1 John 1:5-7 – If We Claim to Have Fellowship with God

John uses darkness and light as metaphors for how to live life in fellowship with God. Because God is light, those in fellowship with him will walk in the light (1:5). The metaphor of darkness and light is common in Second Temple Judaism.

Paul also used a similar metaphor in 1 Thessalonians 5:5. The Christian is a child of light and the day, the ones who are awake. The wicked are the ones who belong to the darkness or the night, the ones who are asleep. Possibly Paul had Matthew 25 in mind, the parable of the Ten Virgins (some are in the light of the wedding banquet, others are outside in the darkness).

Walking in the DarknessThe primary background for John’s light and dark metaphor is the Gospel of John. Jesus himself is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5) who reveals the light of the glory of God (John 1:4, 14, 16). In John 12:35-36 Jesus commands his disciples to walk in the light before the darkness overtakes them because they are children of light. John states God himself is light and there is no darkness in him. John’s point is not to equate God with literal light, but to the fact that human virtue and righteousness are defined by the character of God, it is God defines moral standards.

To be in fellowship with God requires we walk in the light (1:6). This is the first of three conditional sentences in this section: If we make the claim to have fellowship with God but are not walking in the light. It is likely these three conditional sentences are claims the opponents have made. They went out from John’s community and claimed they still had fellowship with God. But they are walking in darkness, so they cannot be in fellowship with God. A third class conditional sentence may not reflect actual reality. The syntax as the sense of “If we say this (and I am not claiming you are in fact saying this), then this is the case.” Karen Jobes says “There is an implicit uncertainty as to who is saying these things.” The grammar might be understood as “if anyone of us claims to have fellowship with God but walk in the darkness…” (1, 2, & 3 John, 65; citing Wallace, GGBB, 698).

To “walk” is a common way in the Old Testament for expressing how a person lived their life, so “Enoch walked with God” (Gen 5:24) means something like, “Enoch lived a righteous life.” In later wisdom literature there were “two ways” a person could walk, one that led to life and another than led to death.

Unfortunately, “What it actually means to ‘walk in the light’ and to ‘walk in the darkness’ is not explained in this letter.” I would suggest (based on the rest of the letter) that there is some doctrinal component to walking in the light, believing the right things about Jesus. But there is a clear ethical component as well, the one walking in the light (as Jesus is in the light) are living out their faith in a way that is pleasing and acceptable to God.

How we unpack those two areas are important: how much doctrinal agreement is necessary to have fellowship? The Apostle’s Creed? The Nicene Creed? Even then, do we need to all agree on how each line is understood? (I believe in the Holy Spirit is extremely vague!) The Evangelical Theological Society doctrinal statement is only two points (Trinity and Inerrancy). My own church has fourteen points in their doctrinal statement. Or do we need to agree with a detailed document like the Westminster Confession or the Augsburg Confession to ensure doctrinal fidelity?

The same can be said for ethical and moral “walking in the light.” What are the community rules we are all willing to accept and demand of each other, and what are the non-essentials we are willing to compromise on? Older Christians might have argued about going to the movies or use of alcohol, but there are much more difficult issues to be discussed in the present church, such as sexual choices and how Christians should (or should not) react to them, The church ought to have something to say about treatment of the poor and the immigrant from a biblical perspective (rather than a political position).

So walking in the light is much more difficult than “keep the Ten Commandments” or “be kind to people.” Those are good things, but the one who is walking in the light ought to shine that light into the darkness of this world in order to bring the Gospel to bear on more than just a few key doctrines or practices.

13 thoughts on “1 John 1:5-7 – If We Claim to Have Fellowship with God

  1. Is the primary background of light and darkness really his gospel? John seems to reference Gen.1.2-5 in his gospel and this is the background for the metaphorical usage.

    The sun, moon, and stars were not yet on “the first day” therefore, the division seems metaphorical, and, in my mind, refers to the Luciferian Fall. The former “light bearer” is assigned darkness. God’s creation is not chaotic but chaos seems to have resulted from the “darkness.” Adam was a type (Rom. 5.12) which looked to the Antitype: Christ. It seems that to redeem fallen creation God would enter this material domain so that the fullness of deity would dwell in bodily form in the person of Jesus (Col.2.9). He has and is taking over the material creation (Eph. 4.10) and uses us to shine forth His light during our individual earthly life.

  2. I remember my freshman year of college having to memorize the entirety of 1 John for my final exam and thinking to myself (besides how much I hated my grade depending on my ability to memorize large chunks of scripture), how repetitive verses 5-10 are. When people want to get their point across they often say it over and over again but in a different way. It’s like that speech formula: tell them what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, and then you tell them what you told them. The main point of this passage is seen in verse 5 that God is light. Then the author goes on to describe what it means to be a part of the light (vs.6-7). He transitions to the relationship between light and sin and then ends the section with a reminder that it is impossible to claim we are without sin. I appreciated how P.Long pointed out that 1 John 1:6 is a conditional statement that reiterates that necessity of being in fellowship with God AND walking in the light. When I read scripture I often overlook small English words (if, and,so, etc) and assume that they are just fillers and have little actual relevance to the passage. One challenge I received from re-reading this passage and the original post is that some spiritual things are dependent on each other and we need to be aware of it. My struggle was that while I believe in Christ and am confident that I am in fellowship with him, I tend to feel darkness more heavily on my mind and heart than the light.

  3. I think that the reason we struggle to live a life of light through the darkness is because it is easier to go with the flow of things. Meaning it is easier to blend in with what the world does and how the world does it. We are called to share the Good News and in the midst of that we get wrapped in to the darkness. it is easier to live by the 10 commandments because they are laws that are written down and is pretty much commons sense to follow those laws. Yet, being light in the darkness is a pretty vague statement. I enjoyed how Dr. Long explained the how “walk” meant to live a righteous life. I think it is easy to pass over simple terms like that and not fully understand what the writer is trying to say, and we tend to interpret scripture to what we want it to say instead. Living a righteous life can be hard to do, but if believers were to seek scripture and prayer and Christ at a deeper level, there would be more chances of being a light in the darkness. Especially throughout our own lives (heart and mind) to share with those around us.

  4. I don’t think there should be any difference in how we evaluate the statement made by John in verse five. It’s a statement about who God is and he said it for a purpose. To have any discrepancy on what light means, means there is discrepancy on who God is to us. God doesn’t change though just because we have differing opinions on how this sentence is evaluated. Each generation has their own sins that they like to harp on. For those of us that are a part of either the millennial or gen z generation, I would agree that is based primarily on sexual sins, but mainly on how we are to respond to this topic. It is very easy to offend someone on this topic so finding truth in how we speak and in showing love is a very real concern for many Christians. To talk about it at all would be to let it fester in darkness. As I think about how we respond to the poor and to immigrants I think about Proverbs 31:8-9 that tells us to stand up and speak up for those who cannot, for those that are poor and needy. This applies to the immigrants and the homeless, but does it not also apply to unbelievers? They are in need of a savior. If I’m not willing to speak up for them and to them, then who will?

  5. 1 John brings back memories of freshman year theology and memorizing verses. 1 John revolves around the basis of first love. The idea that the individual once knew something but has walked away from it. When looking at the beginning of 1 John it discusses the idea of those who claim they have fellowship, but they are walking in darkness. Andy Stanley talks about those who think they are headed one way, but walk or act in a different way, therefore their end destination is not the same. Walking here in 1 John refers to how they live their life. This depends on the way they are choosing to go in life. Walking is about living our lives in faith to grow closer to God. The words and actions we do determine where we are walking. I believe doctrines and theology help guide us from walking in the light, but those are not the final determinant. It is not about talking about the controversial sides of doctrines. Walking in the light is all about imitating Christ. It is more difficult than a black and white answer. We follow the guidelines the Bible set for us. It is not about our opinions and what we think is right. When we do think something is questionable we seek wise counsel and pray about it.

  6. I like that you mentioned that there is a possible doctrinal component to “walking in the light”. I think this makes a great deal of sense and deals with the people that think that all they have to do is do “good things” and be nice to people in order to be doing right by God. There most certainly has to be a component of properly understanding who Jesus is and believing in the right things about Jesus. I don’t think that these things are super difficult to discover as the Gospel is rather clear in what we must do to be saved; however, we still must do something. I have often heard my older brother say that he does good stuff and is nice to people therefore he must be able to go to heaven and if not, “screw God.” He is missing the point entirely about actually walking in the light. There is a faith aspect necessary. Also, I like that you mentioned that we are to do things that are acceptable to God. This may seem obvious to some, but an important distinction has to be made. It is what is acceptable to God, not the world. Therefore, just doing what the world says is good is not enough. We have to truly know what God desires. In order to do this, we need to observe and learn from the life of Jesus.

  7. Ultimately then, John’s statement means that if we have fellowship with God we will be walking in the light.
    I wonder if this may be similar to James’ statement in 2:14-26 where he explains that faith without works is dead?

    IF we have fellowship with God, THEN we will walk in the light. If this is the case then one proves the reality of the other and vice versa.

    The question posed at the end of this post is interesting to me. In the past, fellowship would have hung on issues over alcohol and the movies as mentioned. Today if anything we’d encounter the opposite problem: not being concerned about anything. As Christians we have the command to love one another as Christ loved us. Yet it could be argued that love is not the same as fellowship. I think that this would be correct. But what is the distinction between love and fellowship? Is it possible to have a friendship but not fellowship? Maybe this is what the Apostle’s Creed refers to as the communion of Saints.

    If we are in fellowship with God, our conduct will reflect that. I don’t have a whole lot of answers to the questions in the blog or even to the questions I just proposed. Yet I wonder if we are in fellowship with God, we will have the most important thing done already. How we define fellowship with others and the right beliefs a little less important. As fellowship with God and walking in the light are related, maybe fellowship with God and fellowship with others and discernment are also related?

  8. While it is not spelled out exactly in this short section of the letter, the rest of the letter gives some clues as to what walking in the light means and can also be compared with John 15. Going a little further in 1 John 1, walking in the light is being in community with others, recognizing that our sins are forgiven but also being humble by admitting sin and in our inadequacy to live up to God’s standards without Jesus’ Spirit (1:7-10). The ideas expressed here are not far from John 15, which describes the relationship of the follower of Christ to Christ. Again, His follower can do nothing without Jesus’ Spirit. Walking in the light may also be a reference to abiding in Christ. When His followers live each day connected to Him, He says that they will “bear much fruit and so prove to be [His] disciples” (John 15:8). Jobes also suggests that the book is broken up into the differences between light and darkness, with God being the light and the world being the dark. The light includes things like righteousness, eternal life, and truth, while the dark has the opposites, sin, death, and lies (416). The struggle for the Christian today is to take these general truths and apply them to specific circumstances. Thankfully, we also have more than just 1 John to reference as we do this.

  9. The connection between walking in the light and being a light that shines into the darkness of the world that the blog presents reminds me of Matthew 5:14-16. Jesus says that we are the light of the world, and we cannot hide that light, furthermore, we should use our light to lead a dark world to our Father. I love the imagery that passages like this give. Using darkness and light as a metaphor for the world and God. Using light and darkness makes it something we can not only understand but also picture. I think it is interesting that In John 8:12 Jesus says he is the light of the world, but in Matthew 5:14 Jesus says we are the light of the world. I think this only highlights that the light does not come from us. The light comes from God, and we are the light of the world if we follow him. Our displaying the light is dependent upon walking in fellowship with God. And our good deeds evidence that the light comes from God by reflecting back on him and bringing him glory. The blog mentions that 1 John does not specify what it means to walk in the light, neither does Matthew 5. However, it certainly seems like it should be evident to others based on our actions and the way we live. Those looking at our lives should not have to question if we are walking in the light or not, it should be evident.

  10. This passage makes me think of the phrase “you can talk the talk but not walk the walk.” We can claim that we are followers of Christ but not have that decision be reflected in our life. “Walk in the light means to reflect God’s perfection in the human sphere and includes both correct doctrine (truth) and moral purity (holiness)” (ESVSB, 2430). No one is capable of being perfect, truthful, and holy in the way that God is. However, we are called to stand out from the rest of the world and be a light by reflecting Christ to the best of our ability. When we do slip up we aren’t supposed to hide it. Verses 8-9 says, “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.” We can still stand out and be a light to the world as sinners. The difference between those who truly have fellowship with God and the world is that believers don’t decide to continue living and dwelling in their sin. John makes it clear that “persistent unrepented sin is not the mark of a Christian” (ESVSB, 2431).

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