WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXII) 03/02/21

The fact that the Messiah completed His mission was verified when God “seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places, far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion, and every god that mankind has worshiped.”[1] Now in His consummated glory, He is prepared to be “made wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” to His people. Therefore, He was “manifest in the flesh” so that He might die as a sinner. Now, however, He is “justified in the Spirit” and “received up into glory” to become our righteousness so that we can be right with God through Him. The Anointed One’s coronation, in a word, is an indispensable condition for our justification.[2]

Archdeacon William M. Sinclair (1850-1917), an Anglican priest and author, reflected on what the Apostle John says here in verse eight and addresses what he calls the “lawbreaking tendencies” and “spiritual inclinations” of every believer. Lawbreaking tendencies are a negative force that causes us to fall back into old habits and immoral vices. Spiritual inclinations are a positive force that causes us to spring ahead in search of the spirit’s virtues and fruit. If we do not admit this to ourselves, we are misleading ourselves, and in us, the power and energy of Light, searching every corner of our hearts and minds, will have gone out.[3]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) talks about the false idea that some deny the abiding power of sin as a principle in one who has committed sins. To those who hold such a view, sin ceases to be of any importance. It is merely a passing incident that leaves behind no lasting consequences. The idea rests on self-deception. It can only be maintained by those who shut their eyes to the teaching of experience, in themselves or in others. And they lead themselves astray. The consequences must be fatal unless men acknowledge their mistake and retrace their steps.[4]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) points out something that is still relevant today among some believers. He talks about how people try face-saving techniques to cover their wrongdoings, and they take many forms. For instance, there are Euphemisms.[5] Today we see the same situation when one person is charged with stealing, and someone else has merely misappropriated. When someone cheats, and another innovates. When one is called cowardly, and others discreet; when one is touchy, and others sensitive; when one has a hot temper, and others express righteous indignation.  

Then Lewis says there is rationalization.[6] It is nothing more than self-deception, the unconscious tendency to find good reasons for doing bad things. In the Upper Room, when Jesus announced that there was someone present who would betray Him, even Judas Iscariot asked, “Is it me?”[7] No doubt, Judas didn’t interpret the word “betray” the same way as others. Oh, how easy, laments Lewis, it is for some believers to act under the impulse of undisciplined ambition and then find a respectable reason for doing it.[8]

William Barclay (1907-1978) says that John is writing to counteract a false doctrine spreading among the believers. Some claimed to be especially intellectually and spiritually advanced but whose lives showed no sign of it. They claimed to have progressed so far along the road of knowledge and spirituality that sin had ceased to be a matter for them, and the Law ceased to exist. Napoleon once said that laws were made for ordinary people but not for people like him. So, these heretics claimed to be so advanced that it was of no importance whatsoever even if they did sin. In later days Clement of Alexandria tells us that there were heretics who said that it made no difference how a person lived. Irenaeus tells us that they declared that a genuinely spiritual individual was quite incapable of ever incurring any pollution, no matter what kind of deeds they did.[9]

Peter S. Ruckman Sr. (1921-2010), a staunch supporter of orthodox Christian doctrines found in the Bible, had strong words for a Muslim Imam who visited him in his office to complain about some fellow Muslims who converted to Christianity. When Ruckman got on the subject of a person’s sinful nature and spiritual nature, the man confessed he thought he only had one nature and never recognized there could be two in anyone, as Paul claims in Romans six. This flawed uninformed individual, says Ruckman, thought the sinful nature of fallen Adam alone was able to attain Paradise by works. In fact, it was pointed out to him that there are no new births in the Koran in any edition in any language. Every Muslim who ever lived died in Adam,[10] with the earthly Adamic nature of a sinner “dead in trespasses and sins.”[11] [12]

John Stott (1921-2011) says that this claim by the heretics of not having any sin and not having sinned is worse than asserting that they walk in darkness while in fellowship with the Light – Jesus the Anointed One. That’s because in their first claim, at least they acknowledge that sin does exist in the darkness. But now, they claim sin is not relevant while denying its effect on sinners. Furthermore, just because they say that Jesus blood cleansed them, (how could that be if there is no sin?), they are now living without sinning. The dichotomy they used to make these claims is that while their flesh may have lawbreaking tendencies that cause them to sin every so often, their souls remain pure and clean from any impurities of sin. It is nothing less than egotistical, self-centered righteousness. There again, they make a crucial error. Believers in and of themselves have no right standing before God. All of our righteousness is in the Anointed One who dwells in us.[13] [14]

D. Edmond Hiebert (1928-1995) discusses the denial of human sinfulness by some and states that the clause “If we say that we have no sin” is just another assertion that hinders fellowship. This hypothetical declaration is a denial of the sinfulness of human nature. The expression “have no sin,” peculiar to John in the New Testament, may mean denial of any guilt for a sinful act.[15] But in view of what John says here in verse ten, the expression seems intended as a rebuttal of sin’s inherent nature. It expresses the false teachers’ claim that they have advanced to a stage beyond human sinfulness. It might be the claim of one denying that human nature is sinful.[16]

Zane C. Hodges (1932-2008) acknowledges that when a believer experiences true fellowship with God, it may tempt them to think or say that they are, at that moment, at least, free from sin. John warned against this self-deluding conception. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.[17] If Christians understand the fact that God’s Word teaches about the depravity of the human heart, they know that just because they are not conscious of failure does not mean that they are free from it. If the truth is “in” them as a controlling, motivating influence, this kind of self-deception will not occur. Whether someone claims to be “without sin” for a brief period or claims permanent attainment, such claims are false.[18]

H. P. Mansfield (1932) comments on a person’s possible claim that they have no sin. He says that it is vital to notice that John is referring to the individual who claims that they are not dealing with sin at the moment, not to the one who brags that they have never sinned! The self-deceived declare that they have “no sin,” that is, that they are not struggling with sin in any sense. The word “sin” is in the singular tense and without the definite article in Greek. Grammarians say when this happens in the present tense, it relates to a person’s sinful nature and not specific sins.

When laying two translations side-by-side, notes Mansfield, we have: “If we say we have no sin . . .” and “If we say we have not sinned . . .” John says that either way, a person who says one or the other is deluding themselves by failing to recognize their lawbreaking tendencies. The world does this when it speaks of humanity’s inherent goodness and an inner light that reveals the truth or when claiming that an unenlightened conscience is competent to guide one in matters of conduct or belief. It makes sense to walk in the Light to recognize human nature’s weakness, the mind’s sinful tendencies unenlightened by the Word. Such understanding teaches us to guard against it.[19] [20]

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) notes that John comes against another false teaching. It is the theory that Jesus eradicated sin on the Cross, and once that is accepted, then a believer can live without worrying about sin. That can either mean there is no such thing as sin anymore and that, therefore, no one is a sinner. It’s not called sin; now, they label it as the “guilt factor.” It all depends on how one was parented and the virtues and moral standards taught to them.

If your conscience doesn’t bother you, then go ahead, participate, they say. Boice says that the first false teaching John addressed was that it is possible to have fellowship with God and continue sinning.[21] Here in this second claim is the additional error that individuals, either through enlightenment or through spiritual development, have ceased to sin at all. But John says this only happens when you confess your sin and allow the blood of Jesus to make you clean again.[22]    

[1] Ephesians 1:20-21

[2] Gordon, A. J., The Ministry of the Spirit, American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1894, p. 46

[3] Macdonald, William: The Preacher’s Homiletical Commentary, op. cit., pp. 243-244

[4] Brooke, Alan E. International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 17

[5] Euphemism is the substitution of a pleasant word for one that might be offensive or profane.

[6] Rationalizing is better known as making excuses.

[7] Matthew 26:25

[8] Lewis, Greville P. The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 27-28

[9] Barclay, William. The Letters of John and Jude, Revised Edition, Daily Study Bible, op. cit., p. 32

[10] See 1 Corinthians 15:47

[11] Ephesians 2:1-4

[12] Ruckman, Dr. Peter S., General Epistles Vol. 2 (1 – 2 – 3 John, Jude Commentary), The Bible Believer’s Commentary Series, (Kindle Locations 631-638). BB Bookstore, Pensacola, FL, Kindle Edition.

[13] Philippians 3:9

[14] Stott, John. The Letters of John, op. cit., p. 81

[15] Cf. John 19:11

[16] Hiebert, David E: 1 John, Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 1988, p. 334

[17] Cf. 1 John 3:6 and 2:4

[20] Mansfield, H. P. Commentary on First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 26

[21] See Jeremiah 31:34

[22] Boice, James Montgomery: Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 32


About drbob76

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