Walking in the Light of God
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 1 John 1: 1 – 2: 5. Focus on what it means to Walk in the Light of God with Purpose and Focus. What does excellence look like? Be sure to check out soloist Jonathan Ponder.
All of the readings from the epistles for the season after Easter are from I John. That’s an interesting choice, since the theme of I John is the assurance of salvation. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
In this post-modern age, it is impossible to be sure of anything, because all truth claims are seen as merely human inventions, nothing more than the products of a particular culture. Indeed, truth claims are often seen as attempts to gain power, part of an imperial agenda that aims to control others.
So, you have your truth and I have mine, and we’ll all be happier if we just leave it that way. But John’s agenda is not imperialism, but happiness. Or as he says in verse 4, “We write this to make our joy complete.”
The Christians to whom he writes had been badly shaken by a split that was occurring in the early church. There was a group called the Gnostics that did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, rather they thought salvation came from a special knowledge that he gave to a select few and as a result of this knowledge they believed that they could do anything they wanted as long as they had this special knowledge to guarantee their salvation.
And so John tells his church that to be in Christ means two things. It means having a crystal clear understanding that we are all sinners who cannot redeem ourselves and because of Jesus’ death and resurrection God has demonstrated how ultimate justice is seen in his ultimate mercy. What John doesn’t do is spell out exactly what it means to walk in the light of God?
Michael Jordon, arguably one of the best if not the best player to have played the game of basketball was born with two remarkable gifts. One was the gift of a being a natural at the game and the other was a work ethic unlike anyone else in the NBA.
He worked harder than any other player in the NBA. He would be the first one on the court and the last one off it for practice and for games. He drove himself to do things beyond what were then perceived to be humanly possible, by sheer repetition, and time invested everyday in being the best he could be. This is how he described himself: “You have competition every day because you set such high standards for yourself that you have to go out every day and live up to that.” Michael Jordan
And as a result he became the best that ever played the game, his team became one of the best teams that ever played the game and the NBA was at the pinnacle of its popularity all because of Mike. Walking in the light is being as disciplined as Jordon was to basketball and as Jesus was to the whole of life. Will we be like them? No way! But how much better would we be if we held their attitude toward life?
Now there are some who treat Christianity like this. “Tell me what I have to do to inherit eternal life? But as long as you are asking that question you are not walking in the light of God. The question isn’t what must I do to inherit eternal life, but how can I walk in the light of God all the time?
What does it mean to walk in the light or glory of God? I John put it very succinctly in a word – “witness.” In our own lives we are to witness to the life of Christ. As Mother Teresa put it:
“People are often unreasonable and self centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For in the end, it’s between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
That is what it means to walk in the light, but if we think we can do this on our own without an honest assessment of whom we really are as human beings then we are deceiving ourselves.
“But if we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness we lie and we do not practice the truth. If we say that we have no sin then we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
What does this mean to practice the truth. It’s not an abstract truth like I’m ok your ok. It’s the truth of who Jesus was as a human being before God. To practice the truth is to practice being like Jesus. To use the imagery of I John, true confession about who we are as human beings allows the brilliant light of God’s holiness to fall on us, so that not one of our sins is hidden in the darkness. In this way our sins no longer have control over us.
That’s why John goes on to say, “But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense…” The word there is paraklete; one comes alongside us to plead our case, a defense attorney, so to speak. His name is Jesus Christ, and John says he is “the Righteous One,” completely righteous, without sin. That’s important because he defends us not by talking in court, but by offering himself rather than offering us up on the cross.
I know that John’s words are offensive to many Christians today, but let’s hear him out. John is saying that when God forgives sin, he doesn’t just wink at it and simply wave it away, as though it didn’t really matter. Sin is such a terrible destructive force in the world and in human lives that God cannot simply let it go.
There is such a thing as justice. The Bible says that justice without mercy is not Christian. But it is also true that mercy without justice is not human. As Paul says in Romans: “He was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” (4: 25) In this way justice is ultimately restored and mercy is ultimately the means that God uses to close out the debt. In this act of self-sacrifice God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
We do not have this power, but we do have the power to forgive and to love and that is what 1 John is calling us to do. To love as Jesus loved us is to walk in the light.
To help people grasp how offensive this certainty about the Gospel sounds to our post-modern age, here’s an example of a thoroughly postmodern man in Jane Hamilton’s novel, A Map of the World. His name is Howard Goodwin. His wife, Alive, has been accused of a terrible crime and though Howard stands by her and defends her, he isn’t entirely sure she is innocent.
Torn by indecision, he describes his state of mind: “I hated the fact that I would never really know what was true. There were reasons not to believe either side. It is better, I think, never to finally decide.” In fact, he was so accustomed to living with such uncertainty that he had long ago decided on the epitaph for his tombstone. “He never stayed the course. He was never sure.”
Our text is a call to live and die with certainty because of a certain Gospel. That’s what it means to walk in the light. Just do it! Amen