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 practice 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. 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. – 1 John 1:5–10
This is such a significant passage in what has come to be known as one of the most spiritually surgical letters in the New Testament. The truths contained in it are many, but I want to hone in on a single truth that I hope will be helpful to you: the grace of sin exposed.
Recently, I spent the entire day in East Texas at a pastor’s fellowship. We ate, enjoyed good fellowship and discussion, and I preached to those dear men about the need for the power of the Holy Spirit in gospel ministry. It was a good day.
Toward the end of the day, I had a conversation with one of the men, who began sharing about a phone call he’d received from a good brother in the Lord. Early in this phone call, the pastor was asked this question: “Are you feeling like your world is falling apart?”
And he was suddenly struck to the heart.
“That is exactly how I’m feeling.”
He hadn’t had the clarity due to the busyness of life and ministry to come to that conclusion on his own. God used another good brother, a true confidant, to bring this needed wake-up call to this pastor. And as hard as it was, this pastor rejoiced that the wake-up call came. He was so thankful for this brother who had been used of God.
As I sat there listening, my heart was full of joy. This was grace. Great grace.
And I saw the Lord giving me this conversation to further encourage me in what I had been preparing to preach to my congregation as well as share with you today.
This is just one example of the grace of sin being exposed in our lives as Christians. And it is that theme I want to focus in on in verse 7 of the Scripture passage above. Let’s wrap our minds around the context for starters, and then I want to consider two realities:
- Light exposes
- Light expiates
So, what is going on here? What is the context? Broadly, I’ve already mentioned that this letter of John is rather surgical. By that I mean that this letter is a searching letter; in other words, it dissects the human heart that says it has embraced Christ. John makes these clear-cut statements throughout the letter to diagnose the true state of the heart. He is testing the genuineness of his readers’ faith and lives.
In these six short verses, we can see this. And we see it in the context of fellowship—fellowship with God, and fellowship in the light. As soon as the preface is concluded in verse 4, it reads like an exhilarating courtroom scene where the attorneys are passionately making their closing statements. It is fast-paced gospel proclamation and gospel clarity. Immediately, we are confronted with the God who islight. It is His very essence. He doesn’t merely produce light or surround Himself with light, He is light.
This is hugely significant. John only uses this “God is” language on a couple of other occasions. In John 4:24, we see that God is spirit. In 1 John 4:8, we see that God is love. Each of these is big. Really big. The fact that God is light is no less significant than God is love. God is the uncreated light who when He undertook the act of creation began with the words “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The Nicene Creed even picks up on the importance of this when it says, “God of God, Light of Light.”
Physically, light represents God’s glory. Intellectually, light represents God’s truth. And morally, light represents God’s holiness. A. W. Pink says, “The Psalmist avers, ‘Who coverest Thyselfwith light as with a garment’ (Ps. 104:2), on which Spurgeon remarked, ‘The concept is sublime: but it makes us feel how altogether inconceivable the personal glory of the Lord must be: if light itself is but His garment and veil, what must be the blazing splendour of His own essential being?’”
Think of these various pictures the Bible gives us:
- “Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.” – Psalm 18:12
- “who dwells in unapproachable light” – 1 Timothy 6:16
- “the Father of lights” – James 1:17
Jesus Himself used this language, didn’t He?
- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”– John 8:12
And of Jesus, John writes elsewhere: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19–20). The light did come into the world, didn’t it? The “sun of righteousness” has risen with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).
God is light. If it weren’t for light, there’d be no beauty. If there were no light, all would be death and darkness everywhere. But God is light. And the thing about light is that it shines into cracks and crevices. This points to the God who loves to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. Our God is the God of revelation. His beams of truth are shining everywhere. It is a glorious reality.
God is so perfectly light that in Him is no darkness at all. John often used these contrasts to draw clear lines in the sand. And here, he made his point perfectly evident because, in the Greek text, John has used a double negative. The English translators pick up on this in the use of “at all” in verse 5. It is as if John is saying, “In Him is no darkness, no, not any darkness, none.” This is significant as well because, according to Ephesians 5:8, we were once darkness.
So, quite the problem is presented to us then: If God is light and in Him is no darkness, how can we who are darkness itself ever enter into and enjoy fellowship with He who is light?
This is the essence of the gospel. Some radical, life-altering, realm-transitioning change must take place in sinful man if he is ever to draw near to God—and that happens in the new birth, in regeneration. This supernatural and sovereign act of God is necessary if we are to be transformed from darkness into light, moved from the realm of darkness into the realm of light.
A clear moral dimension is presented to us in this text. We can’t limit light and darkness to merely truth and error on an intellectual or theological level. There is more to it than that. Morally speaking, “God is light” points to God’s holiness, therefore, “no darkness at all” denotes no blot, no sin, no evil being present with God (v. 5). And in verse 6, “walk[ing] in darkness” points to those who are immoral in their deeds and evil in their thoughts. They are wrong in their hearts and heads. They walk in wickedness. And you can’t walk in wickedness as a pattern of life and, at the same time, be in the light: “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Now we come to our area of concentration, verse 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 cleanses us from all sin.” John isn’t proposing the idea that there are those who truly are in the realm of light but still walk in darkness. No, he is shattering that idea. He is pointing the finger at those professors of religion and calling them out as the liars they are. What we actually see in the text is that there are those who walk in darkness still. They don’t know God. They aren’t in the light.
Then there are those who really do walk in the light. They are in the realm of light. They are children of light. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). In the same way that we are no longer under sin but are now, as Christians, under grace, we can say that we are no longer in darkness but are now in the light.
Clearly, John isn’t the only New Testament author who picks up on this theme:
- “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”– 1 Peter 2:9
- “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”– 1 Thessalonians 5:5
So I urge you to be what you are, brethren.
Next, turn your attention to the first of two realities:
- Light Exposes
As children of the light, now walking in the light, we experience the searching effects of the light in our lives. This is the fruit of fellowship with God and the people of God, and it is truly fruitful. No more as Christians are we those who cower in dark corners hiding from the light. No, the right-thinking believer welcomes the exposure of the light. Painful though it may be at times, it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness in the life, and that is worth the pain. Why? Because the Christian longs to be conformed to the image of Christ. He longs to be with his Savior, to be like his Savior, to be pleasing to his Savior. And this is one of the ways in which the reality of God as light helps us. God’s penetrating light continues to expose in the Christian those specks of darkness that remain.
Please don’t think this discouraging—this is grace. And this is the fruit of fellowship with God. The unconverted person experiences this for the first time in their conversion. Think of the woman at the well in John’s Gospel: “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband’ (John 4:16–17). In that moment, she was exposed. And yet, that exposing of her sin was so entirely gracious. Jesus wasn’t out to harm her; He was there to rescue her. And rescue her He did! That woman was liberated that day—praise God!
Or what of the tax collector in the temple in Luke’s Gospel? We see him looking down and beating on his chest in great need: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Why that posture as he prays? He was a man exposed. He saw his sin. And it was all for good, wasn’t it? Jesus said of him, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).
After our conversion we continue to experience this grace of sin being exposed in us. Think of Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 5, we see the words “woe to those” six different times (vv. 8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). Then we turn the page to Isaiah 6 and witness Isaiah declaring, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lordof hosts!” (v. 5, emphasis mine). And why this realization? Because he was in the light. It was Isaiah’s nearness to God, his fellowship with God, that brought this about. It was the penetrating and yet grace-filled influences of the light! Light will do what light must do. It will expose darkness and sin.
But for those in the realm of the light, this exposure is full of sweetness and grace. It is a sign of the precious fellowship we enjoy with our God. And what is this fellowship but the believer intimately sharing in the full light of God’s presence. You can’t want the fellowship and not want the exposure. You can’t separate God’s light from God’s love. A. W. Pink puts it this way: “Those who are born of God are as truly attracted unto Him as the babe is to its mother. If we be walking with God then His friendship is with us (Ps. 25:14) and our friendship is with Him. He opens His heart to us, and we open our hearts to Him. He sups with us, and we with Him (Rev 3:20).”
Let’s take a look at the second reality.
- Light Expiates
What does it mean to expiate? In Scripture, it is removal of guilt in light of the atonement. It is the picture of the high priest laying his hands on the head of the goat, symbolizing the transfer of sin’s penalty to the goat, then the goat is sent out into the wilderness never to be seen again.
As John tells us, “And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This is really good news. Yes, light will expose our remaining sin, but God does so with a purpose, and the purpose is entirely gracious. He will expose in His children what He will then purify and cleanse. John will say this again but in different words at the start of chapter 2: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2). Yes! Dear Christian, even when your sin is exposed, Jesus Christ is the expiation; He is the propitiation for your sins.
And in it all, you continue to walk in the light as He is in the light. In it all, you continue to commune with your God, because “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It is all of grace—there is so muchgrace for us!
So, when your brother or sister in the Lord confronts you about your sin, or when your spouse wants to graciously talk to you about an offense, or for the child, when your parents discipline you for your sin, learn to count it all joy. Rejoice in every sin exposed, knowing it is sin expiated.
We must change our thinking on this matter. We are far too often behaving like cowards hiding in a corner when we should be acting like beloved children in the beams of God’s light. Why isn’t there more confession among brothers and sisters in Christ? Why are we so concerned about outward appearances? Why do we erect emotional barriers around ourselves and not share the deeper parts of our experience?
It is fear. It is shame. It is guilt. It is distrust.
Well, confess these things, people of grace. Repent, you children of light. Bask in these glorious rays of light. Let them wash over your hurting soul today. Because for the Christian, sin exposed is sin expiated—100 percent of the time.
It has been said that Satan came Martin Luther with a long, black roll of his sins, so long it might have been able to wrap around the earth. To his archenemy Luther said, “Yes, I must own up to them all. But do you have any more?” So Satan went away for a time, then brought another longer roll. And Martin Luther said, “Yes, yes, I must own up to them all. But do you have any more?” The accuser of the brethren, being an expert at this business, soon supplied him with an even longer list of charges. The list was so long it seemed as if it ran on forever. Luther waited until there were no other charges to be cited, and then he cried aloud, “Write at the bottom of the whole account, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.’”
This is grace of sin exposed. This is the radical, unexplainable, mind-blowing nature of grace. It is grace that is greater than all our sin—God will both forgive and erase the stains! Will you be exposed at times? Yes! But will you then be washed and cleansed and purified and forgiven? YES! Ten thousand times YES! It is here that the dark blemishes in your life disappear!
Do not fear this exposure, church. It is God’s gracious means to bring you to humility and confession, for the great purpose that He can cleanse you from your sins. As David, in Psalm 139, declares,“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vv. 23–24).
Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of First John 1 & 2(Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace, 2001), 38.