WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LVII) 02/23/21

Although the following hymn was written in 1876 and is still sung today in many evangelical churches, every time I hear it, I still get tears in my eyes,

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Refrain

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Most people know the first three verses, but few have sung the fourth stanza, which goes like this:

“Now by this, I’ll overcome –

Nothing but the blood of Jesus,

Now by this, I’ll reach my home-

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Refrain

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

There’s only one way to get there, that is through the blood and with the Light of Jesus the Anointed One, our Lord and Savior.  

1:8a If we claim we have never committed an error against God’s will, we are fooling ourselves and rejecting the real truth.

EXPOSITION

Was the idea of believer’s still having law-breaking tendencies new with the Apostle John? Wise man Job was aware of this built-in tendency to sin and asked why God would expect any person to be pure when they are born impure?[1] And King Solomon introduced this truth in his prayer at the New Temple’s dedication. He asked God to listen to their prayers from His home in heaven and help them. Your people will sin against you. I know this because no person is sinless.[2] King David came to the same conclusion.[3] Later, Solomon included this in his Proverbs, where he asks, can anyone say their heart is pure? Who can say, “I am free from sin?”[4] In fact, Solomon was so convinced of this that he included it in one of his homilies by saying that not a single person on earth is always right and never sins, if they are not doing what God’s word says.[5]

By the time we come to the prophet Isaiah, it was still the same. Said Isaiah, we have all wandered away like sheep. We have all gone our own way. And yet the Lord put all our guilt on Him.[6] And the prophet Jeremiah saw people trying to clean themselves in the baths, so he told them that even if you wash with lye soap, even if you use all the soap you can get your hands on, God can still see that you still have guilty stains.[7] The Apostle Paul agreed with John that all were sinners and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.[8] In fact, the Apostle James went a little further and told his readers that while all of us are capable of making many mistakes, a good place to start in seeing that they don’t increase is to learn how to control our tongues.[9]

The real problem here, says John, isn’t that we try to keep others in the dark, but that we end up in the dark ourselves. It is what happened to many false teachers in Paul’s day. They tried to deceive others but ended up deceiving themselves.[10] A lot of it starts, says the Apostle James, when we listen to the Word of God preached, we know what the preacher is saying to us from God’s Word, but is it all listening and no action?[11] So no matter how holy we may try to act, says John, everyone can see that we’re not telling the truth about our real spiritual condition.

John now opens the door to a subject that has been part of Jewish theology for a long time.  But we must understand that it is said to make it possible if the person involved is willing to allow sin, as some have done. To misinterpret this scripture results in the creation of a paradoxical doctrine. When John says, “If WE claim WE have no errors…” he uses the first-person plural pronoun to indicate all humanity, but in particular, believers.  The reason God gave the Law was to identify sin for what it was, disobedience to Him and His Word and will.  Another thing that may help us see why John targeted his Christian readers is that the word used here for “sin” means: “to miss the mark, to come up short, to err, to be mistaken, to take a wrong turn.” 

People who claim such perfection are victims of what I would call “holiness pride.”  There is no reason to be afraid to admit a mistake.  People who refuse to acknowledge their mistakes become experts in finding alibis and excuses for their alleged faults.  When that doesn’t work, they go to Plan B, which is to blame everyone else.  It becomes a case of giving more value and prominence to pride and ego than humility and repentance.  But there is more to look at than this.  In his 1839 Bible Commentary, Joseph Benson said, “There is no one in more danger of falling into the deepest sin than the one God leaves alone to themselves.

When we take this back into the First Covenant, we find that the earliest patriarch, Job, stated, “No one can make something clean from something dirty.”[12] It was shared by his friends who came to comfort him. Eliphaz says to Job: “People cannot really be pure. They cannot exceed God in being righteous!”[13] And Job’s other friend Bildad questioned, “How can anyone claim to be right before God? No human being can actually be pure.  In God’s eyes, even the moon is not pure and bright; even the stars are not pure. People are much less pure.”[14]  By the time David took the throne, this was a well-established belief.  That’s why David says to God, “Don’t judge me, your servant. No one alive could be judged innocent by your standards.”[15]

So, when David’s son Solomon moved the Ark of the Covenant into the new Temple, Solomon confessed, “Your people will sin against You. I know this because everyone sins.”[16] It led Solomon to state: “Can anyone say their heart is pure? Who can say, ‘I am free from sin?’”[17] He continues in another place to say: “Surely there is no one on earth who always does good and never sins.”[18] No wonder then that the prophet Isaiah continued preaching this same truth, “We are all dirty with sin. Even our good works are not pure. They are like bloodstained rags.  We are all like dead leaves in our sins, which causes us to be blown away by the wind.”[19] God confirms this in His word to Jeremiah, “Even if you wash yourself with lye, even if you use much soap, I can still see your guilt.”[20] 

A person may become angry when they are fooled and misled by others, which then causes them to commit other errors or foolish mistakes.  But when people fool themselves, they have no one to blame but themselves. It is also called “self-deception.” One psychologist referred to it as having a “splintered mind.”  People who fall into this trap seldom look at how their actions or mindset fits into the big picture of their future. In many cases, they react to situations from a position of vulnerability without thinking it through.  One way to temper this is to ask oneself what the person I respect most thinks of this.  Perhaps I should talk this over with others. I have confidence in them telling me the truth.  If you do that and their opinions make you angry, upset, or defensive, you are a prime candidate for self-deception.  That’s why John is challenging his readers to check everything out with the giver of truth.


[1] Job 14:4; See 15:14

[2] 2 Chronicles 6:36

[3] Psalm 14:3

[4] Proverbs 20:9

[5] Ecclesiastes 7:20

[6] Isaiah 53:6

[7] Jeremiah 2:22

[8] Romans 3:23

[9] James 3:2

[10] 2 Timothy 3:13

[11] James 1:22

[12] Job 14:4

[13] Ibid. 15:14

[14] Ibid. 25:4-5

[15] Psalm 143:2

[16] 2 Chronicles 6:36

[17] Proverbs 20:9

[18] Ecclesiastes 7:20

[19] Isaiah 64:6

[20] Jeremiah 2:22-23

About drbob76

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