Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 7, 2024

1 John 1:1-2:2 Commentary

The concept of “daylight savings time” is a rather strange one. After all, the label suggests to some people that by moving our clocks one hour ahead people can somehow “save” daylight. But, course, no human being can add even one more second of light to our days. When we move our clocks ahead, we simply postpone both daylight’s onset and its end.

This movement has some adverse effects. Among other things, daylight savings times leaves some students who are on their way to school in the dark rather than the light. It also at least traditionally meant that farmers who depend on their crops’ dryness must wait an extra hour in the morning to harvest them.

1 John 1 draws a sharp contrast between light and dark, as well as God and people. It characterizes God as light. The apostle also characterizes people’s natural spiritual state as darkness. So he, in one sense, invites his (unidentified) readers to walk out of our natural darkness and into God’s light.

While 1 John 1 speaks first of God as light, preachers may, under the Spirit’s guidance, choose to, instead, first address human darkness. That’s, after all, both this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson and the gospel’s context and bad news. An exploration and exposition of darkness also highlights the grace of God that brings people out of our spiritual darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

John mentions a variety of ways in which humans display our preference for spiritual darkness. In verse 6 the apostle talks about how “If we claim to have fellowship with [God] yet walk [peripatomen]* in the darkness [skotei], we lie [pseudometha] and do not live by the truth [aletheian].”

That imagery of walking in darkness brings to mind someone awakening and stumbling around in the middle of the night. However, the apostle uses the metaphor to portray a person who has access to the light that is God’s good will and purposes, but prefers to wander around in the darkness. Such willful disobedience, insists John, contradicts any claim to have fellowship with God. It’s, in fact, rank hypocrisy.

John goes on to offer an example of such darkness by twice referring to dishonesty about our natural inclination toward disobedience. “If we claim to be without sin [eipomen hoti hamartian],” he writes in verse 8, “we deceive ourselves [heautous planomen] and the truth [aletheia] is not in us.” The apostle makes a similar claim in verse 10: “If we claim we have not sinned [hemartekamen ouch], we make [God] out to be a liar [pseusten] and his word has no place in our lives [ouk estin en hemin].”

Among the most striking things about John’s assertions about humans’ spiritual darkness is its intimate relationship with untruth. John insists that people who claim some kind of moral perfection don’t just lie to ourselves. We also turn God into a liar. In such dishonesty, the apostle goes on to assert, there is no room for either the truth or God’s word.

Any kind of close relationship with God includes honesty about our failure to love God and our neighbor. Those who have fellowship with God are honest with each other, God and ourselves about our disobedience. Otherwise, John perhaps shockingly warns in verse 10, we turn the God who is light into a liar whose word has no place in our lives.

This may help shed some light on verse 5’s somewhat mysterious claim that God is light [phos].” It suggests that part of what it means that God is light is there’s no untruth in God. God, quite simply, doesn’t lie the way people do when we claim to be sinless.

There is, in fact, as John asserts in 5, “no darkness at all” [scotia ouk oudemia] in God. The apostle even repeats the negative. So it’s almost as if he says, “There’s no darkness at all in God, not even one bit.” God is characterized not just by truthfulness, but also goodness, holiness, and righteousness. As a result, God has absolutely nothing to do with what is untruthful, unholy and unrighteous.

That’s a reason why what John goes on to say in 1:5-2:2 is so startling. God has nothing to do with what’s spiritually dark and darkened. But God gladly has everything to do with people whom the Spirit has moved out of our natural darkness and into the light that is a faithful and obedient reception of God’s amazing grace.

Those whose willful disobedience belies our claims to have fellowship with God live in spiritual darkness. However, John adds, people who confess our love of that darkness “have one who speaks to the Father in our defense [Parakleton]” (2:1). God’s people who confess our sins have an advocate on our behalf. The apostle invites to imagine Someone stepping before the Father on behalf of those who live in ways that show that we naturally prefer spiritual darkness to light.

Anyone who claims to be without sin deceives ourselves. Yet John insists that anyone who confesses that sin has “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One [dikaion] (1b)” on our side. We can imagine that when we admit our love for spiritual darkness, Jesus steps in on our behalf. He graciously pleads sinners’ case for us.

Jesus’ friends who claim we haven’t sinned make God seem like a liar and leave no space in our lives for God’s word. But those who admit our spiritual arrogance have Jesus Christ to defend us before the Father. His defense is, in fact, completely effective because he is what 2:2 calls “the atoning sacrifice [hilasmos] for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world [holou tou kosmou].”

In this Easter season, Jesus’ friends remember how his death rescued us from the darkness we love and brought us into something of the light that characterizes the Triune God. Yet we also remember and celebrate how God’s raising Jesus from the dead confirmed God’s approval of that saving work.

So even when God’s dearly beloved people’s lives manifest our stubborn attraction to spiritual darkness, God is “faithful [pistos] and just [dikaios] and will forgive [aphe]” the sins of those who “confess [homologomen] our spiritual unfaithfulness. Jesus’ friends can be honest with God, each other and ourselves about our sin, sins and sinfulness. After all, for Jesus’ sake God meets our love of the darkness with the light of God’s gracious forgiveness of us.

Yet John seems to emphasize how God doesn’t just forgive the sins of those who confess them to God. Twice (7, 10) he also insists that God “purifies [katharise] us.” God graciously cleanses those who confess our love of the darkness. God “purges” (The Message) those who admit that we’ve sinned against God and each other “from all sin [pases hamartias]” (7) and “all unrighteousness [pases adikias]” (9).

God, in other words, doesn’t just graciously forgive God’s adopted sons and daughters’ love and acts of spiritual darkness. God also graciously transforms God’s dearly beloved people from people of the darkness into people of the light. God, quite simply, makes Jesus’ adopted sibling more and more like our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.

Daylight savings time can’t replace even one second of darkness with light. But God’s in the business of graciously replacing spiritual darkness with light. God’s dearly beloved adopted children’s response to that is an essential part of what life looks like in the light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. After all, God doesn’t just put to death our love and acts of darkness. God also graciously raises Jesus’ followers to a light-filled life of faithful obedience and Christlikeness.

*I have here and elsewhere added in brackets the Greek words for the English words the NIV translation uses.


Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads’ Becky Hildebrandt is a pastor’s unbelieving teenaged daughter. Under the influence of illegal drugs, she stumbles into her dad’s church and desperately prays: “‘Please, God. Please, Jesus. I’ve been a bad person. I’ve always thought too highly of myself. I’ve wanted popularity, and money, and I’ve had so many cruel thoughts about other people. All my life I’ve been selfish and inconsiderate. I’ve been the most disgusting sinner, and I am so, so sorry.

‘Can you forgive me? If I promise to be a better and more humble person? If I promise to serve you cheerfully? I’ll take the worst kind of job to earn hours, I’ll be more loving to my enemies and more open with my family, I’ll share everything I have, I’ll live a clean life and not care what other people think of me, if only you’ll forgive me …’

Becky “hoped for a clear answer,” continues Franzen, “Jesus speaking to her in her heart, but there was nothing: the golden light had faded. But she also felt delivered from her sinfulness, at peace again. She’d glimpsed the light of God, if only for a moment, and her prayers had been answered.”


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