A Message We Need to Hear: God Is Light
February 11, 2024

A Message We Need to Hear: God Is Light

Preacher:
Series:
Passage: 1 John:5-10

A Message from God

In verse 5, there are a couple things we really should clarify before we dig into the rest of the letter. Because when verse 5 says, “This is the message we have heard,” you may wonder – who is the we referring to? And when the text says “this is the message we have heard from him” who is the him?

Let me first explain who the we is. The author doesn’t explicitly tell us his identity in the opening verses of this letter, but there is broad consensus that the author is John, one of Jesus Christ’s closest disciples and one of the 12 apostles who were commissioned to establish the early church.

So that means that John is writing as someone who was personally acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth. He’s writing as someone who sat at Jesus’s feet during the Sermon on the Mount – as someone who saw Jesus heal the blind, as someone who was present at the crucifixion – as someone who touched and talked to Jesus after his resurrection from the dead.

And John isn’t just writing on his own behalf, about the experiences of one man. But if you go back to verses 1-4, John says he’s writing about something “WE” have heard – about something “WE” have seen and touched and so on. John is speaking on behalf of numerous people who were intimately familiar with Jesus. And John points out that this Jesus isn’t just a uniquely compassionate human being – this Jesus isn’t just a great moral teacher. Instead, Jesus is that which was from the beginning. Jesus is the word of life – the eternal life which was with the Father. Jesus shares in God’s eternality and self-existence, meaning that Jesus himself was and is God – God in the flesh.

And when we get to verse 5, John tells us, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you…” John is speaking on behalf of numerous companions and eyewitnesses who were close to Jesus, and he says, “We have heard a message from Him.” We have heard a message from God. And John tells us that this divine message is the message he’s about to proclaim here in his letter.

So what is this message from God? Over the verses that follow, John tells us. The message has three basic parts. Part 1: The Light of God, Part 2: The Lies of Mankind, and Part 3: How God Cleanses Our Unrighteousness.

The Light of God

We see Part 1, The Light of God, in the second half of verse 5. We read there “that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

So the first part of God’s message – the very first thing God wants us to know – is simply who he is. He wants us to know what he’s like.

And notice where this information is coming from. It’s coming from God. Though this information is coming through the apostle John – through a human messenger – it isn’t a human message. This message isn’t built on what I feel is true about God, or what someone thinks should be true about God – but God reveals to us the truth about himself. And this makes it infinitely more reliable than any ideas about God we would invent for ourselves. He gives us this message so we can truly know who He is, instead of having views about God that are built on blind speculation and wild guesses.

It’s worth noting, though, when the text here says “God is light,” this doesn’t literally mean that God is a beam of light. Instead, God has communicated in a way that brings things down to our level. He gives us a description we can wrap our minds around – related to something from the world around us – so we can better understand the divine being above and beyond us.

And this description is effective. I think we can all understand the basic point of this phrase, God is light. When it comes to God’s character and nature – God is true, complete, 100% brightness and cleanness and perfection. God is the sum of absolute rightness, which is to say – God is righteous in all his thoughts, all his affections, and all his ways. Darkness is totally absent.
There are no shadows in God – no dimly lit corners where evil monsters can hide – things like ignorance or malice or dishonesty. In God, there is no distortion of justice, no bondage to addiction, no attraction toward evil. There is no badness in God – only goodness.

Another analogy may be helpful here. If you were to go home right now and slide your kitchen stove away from the wall, what would you find behind it? Probably you’d find a good deal of dust, maybe small bits of food and streaks of grease – it’s not totally clean. And probably something similar could be said for many other parts of your house – under the refrigerator, under your bed, behind your toilet, in the back of your closets, in your basement, in your attic – we all have spaces somewhere in our home that are unclean.

But imagine a home where the whole house, top to bottom – even the chronically dirty places – are instead spotless – immaculate – clean enough to eat off of. This helps to describe the totality of God’s cleanness. He has no dingy spaces within his character. No deceit, no moral disease, no desires for anything other than righteousness. God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

More than this, though – God isn’t just fully righteous. He is also forever righteous. God is the unchanging essence of perfection. This refrain – that God is light – it was true before the foundations of the earth, it’s true today, and it’ll still be true 10 billion years from now. God is – presently, perpetually – light. He has no darkness, and he never will.

But why is it important for us to recognize that God is perfectly good, and just, and right? What difference does it make?

Well, for one thing, it should lead us into humble reverence. We do ourselves and our children a serious disservice if we have an overly casual attitude toward God. As a society, even as Christians – we have lost our amazement and awe concerning the perfections of God. You would expect a Sunday morning church service to be the time that people are most aware of God’s splendor – most impressed by His beauty. But so often when we wander into church on Sunday mornings, we find ourselves evaluating other people’s outfits, or thinking about the pot roast we have at home – and we miss the Sacred One in our midst. We serve a Holy God who is himself light. Let us be sure to treasure him and revere him.

This teaching that God is light should also lead us into humble reflection. Why would such a perfect, Holy God find human beings to be acceptable in his sight?
Compared to God, what are we? When you consider yourself, don’t you have faults in your character? Don’t you see gaps in your knowledge? You and I can mis-identify who we are and why we exist. We can get our moral compass messed up, calling good things evil and call evil things good. No one in this room is unchangeably pristine and perfect. All this to say, our human experience is plagued by darkness.

So we should humbly reflect. If God is light – how can darkness dwell in his presence? How could a Holy God relate to unholy creatures? What will the God of light do about our darkness?

The Lies of Mankind

Our text tells us how this is possible – and we’re going to unpack all that in a minute. But first, the text warns us against two errors. When people try to explain how God and man can be on friendly terms, they tend to believe one of two lies. Either they believe the lie that God is actually unrighteous, or they believe the lie that people are sufficiently righteous. One lie tries to bring God too low. The other lie tries to exalt mankind too high.

The Lie that God is Unrighteous.

So let’s deal with both. The first lie that people believe is the lie that God is unrighteous. I’m not saying here that these people think that God is evil, necessarily. But what I mean is that these people have difficulty accepting that God is committed to perfect justice. They figure that God is the sort of guy who bends his standard every once in a while – that God will let sinners into heaven by tolerating some of our wrongdoings or by pretending to look the other way – that God is flexible, permissive, and ultimately inconsistent.

And the people who think this way are identified in verse 6. These are people who say that they have fellowship with God, but they walk in darkness. When the text speaks of people who are walking in darkness, this is speaking of those who have an ungodly pattern of life. They aren’t holding up God’s Word as a lamp for their feet. They have no love for light. Yet in the midst of all this, these people claim to have fellowship and friendship with God. In other words, these people are claiming that corruption, idolatry, greed, arrogance, moral darkness – that none of these things are obstacles between humanity and God – that God is unbothered by evil. They’re claiming that God actually has warm-hearted fellowship with darkness.

And at first this might sound appealing – to have a lenient God – one who bends the rules for us – to have a God who turns the other direction whenever we have the urge to indulge ourselves. But in reality, this would be a nightmare.

If it were actually possible for God to shift one inch toward leniency, who’s to say that he wouldn’t move a mile? If he’s a God who ignores one immoral deed, what’s keeping him from overlooking one million? If God at any point changes to be anything other than perfectly true and righteous, He immediately becomes unreliable, unstable, unpredictable. If God bends under the influence of evil, then we are left with the hopeless realization that the king of the universe is secretly a crook, a corrupt judge, or possibly something far worse.

But we can’t possibly affirm that God is anything short of just and righteous, because of what we’ve already seen in verse 5. God is light, and in him there’s no darkness at all. God has nothing in himself that tolerates darkness – nothing in himself that’s sympathetic to darkness or that finds darkness desirable. It’s absurd to believe that light and darkness can inhabit the same space – that a righteous God would form an allegiance and friendship with someone committed to evil. It’s true, God enters into fellowship with sinners who he has rescued out of darkness. But God doesn’t have friendship with darkness because God is light.

But there’s one more issue with believing that someone in darkness can have fellowship with God. Because if someone is choosing to walk in darkness, it proves that they don’t want God’s light. To those who walk in darkness, God’s Word will seem irrelevant. His commands will feel burdensome. His promises will feel insignificant. His very existence and presence will seem inconvenient. We may want to say we have fellowship with God – either to please our parents, or to appease our guilty consciences – but we won’t actually want the real thing! Those who walk in darkness cannot have fellowship with God because they will not – they will refuse to.

God, and his perfect righteousness, will never change. We must reject the Lie that God is Unrighteous and instead affirm 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.

The Lie that People are Righteous.

But when people are confronted with the righteousness of God, there’s a second lie that people will sometimes believe. They believe the lie that people are righteous.
Verses 8 and 10 describe people who claim to be without sin. Which is to say – they claim that they’re absolutely righteous – or at the very least that they’re sufficiently righteous. But even though people may think they’re on track with God, the Bible here is clear: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make God to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

This lie, though, can take different forms.
Some people believe this lie because they have a distorted view of self. Though they find faults with all the people around them, they can’t see anything wrong with themselves. They always have an excuse – they always have some sort of explanation for why their anger, their gossip, or their social manipulation is warranted. They’re always the innocent victim, and never the guilty party.
Other people, though – their whole view of humanity, including themselves, may be distorted. They may believe that deep down, everyone is basically good. They might acknowledge that people aren’t perfect – that they sometimes make poor decisions – but at the end of the day they claim that everyone has a “good heart.”

You’ve probably heard something like this before. Someone’s talking about their nephew – that he’s been messing around getting his girlfriend pregnant, he’s been in and out of jail for possessing drugs, he can’t hold a job, he has a quick temper and rebels against authority – BUT, this person will say, He’s a good kid. Deep down he has a good heart.

But – bear with me a minute – maybe this nephew has made these bad decisions because he has bad desires – not because he has a good heart, but because he has a bad heart. This is what the Bible teaches. In Luke 6:45, Jesus teaches that bad hearts will produce bad actions. But we aren’t just pointing a finger to a select group of people outside the church who have made their lives look like train wrecks. Scripture asserts that no one’s heart is naturally good – Romans 3:10 laments that none is righteous; no, not one. This is precisely why we all have moral failings. That’s the reason why kids invent new ways of hurting their siblings – that’s why children need to be taught to be honest and gentle and kind. That’s why ungodly ideas and desires rise into our minds uninvited. It’s because our hearts aren’t righteous as God is righteous – we have all missed God’s mark.

But some of you may still object – sure, maybe I’ve made a couple mistakes here and there – but those things shouldn’t disqualify me. God couldn’t possibly expect people to be perfect – that would be unreasonable!
But when you make an argument like this, do you see what you’re doing? You’re claiming that a God who insists on perfect rightness is in the wrong. You’re refusing to take the blame for missing His mark, and instead you’re blaming God. You’re suggesting that if you don’t measure up to the standard of Scripture, it’s God’s fault – not yours.

But friend, the Bible says this is a lie. You, and I, and everybody on the face of the earth – the sin problem that separates humanity from God is a real problem. And it’s something we can’t wish away – it’s not something we ourselves can erase from our life history. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make God to be a liar and his word is not in us.

How God Cleans Our Unrighteousness

So when we’re confronted with the righteousness of God, AND our own unrighteousness, what can we do? Where does that leave us? How can human beings like us be acceptable to a God of light?

The problem is too big for us to fix. We need nothing less than a miraculous work of God’s intervention. We need the God of light to rescue us from our lies and lusts and lewdness. We need God to make us clean. And this is the 3rd part of God’s great message: We see here How God Cleans Our Unrighteousness.

Notice in our text – there’s one place we can go to be cleansed from our unrighteousness. We can go to God. We are cleansed, specifically, by the person and work of God the Son. Verse 7: the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. And verse 9 tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So the way we’re set right with God – it’s not something we earn, or something we can brag about. God gives us this new status through His Son, Jesus Christ – through Christ alone.

Let me point out briefly here, our focus here shouldn’t be on the act of confessing. It’s important to confess our moral bankruptcy, our guilt under God’s law, and our powerlessness to save ourselves. But confessing these things – to God, to a priest, or to whoever – the act of confessing isn’t what makes us clean. Confessing is simply our admission that we need cleansing! What we need is Jesus! We need Jesus Christ to wash us. We are made clean by His work, not our own. When we receive Him, we receive his righteousness.

Yet you’ll notice that John doesn’t stop there. Because John recognizes that some people walking in darkness will still claim “I have received Jesus! I love God! I’m a Christian!” But there won’t be any change in that person’s life. John is very concerned here about what we say we believe – but he wants to make sure that our faith in Jesus isn’t just a bald statement. Those who have come to the light, through faith in Jesus, will walk in the light.

This is why verse 7 says, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with God, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” John acknowledges that right faith will produce right practice. It’s impossible, in John’s mind, that someone who’s continually strutting around in the darkness could legitimately have fellowship with God and cleansing through the blood of Jesus.

As evangelical Christians, committed to the gospel of free grace, we must insist that we’re made righteous through faith alone in Christ alone. But that real faith in Christ, which alone is the basis for our righteousness doesn’t remain alone. When faith takes root in our hearts, it will star to become visible in our priorities, our passions, and our actions.

We should never come to the conclusion that God doesn’t care how we live. The Bible makes it clear that we’re saved from darkness so that we’d no longer wallow in darkness. He calls us “to walk in the light as he is in the light.” And this means that he wants us to live, not according to the standard of light that seems best to us, but according to God’s standard of light. We have been cleansed from unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus so that we would love righteousness more, not less! – so that we would practice goodness and mercy more, not less!

Those who walk in the light, as God is in the light, show that their hearts have been touched by the nail-pierced hands of Christ. Those who walk in the light show they’ve ended their allegiance with darkness. Those who walk in the light show they have real fellowship with God. The cleansing work of a righteous God doesn’t just change our words. This cleansing really will, day by day, little by little, have an affect on our whole lives – the Spirit will help us set aside our old self of unrighteousness in order to embrace a new life in Christ and His righteousness.

God Is Light

This is a message we need to hear. Because, as R.C. Sproul once said, “The human dilemma is this: God is holy, and we are not. God is righteous, and we are not.” We need to reckon with the fact that one day, every man, woman, and child will stand before the Glorious White Throne of heaven and will face the Great Judge. He is absolute pure, perfect light. In him there is no darkness at all. And we will either come into his presence polluted by darkness and corruption, or we will be come before Him cleansed by the blood of His Son, clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Let me plead with you all – and these words are directed back at me, too; I’m pleading with myself – Don’t be complacent with darkness. Don’t make it a routine to watch it, to be fascinated by it. Don’t celebrate it. Don’t chase it. But how will we do that? We’ll do this by lifting our eyes, and setting our hearts on the radiance of God. Because if God opens our eyes to see His glory and greatness and goodness – far better than all other pursuits or pleasures – we won’t want darkness anymore.

In fact, our response will likely be like John’s response. We won’t just want to enjoy God for ourselves. But we’ll want to proclaim it to others – we’ll want to proclaim a message much like this one: that the God of light has acted to save us from our darkness. This is a message we need to hear – but this isn’t just a message for you and me, but it’s a message for your co-worker, for your roommate, for your cousin, for your neighbor. It’s a message for people of every race, every caste, every nation, every language, every income-level, every educational background – you can have peace with a God of perfect light, because Jesus has died to purchase our forgiveness, and to cleanse us of our darkness.

This message is from God. It is trustworthy. It is valuable. It is important. Whether you’ve heard it a thousand times, or are hearing it for the first time, let’s pray that God would use His Word to draw us into closer fellowship with Him.

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