Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

1 John 1:7 – John’s Recognition of Righteous Living

In contrast to the hypocritical lifestyle described in verse 6, there is a genuine one and John describes it in verse 7. He points out that true Christian living takes place in the presence of God. When we think of the presence of God we must recognise that the Bible presents its meaning in two ways. First, there is his general presence that is called omnipresence, in which he is everywhere in the universe and beyond it simultaneously. Second, there is his special presence and it occurs when he draws near to those who trust in him. It is this second aspect of God’s presence that is intended by John in verse 7.

We can note several details about this special presence of God as far as believers are concerned. First, they are marked by progress – they are walking in a certain place and they are walking towards a certain place. The location where they walk is the same place where God is found – in the light, and the location to which they are walking is the place where God lives – heaven. There is no such creature as a static Christian, one who remains in the same spiritual state continually. Every Christian is either going back or going forward, sometimes a bit of both.

I once heard an illustration which helped me understand this. A preacher said that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Going up a mountain can involve taking wrong turns and when that happens the climbers have to go back to the right path; it can involve slipping on steep inclines, with climbers taking two steps up, then one step down, then two steps up, then one step down….; nevertheless eventually the climbers reach the top. That is what the Christian life is like.

Further, this passage says that it is abnormal to find solitary Christians. Notice that John uses plural pronouns when describing the walk that is taken. Just as those who walk in darkness share the experience of worldliness, so those who walk in the light are surrounded by companions. Solitariness is different from engaging in personal activities. For example, it is essential that a Christian engage in personal devotions. Yet he cannot make such an activity a substitute for meeting with and having fellowship with other disciples of Jesus. Christians are to make progress together.

In addition, those who walk in the light have communion. It is not entirely clear what John means when he writes that ‘we have fellowship with one another’. Often, an initial response is to read the clause as if he meant that Christians have fellowship with one another, and it is true that they do. Yet that interpretation could be an example of a genuine doctrine replacing proper exegesis because the context suggests that the ‘one another’ refers to God and his people. This is a reminder that consecrated fellowship is marked by peace between the participants. They enjoy one another’s company.

Another surprise that believers have is that the holy God can continue to meet with them. One of the features of maturity in a Christian is his sense of indwelling sin. Perhaps at his conversion he was aware of certain outward traits and even of some inward tendencies that were wrong. Yet as they have made progress in the paths of light in the company of the God of salvation, they see more and more defects within themselves. Even their best actions are tainted by sin and they wonder how can such as them continue to meet with God. John gives the answer to that dilemma when he writes that ‘the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin’.

What was true of the person in darkness is also true of the person in the light. They each have desires and behaviour appropriate to their spiritual environment. The one who walks in the light not only has a holy lifestyle, he also has holy desires. He thinks about matters that are of interest to God, and is able to think about them with increasing measures of light. They grow in understanding, in knowledge, and in experience. Often the path of the just is like the shining light that increases more and more until the perfect day (Prov. 4:18), until they reach the city of which God is the everlasting light, and they will walk in that light forever.

Of course, the question that comes to each of us is not, ‘What do we say?’ Instead it is, ‘Where do we walk?’

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