By Dudley Ross Spears
John’s first letter was written to Christians to make them joyful and fully assured of their fellowship with God. “. . . and these things we write that our joy may be made full” (1 John 1:4). That written message assures all that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (verse 5). To claim fellowship with God, and the attendant fulness of joy, while walking in darkness is the same as lying. However, on the other hand, Johns added, “but if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (verse 7). The blessedness of walking in the light is one every sincere child of God should enjoy and be thankful for.
The blessings of walking in the light are conditioned upon a continual walk in the light. The term “walk” is used figuratively to describe one’s general life-style. It is the counterpart of walking in darkness. The life one leads “in the light” is a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:7) or a life led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:61). It may also be described as a life that is not walking “after the flesh” (Rom. 8:4). We might also look at it as the “new life” of Romans 6:4. Anyway we look at it, it is a life that is devoted to following the light to God’s revelation (Psa. 119:105; 2 Cor. 4:4). The light in which Christians walk comes from above and is God’s divine wisdom (Js. 3:17). Every good and perfect gift we possess, including the guiding light from God’s word, comes from above, because God is the “Father of lights” (Js. 1:17).
Christians may enjoy the blessings of walking in the light when they continually comply with God’s conditions. Those blessings include “fellowship one with another” and being “cleansed from all sin.” The first of these blessings is God’s way of keeping His children together. The fellowship we have comes from God and extends to every child of God who is walking in the light. This fellowship is a partnership, a family affair, a working arrangement among the people of God. Only when one ceases to walk in the light is the fellowship disturbed. The second blessing in the text is the cleansing from sin that Christians all need. The cleansing comes from the blood of Jesus, the Son of God. It is the only detergent to sin – the only cleansing medium. The walking is our part; the cleansing is God’s part. The cleansing agent is Christ’s blood.
We must all realize that our fellowship is enjoyed as long as we walk in the light, for in the realm of light, fellowship is possible. During the plague of darkness in Egypt, all association and fellowship ceased. It was not until physical light returned that fellowship was restored (Ex. 11:22023). So is it with spiritual partners now. When one walks in the light and another walks in darkness, there is no fellowship between them. To be more specific, when one leads a life of habitual sin and another does not, there is no fellowship in the light possible. But this tie that binds can be maintained among those who walk in the light, because they are cleansed from the sins they commit. They do not lead lives of habitual sin. B.F. Westcott said,
The ideas of divine sonship and sin are mutually exclusive. As long as the relationship with God is real sinful acts are but accidents (The Epistles of John, B.F. Westcott, p. 105).
The cleansing from sin is promised to the Christian who walks in light, in the text. But what sins could John have intended? The Christian who turns back into the world and ceases walking in the light is not under consideration here. This is not to say the blood will not cleanse an apostate child of God. It simply means that the text is discussing the cleansing that the Christian receives because he or she is walking in the light. It must be seen that the “if” with which the statement begins puts the situation in the conditional category. Therefore, it is possible that one walking in the light may sin from time to time. For such a case the cleansing blood of Christ is available. However, the cleansing is conditioned on continued walking int eh light. To be more precise, the Christian who sins has a critical moment when he must either repent or try to justify his sin. If he repents, he does so because he is walking in the light. I he chooses to justify himself and ignore the problem, he will soon be in darkness. I said, “soon,” because the precise time when a person’s mind goes from the awareness of an evil act and the hardness of heart that causes them to have a “care-less” attitude about it is really known only by God.
But Christians who walk in the light will sin. Any position that teaches the impossibility of sin while walking in the light ignores what John has written elsewhere in his letter. “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not isn. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1). The “we have” here in this verse is the same as the “we have” in 1:7. The “we have” in 2:1 refers to the “we have” of 1:7 and therefore tells those who walk in the light that the purpose of the epistle is to deter sin. However, John recognizes the distinct possibility that Christiabs, while walking in the light, will sin – they will have accidents. If Christians, while walking in the light cannot sin, John’s appeal in 2:1 is useless.
The tense of the verb “cleanseth” is present, active, indicative. Unless some specific action is implied, the present indicative denotes a continued action. It describes an ongoing process, when the specific action is not called for. Mike Willis has an excellent comment on this in his commentary on I Corinthians. He wrote about 1 Corinthians 1:18 as follows:
But unto us which are saved (tois de sbzomenois libmin). The word sbzomenois, like apollumenois~ is a present participle; it is taken from the verb sbzb, “to save.” And, like its counterpart earlier in this verse it denotes linear action. Those who accept the gospel as the power of God are in the process of being saved. Salvation is described by Paul -as a past event (Rom. 8:24), as a present abiding state (Eph. 2:5 – perfect tense), as a process (I Cor. 15:2), and as future result (Rom. 10:9). Here it is viewed as a process. Those who accept the gospel are viewed as being in a course of fife that will ultimately lead to salvation. Thus, salvation is not viewed as a one time event in one’s life which has no abiding effect on it but as a continuing, process. From this, one should observe that Christians should always be progressing in the Christian life; there is no place to remain content with that state in life” (A Commentary on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 41).
You might also like to read his comments on 1 Corinthians 1:21 (p. 46) and on I Corinthians 15:2 (pp. 525-526). We have no reason to believe that the present tense of 1 John 1:7 “cleanseth” is different than the present tense of I Corinthians 1:1& Both describe what Willis calls “a present abiding state.” Both are what are called “linear action.” Both describe an on-going process. Both are continual in action. But you do not have to understand Greek tenses to know this. We can say that an automobile runs well, if we take good care of it. We say “oranges grow in Florida, if the weather is right.” Other illustrations like this could be given. The point is that the present tense describes a continuous action, and the blood of Christ continues to cleanse those who continue to walk in the light.
The specific thing that walking in the light demands of a Christian who sins is confession. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our, sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). The “we” who confess are the same “we” who walk in the light. The “we” of verse 9 are the “we” of verse 7. So, walking in the light requires those who sin while walking in the light to confess all sins. The condition expressed in verse 7 is general, describing a general way of life. Verse 9 gives the specific requirement. As long as we:”‘ confess our sins, both those we are conscious of and thosel of which we may not be conscious, we have this blessing of continual cleansing. Two great men of yesterday have spoken on the topic and this article closes, leaving you ponder over their statements.
And when people walk in the light, not only is there fellowship between them, but they also have the cleansing blood of Christ, This blood cleanses such people from all sin. This would include all those sins of which we may not be conscious. God graciously blots out such sins, as well as those of which we are conscious and of which we repent; and the next three verses of the chapter show that we all sin, whether consciously or unconsciously, and that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, if we confess our sins. And that is a blessing for which every sincere disciple of Christ is profoundly thankful” (R.L. Whiteside, Annual Lesson Commentary, 1937, p. 291).
But there is a present salvation, continuous, co-extensive with Christian living. John says “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 cleanseth us from all sin” I Jn. 1:7-9. By baptism ‘into death’ we obtain the benefits of Christ’s blood, and are cleansed from past sins. But by fellowship with the body – in Christ – his blood continually cleanses us from sin. This continuous cleansing is conditioned upon “walking in the light” as stated in verse 7, and in verse 9, “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – that is, to keep us cleansed, as we obey these divine instructions” (Bulwarks of the Faith, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. 1946, p. 115).
(Editor’s Note: Those who have kept up with the discussion on 1 John I will recognize that brother Spears present another point of view than I have written. For a consideration of another point of view to what he here expresses, read “Understanding 1 John 1:6-2:2” [Guardian of Truth, XXV:48-50, pp. 755f, 771f, 781f] and “Sinning While In The Light” [Guardian of Truth, XXVII:19, pp. 578fl Though brother Spears and I disagree regarding this matter, we have the same practical application and consequent see no reason for a break in our fellowship over the matter. He deserves to be heard just as certainly as does the poi of view which I hold. Consequently, in the interest of presenting both sides, this article is printed.)
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 6, pp. 171-172
March 15, 1984