“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Sometimes you come across something in the Scriptures that, if you think about it very hard, can make you break out in a cold sweat. It doesn’t happen so often as to make you read with armor on, but you’ve still got to watch out for it. This is one of those places.
John, who was Jesus’ best friend during His time on earth, who knew Him better than anybody save perhaps His mom, and was one of the guys who was in His most immediate inner circle, says that if we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in darkness, we’re not telling the truth.
First of all, what does this mean? Well, the uncomfortable truth is that it means just what it says. Okay, but what does it mean to walk in darkness? These are folks who have some ongoing, unrepentant sin in their lives and who are not making any efforts to change that.
That makes some sense. Those kinds of folks would be raging hypocrites and nobody was so hard on hypocrisy as Jesus was. He was clear, as John is here, that hypocrites like this don’t have any place with Him. Like I said, if you really understand this, it should make you exceedingly nervous. Nobody wants to find themselves in a place where Jesus says they don’t have anything to do with Him. Reading this should make you stop for at least a second and ask: Could this be me?
Now, folks will react to this in a few different ways. The first is to cheer John on loudly. Right on, John! The church is full of hypocrites and none of them are really following Jesus. The whole thing is just a sham! I understand this instinct, but it is off base. Not nearly every one who sins in the church is this kind of a hypocrite, whose claims of fellowship with Jesus are a sham. Sin is never okay for believers in even the remotest sense, but occasional sin for which we quickly repent and work to remove with the Spirit and the body, or even a pattern of sin that we don’t understand as sinful, but which once we do, we immediately take steps to eliminate from our lives are not the kind of thing John has in mind here.
The second reaction is to turn inward with self doubt and fear that every sin we commit is a sign that we don’t really have the relationship with Jesus we thought we did. Again, sin is never okay for believers, but grace is grace for a reason. If we’re thinking in these terms, we’re nowhere near the place John is describing. This thinking can lead to an equal, but opposite error in which we become paralyzed by fear and doubt and become just as ineffective at advancing the kingdom as the raging hypocrite is.
Instead, John here has in mind folks like the leaders of the Catholic Church and now, as has been revealed more recently, the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church, who either actively perpetrated or else allowed and even facilitated the sexual abuse of thousands of children over several decades and can be blamed as a huge reason so much of the culture doesn’t trust or even like the church. These abusers in particular, but even some of their enablers, may claim fellowship with Jesus, but their pattern of walking in darkness puts the lie to their words. They are a huge mark of shame on the modern church whose dark cloud we will be working to clear for a generation or more.
The point of all of this isn’t to induce fear, but simply to call us to reflect. How’s your walk? Are there places in your life where ongoing sin is threatening the integrity of your claim to follow Jesus? If there is sin anywhere own it, confess it, and repent of it. There’s no other way to get to the path of life.