What do you immediately think of when you hear, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all?” (1 John 1:5, ESV). I think of a partially cloudy day with fast moving clouds so the light of the sun is intermittently blocked, like a kid playing with a light switch. However you imagined it, I’m sure that we have all noticed this light and dark contrast in the real world. It’s really quite a simple metaphor, but it can be profoundly revealing when applied to our lives.
First, it’s important to understand the structure of the metaphor because our understanding will determine how the next few verses are read. As we have seen, the contrast is between light and dark which has a few physical properties to note: darkness exists in the absence of light; light and dark cannot coexist; light actively evaporates darkness. Now “God is light” means the attributes, actions, and words of God are included—all of God must be in the light, for “in him is no darkness at all.” So think of things like his holiness, justice, compassion and love, wisdom, law, and blessings.
Then what is darkness?
If “God is light,” then God cannot be darkness, nor can any whole or true part of God. Things that look like God can be in darkness, so mutated parts of his character, creation, and promises could be in darkness. In other words, anything that is not perfectly following, honoring, serving, or worshiping God is in darkness—this is regularly known as sin.
But we should be clear of two things before we proceed. Firstly, God isn’t just in the light like a sunflower in a vase standing under a lamp. He is the light. He is the illuminator. There is nothing that illuminates God and he is the one that shines into the darkness. Secondly, there is no darkness in God, not even a little. He is perfect perfection, pure purity, and he is the reference for all other things. Hence, he reveals impurities truly while nothing else can, for all else is tinged with darkness.
Now, consider verses six and seven:
“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” (1 John 1:6-7).
Using his metaphor, John quickly addresses hypocrisy among believers and the blessings given to believers. The hypocrisy is in trying to live in the light and the darkness at the same time. A man who stands under a patchy tree might receive some light, but the mottled light will reveal that he is hiding in the shade rather than seeking full exposure in the sun. A woman leaning out from an awning will be brilliantly lit, however, it will be obvious that half of her remains under the dark awning. So it is true for me and you: if we decide to love our sin while trying to walk in the ways of the Lord, his ways will only make our sin more apparent.
And this terrible revelation has a compounding effect, as if the original sin was not enough, for it shows us to be liars as well. His holiness reveals the original sin and our defiance in worshiping it as an idol instead of him. If we are Christians, then we worship God and God alone; that is how the Lord commands and rightly deserves to be served. When we begin to worship anything else, we renege on our faithful covenant with God and we “do not practice the truth.”
What happens when a person makes a habit of not practicing truth? The phrase in verse six can also refer to the natural order that God created in his wisdom, which is perfect in case I missed mentioning that. So, what happens when a person rejects the natural order? Or, if you happen to disagree with me about God or a created natural order, then what if a person habitually rejects the accepted order, such as morality, ethics, justice, knowledge etc?
A lot happens. Too much to mention in detail here, but I’m sure you can think of personal acquaintances, friends, or family members who have dabbled in the darkness. I’ll let that and the news, historical accounts, and biographies demonstrate what “a lot” means.
But what happens if we step out from under the patchy tree and the awning? Are you afraid to have all of yourself known by the light? It’s frightening for me to see my depravity and then for the righteous judge to see all of it as well.
Lo, behold! Bask! Bathe in the merciful light of the Lord! Rather than destroying us “Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” and sets us free from the darkness, if we repent and believe in him. He does not cast us away—he brings us into intimate fellowship with himself through the Holy Spirit and with one another in the spiritual family of Christ.