How does the gospel help us walk in the light? In 1 John 1, there are three things related to walking in the light: confession, honesty, and cleansing. I want to consider briefly how the gospel enables these three things.
How the gospel helps me to be honest about myself
Instead of denying the reality of sin, in general or our sins in particular, John exhorts us to bring things into the light by confessing our sins. That sounds good in theory, but it is hard to do in practice. We don’t want to risk the rejection or condemnation that may come if people know the truth about our failures, fears, selfishness, and the like. We think that keeping up a good front will ensure that people accept and like us.
The problem is that, if you are hiding something, if you have secrets, you will actually have a hard time receiving love. You will second-guess people’s love. You will think to yourself, “If they knew the real me they wouldn’t love me.” It will be impossible to love you if you are hiding the true you.
The gospel frees me from the fear of rejection and gives me the courage to confess my sins. God knows the real me and still loves me. If I have God’s love and acceptance, then I can take the risk with others. Their rejection does not change my standing with God. And, besides that, it’s really not a risk at all. All I stand to lose is a fake relationship. The only way I can have real relationship with them is if they know the real me.
How the gospel helps me to speak truth about others
Have you ever felt like someone thought something about you, but you don’t really know because they didn’t say it? And haven’t you been on the other end of that, withholding your thoughts from others? Have you ever made assumptions about another person, and then built a whole system of beliefs about that person, without ever clarifying or confirming your assumption? All of this is a form of withholding truth from others (good and bad).
On one hand, there are things in other people’s lives that we see, things that are holding them back in their growth. Even though we see these things, we often do not say anything. Often what is happening here is we don’t want to hurt their feelings, but not to say something because of how it may make the other person feel is really not about what is best for them. That’s about my desire for comfort. This ultimately stunts their growth and ours. They do not get to deal with the truth about them and turn to Jesus in their need. We do not turn to Jesus for strength and wisdom to tell the truth.
The gospel empowers me to speak the truth in love to others. Because God has loved me enough to tell me the truth about my sin – he did not let me go on thinking I was good enough – I can love others enough to help them see their sin as well.
On the other hand, it’s not just that we withhold truth about the bad things. We also withhold truth about the good things we see in others. Sometimes we withhold encouragement because we don’t want them to think everything else in their life is okay. For instance, if I observe that you are inconsiderate to others, I want justice in the form of a confession or apology or something. But then lets say you have great administrative gifts that help good initiatives move forward. Even though I want to encourage that good thing, I may not because I am holding onto a desire for justice in that other area of your life. I don’t want you to think that you are all good just because you are good in this one thing. I would rather you think you are all bad, I guess. The gospel frees me from this kind of nonsense. I am simultaneously doing good and bad in my walk with God, but God does not withhold his blessing from me until I am all good. His mercy and patience toward me frees me to encourage others. Sometimes we withhold encouragement because we are jealous. The gospel sets me free from this as well. Because God has gifted all of us uniquely, not because we deserve it but solely because of his grace, I am free from comparison and competitiveness.
How the gospel cleanses me of my sin
John says that when we walk in the light, “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (7), and “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (9). Forgiveness is the removal of guilt attached to sin. Cleansing is the removal of sinful desires. That is, I am progressively becoming more the kind of person God wants me to be, and I am experiencing real reconciliation and growth in my relationships. How does this work?
If I am sick, staying at home does me no good, but if I place myself on the surgeon’s table, then he can operate. When we bring our lives into the light, we place ourselves in the realm of God’s activity. Just by doing that we open ourselves up to the healing, changing, maturing power of God.
The longer things stay in the dark, the more deceived we become about them. When we are alone with our thoughts and sin, Satan starts planting thoughts in our head about how we are not good enough, how other people don’t like us, and how it’s just not worth it. He lies and distorts the way we perceive reality. But when we walk in the light, we experience truth and grace in the midst of our sin – from God and others – and it changes us.
If we want deep friendships, if we want a meaningful community, we have to walk in the light with each other. The power to do that is found only in the gospel.