1:6-7 If we say that we have fellowship with him and at the same time walk in darkness, we lie and are not doing the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other and the blood of Jesus Christ is steadily cleansing us from all sin.
Here John is writing to counteract one heretical way of thought. There were those who claimed to be specially intellectually and spiritually advanced, but whose lives showed no sign of it. They claimed to have advanced so far along the road of knowledge and of spirituality that for them sin had ceased to matter and the laws had ceased to exist. Napoleon once said that laws were made for ordinary people, but were never meant for the like of him. So these heretics claimed to be so far on that, even if they did sin, it was of no importance whatsoever. In later days Clement of Alexandria tells us that there were heretics who said that it made no difference how a man lived. Irenaeus tells us that they declared that a truly spiritual man was quite incapable of ever incurring any pollution, no matter what kind of deeds he did.
In answer John insists on certain things.
(i) He insists that to have fellowship with the God who is light a man must walk in the light and that, if he is still walking in the moral and ethical darkness of the Christless life, he can not have that fellowship. This is precisely what the Old Testament had said centuries before. God said, "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am Holy" ( Leviticus 19:2 ; compare Leviticus 20:7 ; Leviticus 20:26 ). He who would find fellowship with God is committed to a life of goodness which reflects God's goodness. C. H. Dodd writes: "The Church is a society of people who, believing in a God of pure goodness, accept the obligation to be good like him." This does not mean that a man must be perfect before he can have fellowship with God; if that were the case, all of us would be shut out. But it does mean that he will spend his whole life in the awareness of his obligations, in the effort to fulfil them and in penitence when he fails. It will mean that he will never think that sin does not matter; it will mean that the nearer he comes to God, the more terrible sin will be to him.
(ii) He insists that these mistaken thinkers have the wrong idea of truth. He says that, if people who claim to be specially advanced still walk in darkness, they are not doing the truth. Exactly the same phrase is used in the Fourth Gospel, when it speaks of him, who does the truth ( John 3:21 ). This means that for the Christian truth is never only intellectual; it is always moral. It is not something which exercises only the mind; it is something which exercises the whole personality. Truth is not only the discovery of abstract things; it is concrete living. It is not only thinking; it is also acting. The words which the New Testament uses along with truth are significant. It speaks of obeying the truth ( Romans 2:8 ; Galatians 3:7 ); following the truth ( Galatians 2:14 ; 3 John 1:4 ); of opposing the truth ( 2 Timothy 3:8 ); of wandering from the truth ( James 5:19 ). There is such a thing as might be called "discussion circle Christianity." It is possible to look on Christianity as a series of intellectual problems to be solved and on the Bible as a book about which illuminating information is to be amassed. But Christianity is something to be followed and the Bible a book to be obeyed. It is possible for intellectual eminence and moral failure to go hand in hand. For the Christian the truth is something first to be discovered and then to be obeyed.
As John sees it, there are two great tests of truth.
(i) Truth is the creator of fellowship. If men are really walking in the light, they have fellowship one with another. No belief can be fully Christian if it separates a man from his fellow-men. No Church can be exclusive and still be the Church of Christ. That which destroys fellowship cannot be true.
(ii) He who really knows the truth is daily more and more cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus. The Revised Standard Version is correct enough here but it can very easily be misunderstood. It runs: "The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." That can be read as a statement of a general principle. But it is a statement of what ought to be happening in the individual life. The meaning is that all the time, day by day, constantly and consistently, the blood of Jesus Christ ought to be carrying out a cleansing process in the life of the individual Christian.
The Greek for to cleanse is katharizein ( Greek #2511 ) which was originally a ritual word, describing the ceremonies and washings and so on which qualified a man to approach his gods. But the word, as religion developed, came to have a moral sense; and it describes the goodness which enables a man to enter into the presence of God. So what John is saying is, "If you really know what the sacrifice of Christ has done and are really experiencing its power, day by day you will be adding holiness to your life and becoming more fit to enter the presence of God."
Here indeed is a great conception. It looks on the sacrifice of Christ as something which not only atones for past sin but equips a man in holiness day by day.
True religion is that by which every day a man comes closer to his fellow-men and closer to God. It produces fellowship with God and fellowship with men--and we can never have the one without the other.
Four times in his letter John bluntly accuses the false teachers of being liars; and the first of these occasions is in this present passage.
(i) Those who claim to have fellowship with the God who is altogether light and who yet walk in the dark are lying ( 1 John 1:6 ). A little later he repeats this charge in a slightly different way. The man who says that he knows God and yet does not keep God's commandments is a liar ( 1 John 2:4 ). John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. "A man," said H. G. Wells, "may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music"; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.
(ii) The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar ( 1 John 2:22 ). Here is something which runs through the whole New Testament. The ultimate test of any man is his reaction to Jesus. The ultimate question which Jesus asks every man is: "Who do you say that I am?" ( Matthew 16:13 ). A man confronted with Christ cannot but see the greatness that is there; and, if he denies it, he is a liar.
(iii) The man who says that he loves God and at the same time hates his brother is a liar ( 1 John 4:20 ). Love of God and hatred of man cannot exist in the same person. If there is bitterness in a man's heart towards any other, that is proof that he does not really love God. All our protestations of love to God are useless if there is hatred in our hearts towards any man.