1 John 1
1What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--
2and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--
3what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
4These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
The writer of this epistle is John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. He is the disciple whom Jesus loved and the one who wrote the gospel of John. This particular epistle is not written to a specific church but to believers in general. It is obvious that chapter two and following are to believers (see 2:1 and 5:13). The truth is that the entire book is for believers, but he writes the first chapter as a means of filtering out any who are not in Christ. John is concerned that there are those who think that it is acceptable to continue walking in sin after being saved. Verses 5 through 10 of the first chapter are used to present the essence of the gospel and its transforming power. If the believers are indeed born again because they have believed the message of 1:5-10, then they ought not to sin (see 2:1). Thus, there is an evangelistic element to the first chapter. Proper interpretation of 1 John 1 requires an understanding that this chapter is an exhortation to those with whom John does not as of yet have fellowship (see 1:3), even though it is written to a body of professing believers. This is why he is proclaiming Christ so that the entirety of his readership “may have fellowship” with him.
John probably wrote the epistle late in his life towards the end of the first century. Likely, at this time he was the only apostle yet alive, and people would have been eager to hear a testimony of the last remaining disciple of Christ. John had been an eye witness of Christ and all that He had said and done. Thus, he emphasizes from the start his credibility in terms of his testimony. He saw what was from the beginning (emphasizing the Deity of Christ and making a similar point as he did when he started his gospel in John 1:2). He heard the very words of Christ, he saw Him with his own eyes, He observed His actions, and He touched Him with his own hands. The Word of Life, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was known personally and intimately by John. Jesus showed us how to have eternal life as He Himself was the Life. A major theme of John which he explains in 5:13 is that he wants the believers to whom he writes to know that they have eternal life. It is largely for that reason that he writes this epistle. Jesus was the life. He is sure of this. He made it possible for us to have eternal life. Of this he is also sure. Formerly eternal life in the person of Christ had been with the Father in heaven, but He came to us in human likeness and showed us the way to the Father. He taught us how to have eternal life so that we, too, could be with the Father. He writes of Christ and emphasizes his testimony because he wants those in his listening audience who do not yet have fellowship with God and Christ (though they may profess to know God) to know Christ and receive eternal life. John (speaking on behalf of some others which are not named, hence the plural pronoun) believes that his joy and the joy of other believers will be made complete if those who are outside of Christ turn to Christ. Paul in Philippians 2:1 had asked the Philippians to be unified in Christ and love one another in order to make his joy complete. The Biblical theme that we see from these godly men is that they were burdened for evangelism and for unity among believers. The goal was that Christ would build His church and that the church would be loving and unified, an honest and credible testimony of Christ in and of itself, just as John was.
5This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
6If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;
7but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
The message of truth which John explained also in His gospel is that Christ is Light and the one who lightens every man. Here we see that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. God is completely holy and pure. Those who will come to Him must first understand His perfection. John starts his gospel message with God’s holiness and perfection, of which we fall way short. John makes a statement similar to the thinking of James. Many people think they are of the Light, believing that they are born again. Yet they deceive themselves, for they do not walk in the light but in darkness, not practicing the truth. It is incongruous to say that a person is a Christian and for them to live in constant sin with no sign of remorse whatsoever. A Christian can backslide, as the last two verses of James indicate. However, as James said, faith without works is dead. A true believer must manifest works and a change of heart in some way. It is not that we never sin, but that we do not make a practice or lifestyle of it. Like a doctor has a practice of medicine, so the professing Christian who is not really saved has a practice not of faith and holiness but of sin. It is their job, their disposition, their joy, their love, and the fullness of their being. However, if we walk in the Light of God and Christ, we can be assured that we are indeed brothers in Christ, saved from sin. We can be sure that we have received the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin once and for all. The point John is making is that those who have received Christ are not merely forgiven but they are cleansed from the sin patterns that plagued the unbeliever. This is the message that Paul presents in Romans 6 when he explains that we are saved by grace so that we don’t have to be slaves of sin. Grace is not an excuse to sin, as those who walk in darkness would like to make it, but rather it is a freedom from having to sin. True believers understand this and live like it, albeit imperfectly as we are all in a growth process. We are born as infants in Christ, and we must be trained as to how we are to live and how to appropriate faith and trust in God. It is a process, but there should be signs and evidence of growth.
8If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
John began his gospel to the unbelievers who thought they were believers by explaining that God is holy and has no sin or defect whatsoever. He is pure light. However, in order to take part in His Light and Life, we have to admit that we are sinners. We have to acknowledge the sin that is in every man who is outside of Christ. These people professed faith but never acknowledged their sin, yet they walked in it. They deceived themselves into thinking that they were free from sin. This verse should not be used to show that believers should be always having sin issues, though believers do stumble. It is speaking to the unsaved professing believer who hasn’t repented of his sin. John’s call to the believer is that they do not practice sin. This is what the believer must derive from this section. His faithfulness in terms of practical holiness will be a reason for him to be able to know that he is indeed saved. The unbeliever must come to a place where he acknowledges his sin before God, confesses it to Him, and trusts in Him Who is faithful and righteous to forgive him all of his sins. He will cleanse him from all of his unrighteousness and make it possible to live with a new disposition of hatred toward sin rather than the love of it. Jesus by having to die on the cross for our sins made it clear that all men are sinners. He came to seek and save the lost and for the sick, not the healthy. If we don’t admit that we are sinners apart from Christ, we make Jesus’ claims to be false, and we accuse Him of being a liar. In addition, we make a mockery of the cross because we act as though He didn’t need to die because of our inherent righteousness. Such is a lie from the devil, and it is evidence that the truth of God’s Word is not in us.
Should Christians confess sins? Absolutely, upon conviction of sin, they should ask forgiveness of God and of those they have wronged (see Leviticus 5:5, Nehemiah 9:2, Matthew 3:6, James 5:16). Positionally before God, we stand forgiven. Yet conditionally we can dirty ourselves in sin. When we do this, we need to own up to our wrongs and ask forgiveness of them, repenting again unto righteouness. Is God faithful and just to forgive us our sins as believers just as He did when we first came to Him? Absolutely. Thus, there is great joy in this verse for the believer. John’s point is that true believers don’t have an agenda to exploit the mercy of God, for they walk in light and not in darkness.