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God is Light
By David A. DePra
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 1:5-2:2)
Most of John’s writings were done in a day when Gnosticism was invading the church. It is important to understand this if we are to see where he is coming from. Gnosticism is from the word "gnosis" – "to know." The teachings of Gnosticism are complicated and varied. But central to them was the belief that "intellectual knowing" was the key to unlocking God.
For instance, the Gnostics would say that if you knew – intellectually – the essence of sin, you were delivered from it. Your "knowledge" equaled that. Thus, when the Gnostics read the words of Jesus, "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free," they interpreted this to mean that the more intellectual and philosophical knowledge you could compile for yourself, the more you were free – the more spiritual you really were.
Before we laugh and chalk this nonsense up to the ignorance of ancient people, we need to take a long hard look at the church today. Gnosticism is alive and well. It is everywhere. There are many aspects of Gnosticism which are not taught, as a general rule, in our churches. But many aspects are nevertheless practiced under other names. And this exaltation of knowledge is one of them.
There are thousands of Christians today who believe that knowing facts about Jesus Christ is the same as knowing Jesus Christ Himself. There are many who think that merely knowing the doctrines of the Bible – the TRUE doctrines – is equal to knowing the Truth Himself. In today’s church, we do exalt education and degrees. We think that if a person has gotten certain credentials from an institution, that this means they know God – and are qualified to be a spiritual leader in the Body of Christ.
Read the New Testament requirements for leadership, found in Timothy and Titus. You will not find one mention of education. No mention of brains. Every requirement has to do with moral character – evidence that Jesus Christ is Lord to the person. This does not mean knowing the Bible is unimportant, for we are to study to show ourselves approved. We are to be apt to teach – something hardly possible if we are ignorant of scripture. But the point is this: It is never education, brains, or the intellect, which commends us to God. It is faith in Jesus Christ.
There are many today, included some who hold Phd’s in ministry, who look down upon, and belittle anyone who would dare to question them. Yet some of these people have NO KNOWLEDGE of Jesus Christ. They know only what they have learned out of books. On the other hand, there are many who are insignificant, who seem to have little education -- who, over a lifetime, have grown in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. They KNOW Jesus. And there is nothing that can take this away.
Again – it isn’t the education that is wrong. No. It is GOOD. Rather, it is the place we give it in the church that is wrong. All education should come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We should focus on faith and obedience. On true holiness. On worshipping and exalting Jesus. Then, within that context, we should study and learn. But unless our hearts and lives are first established in Christ, we run the risk of exalting knowledge above Christ Himself. We run the risk of allowing Gnosticism in our churches.
What ends up happening once we exalt knowledge is exactly what we see today: The churches are becoming deceived. The knowledge we exalt ends up becoming false and corrupted. We have leaders everywhere denying the Lord who saved us – because they think it has been discovered that the "historical Jesus" isn’t the one in the Bible. We have people promoting so-called "modern scholarship" – which is nothing more than the product of unbelieving people who think they are smarter than the rest of us.
The Bible gives us the solution. It says, "by faith we understand." It says, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord." God wants us to understand. He wants us to study. He wants to renew our minds according to the Truth. But this is impossible unless FAITH is central. It is impossible unless accomplished in an atmosphere of reverence for God. Without these things first, all that is left for us is to become one who is, "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (II Tim. 3:7)
It is to this concern that the apostle John writes. And God preserved his epistle, and saw to it that we have it today in the Bible, because He knew that we would need the teachings contained in it. God knew that the Devil’s tactics rarely change. Gnosticism is alive and well today. May John’s epistle be just as alive to us.
John begins his epistle by telling us about the "Word of Life." He says, regarding Jesus, "That which we have seen and heard – of the Word of Life – we declare unto you." John is telling us that Jesus Himself is God’s Word to us. Jesus is the message.
God calls Jesus the WORD OF GOD – indeed, the Living Word – for a reason. Jesus was the personification of God’s mind. He was God’s living message or word to us. He was God’s revelation of Himself to us.
John takes pains to explain that Jesus was a real Person – not an illusion as many Gnostics claimed. He was God become man. This is similar to what he said in the opening of his gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)…and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (John 1:14)
Now, having emphasized the fact that Jesus is the message or revelation of God to us, John goes on to say, "And THIS IS that message…."
WHAT is the message? That GOD HIMSELF is light.
Get that: THIS IS the message: "That God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." It is the message which was wrapped up in the Person of Jesus, and it is the message John wants to declare so that his readers might have FELLOWSHIP with him, and with God.
Did you ever notice how many times the Bible says, "God IS….."? There are a number of times where this expression is used. John will later say, "God is love." In fact, there are nine times in the gospel of John where Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life...I am the Light…I am the Bread…I am the Vine…I am the Good Shepherd…etc." Why are such expressions used?
Well, God is trying to show us what He is like, and that He is the source of all that is good. We tend to think that things like goodness, holiness, and righteousness define God. God says NO. Rather, God says HE DEFINES THEM.
For example, John says, "God is Light." We cannot reverse this and say, "Light is God." No. Neither can we say, "Love is God." No. John says, "God is Love." It is always GOD IS…, and never …IS GOD.
What we see here is that everything – everything about Truth itself – is found in God. When we read, "God is love," we should understand that love only exists because God first exists. All love is ultimately found in God as the source. Everything "out here" finds it’s real definition only if we find HIM.
the apostles states this clearly. He says:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Everything that is good and right comes from God. Even in this fallen creation, there are the residual deposits of Him. Again – good and right do not define God. God defines them. Consequently, we cannot truly know them unless we know Him.
But you see, that is the whole point. People like to take things like good and right and turn them into philosophical concepts – try to make them exist APART FROM God. This is really what Gnosticism is all about – thinking that if you KNOW such concepts that it equals knowing God. Nope. You have to know God, and then you’ll know the concepts which are of the Truth.
John says, "There is no light apart from God." Indeed, John says, "This then is the message we declare – which was wrapped up in the Person of Jesus -- that GOD HIMSELF IS LIGHT." Thus, if you think you can know light apart from God, you are deceived. You are really in darkness.
"Fellowship," in the Bible, is usually translated from the same word that is sometimes translated "communion." It means "a sharing in," or "a having in common." John tells us in verse 1:3 what is necessary for fellowship with God. He says:
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ…this then is the message we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. (I Jn. 1:3)
Now, let’s back up a bit to get the context. Here John says, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you – so that you can have fellowship with us and with God." But WHAT have they seen and heard? The Living Message: Jesus Christ. And what did that Living Word reveal to them? That God is Light.
So the Truth that "God is Light" is what John has seen and heard in the Person of Jesus Christ, and is now declaring to us – "so that we may have fellowship with him and with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ."
Now as an aside, we see here that all fellowship is in the Father and Jesus Christ. That is the only kind of fellowship that John knows anything about with regard to God’s people. Jesus is the "having in common" which Christians experience. It is THE reason there is a church. It is the ONLY reason.
Many churches excel in the social aspects, as a group of people who band together. Many, in fact, efficiently operate like a financial corporation. Very successful. Nothing wrong with this. It is good and necessary. But the real question is: What, or who, is your fellowship IN? What is the reason you exist? Is your fellowship IN CHRIST? Is HE your "having in common?" That is the question – and really – the only one that matters.
Jesus Christ said, "I will build My church." He told us that His church would be composed of individuals who would, as did Peter, confess, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." We need to pay heed to His words. The church is PEOPLE. It is composed of people who are believers. That is ALL it is composed of. And the reason those people get together is to worship Jesus Christ, to help each other grow in His grace and knowledge, and to become a holy temple unto the Lord. That is the ONLY reason the church exists. And it is the ONLY kind of church Jesus wants to build.
Does this mean we can’t do other things as a church? Of course not. But the point is what takes central stage. Is my church an organization of nice people who get together for social reasons, but who treat Jesus merely as an aside? If so, expect spiritual deterioration. Or, is the heartbeat of my church at one with Jesus Christ? If so, then we will do other things, have fun, and take care of business, as a natural outcome of being a church which walks with Him.
Basis of Fellowship
It is impossible for two people to "have in common" something which one, or both, don’t have individually. What I’m saying is this: You don’t enter into fellowship with Christ through anyone else. You enter in individually FIRST – as a believer. Only then can it be said that you have fellowship with the same Christ as do I. Then, and only then, do we "have in common" that same Christ. Only then, do we have fellowship with each other.
Jesus said, "I am the Vine, and you are the branches. He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Notice that Jesus did not say that the branches ought to abide in each other. He did not say, "Without each other you can do nothing." No. This does not mean we don’t need each other. But it means that all life, light, and Truth, is found in Jesus Christ. HE is the Vine we all have in common. He is the Source of our fellowship with God, and with each other.
If you want to know why churches, and the individuals in them, wither up and die, Jesus is telling us here. And when I say, "wither up and die," I don’t refer to NUMBERS. I refer to spiritual vitality. A church can consist of thousands of people, yet be dead. Why? Because the branches aren’t abiding in the Vine. Because individuals aren’t abiding in Christ. And because what those individuals "have in common" is not the glory of God. It is not Jesus Christ.
The foundation for the life of the individual believer is Jesus Christ. But it is because this is so, that the church IS able to function as a body. Individuals who are abiding in Christ are able to fellowship with one another, and able to minister with one another. Why? Because their VERTICAL relationship as an individual in Christ is solid. Then, and only then, can the HORIZONTAL relationship we have one with another work unto edification.
Any time we get this reversed, spiritual corruption results. It is always VERITICAL first, and then, as a result of that, the HORIZONTAL. If you try to make the horizontal work at the expense of the vertical, you may have a happy group of people. But you will not have spiritual life or fellowship in Christ – for the individual branches aren’t abiding in Him.
It is entirely possible that an entire section of branches can be cut off from the VINE. That section may be a good-looking section, with all of the branches abiding in each other. But none of what is going on constitutes fellowship in Jesus Christ. The result is that the entire section WITHERS. But because everyone is withering together, it looks normal. All the branches look alike, don’t they? And they are all telling each other that things are just fine. But people will begin to die spiritually, and never realize what is happening to them.
The problem here is that Jesus Christ is not the focus – for the individuals, and then, for the church. And leadership is at fault. It is their responsibility to keep Jesus as the center.
John says that his fellowship is with God, and with His Son Jesus Christ. That is the ONLY fellowship – the ONLY "having in common" – that stands as the basis for His church. The church is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, and our fellowship in Him.
How to Have Fellowship
John, of course, does not leave the question hanging. He is going to tell us HOW we can have fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. He simply says, "God is Light. Therefore, if you want to have fellowship with Him, walk in the Light." He adds, "If you say you have fellowship with God, but walk in darkness, you are lying."
Logically, this makes sense. If God is Light, and we want fellowship with Him, we have to be in the Light. We have to step into the Light and begin "having in common" with God. Otherwise, there is no fellowship with Him.
You will notice that there is no thought here of God coming over to the darkness. No. God IS light. And if we want to have fellowship, we have to come over to Him.
Of course, we do need to understand what it means to "walk in darkness," and what it means to "walk in the light." It is easy to jump to the conclusion that John is talking about WORKS – about doing good or bad. But he really isn’t. Our works are really the OUTCOME of walking in either light or darkness. The walking in light or darkness speaks of something much more basic and fundamental.
First of all, we need to understand that there is an overall application to John’s teaching. If you are saved, you are "in the Light." And all of the benefits and effects of the Light are yours, at least potentially. A truly converted Christian is not supposed to be "walking in darkness."
But John is trying to correct error in these passages. He is addressing the fact that the church is going to include people who SAY one thing, but are, in reality, NOT telling the Truth. Seven times in this epistle, John states, "If we say," or "if any one say." And then he explains that words alone mean nothing. He tells us what MUST BE if, in fact, what we are saying is the Truth.
For instance, John later says, "He that says he is in the Light, but hates his brother, is in darkness even until now." (I Jn. 2:9) In short, it does not matter what anyone says. What matters is whether they are really in the Light. John is telling us that if we are IN THE LIGHT, that this is going to have results in our hearts and lives. In this case, the result of being in the Light will be to love one’s brother.
This goes back to what we saw about the VERTICAL fellowship with God being first. If you are in the Light, having fellowship with God, then the result of that "vertical fellowship" is going to be seen in the "horizontal." You cannot be in the Light, having fellowship with God, and not have it positively affect everything else about you – especially your horizontal relationships with other Christians. It is impossible.
This is why John can, with absolute certainty, say, "If you say you have fellowship with God, who is Light, but continue to walk in a way which reflects darkness, you are lying. You cannot be in the Light. You would not be walking in darkness otherwise."
John tells us that it is impossible for us to have fellowship with God, and consequently, with each other, unless we walk in the Light – the Light which is God Himself. But what does this mean, practically?
John uses the picture of light for a reason. Light ILLUMINATES. This has two results. First, it exposes everything for what it is. It makes it clear. It reveals the Truth. Secondly, light enables us to SEE the things which are being illuminated.
Contrast this to the darkness. Darkness hides. It keeps hidden the true nature of things. And it makes it difficult or impossible for us to see things for what they are.
So stepping into the Light would have the result of making us be, what John says God is, having "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17) We must present ourselves to God for THAT.
Now, notice what I am NOT saying. I am not saying the you and I have the responsibility of turning in upon ourselves, and shining upon ourselves this big light, so that we might dig out all that is bad about ourselves, and then present it to God. No. We have no ability to do this. God is requiring nothing more of us but that we step into His presence. HE is light. HE will do all of that for us.
Here we see simple faith. WE are not light. GOD is Light. God simply tells us, "Step into ME. Step in the Light. Do it by faith. All of the consequences of stepping into the Light are MY responsibility."
The consequences of stepping into the Light are not negative. The consequences are positive. God does not bring CONDEMNATION upon us when we step into the Light. He brings ILLUMINATION.
CONDEMNATION never results from coming to the Light. Condemnation is the result of refusing to come to the Light. John writes, "THIS IS condemnation, that Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds are evil." (Jn. 3:19)
Thus, we see wrapped up in this picture of light and darkness the gospel. God beckons all to come to the Light and be illuminated. To come and see the Truth of Jesus Christ. But if we refuse the Light, the penalty is not complicated. You get exactly what you chose: Darkness. That will ultimately condemn you, for you have refused the only Light God has to offer.
There is only one sin we must repent of in order to come to Jesus Christ. It is the sin of refusing to come to Jesus Christ. We must repent of unbelief. But if we do, then we will do what? We will believe and come to Him! We will step into the Light.
Light Has Come
God must take the initiative to save us. Unless He does, there is no hope for us. God must bring the first light to us which begins to draw us to Christ.
But the "first light" that God gives us is not the Light Himself. Rather, it is the realization that there IS a Light. In other words, we are not secretly "saved," and then that salvation draws us to Christ. No. God, by His grace, gives us LIGHT – makes us to know who Jesus is, and our need for Him. THAT is His drawing. But none of this is yet salvation, or being born again. We must still step into the Light – by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, here’s a question: Does saying that WE must choose to embrace Christ make our salvation depend on US? Is this a subtle way of ascribing MERIT to those saved, because THEY were "good enough" to place their faith in Christ?
Putting our faith in Christ is our choice. But it is NOT merit. It is not "contributing to our own salvation." Not according to the Biblical Truth about faith. True saving faith carries no merit about it because you don’t have true Biblical faith unless you have seen you have NO MERIT!
True faith is simply falling into the hands of God – because we have seen we have nothing we need, and no way of getting it. It is not a matter of "giving God permission to save us." It is a matter of embracing the only Savior.
If you were floating in the icy waters of the North Atlantic on the night the Titanic sank, and I came up to you in a rescue boat, and threw to you a life line, would it be to your "merit" that you grabbed it and were saved? Would you be "giving me permission" to save you, in the sense that it was to your CREDIT? Would you consider this willingness on your part to be saved a wonderful contribution you were making to your salvation?
The idea that faith in Jesus Christ carries with it any sort of merit or credit is nonsense. The mistaken notion that it does carry merit betrays a misapprehension of what faith really is. Faith is not merely a theological concept. It is utter dependence and reliance – unconditional surrender – to God. And THAT is impossible unless we have seen we have NO MERIT.
There are some who have claimed that faith cannot be our choice, but is the irresistible grace of God. They fear that once we make faith our choice, that we are ascribing merit to ourselves for our salvation. But again – faith and merit are opposites if faith is real. You have faith because you see you have no merit.
Biblical faith is based on the realization that I have no righteousness or merit of my own. I therefore place my faith in Jesus Christ – in HIS righteousness. His righteousness then becomes mine. By definition, therefore, if I have truly placed my faith in Christ, I have done so, not as something to my credit, but because I see I have no credit. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT OF FAITH!
Faith IS our choice – and it is NOT merit. It is because I see I have no merit. So what does God do in this scheme of things? What God does is give us LIGHT. He shows us we have no merit, and tells us we must come to the Light. By His grace He does this. But I must make the choice to believe and embrace Christ – to step into the Light.
This is the profoundly simple gospel. God does NOT shine the fullness of His Truth upon us and say, "Here it is, like it or not." No. He says, "I am showing you your need. I am showing you that Jesus is your only hope. Now, by faith, step into the Light." If we do, then we are entering into fellowship with God. And then we can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
What We See
As mentioned, we are not required to see BEFORE we come to the Light. Rather, we are simply required to come to the Light. Then we will see. But what will we see? John tells us:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
f we embrace Christ, we will see that His Blood has cleansed us from all sin. We will see that his is a FINISHED work. And as we continue to "walk in the Light," we will continue to see this great reality.
Now note: Walking in the light isn’t what GETS the Blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin. No. COMING to Christ accomplished that, once for all. But walking in the light is what enables us to SEE that His Blood has, once for all, cleansed us from all sin. The Redemption is already finished. ALL sin is paid for. But you must walk in the Light to see it.
The Light will obviously show us our sin. It will expose us for what we are. And even though we must come to Christ as sinners, it is only AFTER we come to Him that we will truly understand how much of a sinner we were! Why? Because you have to be in the Light to see that. Before you come to the Light, you can’t really see it too well. What you do see is that you need to come to the Light.
John tells us that as God exposes our sin, not for the purpose of condemnation, but for illumination, we must confess them. But not TO GET God to forgive them. Rather, because we have seen that He is faithful and just to have forgiven them.
Confession of sin never gets God to forgive sin. Confession is the result of seeing that God has forgiven sin, and should be the result of my desire to get free of the residual patterns and habits of sin.
John’s whole point into the second chapter of this epistle is to show us that ALL sin is forgiven. It is finished. But never say you "have no sin." You do. The Light in which we walk will expose that we do, and give us the opportunity to stop walking in that forgiven sin.
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