WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LV) 02/19/21

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) says that the Greek noun koinōnia (“fellowship”) is the strict antithesis to verse six, “If we claim fellowship with God, while our conduct does not correspond to the claim, we lie,” would read better as, “If we walk in Light, we can claim fellowship with God.” It has led to adding the phrase “with others” to “with God” in some manuscripts. These readings are attempting simplification. The Apostle John follows his custom. Instead of contenting himself with an exact antithesis, he carries the thought a step further. As Brooke Westcott says, “We are in Him” is true, even in His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. The latter clause defines and confirms the reality of divine fellowship. So far as Christians remain united with the Anointed One, they are in union with God

The basis is fellowship with God, says Brooke, and is the active realization of that fellowship. As Christians enter into fuller harmony with each other, the more fully they come to live the life “in union with God” into which they have been born again. It cannot mean “we with God, and God with us,” nor can it mean that we share the Divine indwelling. All mutual and reciprocal fellowship is the first step on the path leading to that.[1]

John Stott (1921-2011) makes a salient point here by noting the false claim the Apostle John is pointing out about a person asserting that they have fellowship with the Light while at the same time they walk in darkness.[2] It makes no sense because wherever light goes, it eliminates darkness.[3] That’s like saying you are righteous and unrighteous at the same time or that you are sanctified and unsanctified simultaneously. This type of fusion does not exist in union with the Anointed One. What fellowship can light have with darkness?[4]  As far as John is concerned, anyone who makes such a claim is telling a lie. But at the same time, we can have His Word as a light shining on our pathway while we walk in the darkness around us. When seen that way, then the word “fellowship” does not come into play.

Daniel Steele (1947) comments that this choice of light as the sphere of life is a state of justification. Those in this state and only they are candidates for perfect cleansing from all sin. To say that this cleansing is a judicial clearance from the guilt of sin is to deny that God “justifies the ungodly” and then to require good deeds as a condition for pardoning, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, is a gross error. On this ground, no sinners can be forgiven. Voluntary acts of goodwill instead of trust in the Anointed One cannot save, but compassionate deeds as the fruit of faith are well-pleasing to God. The present tense “cleanses” here denotes continuousness, not on one individual, but the human family one after another.[5] [6] Steele notes that German Lutheran theologian Eric Haupt (1841-1910) says that cleansing must not be understood as forgiveness of past sins but of sanctification.” In other words, initial sanctification in the new birth.[7]

F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) states that some are apt to say that they have fellowship with the Anointed One and yet continue to walk in darkness. It sometimes arises from their desire to stand well with their fellow believers or because they do not realize how much darkness is still in their lives. But whichever be the case, they lie and “do not the truth.” It is better by far to walk quietly in the Light, so far as we have it. Thus, we will secure His blessed fellowship, and His blood will be continually cleansing us from sin, removing all hindrance to the Anointed One’s desire to having free communication with His choicest gifts.[8]

James Morgan (1859-1942) says we need to keep in mind that a priest must sprinkle the sacrifice’s blood before it is effective. Under the law, the blood purged all things. The book, the people, the tabernacle, and the ministry vessels were sprinkled with blood. So must it be with our souls. It will not suffice that the Anointed One’s blood has been shed. It is not enough that it is of infinite value. It will not save us that it is sufficient to cleanse from all sin. It must be applied to the conscience. It was not enough that the helpless sufferers lay at the pool of Bethesda mourning over their diseases; they must go into the healing waters when troubled by the descending angel. Whoever did so was made whole of whatever diseases they had. We must go into the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness in like manner. We must go at first with all our sins, original and actual. We must continue to go as long as we live and are in danger of defilement. Let us not neglect to do so. Our salvation is dependent upon it. Wash and be clean, as did the leprous Syrian General Naaman.[9] You will prove by experience that “the blood of Jesus the Anointed One cleanses us from all wrong doing.”[10]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) agrees with other commentators who say that John was not worried about initial justification but about forgiving sins committed after being justified. When a person first believes and comes into the Light, their sins are forgiven. That forgiveness comes with a guarantee. If they failed because of inattention or purposely violated God’s Word or Will, it does not cancel their justification. If they are trying to walk in the Light, the blood of Jesus will cleanse them of sinfulness as long as they genuinely repent and resolve never to do it again.[12] Of course, it does not advocate that believers take this guarantee as a license to sin when they want to and then get forgiveness after the fact. This forgiveness is contingent on a believer’s full intention to walk in the Light (“conduct themselves”). One slip won’t send you over the cliff. But when you flirt with the edge, your fall may prohibit your ability to get back to the Light. If this happens, you’ll end up in darkness for the rest of eternity.

Bible commentators Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley explain that the purpose of “living in the Light” is not to produce individual mystics but to encourage believers’ genuine fellowship. True spirituality is manifest in community fellowship. One cannot say that they commune with God but then refuse to connect with God’s people.[13] While I was ministering in Germany, I heard that a woman said she did not go to church to worship with other believers because she didn’t need church fellowship. She had God and His Word, so she was content with her relationship with God. Obviously, this gesegnete Frau did not read John’s first epistle, especially verse three of chapter one.

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) points out that talking about a believer’s walk with God in the present tense, it denotes a continuous attitude of mind and behavior. In other words, we are not just going through the motions. It includes praise and worship, words and deeds, acts and actions, ministries, and motives. Living in the Light implies a conscious and sustained endeavor to live a life in conformity with the revelation of God.[14] We do not live for what we can get out of God, but what God can get out of us.

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) observes that John’s definition of God as “Light” is followed by denying the false claims and the erroneous teaching of the Gnostics. These people claimed to have entered into a higher fellowship with God than that of most believers, possibly even the Apostles. They professed great things, but there was a flaw in their profession. They claimed to know God, but even as they made their claims, they showed by their actions that they failed to take sinning, which is opposed to God’s nature, seriously. Their religion, says Boice, consisted of ethics, which German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer called “cheap grace.”[15] [16]


[1] Brooke, Alan E. International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 15

[2] Stott, John. The Letters of John, op. cit., p. 78

[3] Cf. Isaiah 9;2; John 8:12; Romans 2:19

[4] 2 Corinthians 6:14

[5] See Romans 3:24

[6] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hours with John, op. cit., p. 12

[7] Haupt, Eric, First Epistle of John, Clarke’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, T &T. Clarke, Edinburgh,1879, p. 42

[8] Meyer, F. B., Our Daily Homily, Vol. 5, Fleming H. Revell Co., New York, 1899, p. 231

[9] 2 Kings 5:14

[10] Morgan, James: An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 50

[11] Brooke, Alan E. International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 15

[12] Brown, Raymond E., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 202

[13] Hawley, Wendell C., Comfort, Philip W., Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, op. cit., p. 334

[14] Smalley, Stephen S., 1, 2, 3 John, op. cit., p. 23

[15] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich: The Cost of Discipleship, Revised Ed., Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York, 1963, pp. 45-60

[16] Boice, James Montgomery: Expository Commentary, op. cit., p. 30

About drbob76

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