4. 1 John 1:5-10
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.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
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.
If we say 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 we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Can a God of uncompromising holiness live in communion with hopelessly flawed people? This passage weaves those two realities into a proclamation of the Good News. God, says John, is light, pure and simple. He is without any shadow of evil; nothing evil can exist in his presence. Just as a bright light turned on in a room instantly banishes every trace of darkness, God’s very presence admits of no sin, no corruption, no cruelty, no untruth or deception.
We cannot claim any “easy grace” with God. He is not a “nice guy” God who loves us so much that he merely winks at our guilt. He does not deceive himself as we are too often prone to do, saying that our sin is not that bad – at least we are better than that child abuser whose picture we hung up around our neighborhood, or the terrorists that blew themselves up along with dozens of innocent men, women and children. No, as long as we are comfortable with our sins, or as long as we try to conceal our sinfulness from ourselves and from others and from God – as long as we try to hide that we have in us that which is ugly and poisonous and utterly corrupt – it is impossible for us to claim any connection with God. It won’t do; he is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
John is brutally honest: if we say that we have no sin we are not only liars, but we are calling God himself a liar. But the loving purpose of God is not to bar the door between his perfect righteousness and our sinfulness. It is his will to throw the door open wide so that his light can banish all darkness. What was the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross but to cleanse us from all unrighteousness so that we could draw near to the Father, no longer full of shame and guilt, but with joy and confidence? When we bring our darkness to God in confession it is exposed to the light and the stain of evil is burned from us in the glorious brightness of his mercy.
Paul writes a very similar thing in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, beginning at verse 8:
…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Anything that becomes visible is light. If we expose the truth of our darkness (and that can be a fearful thing for us to do) it is no longer darkness. Because God is light, when we lay our shamefulness out before him it is transformed into glory because it becomes the occasion of Christ’s redeeming work, the renewing of God’s love for us, his adopted children. As the collect for Monday in Holy Week says, we walk the dark way of the cross, only to find, in the light, that it is none other than the way of life and peace. The joyful truth is this: we have nothing to lose in bringing our shame and guilt into the light of God’s holiness. We have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain, for Jesus came to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and to give us the gift of eternal life.