WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XVI) 02/08/21

Charles Gore (1850-1932) says that a person is much better off when they reverence God’s awesomeness. Thus the Apostle John tells us that if any person does not confess to personal sinfulness, they are self-deceived and liars. Confession of sin inevitably follows any sincere attempt to bring ourselves and our deeds into the light of truth. But the admission must be real. No vague confession is enough. It must be an acknowledgment of our sins in detail and particular, without any alibis or self-excusing. Being open and honest is so valuable because it is willingly coming into the light. Then God shows His truth to His promises and His real righteousness in no way more than this, that He meets our mere confession with forgiveness—waiting for nothing else—and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

We stand free to serve Him without the past guilt or disability. But he has declared us to be sinners, and confession—that is, practical assent to this divine charge against us—is necessary. To deny that we have sinned—to attribute our shortcomings to any other cause, such as our nature or our circumstances—is, in effect, to make God a liar and show that His word has no place in us. It may sound like a simple illustration about God is light, and there is no darkness in Him, but it has a strong message. Light can enter darkness, but darkness cannot enter the light. As long as the light is on, darkness disappears.[1]

Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861–1927) was a Welsh evangelical speaker and Christian writer. Her ministry took her to Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, the United States, and India. In speaking about the outward profession of godliness, the Lord’s message to the church at Smyrna was this: “Those who say they are Jews and are not, are of the synagogue of Satan.”[2] It appears by this that the adversary has not only a religion that gives him worship through material images but that his “synagogue” or congregation consists of professors of religion who are without the inward truth.

That’s why John says here in verse six, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and live in darkness [i.e., in sin], we lie, and do not the truth,” and the harshest words that ever passed the lips of the Anointed One were His scathing exposures of the Pharisees. “They do not practice what they preach,” He said, and “on the outside, you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” He told them they were of their “father the devil” and called them “serpents” and the “offspring of vipers.[3] And yet, the Pharisees, the strictest sect in Israel in the outward fulfilling of the law, nevertheless claimed God as their Father. The Lord’s strong words make it appear that Satan’s invisible “church” is filled with those who make religion a cloak to hide their relationship to the devil.[4]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) says that complete knowledge of God is impossible; He can be indeed “known” here and now, under human living conditions and limitations. His nature is “Light,” which communicates to those made in His image until transformed into His likeness. From the ethical side, the words also emphasize the conditions of fellowship. Walking in darkness excludes a person from any connection with Him in whom is no darkness at all. Conduct is not a matter of indifference, as some in John’s day was teaching. With the order of ideas here, is “life, light, and darkness.” (verses 2, 5). Compare the same sequence in the Prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1, 2, 4, 5).[5]

Albert Barnes (1874-1951) explains a somewhat confusing phrase, “do not the truth” (KJV), here in verse six. To do the truth is to act according to the truth. The expression here means that such a person could not be a Christian. And yet, how many there are who are living in sin who profess to be Christians! How many whose minds are dark on the whole subject of religion, who have never known anything of the real peace and joy that it imparts, who nevertheless entertain the belief that they are the friends of God, are going to heaven! They trust in a name, in forms, in conformity to external rites, and have never known anything of the internal peace and purity which religion imparts, have never had any real fellowship with that God who is Light, and in whom there is no darkness at all.

Faith in God brings light; belief in God secures peace, purity, joy.  Sometimes, there are cases when a Christian wanders back into darkness, lose their spiritual joy, and begin to doubt their salvation. Yet, it doesn’t change the great truth of who God is. Unless we know by personal experience what it is to walk habitually in the Light, to do not have the Spirit’s comfort to experience in our souls. His influence makes the heart pure and brings us into conformity to the God who is Light. Until then, our religion is not genuine. It becomes merely a name, which will not profit us on the final day of judgment.[6]

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) says we find the moral test for religious experience outlined in the correlated statements that God is light and that Christians must walk in the light. God as Light signifies that just as light by nature cannot be self-contained but must communicate itself to be seen, so also God’s divine nature must be self-revealing.[7] That is what happened in the beginning on the first day of creation,[8] and it happened again on the first day of Jesus’ human creation. The same is true when Jesus takes up residence in a person’s life. John says that if God’s Light is within you, it must shine forth by its very nature.

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) gives an exhaustive examination of the phrase “to do the truth,” but his conclusion is short and sweet. For Brown, “to live the truth” means God’s revelation of the truth is accepted and followed by the believer. Therefore, it becomes the basis on which that person lives; if one acts in truth (does truth), one is not merely following an exterior pattern of what is right but working from an interior principle.[9] This principle is continuously active even when no one looks or observes it. It does not hesitate for a moment when it may cost something that a person could otherwise keep if they followed the crowd.

Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008) declares that there can be only one sphere of real communion with God – Light itself. That’s why John insisted that this is where a Christian will find harmony: But if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another. Strangely, many commentators have understood the expression “with one another” as a reference to fellowship with other Christians. But this is not what the author is discussing here. The Greek pronoun for “one another” allēlōn may refer to the two parties (God and the Christian) named in the first part of the statement.

John’s point is that if Christians live in the Light which God is, then there is mutual fellowship between Himself and them. That is, they are in union with Him, and He has fellowship with them. The Light itself is the fundamental reality which they share. Accordingly, true communion with God is living in the sphere where one’s experience is illuminated by the truth of what God is. It is to live open to His revelation of Himself in Jesus the Anointed One. As John soon states in verse nine, this involves believers’ acknowledging whatever the light reveals as right or wrong in their lives.

Significantly, John talked of walking in the Light, says Hodges, rather than according to the Light. To walk according to the light would require sinless perfection and would make fellowship with God impossible for sinful humans. However, to walk in it suggests openness and responsiveness to the Light. John makes it clear in the last part of this verse that he did not think of Christians as sinless, even though they are walking in the Light. John added that “the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from every sin.” This statement grammatically synchronizes with the preceding one, “We have fellowship with one another.” The message of verse seven, in its entirety, affirms that two things are real of believers who walk in the Light: (a) they are in fellowship with God and (b) they are being cleansed from every sin. So long as there is genuine openness to the Light of divine truth, Christians’ failures are under the cleansing power of the shed blood of the Anointed One. Indeed, only in virtue of the Savior’s work on the cross can there be any fellowship between imperfect creatures and the infinitely perfect God.[10]

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) now follows a series of criticisms of positions that are incompatible with acceptance of it. John takes up three claims which people make but must be assessed in the light of their real character concerning this thesis. It is probable that these claims were real statements made by people in the church to which John was writing and that they reflect the outlook of the people who were causing trouble in the church. The claims were: (1) We have fellowship with Him. (2) We are without sin. (3) We have not sinned. In each case, the writer’s reply is to compare the statement with the actual way of life of the persons who made it and show that the claims were false. Then he goes on to indicate in each case how people who wished to have fellowship with God could have it.[11]


[1] Gore, Charles (1920). The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 71–72, 78

[2] Revelation 2:9

[3] Matthew 23:3-33

[4] Penn-Lewis, Mrs. Jessie: Fundamentals Torrey Satan & His Kingdom, Ch. 16, p. 160

[5] Brooke, Alan E. International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 12

[6] Barnes, Albert: op. cit., p. 4799

[7] Noon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., pp. 221-222

[8] Genesis 1:3

[9] Brown, Raymond E. Anchor Bible, op. cit., pp. 199-200

[10] Hodges, Zane Clark: Epistles of John, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord, J. F., & Zuck, R. B., (Eds), Vol. 2, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1985, p. 885

[11] Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 109-110

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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