Mark D. Roberts

Part 9 of series: What is the Christian Life?
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In yesterday’s post I began examining a passage from 1 John that uses the metaphor of walking to talk about how we live. To review, here’s the text:

This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living [lit. walking] in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth (1 John 1:5-6).

According to John, we cannot have intimate fellowship with God and, at the same time, live a life of persistent sinning.
After laying out this bad news, John adds something much more encouraging: “But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:7). Once again, the use of “fellowship with each other” comes as a surprise. As he does in 1 John 1:3, John continues to link fellowship with God to fellowship with God’s people. If walking in darkness keeps us from fellowship with God, walking in the light – living our lives in fellowship with God – binds us to one another.
Moreover, when we walk in the light, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.” The verb translated as “cleanses” appears in the present tense in Greek. This tense shows that the cleansing by the blood of Jesus is an ongoing experience for Christians. John is not referring here simply to our initial experience of forgiveness when we first trusted Christ, but also to the repeated cleansing we experience when we sin. Although intimate fellowship with God precludes “living in spiritual darkness,” even when we know God and walk in him, we will still sin at times and find ourselves in need of forgiveness. We are not sentenced to a life filled with sin, however, because our hearts will be cleansed through the forgiveness we have in Jesus. In time, even the desire to sin will diminish within us if we keep on walking in the light of Christ. From John’s point of view, ongoing fellowship with God will, over time, extinguish within us the desire to do that which dishonors God.
Verses 5-8 demonstrate how koinonia impacts our whole life. It transforms our walk, our lifestyle, our way of living. Before entering into intimate fellowship with God and God’s people, we can and we do walk in darkness. We do what is evil and we keep on doing it. But once we have true fellowship with God through Christ, we experience forgiveness and cleansing that empowers us to stop walking in darkness. Yes, we continue to sin, but we have new freedom to overcome that sin.
Notice, however, that the Christian life is not some grueling battle of self-improvement. Walking in the light of God changes everything. Freedom from sin comes through fellowship with God. When we fail to live by God’s standards – and we all will – we don’t grit our teeth and strain to be perfect next time. Rather we come before God with an honest admission of our failures. As John says, “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1 John 1:9). The more we experience God’s forgiveness and cleansing, the more we will be strengthened to stop sinning. The more we receive God’s grace, the more we will live in freedom as the Spirit of God transforms every aspect of our lives (Gal 5).
Personally, I am thankful John mentions sin and forgiveness in this discussion of the Christian life. Even though my theology warns against it, my heart keeps on trying to turn the Christian life into a matter of perfect performance. A part of me thinks that I will finally live as a Christian if I only try hard enough, if I only do all of the right things. Of course I fall short of this unrealistic goal, both by failing to do many right things and by doing many wrong ones instead. Yet my shortcomings do not separate me from fellowship with God because the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses me from all sin. The Christian life is not a matter of perfection, but process, not performance for God, but relationship with God.

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