What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 1 – 2

by Jay Guin

The theme of 1 John is repeatedly stated in the book. John writes to tell his readers how to tell whether they are saved — and he writes with confidence that they are. Over and over, John draws a line — if you’re on this side of the line, you’re saved; if you’re on the other side, you’re not. It’s a simply written book filled with profundity.

Trying to discern the conservative position

Mac frequently refers to 1 John 1:7,

Can a man maintain faithfulness to God while imperfectly walking in the light? If he is in the light, he is in the light. I do not quibble over human weakness. We all have already admitted such. Can a man perfectly believe? Can he perfectly repent? Can he perfectly make the good confession? Can he perfectly or absolutely correctly be baptized? Can he perfectly or correctly walk in truth?

At times, we seem to be in agreement with Mac on this. Of course, all Christians are imperfect and sin. Of course, they can still be in the light despite their imperfection and sin. The hard question is: when does sin become so severe that the Christian leaves the light and passes into darkness? When does sin cause a Christian to fall from grace?

As we read over Greg’s, Phil’s, and Mac’s posts, we find ourselves unable to discern just what their position really is. They say that all sin and all error damn until repented of. And penitence requires that the Christian no longer engage in the sin. But if a Christian continues in a given sin, he has not repented of it — or else he would have stopped that sin, right? Which means the Christian must be perfect to be saved!

Just so, Phil has written regarding instrumental music in worship,

The blood of Jesus can certainly cleanse those who walk in the light. Walking in the light is not sinlessness, because no one is capable of sinless perfection. But people can fool themselves, thinking they are in the light, when they are not (1 John 1:6). Sand theology does not yield the same results as rock theology (Matt. 7:21-27). Sand theology is when people build where they want rather than heed the words of Jesus. Self-made religion and innovations are sand theology. Those who plant their own plants will find themselves uprooted (Matt. 15:14). That’s what Jesus says about it.

And so — when we sin, God forgives us, because we’re walking in the light despite our sin. But when we worship with instrumental music, well, that’s sin, and so we’re outside the light and damned. It makes no sense!

And so we’re thinking that we should take the time to exegete 1 John to see what “walking in the light” really means, rather than selectively applying the passage based on the result we want to achieve.

Walking in the light

(1 John 1:7) 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, purifies us from all sin.

“Purifies” is in the present tense, which in the Greek means “continuously purifies.” This is a promise of on-going salvation — but not a salvation that can’t be lost. He’s not teaching once saved, always saved. But he is teaching that salvation should be continuous, not occasional.

This test is whether “we walk in the light.” But John doesn’t define this phrase immediately. And it’s surely a mistake to just assume that “walk in the light” means “worship and organize according to the pattern” or that sort of thing. Rather, John will define it for us soon enough.

Confession

(1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and [continuously] purify us from all unrighteousness.

The next test is whether “we confess our sins.” “Purify” here is also in the present tense, and so the promise is that we’ll be continuously forgiven if we do so.

The difficulty with this verse is the mistranslation of “homologeo” as “confess.” In this context it means “acknowledge.” John is not talking about a legalistic requirement that we confess every sin to be forgiven of that sin (who could meet such a requirement?). No, he’s insisting that we admit our sinfulness.

Consider, for example —

(1 John 4:15) If anyone acknowledges [homologeo] that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

The same word is translated as “acknowledge” in 1 John 4:2-3, 15; 2 John 1:7. In fact, it’s never used of confessing sin in the New Testament. Rather, the word used for confession of sin is usually “exomologeo,” as in James 5:16 and Matthew 3:6.

And this makes sense in context. Look at the verses that bracket 1 John 1:9 —

(1 John 1:8-10) If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 … 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

The obvious contrast is with refusing to admit that you sin. Therefore, the test is not whether we’ve confessed each and every sin but whether we admit that we are sinners. After all, we can only confess occasionally — at particular points in time — while we be humble enough to acknowledge our sinfulness continuously — just as we are purified continuously.

Commands

(1 John 2:3-8) We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.

This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

What does John mean by “if we obey his commands”? He just finished telling us that we all sin and must admit our sinfulness. Obviously, he is not referring to perfect obedience. “Obey” cannot refer to perfection.

And so, does “obey” refer to certain specific higher commands? Or are we accountable for all commands? And are we accountable not only for commands but for inferences? What does John say?

Notice the flow. John first speaks of “commands” (v. 3). He says we “must walk as Jesus did” (v. 6). Perfectly? As an itinerant preacher in Palestine? No, John explains himself plainly in the next two verses.

John now changes “commands” to “command” (vv. 7, 8) — a “new command” that is also an “old command.” What is this one old and new command?

(1 John 2:9-11) Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

Plainly, John is saying that we walk in the light if we love our brother. How can it be that simple?

And John just said that to be saved we must walk as Jesus did. Clearly, he equates “walk as Jesus did” with “loves his brother.” Both show that we are in the light. Both demonstrate that we’re saved. Failure to do either would prove we’re damned. John treats the two as the same: to love is to walk as Jesus did.

This passage clearly parallels Jesus’ teaching just before his arrest in John 15.

(John 15:10-14) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

Notice how Jesus urges his apostle to obey his “commands” but gives them but one “command”: love each other.

This is explained by Jesus and others in many places —

(Matt. 7:12) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up [literally: “is”] the Law and the Prophets.

(Luke 10:25-28) On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

(Rom. 13:8-10) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

(Gal. 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

(James 2:8) If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

Jesus, Paul, and James seem to think that “love your neighbor” is the entirety of the law. It’s just one command and yet it’s every command!

John himself plainly tells us what he means by “walk in the light,” and it’s “whoever loves his brother.” He is, of course, speaking of Christians. He is not dealing with baptism. Rather, he is dealing with the content of penitence. In both John 15 and 1 John 2, “commands” refers to the one command that is every command: love your brother.

John adds more content to the concept as he goes along, but we can never so exegete 1 John 2:10 that it no longer means what it plainly says.

Faith

John next tells us that all with faith are saved —

(1 John 2:23-25) No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us — even eternal life.

This seems confusing at first. What if I have faith and don’t love? Isn’t that possible? John would say no. “Faith,” you see, includes confessing that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9), and submission to Jesus as Lord means loving as Jesus commands.

Doing righteousness

John gives us one more test —

(1 John 2:29) If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right [does righteousness/justice] has been born of him.

“What is right” is better translated “righteousness” or even “justice.” “Righteousness” is a word that had a long history when John wrote it. It was a favorite of the Old Testament prophets, and John assumes that his readers are familiar with the concept.

(Amos 5:7-24) You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground … 10 you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. 11 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. … 12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. … 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. …

21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

This gives something of the flavor of the word. We are called to be righteous in the sense that God himself is righteous. It’s about caring for the poor and helping those who need justice. It’s caring about the people God cares about.

Not surprisingly, we see that “walk in the light,” “love,” and “walk as Jesus did” are all equivalent to “do righteousness.”

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12 Comments on “What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 1 – 2”

  1. Alan S. Says:

    Sounds familiar, Jay. Good summary.

    God bless

  2. Royce Ogle Says:

    Jay,

    An excellent treatment of the text. I applaud you and amazed that you can do what you do here and still have a family and earn a living.

    Royce

  3. Jerry Starling Says:

    Amen!

  4. Jeff B. Says:

    Is something wrong with the email notification system? I check “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” with each comment. I then get a confirmation email from WordPress. Then no notifications are sent. Is anyone else having this problem?

  5. Dusty Chris Says:

    So if one sings “Jesus is Lord” or “Holy, Holy, Holy” with instrmental accompaniment, its a sin. What kind of whacky world is it when we sing proclaiming Jesus as Lord and its a sin? hmmmm. That view doesn’t make much sense.

    The same view would hold if one sings “Ring the Message Out” (which has little or no praise or worship value) but if you do it aCapella, then one is saved? According to that view, we could sing the country classic “Stand by Your Man” aCapella in church and be theologically sound…right?

  6. Jeff B. Says:

    Dusty,

    I used to be a campus minister to college students. I started to notice that, prior to our bi-weekly devotionals, people were listening to secular music, watching tv, etc in our student center. I decided to change to more of a “worshipful” environment by playing some music of the group Acapella as background noise as people arrived and waited for our devotionals to begin. The songs were sung a capella (as the name would suggest); however, they made vocal sounds that mimicked instruments occasionally, and also had “ooo’s” and “ahhhh’s” in the back ground (which, according to my elders don’t “teach and admonish”). I was rebuked for introducing this sinful element. So the statement is that listening to Garth Brooks sing about honky-tonkin’ is MORE righteous than listening to a group sing a capella praises to God, simply because that group wasn’t all singing lyrics.

    Just thought that story went well with your comment.

  7. Dusty Chris Says:

    Thanks for the story Jeff. I am never amazed at the thinking of some Church of Christers. It almost seems like “Opposite Day” the way some elderships think.

    I have to say that the ooohhhs and aaaaahs that Acapella sing has personally never caused me to sin…now the vocalized drum beats…that’s a different story. I have tapped my foot before to that music which could be construed as dancing….


  8. […] wrote this letter just so we’d know that we’re saved. He gives the test as detailed in this post and the next post. Therefore, in John’s way of thinking, there are only two kinds of people […]


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  11. […] wrote this letter just so we’d know that we’re saved. He gives the test as detailed in this post and the next post. Therefore, in John’s way of thinking, there are only two kinds of people […]


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