Last week we started off our summer trip through 1 John with John’s marvelous introduction to his first letter which proclaims that all have access to “fellowship” with God through Jesus with one another. It’s a beautiful thing and one that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. However, John changes tone between the first and second paragraph a bit. He goes from “we write this to make our joy complete” to talking about lying, spiritual darkness, and wickedness. What gives? What joy is there in that?
John knows the creation stories and his readers do, too. He knows that in the beginning, God created humanity and said it was “good.” But, as we know, something went wrong. Just like spilling something onto a just-washed white t-shirt (I hate when that happens!), humanity has a giant stain that can’t seem to be washed out called “sin.” In Genesis, when Adam and Eve sin, one of the first things they do is run and hide as if God won’t find them. But, John says that “God is light, and in him, there is no darkness at all.” In other words, there’s no hiding. There is no place we can go where God will not find us and see us for all that we are, sin and everything.
But you know what? That’s a good thing. “Why?” might you ask, “God doesn’t want to see all my dirty laundry does he?”
You hear this a lot in church settings, and that is we are created in the image of God as Genesis tells us. In that image, we are created to have fellowship with one another and with God. Just as God exists in a relationship (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), so do we. However, if we are always “hiding” then we can never really be known. We cannot be known by other people, and we cannot ever truly, fully know ourselves. As John says, this is “walking in darkness.” We are denying our reason for existing and making God out to be the bad guy for giving us that very existence. The opposite of walking in darkness is, you guessed it, walking in the light.
“Walking in the light” is not just what you do or do not do; it is how you live. Light is something that we are to emanate on a daily basis, because it is who God is, and again, we are created in God’s image. John writes in his Gospel that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Elsewhere, also in the Gospel, Jesus also says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). To walk in the light is to have fellowship with one another. The light shines brighter, together. This is what John was communicating to his audience, no matter what divisions or disagreements they were facing.
Now, many of us are quick to say we’re sinful, but the way in which we live says otherwise. In fact, many of us probably think we’re doing alright, that we’re a good person and really don’t have any significant areas to improve. After all, we’re not murdering or anything like that. So we’re walking in the light, right? Not so fast. One of the easiest places to hide is right in the open, especially when we don’t have any deep and lasting relationships as a part of our community we’re sharing life with. If we’re only letting people in so far, then to some degree, we’re also hiding.
John mentions confession in his letter, and to many of us, that’s a bad term that we associate with sitting in a box with somebody on the other side telling us how many prayers to say to make up for what we just confessed. This is unfortunate because as you can see, the practice goes back to the early church itself. John mentions confessing our sins, and when he does so, I think he has more in mind than merely checking it off the list or going into a booth. In the context of light, we are to live authentically. This means we have to be bold, sometimes, in being honest with where we do wrong or fall short. And that’s the good news, isn’t it? Jesus didn’t die so that we could have it all together. Jesus died so that we didn’t have to and the good news is that God loves us in our brokenness, not just in spite of it.
If we say we have no sin, we are hiding and walking in darkness. We deceive ourselves. If we are saying we are sinless, we deny we need to be forgiven, and thus making God out to be a “liar.” Light exposes that which we try to hide in life. This is what makes “confession so vital.” But we can do this with confidence, knowing that when we bring the darker parts of our life into the light, they are already forgiven, and we love one another in the midst of these imperfections just as God loves us, and that’s where the light shines most.
It’s not that we can’t ever sin again if we believe in Jesus, but we have an advocate when we do, and we don’t have to live in the darkness or hide in fear. Instead, we walk in the light, and we let ourselves be seen so that we can see others, and in doing so, we see God clearer than ever before. Our shirts may not be clean, but thank God that he loves us, dirty laundry and all, and is in the process of washing everything new.