WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXXIV) 03/18/21

Aaron Gaebelein (1861-1945) ensures that the Light makes known that sinful tendencies lurk within. If the believer, the child of God, says that they have no sin, the Light contradicts them. If they say we have never sinned, they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them. The denial of inner sin is a delusion. This evil teaching that the old Adamic nature is gone from the believer is widespread in our day among some Holiness, Pentecostal, and other sects. True spirituality is to confess daily, walking in the Light, that there dwells no good thing in our flesh. And if we commit a sin, it needs to be acknowledged and confessed. He, then, is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all wrongdoing.

Gaebelein goes on to say that the Light also manifests another evil, the claim of sinless perfection. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us. Some have applied this verse to the unsaved; it has nothing to do with the sinner but relates to a true believer, who, in presumption, makes the claim that he or she lives without sinning. And the reason why children of God make such unscriptural claims are caused by inattention to His Word, for the Word makes manifest what sin is, and the Apostle says, “If we say that we have not sinned … His word is not in us.”[1]

William E. Shepard (1862-1930) imitates John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” by composing a conversation between a Christian depending on the blood of the Anointed One for salvation and a self-righteous sinner who thinks they are good enough and has no need to ask forgiveness for sin through the blood, as follows:

Christian: My friend, did you know that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus the Anointed One His Son cleanses us from all sin?” I have proven this to be true, and if you come to Him as I did, you may prove it for yourself and receive cleansing from sin.

Self-Righteous: But I have no sin to be washed away; I do not need the blood of Jesus.

Christian: What? Do you say you have no sin? “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Surely, you are wrong and self-deceived. You should repent, confess your sins, and be saved, for we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Self-Righteous: But I have never sinned and do not feel that I have anything to confess or repent for. I pay my honest debts, treat my neighbors well, and support my family, and I believe I am just as good as anyone. I am not a sinner and have never done anything wrong.

Christian: Surely, in saying that, you are making God a liar, for in for it says: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

While this helps us get to the meaning of these last four verses, says Shepard, it does not refer whatsoever to one who has been cleansed from all sin, but those who say they have no sin to be cleansed from, even when law-breaking tendencies are active their lives. It is also just as applicable to the unsanctified Christian who denies the further need for cleansing.[2] It’s a little like a person excusing themselves for breaking the law because they are a police officer.

Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951) points out that under the First Covenant, when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.[3] It implies the need for confession. I’m afraid many of us never really get to God by repenting because we are so nonspecific, says Ironside. Someone may pray and say, “O Lord, if You have seen any sin, anything wrong in me, forgive me.” Hold on a minute! Is there any sin? Do you know of anything wrong? The proper way to confess is to come to God, acknowledging the wrong you know you have done.

A lady who came to Charles Wesley, notes Ironside, said, “I want you to pray with me, for I am a great sinner. I am a saint of God, but I fail so dreadfully, and I want you to pray with me.” Mr. Wesley said rather sternly, “I will pray for you, for indeed you need it. You are a great sinner.” “What do you mean?” she asked indignantly; “I have never done anything bad!” Oh, dear friends, if you want a blessing, do not be vague in your confession. Go into the presence of God and tell Him all about your sins. Tell Him about your bad temper, about your scandalous tongue, about all the things you do to grieve His Holy Spirit. Some of you say, “Pray for my husband; I would like him to be converted.” He is more likely to be converted if you will say, “O God, I confess that my bad temper is hindering my husband from being saved and is alienating my children. I am not surprised that my friends are not converted.” Then go to them and confess to them. If you have been saying it was nervousness when it really was a bad temper, acknowledge that it is temper, and stop trying to excuse your sin.[4]

David Smith (1897-1910) sees in verses eight through ten the heresy of Perfectionism. Some might not say that they were excused from any obligation to moral law. However, they maintained that sinning was no longer attractive to them, had no more sinful inclinations, and committed no more sinful acts. In opposition, the Apostle asserts two facts: (1) Inherent corruption. Distinguish “to have sin” and “to sin,” corresponding to the sinful principle and its manifestation in specific acts. Our poisoned natures carry its infection in our blood. Grace is the medicine, but recovery is a protracted process. It begins the moment we submit ourselves to the Anointed One, but all our lives, we continue under treatment as a defense against being “led astray.”[5]  Perfectionism has two causes, notes Smith: (1) The stifling of conscience: “we make Him a liar, namely, turn a deaf ear to His inward testimony, His voice in our souls. (2Ignorance of His Word: “is not in us.” Such a delusion is impossible if we drenched our minds in the Scriptures.[6]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) says that those who claim that after they were born again and cleansed from sin, have remained sin-free ever since are simply making excuses. They may say, “What you call sin, I call it an option.” One of the most often excuse themselves by saying, “I was not myself,” or, “I’m not like that,” “That’s not like me.” Another emergency response is, “I didn’t do it; it sort of ‘happened!’” At other times they blame it on “circumstances.” “I just lost my temper for a moment,” or, “I wasn’t feeling well.” Sometimes, like Eve in the Garden of Eden – who blamed it on the snake, they blame it on others. They don’t know, says Lewis, that they are deceiving themselves. But worst of all, they are making God out to be a liar. By that, Lewis means, if God calls it “sin,” it’s a sin.[7]

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) points out that three tests are laid down here in verses six, eight, and ten in the form of false claims. We begin with verse six: “So, if we say,” each of these inflected claims followed by the real thing which is its remedy and cure in verse seven. The first of these infected claims is that at the same time, they are in communion with a righteous God; they are in companionship with unrighteousness that the Apostle John denounces in his Gospel.[8] It may well be that the infected teachers against whom John puts his readers on guard were wide open to criticism in this respect. Still, it is equally necessary for those who adhere to the apostolic teaching and fellowship to be reminded that following orthodox doctrine is no substitute for living a righteous life.

Then comes the second test in verse eight. “So, if we say,” we are sinless, we are only deceiving ourselves because we don’t know the truth even though it stares us in the face. That makes the Lamb’s death and blood on the cross of no value and is meaningless. But the problem with this infection is that a person makes this claim based on the fact that they claim to have the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. That makes them beyond the reach of evil. If people think that the moral principles, they’ve developed seem good enough to do the job, they are only deceiving themselves. The remedy for this illness is found in verse nine.

We find the third infectious claim in verse ten: “So, if we say,” we have never sinned, we make God out to be a liar. It proves that His Word is not in us. Suppose anyone is convicted of doing something wrong. In that case, that is evidence enough that lawbreaking tendencies are present within them and always find ways to evidence themselves in word, act, and deed. Again, the remedy in verse nine applies here as well. If the Holy Spirit does dwell in a believer, He is not lying when it tells them they’ve done wrong. And if a person claims that it wasn’t wrong, just a minor mistake, that as John said, in verse eight, His Word is not in them. So, when we look at what John said in his Gospel,[9] we can see how it influenced John here in his Epistle.[10]


[1] Gaebelein, Arno C. The Annotated Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Shepard, William E. Wrested Scriptures Made Plain, Ch. 1, pp. 6-7

[3] Leviticus 5:5

[4] Ironside, H. A. Addresses on the Epistles of John (Ironside Commentary Series Book 43) op. cit., p. 11

[5] Cf. Matthew 18:12

[6] Smith, David: The Expositor’s Greek Testament: The Epistles of John, Gorge H. Doran Company. New York, 1897-1910, pp. 172-173 

[7] Lewis, Greville P. The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 30-31

[8] John 3:20-21

[9] John 5:38

[10] Bruce, F. F. The Epistles of John, op. cit., (Kindle Location 708-775)

About drbob76

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