I wonder if there's someone here this evening who's asking how can I have true fellowship with God and with other genuine believers? Perhaps you've been coming/watching on and off but you're still unsure or maybe you've been misled by the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or by a mainstream church that doesn't teach the Bible as the word of God. A family came to Christianity Explored here a few years ago who'd been deceived by the Jehovah's Witnesses and by a more mainstream church. They were hungry for the truth about how to have fellowship with God and were so pleased and relieved to discover the real Jesus, God the Son, in Mark's Gospel and put their trust in him, the only way to God the Father. As a result, they now have true fellowship with God and they're now walking in the light, walking in and with Christ, living out the Christian life. Jesus is the light who exposes our sin and need of him and his Spirit convicts us, draws us to him and to respond in repentance and faith, faith in Jesus' death on the cross in our place and his resurrection from the dead. God delivers us from the kingdom of darkness and transfers us into the Kingdom of his Son, Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom of light. And although he began his career at the Stadium of Light, for Newcastle fans it's a bit like Jack Colback – another red-haired dynamo – being transferred from Sunderland to Newcastle Utd – from darkness to light! He was bought with a price even if it was just the cost of his wages and the same is true of our transfer from darkness to light – we too were bought with a price – the price of Jesus' blood. You see it's not because of anything we've done but by God's GRACE – God's Riches At Christ's Expense. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Isn't that wonderful?
Or perhaps you're struggling with assurance – you're lacking confidence in Christ and assurance that your sins are really forgiven and that you really have eternal life – in other words, life with God forever. You're thinking I've really blown it this time – God can't forgive me for that, surely not again, can he?
Well, what's John's purpose in writing this letter? John's already made it clear that his purpose is to bring his readers into true fellowship with God and with other believers. Look at verse 3:
"that which we have seen and heard [as eyewitnesses so it's not made up] we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our [the apostles'] fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ."
So, this is a great letter to read and put into practice if you're asking questions about knowing God and assurance. You see false teaching was rife in the early church on these very issues, just as it is today. 1 John was written to warn its readers about false teaching that denied Jesus had come in the flesh (4.2-3). This false teaching said that Christ only appeared to be human, so there was no real incarnation and no divine Saviour who was able to die for sinners. And Christ only seemed to die so he couldn't have been physically resurrected from the dead. All that could undermine both a believer's confidence in Christ and assurance before God; and therefore, any fellowship with God and with other Christians, which, of course, is exactly what the enemy, the devil, wants.
Today false teachers will still deny the truth that Jesus came fully man and fully God. They will argue against the truth of the virgin birth and his physical resurrection from the dead. And many false teachers will say, as some leaders in the Church of England do, that sin is fine. If you'll only see the light and become enlightened, they say, and allow all forms of sexual relationships, marriage and gender thinking then we can all 'walk in the new light' together. It sounds so nice, inclusive, non-conflictual and all very supposedly British 'valuesy', at least according to the government, yet who themselves seem to be stumbling, never mind walking, in the dark over everything. But according to God, it's absolute nonsense and worse than that. Isaiah 5.20:
"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…"
And so how can we have fellowship with God, who is light, while walking in darkness? Don't fall for the false teachers who put darkness for light and light for darkness. Now there's hope for false teachers and those who follow them if they repent and trust in Christ, who is the truth as well as the light. Just as there's hope for all who turn to and trust in Christ. But how do we recognise false teaching and instead know and love the truth and so walk in the light, having confidence in Christ, assurance of forgiveness and eternal life?
Well, last time we learned from this chapter of 1 John that if you want to know the truth about Jesus and his teaching you must learn from the Apostles and so from God's Word. For their message is reliable. And one goal of their message was to promote true "fellowship". But what does that mean? What's the real nature of this fellowship? So first
1. Its Nature (v3b-7)
"And indeed our [the apostles'] fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy might be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you: that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practise the truth. 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, cleanses us from all sin."
"OK," you say, "this fellowship is based on Jesus Christ, but in what way?"
Well, here we're told that fellowship is fundamentally a relationship with God, the Father and with God, the Son - Jesus Christ, (and we know from elsewhere that God, the Holy Spirit makes that a reality). So it's a divine relationship. When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our Father, we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family. The family of God includes all believers in the past, the present and the future.
Every human being was created by God, but not everyone is a child of God. The only way to get into God's family is by being born again into it. You became part of the human family by your first birth, but you become a member of God's family by your second birth. It was Jesus who said, John 3.3:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, [so this is very very important and very very true] unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
How can you be born again? Well you're born again by the work of the Holy Spirit giving you new resurrection life. Have you been born again? Have you trusted Christ for that new life? That's the way into this relationship. For it's a divine relationship - with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
But it's also a moral relationship. There were people in the Church - these false teachers - who were saying it's OK to have sex outside heterosexual monogamous marriage and make money out of shady business dealings etc. But John says, 'absolute garbage'. Verses 6 and 7:
"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practise the truth. 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, cleanses us from all sin."
John's using metaphorical language. By "walking" he means living a lifestyle.
John's not referring to doing wrong, repenting and seeking God's forgiveness. He's talking about people who say sin is fine. And the logic is that it breaks our fellowship with God and with one another. Why's this so important? Because
of the nature of our God. Look at v5:
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you: that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
John has two great statements about God in this letter. Here's the first, "God is light". The second comes in chapter 4.8, "God is love".
Light is a symbol for God's presence and guiding but especially for his truth and holiness. If God is like that, so must we be. But we're not and our relationship with God is broken. So what's the hope? The answer is there in verse 7: "the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin".
God is love as well as light. The proof is the Cross of Christ. And the Cross is at the heart of what Christ came to do. Why is there so much loneliness? Why don't people immediately see that going God's way and having fellowship with him and his people isn't only sensible, but also more enjoyable? Look at verse 4: we are writing these things so that our joy might be complete. So why don't people go God's way immediately? Answer: because since Adam we're all infected with the spiritual disease of sin. It's an inbuilt refusal to do what God wants and what's for our best, and to go our own way which is for our worst. If you ignore the maker's instructions, you end up in trouble.
But God can't allow that, for God is light. As the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk says: Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong (Hab 1.13). Our God is an intolerant God. He hates evil. People find that hard in today's culture, where a modern understanding of 'tolerance' appears reasonable, where all is right and nothing is wrong or at least nothing except for the Christian sexual ethic – 'no outsiders' except those who hold to a biblical world view. One writer said:
"In the world it's called 'tolerance', but in hell it's called 'despair' ... the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, enjoys nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there's nothing for which it will die."
But our God was willing for his Son to die for our sins. On the cross he shed his blood. He paid the penalty for us. He bore our judgment in our place. The wages of sin is death. And Christ died his death for us. Do you think that you're too bad to be forgiven? John says here that the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all [not some] sin.
But what, then, are the conditions for getting into a right relationship with God and then with others in the Christian fellowship? So secondly
2. Its Conditions (v8-10)
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us."
What John's saying is actually very simple. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in your life and he points you to Jesus Christ, you become more conscious of your sin. What looks clean under artificial light looks dirty under the light of the sun. Once you start to tidy up a room (and I know this from when I start to sort out my office), you see there's more to do than you thought. So it is with sin under God's light. Then two things need to happen.
First, you have to stop deceiving yourself and face up to the truth - that you've been going your way in life and not God's. For some here or watching that has got you into big trouble. For others, it's all much more respectable. Outwardly you're thought to be rather good. But God looks into your heart. He sees your motives and your thoughts. Under God's light we all sin. We all need forgiving. And you have to admit that.
Now we're very prone to try and escape from our responsibility for our sins or debts. One way we do that is to try and hide them. Another is to run away from them. Then when the sins or debts are exposed, yet another is to try and shift the responsibility for them. But we're all sinners and all in need of God's forgiveness. We do have to admit that if we're going to know God's forgiveness and mercy. Please don't let your pride get in the way.
Then, secondly, you need to confess your sins. You not only admit that you're in the wrong and have done wrong. You also admit responsibility. That's biblical repentance - identifying what's wrong (your sin); identifying who's responsible (you) and then asking God in his mercy to deal with both your sin and you yourself through the work of Christ and by his Holy Spirit. And look at that wonderful promise in verse 9:
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
And then look at that warning in verse 10:
"If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us."
So, there's a choice this evening. If you want fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers, there's this condition. It's not something you have to do. You can't earn it by walking in the light – that's what you do in the power of the Spirit once you're in fellowship with God, in grateful response to all that he's done for us in Christ. No, it's something you have to admit and then receive. You have to admit that you're a sinner. Then you have to receive God's forgiveness. It's so simple and so right. All that's needed is for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the truth.
Yes, we must respond by committing ourselves to a sin or debt-free lifestyle from then on. That's what John here describes as 'walking in the light' or 'walking as Jesus did'. That's the Christian life. John says in 2.3: "And by this we know that we have come to know [Jesus], if we keep his commandments." If we don't obey Jesus, we'll show that we're ungrateful and we haven't really begun to understand what Jesus has done for us.
I must finish. I can only pass on the message that John has passed on (v3). I can pray for the Holy Spirit to open your spiritual eyes. But you have to admit and then confess and receive. And once you've confessed for the first time, you need to anchor that confession. The Bible says that if you haven't been baptized you should be. If you were baptized as a child and you drifted away from Christ, you can reaffirm your baptismal vows. There's an opportunity for both here on the evening of 2 June.
And once you've confessed for the first time, you need to confess subsequently. But you then confess assured of fellowship with God and his people. It's a matter, simply, of keeping short accounts.