1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. New International Version.



  • 1 John is a letter from the apostle to Christians in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). These inspired words are addressed to the second generation of Christians. A whole generation of believers has been converted and died; it’s up to their children to carry the torch.
  • The letters of 1 and 2 John address a heresy called Gnosticism, and specifically a version of Gnosticism called Docetism. If you are unfamiliar with these doctrines, be sure to click on the links -- otherwise it will be difficult for you to fully understand these letters. There are other articles on Gnosticism at this website, too.
    • Christians cannot say, “Philosophy and theology don’t matter; just read the Bible.” The fact is, words and ideas are powerful. We have a moral obligation not only to teach the truth clearly, but also to protect the church from the ravages of false teachers.
    • There are a number of NT references that begin making sense when you realize the nature of the false doctrine being discussed. Colossians 2:18-23 deals with ascetic regulations, and the specific heresy seems to be a fusion of Jewish and Gnostic philosophy. 1 Timothy 6:20 addresses the Gnostic superiority complex (“what is falsely called knowledge”), while 1 and 2 John deal with Docetism.
  • John is emphatic that Jesus Christ came in a physical body (vv.1-3).
    • His life and person were open to verification through the physical senses: sight, hearing and touch.
    • Remember, the Docetists are claiming that he came not in a physical body but as some sort of disembodied spirit.
    • John insists he is a reliable eyewitness of Jesus Christ. It really does matter whether Jesus existed, whether he physically came to earth as a man, preached, loved and resisted temptation in the flesh, whether he physically died on a cross and bodily rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15)!
    • John stresses here not the divinity of Jesus, but his humanity, which was being questioned. So, was Jesus 50% human and 50% divine? No! He was 100% human and 100% divine. As an illustration, Gatorade is totally wet and completely lime-green—100% of each—both at the same time. There are two natures, yet neither excludes the other. In the same way Jesus is human and divine.
    • Why the mention of fellowship in 1:3? Because the false teachers, influenced by the Gnostics, had left the fellowship. Either you are in the fellowship or out of it (in both senses of the phrase!). The Gnosticized Christians had “gone out” (1 John 2:19); their new “church” was not in fellowship with the real disciples—they had nothing in common.
  • Light and darkness don’t mix (vv.5-7), and woe to those who confuse the two (Isaiah 5:20)!
    • Now is light perfection? No, light (John 3:19-21) is characteristic of God, his word and his people. In other words, judge these false Christians not just by their theology, but also by their morality.
    • “Walking in the light”—is this possible for a mere human? Absolutely yes! The opponents of John’s churches claimed to be in the light, but they were not, for three reasons:
      • They were not in fellowship with other Christians. In fact they stood in opposition to the true disciples. (See 1 John 4:5-6.)
      • They did not walk in the light; they did not walk as followers of Christ. (See 1 John 2:3-6.) Walking in the light does not mean perfection, but an eagerness to obey Christ’s commands, especially (in 1 John) the command to love one another (2:6, 2:10). If it is impossible to walk in the light, then we are all lost, because walking as Jesus walked and walking in the light are one and the same.
      • They did not admit to wrong and claimed to be without sin (1:8-10). Walking in the light is not only not perfection, it is a lifestyle where there is the open admission of imperfection. It is parallel to “confessing our sins,” that is, being open about our lives and refusing to hide in the darkness (John 3:19-21).
  • We are purified from sin even while we are sinning (vv.7-9), because (in our attitude) we are walking in the light.
    • Christians don't go back and forth from darkness to light unless they leave the Lord completely. We have crossed from death to life; that’s settled. Once the bill is paid, we don’t go back to the waitress and “settle up” again! It’s paid.
    • Some Christians falsely imagine that when they sin they go back to the darkness, and when they confess they are forgiven again and come back into the light. What agony! What insecurity! What error! What a misunderstanding of grace, a lapse into Galatians 3:3 theology!
  • Confession is vital.
    • It needs to be a part of our lifestyle. It is part of walking in the light.
    • However, a Christian who fails to confess every sin is not going to be condemned. Imagine the scene at Judgment Day:
      • God: “Smith, you almost made it. In fact you were one of the more faithful ones. But if you recall that day in August 1988, the 9th to be precise, you lapsed into laziness in the late afternoon, and you never confessed it!
      • Smith: “Oh no, I thought I’d confessed everything! [Now sweating] What about my faith and all deeds? All the church services? No! Not outer darkness!!!
      • God: “I’m sorry, Smith, salvation depends on perfect confession. [To angels] Bind him and cast him out!”
      • Smith: “Aaaaaahhhh!”
  • Baptism and subsequent confession have been described as “a bath and a shower in the blood of Jesus.”
    • We as Christians don’t need the bath again, but it sure feels good to “shower off’ the unrighteousness in the presence of God.
    • Why pray for forgiveness when our relationship with God is secure? As an illustration, take marriage. When we sin against our spouse, we need to ask for forgiveness. For what purpose? To become married again, or to mend the relationship? Christians ask for God’s forgiveness not that they might be spared from going to hell (that was taken care of in baptism), but that the personal relationship with God might be healed. Salvation is no excuse for not asking for forgiveness when we have hurt God.


  • According to verse 2, eternal life is available to all through Jesus Christ. This suggests that none of us possesses it innately. Romans 6:23 tells us that eternal life is a gift we receive through Christ. This implies that no one will truly live eternally who has not come through Jesus Christ.  And yet what an incredible gift for those willing to receive it!
  • Other chapters with the darkness-light theme are found in the letters of Paul (Romans 13, 2 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 5, 1 Thessalonians 5, etc) Peter (1 Peter 2), but especially in the four gospels.
  • A modern day phenomenon that is sweeping away many people tired of traditional religion is New Age religion. This is a fusion of eastern mysticism and western concepts, with elements of astrology, pantheism, meditation, the occult and a good deal of snob appeal. Enlightenment is sought within, rather than without—at the foot of the cross of Christ. This is the central flaw of this and many other quasi-religious movements. Sin is downplayed, and the language of love, unity, freedom and tolerance masks the true heart of the movement, which throbs with rebellion and individualism. The movement takes strong exception to the doctrines of sin, judgment, righteousness, hell, and other doctrines clearly set out in the Bible. The message is found in such bestsellers as:
    • The Celestine Prophecy
    • The Care of the Soul
    • A New Earth
    • The Power of Now
    • A Course in Miracles
    • Four Agreements.
  • For an exploration of Gnosticism, with a survey of five Gnostic gospels, see my audio set The Lost Books of the Bible (IPI: Spring, Texas, 2007).

Thought questions:

  • When is the last time you faced temptation and said, “No, I am not going to give in, because that is darkness”? What things have you decided not to allow in your life because they belong to the darkness, and not to the light?
  • Do you enjoy walking in the light, or does guilt prevent you?
  • How free do you feel to confess your sins to other people? How have you seen that confession truly brings you into deeper fellowship with God and with others?

This material has been adapted from chapter 17 of my book James, Peter, John, Jude.