Post Series on 1 John 1:5-2:6:
- God is Light, and in Him is no Darkness Whatsoever – 1 John 1:5
- Reforming the Speech of Pharisaical Hypocrites (Like Me) – 1 John 1:6-10
- How Can God be Faithful, but Still Just? – 1 John 1:9
- Reforming the Lives of Wanton Libertines (Like Me) – 1 John 2:1-6
In 1 John 1:5-2:6, immediately after John lays out his thesis statement for the section that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness whatsoever,” he turns his attention to addressing those who deny their own sinfulness. Three times he addresses those who say that they have no sin:
- 1:6: If we say we have fellowship with him [a relationship that requires sinlessness, since God himself is light] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
- 1:8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
- 1:10: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
For someone to claim to be without sin is an expanding delusion: first, the person must lie (1:6); second, after a time, such liars even deceive themselves (1:8); and third, worst of all, we actually make God out to be a liar when we claim not to have sinned (1:10). The more “we say” about being sinless, the more deceit we produce.
Commentators explain this emphasis by pointing to the background: John’s struggle against the Gnostics. But really, John is fighting the same battle that Jesus did against the hypocritical Pharisees. The Pharisees pridefully refused to acknowledge their problem with sin, and so they could not embrace the mercy that Jesus Christ was offering.
John, then, proclaims the gospel for such hypocrites: Instead of saying that you are without sin, start to confess [speech] the sin that you have: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As someone who grew up in the church and who always wanted to be known as “the good kid,” I struggle with the temptation to veil my sin from others. I want people to think that I am without sin, even if passages like this would discourage me from actually saying so. The gospel cuts straight to my heart, though: I am not only lying (and even ultimately failing to hide my sin), but I am actually refusing the forgiveness, cleansing, and righteousness that is mine in Jesus Christ!
May the gospel at once stop our self-justifying tongues while loosening full and free confessions of our own, ugly sinfulness.