Tests of a true believer: Walking in the light, dealing with sin

1 John 1:1-2:2

If we walk in the light, we have fellowship. If we are transparent about our failings, our relationships with God and others prosper

1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

“…From the beginning, which we have heard…” – This is an apostolic manifesto, laying down some authoritative markers for what follows. The purpose of John’s letters is to address some serious difficulties in the young churches (see page on GNOSTICISM). Unspiritual teachers were going off-track with their own philosophies, for example saying that Jesus only ‘seemed’ to be man.

2  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

“The life”, “the eternal life” – Jesus is our pathway to eternal life and the source of spiritual life. Accepting Jesus as personal Saviour and Lord is how we become born again into a new start, a new spiritual life which is evident to all.

3  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

We knew Him personally, and we know the Life of God through fellowship with Him, John is saying. Those claims cannot be made by false teachers.

4  We write this to make our joy complete.

“Our joy” – could also be ‘your joy’. There’s the joy of hope, the joy of faith and salvation, and the joy of love. John is writing to better establish the readers in their hope and faith. Those spiritual foundations, well made, will lead to the joy of fellowship. If the fellowship isn’t all it should be, it is a symptom of the foundations of hope and faith not being all they should be. As a result, the joy in the fellowship and the apostle’s joy will be lacking.

5  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.

“This is the message” – John was writing to churches in which there were cliques following Gnostic ideas and others who were quite mixed up about who Christ is, and what it actually means to be His. Then, as now, there could be a kind of religious Christianity which followed the form without the relationship and Lordship of Christ in personal Christianity.

In particular, John’s letter addresses false teachers of a Gnostic ‘christianity’ which held that:

  • Moral behaviour doesn’t affect one’s relationship with God
  • Immoral conduct doesn’t constitute sin for those that know God
  • The knowledge of God removes the possibility of sin in a ‘believer’

“God is light” – describes God as being above what is material – therefore He is impossible to define – but in a similar way to light, having a quality of truth and transparency and the ability to reveal what is hidden, which communicates with and impacts others.

For further study: The Logos (the Word, Jesus) is the light (to phos), but God is light (phos) without ‘the’. Similarly God is Spirit, God is love, God is consuming fire. Read 1 John 4:8 and 16, John 4:24, Hebrews 12:29.

6  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

John introduces three tests of authentic Jesus-centred Christianity which confront a lack of personal engagement common today in many church attendees, where we may claim fellowship with God without recognising the need to first go to the Cross of Christ for cleansing and forgiveness, and to then live differently in a consistently holy life.

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, purifies us from all sin.

The first hallmark of the true believer is fellowship with one another, followed by cleansing of sin in the blood of Jesus. If we love one another without condition – because we all share the same Saviour and Lord – we will be quick to recognise where our selfishness or independence has caused hurt to others and we will have the capacity to take responsibility and say ‘sorry’. At that point, we are already starting to take that sin to the Cross in repentance, and receive forgiveness. The relationship awareness is what starts a natural progression.

8  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

The second hallmark of someone who has received Jesus into their heart, is a readiness and willingness to acknowledge sin for what it is. Those who know the Redeemer have no reticence in confessing what they need to be redeemed from!

2:1  My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

2  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

The third hallmark of one committed to Jesus is a confidence in Him as the advocate and also sacrifice for our sins. Not knowing whether we are forgiven, and feeling the need to earn our way into eternal life, makes for an apologetic and reticent kind of faith – if faith it is. The confidence of knowing our Advocate, who has a remedy for our failings, makes for a completely different stance in Christian life, worship and mission.


The enemy of our souls, Satan, may have been seen off by Jesus in the desert confrontation, and may have been soundly defeated by Jesus dying and shedding sacrificial blood as a sinless man on the Cross. However, like a vagrant who has been given a court anti-social behaviour order, he finds ways to come back and cause every kind of hardship, oppression and difficulty – until we confront him with the court order and put him out again.

Leaving sickness and death on one side, the less visible ways the devil operates are by deception, confusion and fear.

Deception is insidious, because (by definition!) no one thinks they are being deceived. So is confusion, because the bearings and points of reference have become obscured. And many of us have lived with fear and anxiety so long it seems normal. If you have no assurance of a life in God that endures, as was the case for the gnostics addressed in this letter, then you try to create your own in superstitious and religious practices. The motivation is not love of God, but fear of abandonment.

The answer, John explains, is to know without doubt that God is light, absolute and pure. Then we walk in that light of truth and revelation, walking with others on the same journey, and making that light and love the foundation of our relationships when things go wrong, as from time to time they inevitably will. That involves keeping short accounts with God and with others about our sins – taking them to the cross, taking hold of the cleansing of the blood of Christ.

Against that the enemy has no strategy.

For reflection and discussion

Where am I walking on the boundary of darkness and light, and not being quite real about beliefs and attitudes which are not right with God? Who is standing with me, and will help me as one who also needs the help of others?

Also published on Medium.

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