Why We Must “Walk in the Light, as He Is in the Light”

Author of Someplace to Be Somebody
Why We Must “Walk in the Light, as He Is in the Light”

Bible study is more than just reading a passage and quickly pondering it. Bible study involves hermeneutics (the art and science of biblical interpretation), and its first rule is context, context, context. When we study Bible passages correctly, they will become clearer to us as we observe the context and follow all the correct rules of interpretation.

1 John 1:7 reads, “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.” 

What does this verse mean?

What Is the Context of 1 John 1:7?

Biblical scholars have always agreed on John as the uncontested author of this general epistle. It is likely John wrote the epistle from Ephesus later in his life, sometime in the 90s AD, as substantiated by early church fathers. His tone is one of an aged father speaking to his children (1 John 2:1, 18, 28). His audience is not directly addressed in the letter, but theologians have concluded he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor.

John starts his letter by sharing his credentials. The churches throughout Asia Minor knew John as a church leader who walked with Jesus as one of His inner circle (along with James and Peter). John saw, heard, and touched the Lord Jesus. He was a direct witness to all Jesus did and taught. His position as an Apostle — appointed by the Master Himself (Jesus) — was never questioned, therefore he has authority to direct and correct the churches under his leadership (v. 1). John points his readers to Christ, though, and not himself.

John testified to the eternal life brought by God and made manifest in the Lord Jesus (v.2). He then underscores the desire of the Apostles to share what they know with the churches, thereby establishing fellowship between them and the Father and the Son (v. 3). He seeks to promote joy by bringing this news to the churches (v. 4).

In verse 5, John launches into his discourse about God being light and how no darkness resides in Him. In verse 6, he posits the truth that a lifestyle of unrepentant sin is walking in darkness and is opposed to the light of Christ.

Why is John addressing the church this way? False teachers had just about overrun the church in Asia Minor with lies denying Jesus’ incarnation, boasting of mystical experiences, and claiming perfection (being sinless). John’s aim is to focus the church back on Christ and to the essentials of their faith. The false teachers were promoting Gnosticism, a belief which asserts matter is evil and spirit is good, hence their attack on Christ’s incarnation (remember verse 1, where John speaks of how he interacted with Christ in bodily form).

The ESV Study Bible tells us the general theme of 1 John 1 is to, “call readers back to the three basics of Christian life: true doctrine, obedient living, and faithful devotion.” Because "God is light," Christ's followers overcome wicked people who oppose them (1:5).

So What Does This Verse Mean?

John began this section of chapter one (vv. 5-10) speaking of God being light, with no darkness in Him at all (v. 5). He then gives a bold contrast to walking in the light, “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

A look at some passages referring to darkness will give us a greater understanding of the depth of darkness in which the world walks. Perhaps the strongest condemnation of darkness is found in Ephesians 5:8-9, which reads, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” It’s one thing to be in darkness, but Ephesians 5:8 says we were darkness.

What emanates from darkness? Darkness.

Immediately before this passage is a list of the evils that befall those who walk in darkness: “sexual immorality, covetousness, impurity, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking.” The wrath of God is coming upon those who practice such things, and believers are told, “do not become partners with them” (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Let’s look at the positive statements from Scripture:

John 1:5 states Jesus (who is the Way and the Truth and the Life) shines in the darkness of the world, and the dark world will never overcome (defeat) Him.

Jesus said in John 8:12, He is the light of the world and His followers will never more walk in darkness and will always have the light of life.

Because of Jesus, those who believe in Him will not stay in darkness (John 12:46).

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

Darkness is evil and brings even more evil:

In Acts 26:18, darkness is called the power of Satan.

“If our eyes are healthy, we are full of light, yet when the lamp of our eyes is bad, we are full of darkness” (Luke 11:34-35). We are to take care lest we fall into darkness.

1 John 2 offers some sober warnings:

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (1 John 2:9).

“But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).

Called to Light

Now that we have a more thorough look at the contrast between light (Jesus’ kingdom) and darkness (Satan’s world), we can grasp the weight of John’s burden for the church to whom he is writing. False teachers dwell in darkness. As believers in Christ, we are called to live in and be light.

Look again: the first part of the verse reads, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” In its context, to walk refers to the state of a person’s life. When we walk in something, we willingly take an active part in it. And, if we walk with someone, we walk according to who that person is — bringing our life in lock step with that person’s character. Walking with (in subjection to) God, Who is light (v. 5), means matching our lives with His (as much as He allows). When we align the state of our lives (our hearts) with God, we have fellowship with Him and with other believers.

John then begins verse 7 with if, a small but important conjunction which introduces a conditional clause. “If we walk in the light.” This means we have a choice. The church John is addressing had members who were walking in something other than the light. The light is that which John explained in verse 5. God is light; therefore, Jesus is light.

The fellowship we believers enjoy is not only with the church, but John explains here our fellowship is also with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The fellowship of the church naturally branches out of our fellowship with Christ.

The second part of the verse states, “and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” A clear truth from this verse is that we sin, otherwise we would not need cleansing. We read earlier the false teachers claimed they no longer sinned. Verse 8 rebukes that notion, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

The blood, of course, refers to Jesus’ atoning work on the cross (Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:9). As people who have surrendered to Jesus in repentance and faith, we are His, we are Christians. And though we still sin, He has made a way for our forgiveness.

Verse 9 is a well-known truth that if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. Verse 10 underscores the truth and further refutes the false teachers, “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” False teachers are therefore called what they truly are, unbelievers who are not part of His light and life. They will be held “for punishment on the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2). As believers we will continue to sin until we are glorified, and the Lord brings forgiveness. But the willful and unrepentant sin of unbelievers will bring condemnation.

What Does It Practically Mean to Walk in the Light, as He Is in the Light?

When we want to know and emulate someone, we spend as much time as possible with them. How much more should we take time to read and study God’s Word, for knowing His Word means knowing God. 

In the light of our position as Christians, we are to:

- Love, trust, and obey God.

- Know the Scriptures by reading, studying, and meditating upon what Holy Spirit brings to light.

- Pray for our walk with Him.

- Fellowship with other believers.

- Keep close accounts with Him by recognizing sin, confessing it to Him, and asking Him for forgiveness.

- Likewise, be unified with the body of believers.

Ligonier Ministries adds this about 1 John 1:7, “This is just another way of reiterating the need for Christians to live the holy lives we read about in James 2:14–26, 1 Peter 1:14–16, and 2 Peter 1:3–7. Scripture views truth not only as an intellectual exercise but also as that which affects our actions. This of course finds its fullest expression in Jesus who is Himself truth” (John 14:6).

We know the truth and we live it out; our volition is based upon the truth that resides within each of us. Because we believe God, we live as we learn how He desires us to live — as, “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).

Sin still has an effect on our relationship with God, and we do well to remember the conditions God sets in His Word. As we seek to live holy lives, we know Christ’s blood has cleansed us from all our sin. It is His doing; we are to stay rooted in that and worship Him with everything we are. As you strive to walk in Christ, remember our Lord’s words, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Amen!

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/baona

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.