In these verses John provides the practical conclusion of his light and dark metaphor from the preceding verses. He is arguing that a follower of Christ must be honest about their sin and reminds them their only hope is the redemptive death of Christ. The principle here is to maintain faith with integrity, for by so doing we also avoid a terrible trap of sin.
Let’s look at the structure of the passage first, because the mirrored sentence structure may help us understand John’s perspective of sin. Here is the metaphor that John builds:
“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)
After stating his metaphor, John repeats his sentences while swapping out a few words:
“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.” (1 John 1:8-9)
So, if we say we [have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness/have no sin], [we lie/we deceive ourselves], and [do not practice the truth/the truth is not in us]. Just as light cannot mix with darkness, God cannot mix with sin. And since we are trying to live with God, are we doing so with integrity? Or are we harboring a self-serving sin?
Are you hiding sin and trying to faithfully follow God? I am. Working through that conflict of my interests is the most torturous part of my life, because I hate that I am a hypocrite. I earnestly desire to love my Lord and my God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength; yet, I retain some precious pocket sins for my pleasure or protection. Of course, it is my compromised feelings and judgement which cause me to think those sins give me pleasure or protection. Those faculties are compromised by my sin—go figure!
Sin is a problem, but it is no longer the main problem that we face, for God has paid for sin and conquered death. He knows our sin and accounted for our inability to defeat it through the life and death of Jesus. In him the penalty of sin was defeated—death was overcome by Christ. So the issue isn’t that we sin, it’s how we react to the reality of our sin.
Once we recognize our sinful nature, we are left with two choices: turn to God for forgiveness and cleansing, or imply that God is a liar by redefining or justifying our sinful nature. God, in all his glory and righteousness, defines what sin is and according to his word, all people have inherited our sinful nature. Hence, by saying “we have not sinned,” we claim to believe that God is not true and has been a liar.
However, is it not wonderfully comforting that Jesus, the Son of God, is willing and able to forgive us our sins? Is it not assuring that John is not just giving us platitudes? John writes having experienced the physical and breathing Christ, the Christ that walked on water, calmed the storm, healed the physically infirm, healed the spiritually tormented, and forgave sins. That same Christ, who acted in love rather than giving pleasant-sounding aphorisms, is prepared to forgive our sins while sitting at the right hand of God. He, being eternal and tireless, is waiting for our confession for he earnestly desires that we would rest upon him.
He has done all the work for us, so that we are left to decide whether or not to confess our sin. Hallelujah! for I am not responsible for fulfilling all the precepts of God’s law, nor must I present an appropriate sacrifice before I approach God: Christ did both of those things perfectly, for all people. He is even faithful to reveal the condition of our hearts through the Holy Spirit and our conscience. We are now left with a simple decision: do I confess my sin, or attempt to hide it? Thank Him above for making it easy and clear! Thank Him above for providing an escape from the slavery of hiding sin—for there can be no doubt, that is a full-time job of deception, which gives no benefits and bears no good fruit.