we: From the context in 1 John chapter 1, it is clear that we refers to first-hand Christians, whose faith springs from personal experience, not just by hearsay or tradition or family background or social association. The we have seen and heard for themselves the direct effects of the Word of Life.
walk: To walk means to move easily, continuously, without undue effort or strain A walker need not pause frequently to rest. Indeed, if he does, he will never get very far.
in: This in reminds me of a scene from the Walt Disney movie "Bambi". The fawn Bambi and his mother come out of the forest to the edge of an open field. At first they stay near the trees, watching for danger, ready to flee. As her confidence increases and fear subsides, the mother inches out until finally she comes out in the open meadow, where the sweet grass grows. If we hesitate and hang by the shadows, we are not in the light.
the: The apostle John particularly insists that we walk in the light, not just any light. In Isaiah 50:10-11, the LORD says, "See, all you who start a fire, who surround yourselves with torches: walk in the light of your fire, and of your torches. This is what you will receive from my hand: you will lie down in torment." Evidently we must walk in His own light, and no other.
light: The Scripture says much about God's light. Jesus Himself was the true light, the light of the world (John 1:9, 9:5). Light brings understanding: "The entrance of your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple" (Ps. 119:130). More pertinent to our current purpose, light is associated with openness, and darkness with secrecy and shame. In his Gospel, John says, "This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because they did evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, so that his deeds will not be exposed. But he who acts truthfully comes to the light, that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:18-21; see also Eph. 5:11-14, Luke 8:17).
As God is in the light: There are varying degrees and conditions of light. There is light even in a photographer's dark room. But John specifies that we must walk in the light as God is in the light. This is a terrifying prospect. "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5);. "[God] lives in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see." (1 Tim. 6:16). When confronted with the brightness of the glory of the Lord, Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me! I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Is. 6:5).
How can I hope to meet these conditions? At this point it seems I might as well close the book and forget about 1 John 1:7. Evidently I can never obtain the blessing it promises, since I fall woefully short of meeting its conditions. For I walk, not in the light, not even in the shadows, but in pitch darkness. Shame and secrecy for me are as inescapable and ever-present as breathing. I am ashamed of certain distasteful personal habits, that I indulge in when it seems no one is paying attention. I am ashamed of how I selfishly neglect or abuse my wife and children when no one else is around to see: But most of all, I am ashamed of my thoughts. Naturally there are the sexual thoughts which are aroused by women who dress in a revealing way. But much more shameful are my private thoughts about friends and acquaintances. Sometimes when I am talking with someone, this thought flashes across my mind: "Suppose this person knew all the thoughts I've had towards them." When this happens, my insides squirm and I often become so self-conscious that I can scarcely look the other in the face. If my secret thoughts were revealed to others, I feel sure that they would be offended and disgusted, and they would reject and ridicule me. Sometimes I wish that I never had to deal with people at all.
My shame becomes most painfully apparent when I share my private opinions about someone with a third party. I try never to do so, but sometimes I slip thoughtlessly; other times I am so irritated or grieved or angered that I feel I have to relieve myself or burst. When I do unburden myself, I find myself in a double bind vis-a-vis the person I have blabbed about. Not only am I acutely self-conscious about my negative thoughts towards him -- but now I am also ashamed that I have criticized him behind his back. I was already too weak and fearful to speak to him face-to-face -- how much less can I face him now, since I have spoken badly of him to others?
Shame is the farthest-reaching consequence of the Fall. Shame surpasses even death, because people often carry their guilty secrets with them into the grave. In the beginning, Adam and Eve enjoyed God's presence: but after they ate the fruit, they trembled and hid whenever He drew near (Genesis 2:25-3:10). As Adam and Eve were, so I am. On the one hand, I yearn to enter God's presence; and on the other hand, I intensely fear that He will expose me.
My shame has entrapped and enslaved me. My heart cries out, as the Apostle Paul did in similar circumstances, "Woe is me. Who will save me from this body of sin and death?" (Ro. 7:24) The only possible answer is the one Paul provides: "Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Ro. 7:25).
The condition can only be met through Jesus Christ, and His Church.Jesus Christ intends to save us from shame through the Church, which is His body. The purpose of the Church is to provide conditions under which God's children can walk in the light. This means to be transparent and open with each other, as James 5:16 says. "Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed."
Unfortunately, few churches dare to foster real intimacy. Christians are generally expected to keep their dirty underwear to themselves. To do otherwise might stir up internal friction, misunderstanding, gossip, strife, and divisions. So instead Christians remain at arms' length, keeping fully and decently clothed. Their underwear is still dirty, and it stinks, but they maintain enough distance so that the smell doesn't carry.
Lovers must strip naked before making love. Nakedness and intimate contact leads to procreation. The same is true spiritually. For a Christian group to be truly fruitful, the members must strip their souls naked in front of each other. If they don't, spiritually speaking the group will be essentially sterile, and cannot amount to much more than a social club.
I once attended a Christian small group in which many of the participants were former alcoholics. By the end of the first meeting, I was so moved I almost wept. They had dropped all pretense, they were all struggling sinners, as I was. They had learned through support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous that the only way to get effective help in overcoming sin was to be transparently honest about their failings. The presence of Jesus in that meeting was overwhelming. Jesus loved to eat and drink with sinners (Mark 2:16-17); and He still does.
Openness and modesty. Jesus dared to endure nakedness and shame on the cross, because He knew that His suffering would bring glory and joy into the lives of billions of people. In the same way, Christians will dare to walk in the light if they can envision the joy set before them. Without such a vision, they will not be able to persevere, because dangers line the path and falls can be extremely painful.
For example, several years ago President Jimmy Carter gave an interview with Playboy magazine, in which he openly admitted to having had "lustful" thoughts. Virtually every man who read or heard about this interview had experienced similar thoughts. Nevertheless, Carter was ridiculed in the press. He had cast his pearls before swine, his attempts at candor were abused.
In the past I have been deeply hurt while trying to walk in the light with other Christians. At various times, different brothers and sisters in Christ have called me rude, manipulative, self-centered, and exhibitionistic, when I was simply trying to truthfully share my thoughts with them. I felt as if I had opened my arms to embrace them, but they responded by punching me in the stomach. These dear brothers and sisters were not cruel: they simply misunderstood my heart because they were not used to walking in that kind of openness. In our world, only little children can be honest: we adults are expected to censor ourselves.
Through these painful experiences, I learned that a healthy modesty is necessary in spiritual as well as practical life. We can't undress in front of just anyone -- similarly, we can only bare our souls in front of trustworthy intimates who will understand, accept us as we are, and not blab our sordid secrets to others. Only friends like these can help us bear the burdens of our stubborn addictions and repulsive personal habits, our outbreaks of bad temper and impatience, our jealous feelings and sexual temptations, and our disagreements with church teachings and practice.
We have fellowship one with another. I believe that the fellowship referred to here is exactly what Christians often call "revival". Consider the disciples on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. They had been praying for 10 days, together in one room. Do you think that they spent this whole time chanting, "Lord, send the Holy Spirit, send the Holy Spirit, send the Holy Spirit" like a mantra? It seems to me much more likely that they were confessing their faults and irritations to each other, bringing their secret shames into the light and praying for each other, that they might be healed? Can you imagine Peter saying to John, "Please forgive me, I've always been jealous of you because it seemed that Jesus favored you"; and John responding, "Peter, I was always irritated with your pushiness. I have told others behind your back, but I've never mentioned this to you. I gossiped, and wronged you. Will you forgive me?" Then, when all the barriers were let down, all impurities and obstacles in interpersonal relationships were removed, the Holy Spirit came down, surged through them and resurrected them as a single, living body (note the Old Testament parallel in Ezekiel 37).
Prayer and fasting alone can not bring revival. The greatest obstacle to revival is neither lukewarmness, nor lack of faith, nor worldliness. Rather, it is a fear of walking in the light, in openness and self-disclosure. Human striving cannot bring God's grace down to earth. On the contrary, "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart" (Ro. 10:8): God's grace will come in as soon as we open our hearts, and our hearts are truly open to God only if they are open to each other. Intense prayer, zeal, faith, and holiness are the natural consequences of walking in the light.
I have had personal experience of how walking in the light can bring fellowship and revival. Some time ago, I attended a conference where the thrust of every message seemed to be "repent". Many of us began to get tired of this insistent harping: as one sister said, "I'm all repented out, can't we move on now to other things?" Eventually, however, the Lord made me aware of a petty thing, as it were a tiny, irritating grain of sand, which had lodged in my heart. I disliked a certain brother: I resented the fact that he talked so much, and often caused sessions to go overtime. To tell the truth, I was somewhat jealous because he was a leader and I wasn't, and he often preached while I didn't. Because of the repentant and humble spirit which prevailed at that meeting, I was able to overcome my hesitation and fear, and confess to that brother that I had wrong thoughts towards him. He forgave me, and prayed for me. After we prayed together, I felt a new liberty, as if a shaft of light had pierced the dark cloud surrounding my heart. That prayer was a turning point in my entire life. Later on that brother and I worked together closely in the Lord, along with several other brothers in the same fellowship. We all maintained absolute, transparent honesty with each other. We learned to complement each others' strengths, and make up for each others' weaknesses. The Lord greatly blessed our collaboration. Attendance at our conferences grew fourfold within two years. Many who attended simply broke down and wept, the presence of the Holy Spirit was so strong. Many lives were completely transformed. It all started with walking in the light.
The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. The second promised result of walking in the light is, that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Most Christians have at least tasted this cleansing, but few take the trouble to savor its fullness.
Let me share a personal example. Before I was a Christian, I acted towards my sister in a way that I later regretted very much. After I became a Christian, I recalled what I had done, confessed to God, and believed that God had forgiven me. But I still felt uncomfortably self-conscious around my sister. I thought that almost surely she had completely forgotten the incident, and said to myself, "Why stir up the mud? It's been 20 years?!" The thought of apologizing for what I had done to her made my palms sweat. I tried to ease my conscience by quoting Scriptures like Psalm 32:1: "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered." However, that nagging discomfort still remained. It was several years before I finally went to my sister, and told her how sorry I was for what I had done. Actually she had completely forgotten -- which was an added comfort to me! Since then, my self-consciousness and tormenting thoughts have vanished. After so many years, I am finally completely free in my relationship with my sister.
Now that I look back on this experience, I can understand what happened. Before I confessed to my sister, my sin was merely covered. When I finally stopped making excuses and began walking in the light by confessing to my sister, only then was my sin truly cleansed. The difference between covering and cleansing can be understood from the following everyday example. Suppose my rug has a stain on it. I can cover the stain with a chair, so no one can see it. However, whenever someone sits down in the chair, I'm reminded of the stain hidden underneath. Also, I won't let anyone move that chair! On the other hand, I can cleanse the rug and remove the stain with a carpet cleaner. Then I am never reminded of the stain, and I am free to rearrange the furniture as I wish.
Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 20, 1999
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