God Is Forgiving

The Point:  God always forgives when I truly repent.

Walking in the Light:  1 John 1:5-10.

[5]  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6]  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. [8]  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9]  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10]  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  [ESV]

[5-10]  “The revelation that God is light is not a discovery which John has made as a result of his philosophical explorations, but a message he has received. It was heard from him, a clear reference to Jesus Christ. As always, the apostolic task was to announce to others what they had heard from the Lord. God’s revealed truth is not negotiable. So John stresses the divine source of what he is about to declare. The authority for his teaching lies in what he has heard in the historical revelation of God, in Jesus Christ.

(1) The content of the message [5]. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. What does light suggest to us? Light became a frequent symbol of God’s presence in the Old Testament, finding one of its clearest expressions in the exodus, when Israel experienced the presence of God in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night [Ex. 13:21]. This function, as a source of illumination and guidance, probably lies behind John’s emphasis here on walking in the light as an essential of Christian discipleship. The other major significance of God as light in Scripture is as a picture of His perfect moral righteousness, His flawless holiness. John’s thought here is paralleled by Paul’s assertion in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God dwells in unapproachable light. A foundation stone of right Christian believing and living, then, is that intellectually, morally and spiritually God is light, unsullied and undiluted. It speaks of holiness and purity, of truth and integrity; but also of illumination and guidance, warmth and comfort. We are now in a position to see the personal implications of claiming to be in relationship with such a God. John now proceeds to examine and demolish three false claims which were current in his day and which are still prevalent in our own.

(2) The claim that sin does not matter [6-7].  Each of the wrong attitudes, or false claims, with which John now deals is prefaced by the same introductory phrase, if we say [6,8,10]. Using the touchstone of reality that God is light, we are now provided with three marks of the reality of the claim to be in fellowship with this God, or three tests which can be applied to prove whether or not such a claim is genuine. In verse 6, the mark of unreality is to say that we have fellowship with God, while actually living a life marked by unrighteousness. The idea of ‘walking’ indicates a persistent movement in a particular direction, what we might call a ‘lifestyle’. The proof of verbal claims to be orthodox in our beliefs and truly to know God is a holy life, and for that there can be no substitute. A person who persists in sin cannot be in touch with God. The two states are mutually exclusive. Put that way, we may well ask how anyone could ever make such a claim. What did John really have in mind? There are two things to note. The positive correction which follows in verse 7 emphasizes fellowship with one another (between Christians) as evidence of walking in the light. This implies that the darkness John is especially concerned about in verse 6 is the attitude that imagines, ‘I can have fellowship with God without fellowship with my fellow believers’. This particularly applied to the false teachers who were dividing their followers from other Christians by claiming a superior knowledge and experience. John’s point is that their attitude to others negates their claim to be walking in the light. The second point leads from this, which is that those who walk in the darkness, but claim to be in the light, are actually redefining sin. The false teachers did not regard their unwillingness to value and love other Christians as sin. To redefine sin and to fail to be convicted of it as sin in our lives is a certain indication that we are not walking in the light. A true Christian will find the searchlight of God’s truth constantly exposing the parts of his life that need to be confessed as sin and left behind, through the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. Walking in the light means living each day with God who is light. The nearer I come to God, the more conscious I shall be of my own sin and rebellion. Christians who live in God’s light do not find it difficult to walk together in fellowship. One further thought at the end of verse 7 is that as the light of God reveals our sin, we shall keep appropriating the cleansing that comes through Christ’s death, by our own repentance and faith. Notice that the present tense, cleanses, denotes continuous action. Frequently we Christians are deprived of the enjoyment of walking in the light because we feel we have failed so often, perhaps in a recurring or besetting sin, that we dare not come back to God to ask for fresh forgiveness. There is a glorious inclusiveness about this present tense and its application to all sin. We can never come too often to God when we come in humble penitence and active faith. It is because this blood is that of God’s Son that it has such virtue. Its purifying properties extend to each and every sin. To walk in the light means to become increasingly conscious of sin that would hinder our fellowship with God and our fellow Christians, and as that sin is revealed, not to run away into the darkness again. Rather we bring it, by faith, to the God whose Son gave His life that all our sins might be forgiven and removed. As we do so, the barriers to fellowship are removed and we continue in that relationship with God. Sin does matter. We dare not redefine it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. If it demanded the price of the blood of God’s only Son on the cross then it is of paramount importance that we take it seriously, accepting God’s definition of where and what we are by nature and receiving His abundant pardon and restoring love, by grace.

(3) Radical treatment for sin [8-10]. To claim to be in a personal relationship with God, but to walk out of His light, in disobedience to His command, is empty nonsense. His commands are in themselves the expression of His character. This groundless pretense to a real relationship with God was the first of the false claims which John had to expose. But although the contradiction might seem self-evident to us in its spiritual logic, apparently there were those who denied the charge in spite of their false teaching and twisted morality. This is because the second and third false claims stem for the first, and are both equally dead ends. The second false claim is found in verse 8 – if we say we have no sin – and is a denial of our sinful nature. The claim to be sinless is in itself an evidence that we are not walking in fellowship with God (the truth is not in us). This does not mean simply that they are telling a lie, but that they have no share in the divine reality despite their claims to the contrary. Walking with God in the light means that our lives are continually being searched by His truth so that we begin to realize how many marks of sin we have within us. John tells us that if we think that we are without sin, we are deluded: We deceive ourselves. It is a dead end to deny that I am a sinner by nature; though I must never allow that confession to lull me into thinking that I can continue in sin, as John teaches in 3:6,9. The power of the indwelling Christ can give us increasing victory over sin in this life, but we do not have heaven on earth. We shall carry our sinful nature with us every day until we die or Christ returns. The third false claim is found in verse 10 – if we say we have not sinned – is, in a sense, the darkest of the three false claims. The difference in wording between verse 8 and verse 10 is significant. Here in verse 10 we move from the inward principle of the sinful nature to the outward symptoms that confirm the existence of the disease – the outward actions of sin which show what we are like inside. To deny these is the grossest kind of darkness. Yet it happens all the time in our culture, and it infects our church life too. We no longer call sin ‘sin’. In order to have any meaningful concept of sin we must accept that moral standards exist, that some actions are always right and others always wrong. But the only way in which such moral absolutes can be justified is by reference to a creator God, who has determined the structures of reality. God’s righteous character remains absolute in His world, and deviation from that character, as revealed in God’s law, remains sin. That law is not an arbitrary set of rules designed to restrict and inhibit human life, but the expression of God’s will for human relationships in accordance with His own nature of light and love. That is why adultery, theft, lying, murder and all the other sins remain sin, whatever people may call them. The other sins include those commonly tolerated among Christians too – the favorite sins of greed, jealousy, envy, malice, bitterness and a critical or unforgiving spirit. They are all equally attacks on the character of God to whom we are all finally responsible. Before Him, we all stand guilty. If we deny that these things are sin, we are actually calling God a liar. We deny His Word. We say His revelation is not true. We embrace the darkness. If one has never seen oneself as a guilty sinner before a holy God and desperately in need of His forgiveness, then one cannot yet be a Christian. There can be no fellowship with the God who is light. As John indicates in verse 9, the answer to the denial of sin is confession. For confession recognizes that a particular action or course of behavior is morally wrong and goes on to admit that we are personally guilty of that wrong. That is doing the truth. It demonstrates a positive response to God’s light. It is important here to notice the plural, sins, which implies a detailed and specific confession of our wrong thoughts, words, actions and attitudes. It includes the good which we omit, as well as the evil which we do. It is comparatively easy to admit that we are sinners, in a general sort of way. If we are to continue in fellowship with God we must be prepared to let Him deal radically with our lives. We shall have to come often to admit, ‘Lord, that was sin. I recognize it was wrong and I confess that I am guilty. I ask for your forgiveness and the power of your Spirit to keep me from its repetition’. Confession of that sort is of course really repentance. It is identifying what is wrong (sin) and who is responsible (us) and asking God in His mercy and grace to deal with both, through the work of Christ. The rest of verse 9 shows us how God responds to confession. The two assurances about God’s character – faithful and just – are the ground of our own assurance about forgiveness. He is faithful to His own nature, for it is impossible for Him to act in any other way than is consistent with His moral perfection [2 Tim. 2:13]. Therefore He is faithful to His Word, which is the expression of His own nature. He keeps the promises which He has made and none who put their trust in Him will be disappointed or rejected. So when God promises to forgive all those who truly repent and put their faith in Christ, we can rely on Him to keep His Word. This was the foundation confidence of all the apostolic preaching. But equally, God is just. We must not water this down into meaning ‘kind’ or ‘merciful’. Rather it expresses His inflexible righteousness. But this too guarantees our forgiveness. God’s justice ensures that He will give to each His due. Were it not for the sacrificial death of Christ, we would tremble at that thought, for the justice of God would rightly condemn us for our sin and cast us into outer darkness. But as chapter 2 will teach us, we have a Savior who has turned away God’s wrath, who has died in our place and whose blood goes on cleansing us from sin. Having lived the perfect life that we have failed to live, He died the death that we deserve to die. The fact that the penalty for our sin was paid by Jesus means that God will not demand a second payment. In Christ the work is accomplished, once and for all, and we are forgiven. The justice of God requires Him to forgive, because the debt has been met. What we deserve is God’s judgment, but this is just what He does not give us. Instead, we receive what we do not deserve, and that is His mercy and pardoning grace. God forgives and He cleanses. Forgiveness absolves us from the punishment of sin which we deserve. Cleansing frees us from its pollution. We have seen how the mercy and justice of God join at the cross to produce a free, eternal forgiveness as the outcome. Every one of our sins can be covered by the death of Christ. But the light of God wants to deal with our darkness. That is why it has been manifested. So the backward look to forgiveness covering our past, whatever it may have been, is now balanced by the forward look to the holiness, the cleanness which must increasingly characterize our future. The one affects peace, the other our character. For the same cross that pardons promises power to live differently. As our old self is crucified with Christ, the way is opened for us to share in the newness of His resurrection life. This salvation offers the possibility of becoming increasingly like the God whose fellowship we are learning daily to enjoy. The two parts of the divine action answer to the two aspects of righteousness already noticed. As judging righteously God forgives those who stand in a just relation to Himself; as being righteous He communicates His nature to those who are united with Him in His Son.”  [Jackman, pp. 26-41]

Christ our Advocate:  1 John 2:1-2.

[1]  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2]  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [ESV]

[1-2]  “Knowing his little children, and being the realist he is, John knows that there will be occasions of defeat in every Christian’s life. A true Christian does not make false claims about his perfection, but neither does he become careless and blasé about his behavior, as though sin did not matter. He recognizes, with gratitude, that when he does sin his case is not hopeless. The very presence of our advocate, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, before His Father is enough to guarantee forgiveness and secure restoration. The key word in verse 2 is propitiation or atoning sacrifice. The thought is that the substance of the case presented for our defense by our advocate is that He Himself is the sacrifice that atones for our guilt. The Lord Jesus offered Himself on the cross as the means by which punishment is changed to forgiveness and wrath to mercy. The word propitiation includes the idea of turning away the wrath of God from the sinner to the substitute. Christians rejoice because in His mercy and grace God has provided the means by which sinful people like us can be justly forgiven and welcomed into His presence, sure that we are accepted by Him, that God no longer has anything against us. At the cross, Christ paid the penalty demanded by God’s broken law, that was due from us. In paying it to the full, He both upheld the righteousness of God and met the deepest need of man. God’s wrath is neither an emotion nor a petulant fit of temper, but the settled conviction of righteousness in action to destroy both sin and the sinner. The glory of the gospel is that we have an advocate who pleads for mercy on the ground of His own righteous action when He died the death that we deserve to die. Once the penalty has been paid, there cannot be any further demand for the sinner to be punished. God has Himself met our debt. He came in person to do so. The cross is not the Father punishing an innocent third party, the Son, for our sins. It is God taking to Himself, in the person of the Son, all the punishment that His wrath justly demands, quenching its sword, satisfying its penalty and thus atoning for our sins. Not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. Does this mean that Christ has propitiated God by expiating the sins of every human being who has lived or will live? If so, it must follow that all enmity between man and God has been removed. There are many who would want to claim such a meaning for these words and go on to proclaim a salvation which is universal, irrespective of whether or not an individual believes in Christ, or even hears of Him. Evangelism then becomes merely the announcement of what God has done, and in which all will automatically share. If this was really what John meant, the letter would be flawed by a glaring contradiction. What then of the antichrists who went out from us, but they were not of us [2:19]. Are they automatically forgiven and restored? The letter would lose much of its purpose if that were so. What are we to make of the assertion in 3:10 that some are children of the devil? Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. How are we to cope with the bald statement, There is sin that leads to death [5:16]? If we assume that John is not contradicting himself, we must ask ourselves what he does mean by the whole world. The fact that John distinguishes here between ours (the church) and the world means that he is using the world in his most characteristic way, to indicate those who are at present outside of Christ. At other times John use the word world to mean the earth, or the human race, but most frequently it carries the connotation of the world in rebellion, the mass of unbelievers, who reject Christ’s claims. This is the world for which Christ dies. Every Christian was once a part of it. As we share the good news with others we can have confidence that Christ’s sacrifice is indeed sufficient for the sins of the whole world; for all those who come out of the darkness of this world to the marvelous light of His gospel.”  [Jackman, pp. 42-48]

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Note the structure of 1:5-10. John presents a message about God revealed to him by Jesus. Then he gives five conditional “if … then” statements with “then” implied in each case. What is the message and what does it mean? List the five conditional statements. How do these conditional statements connect to the message in verse 5?

2.         What are the three false claims John attacks in verses 6, 8, and 10 [see his use of If we say]? Note how each of these claims are concerned with being in fellowship with God. What role does the misunderstanding or redefining of sin play in each of these false claims? Do you see this same thing happening today?

3.         What does John mean by advocate and propitiation in 2:1-2? Meditate on all that it means to you personally that Jesus is your advocate and propitiation.


The Message of John’s Letters, David Jackman, Inter Varsity.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.

1-3 John, Robert Yarbrough, BENT, Baker.

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