10 January 2017

1 John 1:5-10

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (v. 8)

Psalm: Psalm 8


The writer has established the authenticity and purpose of their message in 1 John 1:1-4. They now go on to refute those who claim fellowship with God, but maintain that they have no need of forgiveness for sin, nor any necessity for good behaviour. "God is light" (v. 5) is one of the two most memorable statements in the letter, the other being "God is love" (1 John 4:8). If the readers or hearers of the letter were familiar with John's Gospel, then they would be aware of the light imagery in the Prologue - 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.' (John 1:5) - and the relationship between light/dark, good/evil, spiritual sight/blindness in the Gospel. They would be aware too of Jesus saying "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).

The writer underlines their definition of God as light by saying that there is no darkness in God at all (verse 6). Therefore if our lives are lived in the darkness of sin and we claim fellowship with God, then this cannot be true. Walking in the light (ie living a good and faithful life) is the way of fellowship with God and with each other (verse 7). At the heart of that relationship is the renewal of life and forgiveness of sin through the death of Jesus on the cross. In 1 John 2:1-2, the writer expands on this idea.

Verse 8 is addressed to the heretics who claimed that as enlightened people they had been given a new nature, which meant that they were sinless. But their self-deception can be shared by everyone, and thus there is a need for sins to be confessed. Note that the writer refers to "sins" (v. 9) rather than the general state of sin. Sins are the actual manifestation of the sinful nature of humanity. In verse 10, another claim of the heretics, that since becoming enlightened, they have never sinned, is refuted. We become aware of sin when we see the revelation of God's love in Jesus Christ. If that can be seen as God revealing our sin to us, then to deny it is in effect to call God a liar.

To Ponder

  • How would you define 'sin' in the 21st century?
  • How important is confession of sin to you? In worship with others? In private prayer?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.