Series: Real or Fake Christianity
Title: Walking in the Light
This morning’s sermon text can be found in 1 John 1:5-7. If you would like to use the Church Bible under the chair in front of you, you can find it on page 1021. Again, that was 1 John 1:5-7. This is God’s Word.
And this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 cleanses us from all sin.
Let’s pray. God, you are called the Father of lights. Every good and every perfect gift comes from you. Indeed, there is no good apart from you, no truth without reference to you. Nothing truly praiseworthy or excellent but you. And yet, we confess despite knowing you to be such a great treasure, we are so easily prone to be enamored with the things of this world, to believe the lies that bombard us day in and day out, and live at times not all that different from the world. Lord, forgive us. Yet we praise you that in Christ you have shone light upon us that exposes our darkness, and more than that changes us to be children of light. So now, Lord, we pray by the power of the Holy Spirit, shine upon us. May we obey the Apostle’s command, “arise O sleeper and rise from the grave and Christ will shine on you.” May we hear your Word with glad hearts. May we be transformed into your image. May we become mirrors of your beauty to those around us. Meet us, Lord, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
I’d be curious to know what you would say if you had to summarize all of Jesus’ teachings into one sentence. Thinking of all the sermon on the mount, his parables, all his ministry. Probably most people would say the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or perhaps the command to love one another. John certainly will get to these, but there is one glaring hole to merely say this as the summary of Jesus’ teaching: they have nothing to do with God. The golden rule can be embraced by anybody, and indeed, it is hard to image anybody who could disagree with it. And so many people in today’s day and age stop there with Christianity: they boil Jesus down to merely a good teacher, one who advocated for us to live more loving lives, putting each other first. And while this is a part of his teaching, it misses the main thing. In our study discerning between real and fake Christianity, John wants to teach us here that Jesus’ main teaching was not so much to be less self-centered, but that we live in darkness and we need light. And that is why when John had to summarize Jesus’ teaching, he went straight to the teaching of who God id, namely, that God is light. The main point in this passage is that real Christianity embraces all that it means that God is Light, or in other words, to walk in the light. And walking in the light, means at least 4 things. 1.) Walking in the Light means that we embrace the truth that God is Light. 2.) Walking in the Light means that we pursue to mirror the moral perfection we see in God. 3.) A Sign that we are Walking in the Light is the fellowship we have with one another. And 4.) Walking in the Light trusts Jesus to cleanse us, not ourselves.
1. Walking in the Light embraces the glorious reality that God is light.
In verse 5, when John says and this is the message that we heard from him and proclaim to you, he is saying this is the summary of the teaching of Jesus’ earthly ministry. God is light. So, what does it mean that God is light? Well, it means several things. If we look at other texts, it means that he is the highest standard of all that is good in the world. Ephesians 5 says that the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. In Isaiah 2:5, the prophet urges the children of Israel to come walk in the light of the Lord, but that he means to renounce their sinful practices, to start caring for one another, making sure everyone is being treated fairly. There also is a strong connection between God being light and God being the life. The Psalmists says that God is my light and my salvation in the same breath, and John himself begins his gospel saying that Jesus is the light of life. It also means that he is the highest standard of all that is glorious, absolute beauty. And lastly, there is a strong correlation between light and truth in the Scriptures. Psalm 43:3, says. “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!”
So, God is light means at least that God is the source and standard of all goodness, life, and glory. But we can go further. The metaphor of light is a very ancient metaphor used by many cultures. As we just saw, the Hebrews used it often in their writings, but there is one very large difference between the way other cultures talk about light and the Bible. If you take Eastern religions for example, their worldview sees everything as either part of the light or part of the darkness, and there is a constant tension between the two. You have the yin and the yang, the push and the pull, the good and the bad. You have the gentle bubbling of the brook give to the turbulence of the waterfall, to return to a calm pond, to eventually be poured out into the roaring ocean, which can again become incredible serene. All nature and existence follow this dance, and all of history follows it as well. And these religions teach that true salvation is not when the good finally destroys the bad, but escaping the battle and beginning to see that both the good and the bad are god. After all the medicine that is good to you is bad to the virus. The catastrophe which destroyed the village could become the sprouting of a forest in its place. “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would see that this too is god.” Scholars have called these worldviews dualistic, or dualism, meaning that at the deepest center of reality there are two forces, the good and the bad, that are on par with each other. As C.S. Lewis said, the Christian must respond, “Don’t talk such nonsense.”
Yet I’d imagine many people today would think Christianity is another sort of dualism. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach that there is God and Satan, angels and demons? Think about it for a moment though, if Christianity was a sort of dualism. What would that mean? It would mean that the forces of darkness actually pose a threat to the purposes of God, that God could be thwarted, that his plans for peace on earth may actually never come about. If this is the case, how could we trust that God will actually win? What confidence do we have that this trial in our lives will actually work for our good? We would have no hope at all. And even worse than that, how do we know that we are on the right side? For the stand point of the darkness, the light is the bad guy. As Anakin Skywalker rightly pointed out, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.”
The Bible has a radically different teaching. We read in the Scriptures that God created the light and the darkness. Isaiah 45:7 reads, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am Yahweh, who does all these things.” In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created it beginning with darkness and emptiness, and spoke into the darkness, let there be light, and it was so. Colossians 1:15-17 puts it this way: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” You see how this is radically different? Instead of both God and Satan existing forever in a constant battle, God created Satan. God is not just the good, but he also created all the forces that turned bad. And so, for the Christian, the battle between good and evil is completely no contest! This is like a battle between Iron Man and Stan Lee. All Stan Lee has to do is write down that “And Iron Man died,” and its game over. Could McBeth stay a chance against Shakespeare? McBeth’s head is chopped off at the end of the story no matter how many times you read it. So also, the forces of evil know that though they rebel against God and hate him, they are completely at his mercy. They know the end of the story, that they will be cast out int o the lake of fire to never-ending conscious torment away from the presence of God. What did the demons say when they encountered our Lord? Did they even try to resist him? No, instead they pleaded with him, the way a criminal pleads with a judge. He knows there is nothing he can do to win, but he goes on defying the law to his last breath. It is then in this way that we are to think of God as light, as completely superior again the darkness.
Now, this discussion about good and evil raises up the thought, could God be to blame then for the evil in the world if he was the one who created the forces that carry it out? And I think this is one of the reasons why John added the next phrase that in him there is no darkness at all. The Greek makes it more emphatic, saying there is no darkness in him, not one bit. John wants us to know that while God is at one level the creator of the agents of evil, he himself is not culpable of evil at all. God is light means that he is the sole source and standard of all goodness, life, and beauty, as well as completely over and untainted by darkness.
2.) Walking in the Light means that we pursue to mirror the moral perfection we see in God.
Let’s look at the next verse. If we say that we have fellowship with God while we walk in the darkness we lie and the do not practice the truth. We have defined God as light meaning that he is the source of goodness, life, truth, and beauty. So, what does it mean that we walk in darkness? Darkness then must have a correlation with evil, falsehood, and death. I phrase it this way. If God is light means that he is the source of life-giving knowledge. darkness is a sin-embracing ignorance.
So many times, when God makes his presence known throughout history it is accompanied by a dazzling light. Jesus shone brighter than the sun at the mount of transfiguration, and again at the shore of Patmos before John. God’s light filled the temple so strongly that the priests had to high-tail it out of there. Paul says that God dwells in unapproachable light. There are certain people I have met in my life whom God has so gifted in areas I am incredibly weak in. And it’s tough for me to be around them for too long. Not because I get envious or jealous, which are things we all need to fight, but rather because it makes me realize just how far I still need to grow in my personal holiness. This is the sort of feeling that it meant when people run away out of the glory of God’s presence. Not that they hate God or want to run away from him or are trying to surpass God. But rather, the distinction between the Creator and the creature is so apparent, and our weaknesses, sins, and faults are so apparent that it is just difficult to stay long in it. God’s glory has that effect on us. The number one response when someone encounters the presence of God in the Bible is to fall down flat on your face and to confess our brokenness. Isaiah does this in chapter 6. Saul does it on the road to Damascus. Jacob does it at Bethel. All the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.
3.) A Sign that we are Walking in the Light is the fellowship we have with one another.
And I bring this up because I want you to note again the reason for why John proclaims this message, it is so that we may have fellowship with one another. So often today, we believe the lie that if we want to get along with others better, we need to be more general, more accepting, more tolerant, and less particular, and definitely less theological. But John says the exact opposite. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the only way we can have true fellowship with one another is by getting theological and specific and even dogmatic. In other words, John refuses to define fellowship as merely getting along. You could train a group of toddlers to get along with each other, but when the adult leaves the room, you are bound to hear cries of “mine” and “give it to me,” very shortly after. Real fellowship is not an external peace with one another, in which as long as the circumstances are just right no one is actively fighting. For John, fellowship is a true peace and harmony, which is completely unaltered by the circumstances. It is a harmony of our hearts, not just our behaviors. A Vikings fan and a Packers fan can both watch the game together, but they cannot experience the same harmony as when they are rooting for the same team. In the same way, real fellowship begins with getting on the same team, getting theological, talking about and insisting about the truth of the Bible’s claims.
Now let’s try to understand a bit of why this makes sense. Once upon a time I tried to play guitar. And I always messed up when tuning it. I would get the first string sounding good, and then match the second string to the first one, and then the third to the second, the fourth to the third, and so on. I could get each pair to sound good to each other, but as soon as I played them all together, something just didn’t sound right. And as soon as I was able to get them all sounding well together, when I played with another guitar, that was properly tuned, the imperfections in me were so apparent. In the same way, we cannot attain real harmony between each other if we keep trying to tune ourselves to each other. A. W. Tozer put it this way. The best way to tune 100 pianos to each other is to tune them all to the same tuning fork, to the same standard. The more in harmony each individual piano is with the standard, the more, as if by accident, they would then be in tune with each other. In the same way, the way for us to tune ourselves towards each other is for all of us to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the standard, unto Jesus. The more in harmony we are with him, the more we will find ourselves living in harmony with one another. And so, for John, he must get theological and specific and insist upon it in order to achieve his end of having true fellowship with one another. Deeper fellowship with one another comes from deeper fellowship with God, and one of the tests to see if you are growing in your fellowship with God is the quality of the fellowship you are having with one another. So, when I say John is getting theological, don’t at all think this means not practical. True theology is always entirely practical, and you can see John thinking the same thing by the verb he uses with the word truth. John doesn’t say our problem is that we do not know the truth, but that we do not do the truth. Theology is practical, something you do.
4.) Walking in the Light trusts Jesus to cleanse us, not ourselves.
We don’t clean ourselves up to get to God. We go to God in order to get cleaned up.