Vol. 1 - No. 6 

June, 1982

Fellowship With God

by Robert F. Turner

An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-10

"This is the message ...GOD IS LIGHT." The key to understanding fellowship (a "sharing relationship'") with God, is to apply John's message regarding the essence and nature of God. God IS light--this is not what He does, but what He IS. Perfect, unadulterated light--embodies the idea of splendor and glory; and when viewed intellectually depicts absolute truth; or morally, absolute holiness. And what God IS, must inescapably affect all man's relations with God. Compare this with John 4:24, "God is Spirit" (immaterial). The consequences are: doing material things, per se, cannot constitute worship--we must "worship in spirit and truth." Or 1 John 4:16, "God is Love" and we must love if we would indwell God, and God us. A sharing relation with Light in the absolute sense is possible only for those of like nature and characteristics; and it is absurd to think that one who "walks in darkness" could have fellowship with God in any sense.

Since "all have sinned" it would appear that there is no way man could have fellowship with God, but John begins his epistle by declaring unto us a marvelous thing. The Word of Life, co-eternal with God the Father, has been historically manifested, and "we" (the Apostles, of whom John was the last) have seen, heard, and handled Him, and now "declare" Him "that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." John writes to Christians, but he wishes to impress them with the source and means of the relationship they already have, and to deepen their joy to fulfillment. The Word of Life is the whole message from God to man. The person of Christ was emphasized in John's gospel, but in this epistle the message gets the emphasis. (Cf. 2:3,5, 21-24; 4:1-6, etc.) Bodily manifestation is stressed to counter false doctrine of the day.

So, when John says we must "walk in the light" to have fellowship with God, he is saying we must "keep his commandments" (2:3), "keep his word" (2:5), the "new commandment" (2:8-9), "do righteousness" (2:29), and so, throughout the epistle. Inspired men have the whole truth (4:6), and the testimony of such messengers is written (1:4; 5:13) that we might have assurance of life, through faith in Jesus Christ, heart of that message. I am stressing this point because we need to realize fellowship with God comes only through objective consideration of and submission to revealed truth, not through subjective "feelings" about the matter.

"If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie ..." "Walk" (peri + patomen is literally "walk about"--"indicating the habitual course of the life" says Vincent. It is present, active, subjunctive--"keep on walking." Robertson and Davis Greek Grammar says present subjunctive--"denotes continued or repeated action," and "the idea is always linear with no reference to time," i.e., it is not punctiliar (point action) as is the aorist tense. B. F. Westcott says, "The whole description refers to the general character and tendency of life, and not to the absolute fulfillment of the character in detail." While it is certainly true that each and every sin is incompatible with God's nature, and is abhorred of God, and stands between God and man--in this passage the Holy Spirit is not discussing a particular sin. Brother Patrick Farish said it well in the infamous January, 1981, Faith and Facts: "The word walk is used repeatedly in the Scriptures to represent one's way of life, his habitual course of conduct." Further, "We observe, by way of emphasizing the concept of the habitual aspect of life as indicated by the term 'walk,' that in neither sense does it suggest flawlessness: he whose walk is 'in the darkness' is not one whose every deed is evil, malevolent: he may well be a law-abiding citizen (...Romans 13:1-7); a faithful spouse (...Hebrews 13:4); and the list could be protracted: but, because he is not consciously seeking to comply with God's will, he is walking in darkness." To "walk in darkness" is to choose the darkness as our sphere of action or sphere of life. We have given this much space because some have seemed to regard a single sin as "walking in darkness."

Westcott says John refutes three false views the man walking in darkness may take: (1) saying he has fellowship with God while walking in darkness, he denies the reality of sin; (2) saying he has no sin (vs. 8, sin as a principle, distinct from a particular act) he denies responsibility for sin; and (3) saying he has not sinned (done no wrong) he denies the fact of sin in his own case. In the first instance the very nature of God refutes his claim; in the second, he is self-deceived (willfully); and in the third, "we make Him a liar" (i.e., God says he has sinned); and in each case "we do not the truth," "the truth is not in us," and "His word is not in us." So much for the man who tries to get away with sin.

Now, what about those who "walk in the light"? This also refers to an habitual course of conduct, and all the grammatical citations re. "walking in darkness" will apply to the life in this sphere. Brother Farish says, "The other side of the coin is that he whose walk is "in the light" is also not one whose every deed is righteous; "walking in the light" does not equal sinless perfection. This is removed from the realm of supposition by John's announcement that one whose walk is in the light has nonetheless committed sin, which is cleansed by the blood of Jesus, the Son of God." But many have confused "walking in light" with having one's name on the church role, or occupying some status of grace. Figures of speech describing the people of God are distorted; so that a "child of God" is regarded as "always a child of God" no matter what characteristics he displays. (See John 8:33-47) Careless thinking at this point led one to ask, "How is he, whose walk is 'in the light,' cleansed by the blood of the Son of God?--is it automatic, occurring without his volition simply on the basis of his walk in the light?" THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "WALKING IN THE LIGHT" WITHOUT VOLITION!! Walking in the light is an exercise of volition, an on-going, conscious endeavor to maintain a right-standing with God. The present, active nature of the expression does not lend itself to breakdown of this "step" or that; it is "linear" (says Robertson's Grammar). "Walking" in light is like saying living a faithful Christian life: "choosing the light as the sphere of life is to live and move in the revealed presence of God." (Westcott)

When John says, "If we walk in the light" he is also saying "if we confess our sins." All men are sinners, but a contrast is here made between the sinner who denies the reality of sin, or man's responsibility for sin, or his own particular failures; with the sinner who is trying to serve God, is aware of his responsibility, and freely acknowledges his sin, and his need for God's mercy. Reread Paul's description of such a man. (Romans 7:18-25) Paul, while walking in the light, recognized his weakness--his wretched state, while depending upon himself alone--and came thankfully to Jesus Christ for forgiveness. "If we walk" (vs. 7) and "if we confess" (vs. 9) are both present, active, subjunctive--indicating continuous action, and making the conclusion (fellowship with God through cleansing) contingent upon this action. But "if any man sin" (2:1) is 2nd aorist, active, subjunctive--here is point action (in contrast to a life of sin) and such an one is told he has Jesus Christ as an Advocate with the Father. No "automatic" cleansing is implied in any of these cases. Having an Advocate (like a "mediator" or "High Priest" does not relieve us of the need to "come boldly unto the throne of grace" for mercy. (Hebrews 4:15-16; 10:19-f)

Once more in verse seven, if we walk in the light "we have" (present, active, indicative) fellowship. This is linear--an assurance that faithful saints "keep on having" a sharing relationship with God. (True, we have this in common with all other saints; but since "as He is in the light" refers to God, I believe the point here is fellowship with God. The seemingly impossible "sharing relationship" of imperfect man with God who is absolute light, truth and holiness, is the central theme of this epistle. It is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. His blood "cleanses" (present, active, indicative)--it "keeps on cleansing" us from all sin. In verse nine, God is declared to be "faithful and just (righteous)" and this is our assurance that He will forgive those who come to Him through Christ. The same attributes which lead to the punishment of the unrepentant, result in forgiveness and cleansing for the penitent confessor--characteristics of one walking in light.

Finally, in I John 2:1-2, faithful Christians "have" (again, "keep on having") an "Advocate" (one called to the side of another, to assist, intercede, comfort) and our helper is the one who died in our behalf, to appease the judicial wrath of God. He is the "propitiation" for our sins, on the condition we put our trust in Him. (Romans 3:24-26) I find nothing in any of these verses to suggest unconditional forgiveness. On the other hand, these verses were not written as specific instructions on how to be forgiven of some specific sin. They declare the nature of God, His manifestation in the person of Christ; and assure the faithful (who struggle against the weakness of the flesh of oneness with God through the cleansing blood of Christ.

I know some of the things some are making out of 1 John 1, but that is their problem. As respects current discussions on the passage, with "what if" galore, the chief fallacies seem to come from ignoring the context, and trying to construct a hypothetical specific case that will side-step John's teaching and prove their own. 1 John 1 cannot be legitimately used either to excuse sin, or to call for a conscious accounting for each moment in our life. If one walking in the light realizes he has sinned, he confesses it, and asks God's forgiveness. If he does not realize some specific sin, he still acknowledges his weaknesses regularly, and asks forgiveness. (An important 'between the lines' lesson from 1 John 1, is that as man's understanding of God grows, so also does his recognition of his own shortcomings. Walking in light humbles man, shows up the shadows in his life, makes him more dependent upon God.)

And then some smart Aleck asks, "What will happen to the man who sins, doesn't recognize it, and dies before he prays for forgiveness for such sins? Or, sins in a moment of fleshly weakness, and dies with the act--before he can ask forgiveness??" Now that's brilliance for you!! A partial answer is that sin is sin, whether recognized or not, whether deliberate or "momentary weakness." What will happen to such a person is wholly in the hands of God and not in those of the querist (for which we are thankful); and we have no business whittling on God's end of the stick.