1 John 1:6-10
Here we are with my second instalment reflecting on 1 John.
6 If (i) we say that we share with him, and (ii) we walk in darkness, then we are liars and aren’t living out the Truth1.
7 If however we walk in Light, as he [= God]2 himself is in Light, then (i) we share with one another, and (ii) the blood of his son, Jesus, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we don’t have sin, then we are deceiving ourselves and Truth is not in us.
9 If we admit our sins, then he is faithful and just such that he forgives our sins and cleanses us from all injustice.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, then we render him a liar, and his Logos is not in us.
In verse 5, John gives us a very Johannine gospel statement: “God is light and darkness isn’t in him, nope, not one bit.” Then in vv6-10 he gives us five if-then statements that unpack important implications of this truth. These come in an alternating structure: A – B – A – B – A, where the A statement is a denial, the B statement a counterpoint.
The first denial reflects, as this whole letter, a theme in the gospel, which is that the claim to be a follower of Jesus, when paired with a way of life that is contrary to it, is a form of hypocrisy; it’s lying to ourselves, lying to others, and lying in our deeds. John uses the vivid but difficult to translate language of ‘doing the Truth’.
The counterpoint, then, is the word of encouragement: that if in fact we do walk in the light, then we ourselves are drawn into a communion – with one another and with and in God, and we are brought into this communion by Jesus’ blood – that is his atoning and cleansing death.
The second pair of statements in some ways repeats the first pair, but almost like a repeating motif with different notes. The key issue here is whether we recognise our sin. And this is counter-intuitive as well. For the only way to deal with sin is to admit and confess and repent, but the one who denies sin, in fact has sin.
I’ve had my understanding of verse 9 particularly shaped by the idea that God is just in forgiving our sins. How can that be? Because if you’ve repented and trusted in Jesus, then God has accepted the payment of your debt, and so it would now be unjust for him to exact a second payment from you.3
The last comment I have to make is that the more I read the New Testament, the more I see certain consistent themes that perhaps I didn’t notice so much before. One of those is that from Gospels to Epistles, there is a bold, continual insistence that deeds match profession. This is something Protestantism has always struggled with because of its insistence (rightly so!) that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, not by works. Yet, Jesus, James, John, Paul, Peter are all insistent that a person who has trusted in Jesus lives that out in a transformed life, and whenever a person’s life manifests a persistent failure to “do the Truth” as John puts it here, it may cause us to call into question whether that person has indeed trusted in Jesus. The apostle John will certainly have more to say on that question in the coming chapters.
John uses an expression that woodenly could be “doing the truth”.
It makes best sense in all these verses to understand ‘he’ as referring to God, primarily God the Father, in vv7, 9, 10.
Yes, there’s a bigger, broader discussion to be had about the extent of the atonement in relation to this question. No, I’m not having it here.