Where You Live Proves Whose You Are – 1 John 1:5-7
By: Alistair Brown
(Part 2 in a series on 1 John 1.)
In the opening verses of John’s letter, he made a bold and very personal statement against people who denied that the Christ was both God and man. They believed that Christ only seemed to be a man and in fact was a spirit. There was a second heresy around in those early years of the church. It was far from fully formed in John’s time, but the main ideas were foundational for what eventually became known as Gnosticism.
That title originates from the Greek word gnōsis which means ‘knowledge.’ Most of those with gnostic views did not believe the world was created by God. Everything to do with the material world was evil and bad, so God could not have made it. But we live in this world, so how can we escape its grip on our lives? Their answer was that salvation or enlightenment for the soul comes from knowledge.
In the 21st century we have books around with titles like: “The Secret of Success’’ or “The Hidden Secret for Permanent Weight Loss.” Secrets…. But the promise is that if you buy the book then you’ll know things that hardly anyone else knows and you will have the key to being successful, thin, and happy. The Gnostics had the same underlying idea but, of course, at a much deeper level: for them freedom came through knowledge. Knowledge – gnōsis – would set your soul free from any contamination by the world.
There were many things wrong with that way of thinking, and certainly two dangerous consequences came from it:
1) For Gnostics, the things of the flesh no longer mattered. The enlightened were free from it, and had no need to worry about the body because nothing earthly mattered anymore. Sin therefore didn’t matter anymore because it affected only the flesh and had nothing to do with your soul. It was just your body. So, some would have said you could do whatever you wanted because those lusts were only the flesh. Your enlightened soul was untouched.
2) Since the key to enlightenment was knowledge, many believers with these gnostic tendencies withdrew from Christians. The elite, with their gnōsis, their knowledge, had no need to mix with the uninitiated. They did not have the secret knowledge, so they were outside their circle. Except they did not entirely withdraw. They still knew the young Christian community, and appear to have constantly lured them with their ideas that all that matters is knowledge. ‘You can have this too,’ they were saying. ‘You can have the same enlightenment we enjoy.’
John could not ignore these things. He must counter the idea that the things of the body don’t matter. The heretics’ ‘get out of jail free card’ about sin was unacceptable because it was fundamentally and wholly incompatible with the nature of God. And John could not stand by while sincere Christians were drawn away to an attractive but false doctrine.
John therefore homes in on some key issues.
1 John 1:5-7
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
John is very firm on three key truths.
1. God is utterly pure. “God is light,” John says (v.5). He has no dark places anywhere.
The Old Testament talked about God wrapping himself in light (Ps. 104: 2) and the New Testament says God lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6: 16).
So, when John says: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all,” he’s saying ‘Nothing is hidden about God. You can see him exactly for who he is and everything about him is clear and clean. In God you will find no stain, no blemish, no fault of any kind.”
My mother would take me to a store to buy a new sweater. Maybe I’d pick out a red sweater, and then she’d say: “Now let’s take it over to the window to see it in the light.” And I learned that sometimes that red sweater was more like a pink sweater, not at all the shade I had thought. The brightness of daylight showed the real color.
My mother also taught me the big test of whether a cloth or handkerchief was really clean. Maybe I’d had a bleeding nose, and I had cleaned and cleaned the handkerchief I’d used to mop up the blood. “Hold it up to the sun or to the light,” she’d say. And then I’d see… that against the light the stains were annoyingly still very visible. It wasn’t clean at all.
Light reveals the truth, and the truth is that God is pure and God is clean from any stain. There is no other side to his character, no hidden traits, no secret wickedness. The light shows he is good, he is love, he is holy.
“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” John is being very clear that God is utterly pure.
2. Because God is pure, no-one can claim to walk with God while living an impure life.
John says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (v. 6).
Here is what John has in mind. Christ left heaven for earth to redeem us. He came into this sinful world to save us from our sin. He stepped down from the light of glory into darkness to rescue us, and now he has lifted us up into his world of light.
Peter writes it this way in his New Testament letter: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). “Out of darkness… into light.” We’ve changed our surroundings. We’ve changed our locations. Christ has done that for us.
Someone, then, who has not changed locations – someone still living in darkness – that person has not been transformed by Christ. In spiritual and moral terms, where you live proves whose you are. If you are Christ’s you live in the light with behavior that is appropriate for the light. You don’t go on living in the darkness.
In August 2010 there was a massive cave-in at the San José copper–gold mine in northern Chile. In the previous twelve years there had been several accidents including eight deaths at that mine. The serious collapse in 2010 at the copper-gold mine left no great hope that anyone could have survived or would ever be found.
But exploratory boreholes were drilled, and seventeen days after the accident rescuers were amazed to find a message taped to the bottom of a drill when they pulled it back up. It read: “We are well in the shelter, the thirty-three of us”. Thirty three workers were alive but they were trapped 2,300 feet underground and about three miles from the mine’s entrance.
Through tiny drill holes rescuers got food to the men and even managed to send down a video camera to help communication. Getting the men out was another matter altogether. Many rescue teams from around the world became involved, even experts from the NASA space agency. Eventually the men were pulled to the surface one by one in a very slim capsule while more than one billion people around the world watched on live TV. It had taken sixty-nine days since the mine collapsed, but every one of those men came out alive.
Not one of those thirty-three demanded later to be returned to the darkness. No-one wanted to go back to living underground. That was the past. Now they wanted to be in their homes, with their families and to breathe fresh air. Maybe one day they would do mining again, but not one wanted to live where they had been trapped. They were free, and they were staying free.
John’s point is like that. If you know Christ who is the light, if you know he has moved you out of darkness into his light, you do not choose to live again in the darkness. If someone does choose darkness – chooses a sinful, wrongful, impure life – then it proves he is not in the light. He does not know Christ. His life has not been changed.
But what if he claims fellowship with Christ? John is very straight: “He is a liar.”
- Maybe he is lying to himself because he’s deluded.
- Maybe he knows very well his life does not really belong to Christ but he pretends.
Either he is deceived or deceiving, but he is still a liar. And either is dangerous, eternally dangerous.
Jesus himself spoke about people who wanted to think they were his followers, but their lives did not match their words:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Jesus’ words are very similar to John’s words. To claim to be in fellowship with Christ while walking in darkness is simply a lie. John’s warning is: ‘Where you live, how you live, proves whose you are.’
3. But walking in the light brings both earthly and eternal blessings.
“… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Back in my student days, I had a summer job processing forms for a government national census. I worked in a massive warehouse, stacked from floor to ceiling with files full of census forms. You needed a very tall ladder to reach the top shelves.
My job may have been the worst in the place. All I did from morning to night was get files down from the shelves, take them to the computer coders, and when they were done with them, put them back on the shelves. Day after day, that was it. Nothing more. It was brain-numbingly boring. But I needed the money. So did all the other students working there, and word had gone around that our jobs would last until the work was finished.
That was interesting information. And a massive disincentive to work quickly. The slower we went, the longer the work lasted and therefore the more we got paid. So people started moving files one at a time rather than stack ten on a cart at a time. Some hid between the massive stacks of files, wasting every moment they could. After a few days, I couldn’t do that. It just wasn’t right. I got myself a cart, and I moved files as quickly as I reasonably could.
No more than a day or two later, a couple of my fellow workers grabbed me and pulled me out of sight between the high stacks. Their message to me was very plain. I have censored their vocabulary but here is what they said: “You can do what you like, but you won’t make us look bad.” They were threatening me because they did not want the supervisors to compare my speed of work with theirs. Thankfully their threats were empty. I kept working the way my conscience required, and we never spoke again. They just kept out of my way.
Those who choose darkness want to keep their actions secret, so they hide. They stay away from people who walk in the light because good actions show up wicked actions. John was warning his fellow Christians. Those who will not have fellowship with you are people who choose the darkness. Those who are in the light, they have fellowship with each other.
But wait, there’s more! Not only do they have fellowship with each other, John says, they have fellowship also with God because “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
John has action, motion, in those words. “As we walk in the light… we are purified from all sin.” He is talking about something that keeps happening. Keep in the light and that sacrificial death will keep dealing with your sin. John does not imagine that Christians will be sinless – and his next few verses will make that very clear – but he is very confident that Christians walking with God have their sins cleansed away continuously.
Think of the most amazing, miraculous, car assembly line there could ever be. As a new car moves slowly along, workers fit this part and that part. Most things are right, but perhaps not everything. So, do we have a flawed vehicle at the end? Not in the amazing, miraculous factory. Why not? Because there are quality control engineers watching every stage, and as soon as something is wrong, they step in to put it right. Nothing faulty ever lasts. It is immediately fixed. Hence, at the end of the production line, the amazing, miraculous, and entirely perfect car emerges.
As we walk in the light, so the blood of God’s Son keeps on purifying us from every sin. Amazingly, miraculously we will finish this life perfect in God’s eyes and be welcomed into his presence.
Where you live proves whose you are. “Live in the light,” says John.
 Light is often used in the New Testament about Christ and the gospel: John 8:12; Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:12; 1 Thess. 5:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:9