness too.

But walking in the light means something else: it means obeying God’s Word (1 John 2:3–4). John says in chapter 2, verse 3, “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.” The word know is used around 30 times in this small epistle. John wants us to be assured of our salvation and this is the first time we see the word know. How do we know if we’re living the life that is real and not just faking it? We know we are sincerely living for God if we obey!

Obedience to God’s Word is proof of our love for Him. There are three motives for obedience. We can obey because we have to, because we need to, or because we want to.

A slave obeys because he has to. If he doesn’t obey he will be punished. An employee obeys because he needs to. He may not enjoy his work, but he does enjoy getting his paycheck! He needs to obey because he has a family to feed and clothe. But a Christian is to obey his Heavenly Father because he wants to—for the relationship between him and God is one of love. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

This is the way we learned obedience when we were children. First, we obeyed because we had to. If we didn’t obey, we were spanked! But as we grew up, we discovered that obedience meant enjoyment and reward; so we started obeying because it met certain needs in our lives. And it was a mark of real maturity when we started obeying because of love.

God has made provisions for us in these ways to conquer sin. We can never lose or change the sin nature that we were born with (1 John 1:8), but we need not obey its desires. As we walk in the light and see sin as it actually is, we will hate it and turn from it. And if we sin, we immediately confess it to God and claim His cleansing. By depending on the power of the indwelling Spirit, we abide in Christ and “walk as He walked” (1Jn. 2:6).

But all this begins with openness and honesty before God and men. The minute we start to act a part, to pretend, to impress others, we step out of the light and into shadows.

All this helps to explain why walking in the light makes life so much easier and happier. When you walk in the light, you live to please only one Person—God. This really simplifies things! If we live to please ourselves and God, we are trying to serve two masters, and this never works. If we live to please men, we will always be in trouble because no two men will agree and we will find ourselves caught in the middle. But if we will walk in the light—and simply living for an Audience of One— we will find life that is real, and it will simplify our goals, unify our lives, and give us a sense of peace and poise that nothing else in life can provide.

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