1 John 1:5-2:2

Commentary on 1 John 1:5-2:2

The first part of the letter (1:5-2:28) can be entitled ‘To walk in the light’.  It is divided into four ‘conditions’ for doing this.  Today the reading gives the First Condition, which is ‘to break with sin’.

Light is to be understood here as truth and goodness; darkness is error and depravity (cf. John 3:19-21;17,17; Eph 5,8).  To walk in light or darkness is to live according to truth or error, not merely in an intellectual sense but morally as well.  Fellowship with God and with one another consists in a life according to the Truth as revealed to us in God through Christ.  Whoever lives in union with God must live a life of light, virtue and love, and keep God’s commandments, especially the commandment to love all human beings.  Faith and love are thus the visible evidence of true union with God.  These will be dealt with more fully in the course of the letter.

The first condition for us to walk in the light is to break our links with sin.  ‘Sin’ is a key word in this letter and occurs 27 times altogether in the Greek.

“If we say, ‘We have never sinned’, we make God a liar and his Word has no place in us.”  Denial of the condition of sin is a form of self-deception and prevents us from going in search of the light.  On the other hand, open acknowledgement of our sin opens the gate for God to extend his forgiveness to us.

It is a strange fact but it is awareness and acknowledgement of our sin that opens the way for God to come into our lives.  The greatest saints were deeply aware of how far they were from being perfectly in harmony with the God they loved.  When people we regard as holy saw themselves as great sinners, they meant it.  The deeper their intimacy with God the more they were aware of how far they were from him.

On the other hand, one meets Christians, who lead very lukewarm Christian lives and, when it comes time for Confession, they can’t think of anything to say.  The more we are in the light, the more we are aware of the shadows.  And we cannot break with sin, if we are not aware of where the sinfulness is in our lives.

‘My children’ is a term used in this letter a number of times and like the other term ‘Beloved’ is a term of pastoral affection and love.  This letter not only speaks about love but practices it as well. It is a term found also in John’s gospel (Jn 13:33; 21:50) and used by Paul in his letter (1 Cor 4:14).  Jesus also said that “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom” (Matt 18:3).  We are to be children, of course, in our simplicity and docility to God’s message but not in an immature childishness.

If we do sin – and we certainly do and will – we can know that we have an ‘advocate’ with the Father in Jesus.  ‘Advocate’ in Greek is parakletos (paraklhtos), a word which originally refers to an attorney in court who pleads our case before a judge.  It is a word also applied to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, through whom the Risen Jesus continues to bring us God’s forgiveness and reconciliation.  Jesus did this especially when he became “the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world”.

If then, we are to go to God in love, if we are to reach out to brothers and sisters in love, then we must also at the same time remove from our lives everything that comes in the way of reaching out to God and to those around us.

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