1 John 1:5-2:6

This study was led by Larry Reynolds in the Spring of 2008.

Denton, TX



Throughout this section, the Christian life is described as a life of fellowship—fellowship with other believers that is rooted in our fellowship with God.  We saw in the previous session the idea of fellowship introduced in 1 John 1:3 where the word “koinonia” is used twice.  In the section of 1 John on which we are focusing in this session, the word is again used twice, once in 1 John 1:6 and once in 1 John 1:7.  Also in this section are several other phrases which carry much the same idea as fellowship, such as “know Him” (2:3), “in Him” (2:5), and “abides in Him” (2:6).

In 1:3, John explained the reason he and the other Apostles proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus was so that those who heard could enter “fellowship” with each other, a fellowship that is based on fellowship “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  In 1:5 – 2:6, John elaborates on the basis of the fellowship believers have with each other as a result of their union with Christ.

The concept of fellowship is a key New Testament concept.  Over the centuries the church has so watered down the concept that it has almost lost its meaning.  When we hear the word “fellowship” we tend to think of some function/event or we think of a feeling of warmth/affection toward some other person.  But fellowship in the biblical sense is a much deeper concept.  It means to be bound together by a common experience.  The common experience with binds believers together is their union with Christ.  Because we have the same spiritual “Father” we are by nature bound together in a spiritual family.

1 John 1:5 – 2:6 tell us that genuine Christian fellowship is:

·         Based on the character of God (1:5-10)

·         Achieved by the work of Christ (2:1-2)

·         Evidenced by our obedience (2:3-6)


1:5-10 – GENUINE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP IS BASED ON THE CHARACTER OF GOD - The character of God necessarily determines the type of fellowship we have with Him.  Therefore, John begins this section about fellowship with a profound statement about the character of God.  The statement is in 1:5.  In 1:6-10, John draws three conclusions based on this statement, each beginning with the phrase “…if we say…” (1:6, 8, 10).

A Statement about God’s character (1:5) – “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there no darkness at all.

·         Origin of the statement (“…we have heard from Him…”) – “Him” refers to Jesus, who is the subject of the preceding verses.  Truth about God is revealed by Jesus.  Reminiscent of John 1:18 – “No man has seen God at anytime; the only begotten God (or Son), who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

·         Reporting of the statement (“…announce to you…”) – The word “announce” is used several times in the New Testament.  It is sometimes translated declare or announce or tell.  The word was used in ancient times to describe especially authoritative announcements.  Secular writers used it to describe the proclamations of kings or envoys from kings.  It is not an announcement one would want to ignore.  The use of this word suggests the seriousness and the sense of authority with which John was speaking.

·         Content of the statement (“…God is light, and in Him there is not darkness at all…”)

o   The statement is very emphatic as indicated by:

§  The order of the words … “Light God is…”

§  The contrast … “…in Him there is no darkness…”

§  The use of a double negative … “…no darkness, not in any way…”

o   The meaning of the statement (three interpretations)

§  May refer to the majesty, splendor, and glory of God.  Light is often used as a symbol of those ideas. 

§  May refer to the moral perfection of god.  John Calvin – “There is nothing in Him but what is bright, pure, and unalloyed.”  Consistent with the symbolic moral significance the bible often assigns to light and darkness.  (cf. Isaiah 5:20; Ephesians 5:8ff)

§  May refer to the fact that God reveals Himself.  Just as it is the nature of light to shine and make things known, it is the nature of God to reveal Himself.  God is always seeking to make Himself known to His creation.  This may have been a specific word aimed at the Gnostics who were teaching that God reveals Himself to only a select few people.

While there is an element of truth in each of these interpretations, I think the third is the most comprehensive.  It is through God’s self-revelation that we know of His majesty and moral perfection.


Three conclusions based on the statement “God is light…” (1:6-10) – Three times in this section John uses the phrase “…if we say…” (vv.6, 8, 10).  Each time that phrases introduces a false assertion being made by the Gnostic teachers who had infected the 1st century church.

1.      Sin does not in any way impact our fellowship with God.  (1:6-7 - “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” )  One argument made by the false teachers is that one could sin in the physical realm of life without impacting the spiritual realm.  After all, to their way of thinking, the physical world was necessarily evil and only the spiritual dimension was good.  The inevitable conclusion to that kind of thinking is that it does not matter what one does in the physical realm.  John says it does matter and it matter greatly. 

a.       Verse 6 states the conclusion in negative form

“…walk in darkness…”“Walk” is used in Scripture to denote one’s manner of life (cf. Eph. 4:1; Colossians 1:10).  The verb is present tense meaning “to habitually, continually walk…”   To “…walk in darkness…” is to walk outside of the light of God or to walk in sin.

“…we lie and do not practice the truth…” – Both our words and our lives are lies.

b.      Verse 7 states the conclusion in positive form

“…we have fellowship with one another…” – Can mean fellowship between a believer and God or fellowship between a believer and another believer.  Probably means both because those two things go hand in hand.

“...the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin…” – The verb “cleanses” is present tense stressing continuous action.  His sacrificial death continues paying the price for all our sin—past, present, and future.  “All sin” carries the idea of every kind of sin.  The condition for this on-going forgiveness is revealed in verse 9.

      So, the first of the three false assertions that John discredits is that a life on continuous, habitual sin does not affect our relationship with God.  John says it certainly does.  We cannot live in fellowship with God while we habitually walk in the darkness.

2.      Sin is not part of the nature of Christians.  (1:8-9 – “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”) – The first false assertion denied that sin impacts ones relationship with God.  The second false assertion goes a step further, claiming that sin is non-existent as far as Christians are concerned.  This may be a reference to the Gnostic teaching that those who were initiated into the secrets of their system had no need for forgiveness.

“…no sin…” – A reference to our sin nature or tendency to sin rather than specific acts of sin.

“…we deceive ourselves…” – Literally, “we lead ourselves astray.”  John is saying that a lack of awareness of our personal sin is in itself a serious defect.  The closer we are to the light of God, the more conscious we become of our sinfulness. (cf. Psalm 51:3-4; Matt. 5:3-4; 1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 7:14-25)

”…the truth is not in us…” – Truth could be a reference to Christ (cf. John 14:6) but is probably a reference to the gospel.  “…in us…” is a reminder that the truth can be all around us, but if we fail to see our sin problem, we miss the truth.

Verse 9 presents the other side of the matter.  “If we confess (say same thing or agree with) our (often we are better at confessing the sins of others than our own!) sins (all of them…one by one with no attempt to conceal or deny)…God will do two things:

“…forgive us our sins…” – Means He removes our guilt.

“…cleanse us from all unrighteousness…” – He restores us to full relationship with Him.

All this is based on God’s “faithfulness” (He can be counted on to do what He says He will do) and “righteousness” (Our forgiveness is not dependent of our worthiness to be forgiven but on God’s desire to forgive which arises from His righteous character.)

3.      Christians do not sin. (1:10 – “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”) – One could theoretically agree that sin affects our relationship with God and that sin exists as a principle within nature, and then deny that he has actually ever committed a sin.  There is a definite downward regression in these false assertions.  That can be seen in their consequences.  From “we lie” (v.6) to “we deceive ourselves” (v.8) to “we make Him a liar” (v.10).

“…have not sinned…” – The verb is in the perfect tense suggesting the speaker never has committed an act of sin.  Such a claim makes God a liar because His entire redemptive plan is based on the fact of human sin.

“…His word is not in us…” – Could be a reference to Jesus as the Word or the gospel.  Either way the meaning is essentially the same.  The heart of such a person has not been transformed by Christ.


2:1-2 – GENUINE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP IS ACHIEVED BY THE WORK OF CHRIST – (“My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin.  If anyone sins, e have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those fo the whole world.”) Fellowship with God is impossible apart from the advocacy of Christ.  He is the one who makes it possible for us to enter fellowship with God and He is the one who makes it possible for us to maintain fellowship with God.

“My little children…” – This expression is used seven times in 1 John.  It is a term of affection and supports the tradition that John was an aged man when he wrote this letter.

“…these things…” – While could mean the entire letter, probably refers specifically to the preceding verses.

“…that you may not sin…”- The purpose of John’s writing about confession and forgiveness was not to condone sin but to discourage it.

“…if anyone sins…” – Implies an act of sin, not a continuous state of sin.  In 1 John 3:6 and 3:9 John says that real Christians do not live in a continuous state of sin.

“…we have an Advocate…” – The word for advocate is “parakletos.”  It is the same word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit in John 14.  An advocate is one who is called to another’s side plead his case or offer his defense against a charge.  As our advocate, Christ does not plead that we are innocent.  He acknowledges our guilt and presents His work on our behalf as the ground for our acquittal.  Four things are said here about the fitness of Christ to be our advocate:

1.      His relation to God.  “…with the Father…” implies a personal, intimate, face to face relationship between Christ and God.  No-one is in a better position to plead our case.

2.      His relation to us.  “Jesus” calls attention to His humanity.  Because He has experienced what we experience, He can plead our case with full knowledge and deep sympathy.

3.      His personal sinlessness.  He is “…the righteous…” who needs no advocate for Himself.  He has full and free access to the Father.

4.      His personal sacrifice for our sins.   He is “…the propitiation for our sins…”  The righteous side of God’s nature does not allow our sin to be ignored.  The loving side of God’s nature moved Him to provide the sacrifice for sins.  It is because of the sacrificial death of Jesus that we can have our sins forgiven.  “…for those of the whole world…” is not teaching universalism, the belief that everyone is automatically forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice.  He is actually the propitiation for the sins of believers and is potentially the propitiation for everyone who has yet to believe.


2:3-6 – GENUINE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP IS EVIDENCED BY OUR OBEDIENCE – There can be no meaningful fellowship with God apart from obedience to God.  Fellowship with God always expresses itself in obedience.  While the word “obey” is not used in these verses, the whole passage is a beautiful description of what it means to live a life of obedience to God.  Obedience means to:

1.      Keep God’s commandments (2:3-4 – “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…”) – These verses tell us that we can know God, that we can know that we know God, and the way we know that we know God is through obedience to His commandments.

“keep his commandments” – This means to be conformed the will of God both in outward conduct and inward disposition.  “Commandments” is one of John’s favorite words, used no less than fourteen times in this letter.  While it is a general word for all of God’s revealed will, John often uses it to refer specifically to the commandment to love one another.

Verse 4 is a negative way of stating the positive truth of verse 3.  This is an allusion to the Gnostic teachers who taught that obedience is irrelevant to knowledge of God.

2.      Keep God’s word (2:5a – “…but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.”)

“His word” carries about the same idea as “his commandments”

“the love of God” can mean our love for God, God’s love for us, or a God-kind of love.

“has been perfected” – Does not mean that our love for God is made perfect in the sense of being without flaw.  The word “perfected” carries the idea of completed or bringing a thing to its proper end.  The idea is that when a person keeps God’s word, love has achieved its proper end.  This is what Jesus meant when He said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

3.      Walk as Jesus walked (2:5b-6 – “By this we know that we are in Him; the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”) – This statement is basically a reiteration of this entire section of 1 John.

“abides” – Notice the progression in these verses from “knowing” God (v.3) to being “in” God (v.5) to “abiding” in God (v.6)

“walk in the same manner as He walked” means to live as Jesus lived—a life of love, holiness, service, unselfishness, forgiveness, dependence on God, etc.