By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: 1 John 1.5-2.2
Note to the Reader
Each month we examine one book from the Bible, that book may be from the Old Testament or the New Testament. While we live in the New Covenant, everything is written for our learning (Romans 15.4, 2 Timothy 3.16); since this is true, then we seek God’s instructions and wisdom from everywhere within the Bible. This month, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of First John in conjunction with this article.
Making a Claim
Claims are made every day. Claims can be completely true. Claims can be completely false. Claims can be untrue.1 Claims can be implausible. Claims can be plausible. Claims can be fictional. Claims can be factual. Claims are made by politicians and by citizens. Claims are made by atheists and by theists. In the midst of so much being claimed which claim is true? There is a claim that we can investigate today. If we are believers in Jesus, then there are two claims that we should accept.
The Fellowship Claim
Fellowship is a remarkable thing and sometimes it seems to be under appreciated. But fellowship is one of the greatest strengths for Christians serving almost as a bond that keeps us together. Fellowship2 has many applications like a “friendly relationship” or a “community of interest” or “an association of persons having similar interests.” All of these play a part in a disciple’s fellowship with God, consider these verses:
5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But 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.3
These verses imply that we as believers have a friendly relationship with God. Yet, it is specifically stated that the common interest we are to share with God is remaining darkness free by living by the truth. This sounds achievable enough, but since John includes a statement about being cleansed from sin in verse seven, then there seems to be no possible way that a believer can become completely sin free.
While it seems that it is not possible for the Christian to be completely sin free, the beauty of hope is contained within the same verses. When a disciple has at their heart a desire to walk by the truth, the truth as espoused by God through his holy word, then God will continue to cleanse the disciple from any impurities. As Paul might say, “this is no license to sin willfully.”4 Yet, in the midst of certain sin, a disciple that wants to love God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind, and all their strength5 is empowered by God to take possession of a portion of the peace that passes understanding6 knowing that God continually cleanses them. It is because of the disciple’s willingness to learn and God’s constant cleansing of impurities that a disciple remains pure and in the light.
The Sinner Claim
The previous verses tell us that it is possible to have fellowship with our Creator, to be in his community of common interest. In this section John is going to remind us who we are, consider these verses:
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.7
Right out of the gate, John states something that runs the risk of stinging the ego – he says that we cannot be without sin. This does not contradict the previous verses because the condition for having impurities cleansed was by walking in truth. Just because God continually cleanses the believer does not mean that the believer is without sin. This is why confession of unrighteousness becomes important – it keeps us humble in our walk of truth.
When John composed this letter, there must have been some (like the Gnostics) who claimed to be sinless, and by doing so they were making God’s truth a lie. For this writer, this seems almost difficult to accept. If a believer claims something, how does that make God’s truth a lie? Since believers accept as true that God cannot lie8 how does one’s proclamation of sinlessness make God a liar? The best I can tell is that a disciple who claims sinless perfection muddies the waters of truth and therefore is an active participant in a “cover up” serving as a false witness to truth.
While Jesus is our master, and he is the one who went to the cross as an atoning sacrifice, he is the only one to ever live life without unrighteousness; therefore sinless perfection is his to claim, not a disciple’s. Believers need Jesus to make us acceptable to God. Jesus does not need believers to make himself acceptable to God. By claiming sinlessness, believers claim equal status with Jesus – that is not truth; just because disciples are joint heirs9 does not make us of equal status.
Since John conveys so much in such a short amount of words, we would be negligent if we were to forego what seems to be his concluding thoughts.10 While John argued that a disciple cannot claim sinlessness, he concludes by saying “I don’t want you to sin.”11 While God’s grace cleanses us from all impurities of darkness, it is our responsibility to continue to learn about righteous behavior and continue improving. Doing so means that we will learn about our mistakes, yet those acts of unrighteousness will be cleansed through Jesus. It is a peaceful thought to know that Jesus still cleans us from sin. May the LORD bless us with greater fellowship as we seek to walk in the light.
1. “Untrue Claim.” A claim is untrue because it is a true but not true scenario, meaning that the claim is neither completely true nor completely false, it is somewhere between complete truth and complete falsehood.
2. “fellowship.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 11 Feb. 2010. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fellowship.
3. “The Fellowship Claim.” First John 1.5-7, TNIV.
4. “No license to sin willfully.” Romans 6.1, NASB.
5. “Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Mark 12.30, NASB.
6. “Peace that passes understanding.” Philippians 4.7, NASB.
7. “The Sinner Claim.” First John 1.8-10, TNIV.
8. “God cannot lie.” Hebrews 6.18, NASB.
9. “Joint heirs.” Romans 8.17, NASB.
10. “John’s concluding thoughts.” First John 2.1-2, TNIV.
11. “I don’t want you to sin.” First John 2.1, TNIV.