Light That Conquers
1 John 1:1–2:6
1 John 1:1–2:6
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Quote 1 John 1:8, 9 from memory.
2. Discuss the personal implications of what it means to walk as Jesus did.
3. Describe one way that he or she will walk as Jesus did.
How to Say It
koinonia (Greek). koy-no-NEE-uh.
Monday, Dec. 11—An Angel Speaks to Joseph (Matthew 1:18–25)
Tuesday, Dec. 12—Eyewitnesses of God’s Majesty (2 Peter 1:16–21)
Wednesday, Dec. 13—We Preach Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)
Thursday, Dec. 14—Live as Children of Light (Ephesians 5:8–14)
Friday, Dec. 15—Jesus Is the Word of Life (1 John 1:1–4)
Saturday, Dec. 16—Walk in the Light (1 John 1:5–10)
Sunday, Dec. 17—Following Jesus (1 John 2:1–6)
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. —1 John 1:5
Why Teach this Lesson?
Positive relationships add to our lives. It is easy to see that many people, such as parents, brothers, sister, friends, and teachers, have strengthened our lives and made them better. All these relationships are a blessing. Rare is the person who avoids all relationships!
Without question, our relationship with God is the most empowering and encouraging relationship we have. “God is light.” This light overflows with grace, blessing, strength, and glory. This lesson will encourage us to “walk in the light.” And as we walk in the light we walk in close relationship with God in obedience to him. May his grace, blessing, and strength rub off on us as we do!
A. Unresolved Guilt
She sat on the tailgate of a pickup in the parking lot, her body shuddering with silent sobs. In the nearby park the rest of the church was enjoying the annual picnic, but she didn’t participate. She just sat there, hugging herself tightly, staring into nothing.
The preacher sat down next to her and asked, “What’s wrong, dear? Can I help?” She gained control for a minute and blurted, “I take shower after shower, but I still feel dirty.” Her problem? She had recently committed adultery with her best friend’s husband. Her sin made her feel guilty and unclean, and she felt there was no way to get over it.
Counseling professionals say that unresolved guilt is one of the great problems facing troubled adults. The church knows the cause of unresolved guilt: sin. Some secular counseling theories deal with sin problems by saying, “That’s who you are. Just accept yourself and be happy.” They believe that clients want a therapist who will say that their sin is OK. Actually, no one needs to spend money to hear this. All you have to do is find a bunch of drinking buddies to party with, and they will tell you this for nothing!
God, who made us, knows that sin cannot be ignored or explained away. It must be confronted and overcome. Ignoring sin is a sin itself and is ultimately destructive. The apostle John has a strategy for dealing with sin that we will see today. This week’s lesson uses bold symbolic language to guide us into a fellowship with God. This fellowship moves beyond paralyzing guilt to a joyous walk with the Lord.
B. Lesson Background
The apostle John was one of Jesus’ closest
associates. Jesus trusted him enough to task him with the care of his own
mother, Mary, at the cross (see John 19:26, 27). Church tradition says that
John later moved to the great city of
There are five books in the Bible written by the apostle John: the Gospel of John; 1, 2, 3 John; and Revelation. We are not sure who the intended audience was for 1 John, but apparently they were confronted with many threats to their faith. Some may have been Jewish believers who had denied Jesus in order to return to the synagogue (see 1 John 2:22). Others may have been former pagans who were being lured back into the worship of idols (see 1 John 5:21).
Still others were being tempted by an early form of the attractive heresy we call gnosticism (see discussion of this in the first lesson of this quarter). For this reason John emphasized his personal contact with the human Jesus, including seeing and touching (1 John 1:1).
First John deals with both extremes on the issue of sin: legalism and license. On the one hand, John confronts a legalism that refuses to recognize the sufficiency of Jesus to deal with sin. On the other hand, John will not stand for those who think that they have a license to sin because they believe that personal righteousness and lifestyle are unimportant (compare Romans 6:1, 2).
John’s solution to both extremes is to combine forgiveness with godly living. If we try to live righteously but do not feel forgiven for those times we have failed, we will be miserable. If we glory in our forgiveness but disdain God’s standards of personal purity and integrity, then we have given up the possibility of a close relationship with God. We too will ultimately be miserable. These issues of John’s day are amazingly current for us today. The message of 1 John still has a place in the church and should be heard.
I. The Walk of Fellowship (1 John 1:1–4)
John begins his letter by outlining a dual purpose. First, he writes to bring about true fellowship among his readers. This is fellowship not only with one another but also with God (1 John 1:3). Second, he wants his readers to have hearts full of joy from hearing his words (1 John 1:4). John has no joy in knowing that some of his readers lack true, intimate fellowship. He wants to break down the barriers that destroy fellowship and cause joy to be stifled.
A. Experiencing the Word of Life (vv. 1, 2)
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.
This verse contains strong echoes of the first verses of the Gospel of John. In both places the apostle opens with an affirmation of the preexistence of Christ: He was from the beginning. When the universe was created and time began, he was already there. John identifies the Christ as the Word of life, combining his descriptions of Word (John 1:1) and life (John 1:4). These are strong statements of Jesus’ deity.
What Do You Think?
Since Christ is the “Word of life,” what life changes have you experienced after coming into a relationship with him? What changes do you yet expect?
Also important are John’s eyewitness reports of the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was not a divine being who merely seemed to be human. John employs three of the five senses to confirm how humanly real Jesus was: John has heard him, seen him, and even touched him. These things are burned into John’s memory, and he shares them freely with his readers.
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.
John now explains further what he means when he calls Jesus the “Word of life” in verse 1. First, he describes him as eternal life. In Jesus we both find and receive eternal life. Jesus is life (John 11:25), and Jesus grants life (see John 10:28).
Second, true life cannot be found apart from a relationship with God the Father. One of the great promises of the Bible is that, in the end, we will be given renewed access to the tree of life that is in the presence of God (see Revelation 2:7). Believers, though, don’t need to wait until Heaven to experience life. John wrote to assure us that Jesus brings us life in the here and now (John 20:31). By walking with Jesus, we will experience LIFE in all capital letters!
B. Experiencing Fellowship (v. 3)
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.
Fellowship is the Greek word koinonia. This word has the sense of “mutual sharing.” Fellowship is not a matter of being part of an audience. How much fellowship can you have with strangers while watching a movie in the theater? Koinonia fellowship involves closeness and caring. A church with this type of fellowship will have members who care about one another far beyond the casual, “How are you doing?” on Sunday morning.
John teaches us that fellowship in the church must exist on two levels. First, we must have fellowship with God. God has already initiated this. He has revealed himself through his prophets and, finally, through his Son (Hebrews 1:1, 2, last week’s lesson). We can know the heart of God if we study the Scriptures.
Second, we will begin to have fellowship that is more authentic with fellow believers when we allow our relationship with God to flourish. We have much stronger mutual ties and learn to care for each other as God does. Christian fellowship, then, is experienced on both the vertical level (with God) and the horizontal level (with other believers).
What Do You Think?
How has your relationship with God affected your relationship with other Christians thus far? Have you discovered that your relationship with others serves as a barometer of your relationship with God? Or is it more the other way around? Explain.
C. Experiencing Joy (v. 4)
4. We write this to make our joy complete.
John has no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas, in writing to his friends. He is seeking neither personal gain nor personal vindication over his critics. He simply wants his readers to experience the joy that comes from having a secure relationship with God. That result should control their relationship with others. This is the walk of fellowship. It is the abundant, joyous life (see John 10:10).
II. The Walk in the Light (1 John 1:5–10)
Another powerful theme that 1 John shares with the Gospel of John is the image of Jesus as the light (see John 1:4; 8:12). Walking in his light implies two things for believers. First, it means that we walk without hiddenness, without private sin. We live with integrity, with no fear of public exposure of even the most intimate details of our lives. Darkness for John is equated with sin and ignorance. Walking in the light means we walk in truth and holiness.
Second, walking in the light means walking with God. God allows no darkness in his presence. The great barrier to walking with God, then, is sin. John outlines a two-part process to deal with sin: cleansing and confessing.
A. Full Cleansing (vv. 5–7)
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.
We begin to understand personal spiritual cleansing by remembering that the cleanser (God) is without any taint of sin. John’s image God is light means that God is pure and holy in every possible way. We should not understand this as an exclusive, absolute statement that conflicts with John’s other basic declarations about God. For example, John can say “God is light” here and “God is love” later (1 John 4:8), and both statements are completely true.
6. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
The church always has had false believers among its members. These are the ones who claim to be God’s children but engage in behaviors that God abhors. We, from our human perspective, cannot always tell who is a true believer and who is a false believer. Sometimes the person with many chronic and visible sin problems is struggling sincerely to change his or her life every day.
In other cases a person who presents the appearance of great righteousness and piety may be living a secret life of evil and disdain for God. For John this is the person walking in the darkness. His or her relationship with God is a sham as life is lived only for self. Jesus labeled such people hypocrites and reserved his strongest condemnation for them (see Mark 7:6). Elsewhere Jesus indicated that such evil persons may coexist with believers now, but they will be condemned at the time of judgment (Matthew 13:30).
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.
What Do You Think?
Think of some ways that light is used today that were not part of the daily life of John’s contemporaries. How would you use these to illustrate how Jesus’ light guides us today?
John follows the discussion of the hypocrite with a message of hope for the one struggling with sin (and this includes every believer). This is not addressed to the nonbeliever.
How does the Christian deal with sin? First, we maintain a strong relationship with God, walking in the light. But, furthermore, we never lose sight of the fact that our sins have been paid for by the blood of Jesus, shed for us (see Revelation 1:5).
What Do You Think?
Although the blood of Christ purifies us from all sin, later verses remind us that we are sinful creatures. How do these two facts affect your relationship with God and with others?
B. Full Confession (vv. 8–10)
8. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
It is unlikely that John is dealing with a hypothetical situation here. There apparently are false teachers trying to convince the church that they are completely without sin. We know this is not true, both from our experience and from God’s Word. Even the strongest, most mature believers can stumble. Remember that Paul had to confront Peter over a matter of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11–14).
9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
John offers another key to how Christians can overcome sin problems. We must confess our sins. To confess means to acknowledge our sin before God. It means we are not comfortable with it, nor do we ignore it. We come to God and say, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
We acknowledge our sinfulness and our helplessness. God cleanses us, meaning he forgives us. We who are unrighteous are reckoned by God as righteous because of his cleansing power.
10. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
John now presents the most awful consequences of falsehood: if we deny our sinfulness, we are calling God a liar. We are saying that we don’t need a Savior and that God didn’t need to send Jesus to die for our sins. This is the complete, polar opposite of confessing our sins.
III. The Walk of Love (1 John 2:1–6)
Our lives as believers are to be controlled and characterized by love (John 13:35). When we truly understand what God has provided for us in Jesus, our lives will radiate his love to others.
Visual for Lesson 3
Point to the nativity scene that is “buried” behind the secular glitz. Ask your students if their Christmas is like this.
A. Jesus Our Advocate (v. 1)
1. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
We have another advantage when it comes to sin. In the heavenly court of judgment, we have the finest defense attorney available: Jesus our advocate.
It was a common practice in my neighborhood when I was a youngster. If you wanted to do something with some of the other kids and you believed Mom might not approve, you brought in one of the other kids to ask her, “We’re going to ride our bikes over to the park. Can Johnny come with us?” You could ask her yourself, of course, but you knew you had a better chance of getting her approval if one of the other kids asked. We wanted someone to stand alongside us and speak our request to Mom.
The word advocate suggests a lawyer who represents someone in court. Such a one stands alongside, speaks to the judge, and argues the case. The picture that emerges out of all this is that Jesus is our defense attorney, so to speak.
Jesus pleads our case. As he does he stresses that we can go free with no penalty, because he has paid sin’s price on the cross. He knows our desire to live right, but he also knows how poorly we have been able to do it. Yet in all this he faithfully represents our best interests. What an advocate we have! —J. B. N.
B. Jesus Our Atoning Sacrifice (v. 2)
2. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
John uses doctrinally heavy language to state a basic truth: Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (The word for “atoning sacrifice” in more literal translations is propitiation.) In the doctrine of the atonement, God’s penalty for our sins is paid by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. The statement here is remarkably similar to the declaration of John the Baptist about Jesus: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). See also 1 John 4:10.
C. Jesus Our Standard (vv. 3–5)
3. We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
A confused brother or sister may wonder, “Am I really a believer? Sometimes I doubt my own faith.” John says the time for self-delusion is over. You know whether you are a believer by looking at your own life. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). John says that you can know yourself by your actions as you obey his commands.
Some years ago a friend of mine mentioned an incident that had occurred in his family. His children had various chores they were to do around the house. His youngest son, Jimmy, was to take the garbage each evening and put it in the garbage can at the back of their yard. His mother usually wrapped it in a newspaper and placed it on the corner of the kitchen cabinet.
One night Jimmy went out to play, and my friend asked his daughter, “Did Jimmy pick up the garbage?” She looked into the kitchen and noticed the garbage was still on the kitchen counter. My friend said, “Tell Jimmy to come back and get the garbage.” She went to the back door and yelled out, “Jimmy, come back and get the garbage.” Jimmy yelled back, “Who says so?” She replied, “Dad says so.” Only at that point did Jimmy came back and pick up the garbage!
Jimmy had heard his sister’s command, but there was no obedience because he did not respect her authority. When he understood whose authority lay behind the command, he obeyed readily. John says that if we know Jesus, we will obey his commands. Do we?
J. B. N.
4, 5. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:
Why do we do what God commands? Out of fear? To earn heavenly merit badges? No, there is only one valid reason: We follow God’s will because we love him. Some children obey their parents primarily out of the fear of punishment. Other children obey primarily because they love their parents and do not want to disappoint them or hurt them.
To obey out of love is a godly motivation, for God loves us consistently at all times. When we truly appreciate God’s great love, the enjoyment of sin grows less and less enticing. We are moving toward what John sees as perfect love. When we achieve this type of relationship with God, we no longer fear him (1 John 4:18).
D. Jesus Our Trailblazer (v. 6)
6.… Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
The section concludes by looking to the example of Jesus. When we don’t know what to do, we should look at the pattern of Jesus’ life. In this he is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He has walked before us and shown us how to live.
What Do You Think?
Sometimes Christians talk about how they hope they are doing what Jesus wants them to do. John suggests our relationship with Christ should be built on knowledge rather than just hope. What are some steps you need to take to increase both your knowledge of Christ and your hope in him?
Over a century ago Charles Sheldon penned the classic Christian novel In His Steps. The main character, a minister named Henry Maxwell, is confronted by an angry poor man who asks, “But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following his steps?”
This challenge sets off a series of events that transforms a town because the people begin to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” They allow the answer to determine their decisions.
The “What Would Jesus Do?” fad passed through many churches a few years ago, accompanied by WWJD? wristbands and other paraphernalia. The question WWJD? doesn’t always work because Jesus did some miraculous things that we cannot; Jesus even died on a cross to pay sin’s price—something we cannot and need not do. But by and large the WWJD? phenomenon was a good thing. Even if it is now out of fashion, the question still is worth asking.
Are you willing to do what Jesus would do, to live as Jesus lived, to walk as Jesus walked? Are you willing to act in a manner that acknowledges Christ’s presence in your life and let him be the controlling influence for your actions? This is the message of this lesson. When we do this, we are not automatically perfect. But we have yielded to God’s conquering light in our lives, and we are truly walking with him.
Thought to Remember
Walking with Jesus means living with his presence in our lives.
Gracious and merciful God, thank you for loving us in spite of our sin. Thank you for being willing to allow us into your close fellowship despite our weaknesses. And thank you for cleansing us despite our spiritual filthiness. We pray in the powerful name of Jesus, your Son and our advocate in Heaven, amen.
International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: