While in seminary, I worked in the food industry as a manager of a restaurant. One time in particular, I had a customer ask me for a lot of sauce. “A lot” is relative so I gave her five or six packets thinking that the amount was good. She looked at me and asked for more, “like twenty-five or so.” I told her that was not possible. She cursed and then she said “and you call yourself a Christian!” I found it amusing that she would question my salvation (she didn’t know me) over me not giving her the amount of sauces that she felt that she deserved. Now, not giving someone all the sauce packets that they could possibly desire is not a good basis for evaluating yours or another person’s salvation. There are far better ways, and the Apostle John gives five of them in 1 John 1:6-2:2.
One of the key themes in 1 John is found in 1 John 1:5:”…God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” The believer should strive as his life’s goal to be more and more like God (Christ-likeness). True believers walk in the light as God is in the light, while unbelievers walk in the darkness. When the New Testament speaks about your “walk,” it is the way you live your life. If you are truly in the Community of Believers (the Fellowship), then you will live your life in such a way that it demonstrates your faith. You will acknowledge your sinfulness and identify with Jesus Christ. John introduces his epistle with five points that will help you in evaluating who is truly a Christian and who is false.
1. What You Do is More Important Than What You Say! (1 John 1:6)
John says that if we say we have fellowship with Jesus Christ, and yet voluntarily live our lives according to the world’s standards, then we are lying to ourselves and others. We are not doing the truth — just the opposite, in fact. In other words, what we say is far less important than what we do. It is what we do that demonstrates our allegiance to Christ. After all, Jesus said Himself in Matthew 7:21:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of the Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Just because you made a profession of faith when you were 8 years old at summer camp or at a youth retreat when you were 12, or at a Men’s conference when you were 35 doesn’t mean you are a Christian. Verbal profession means nothing without a life of obedience and submission to Christ. You can only have assurance about your salvation if your life lines up with Scripture. Don’t deceive yourself. If you are living a life contrary to the word of God (living in the darkness), then are you really a Christian? If you are not practicing the truth, then you are lying to yourself.
2. Are You Sweet or Salty? You Can’t Be Both! (1 John 1:7)
Just as a fountain cannot bring forth sweet and salty water (James 3:11), neither can a person be simultaneously in the Light and in the darkness. John is clear that a person is either one or the other. Those who walk in the light do so because Christ lives within them. Recognition of the light and fellowship with others in the light are sure signs that you are in the light as well. The true people of God have in common that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and they walk in the Light. Just like a group of moths to a flame, we will be drawn to the light. We will desire to be with those who share our affinity for the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. It’s Not Nature or Nurture, it is the Human Heart That is the Issue! (1 John 1:8)
John says in 1:8 that if we continually say that we have absolutely no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. What John is talking about here is the sinfulness of the human heart. Rather than accepting the truth about themselves and Christ and becoming part of the fellowship, the people who John was writing to denied the reality of their situation and declared that there were no consequences for sin. They did this by denying the reality of sin altogether.
There are many in our world today who will not affirm the depravity of man. It is the fault of society, their parents, their lack of opportunity, or they were just born that way which is the cause of all their misdeeds. It is not that their hearts are sinful and that their actions are merely expressions of that sinful heart. Anyone who comes along and claims that he is a member of the Christian community and does not believe that the human heart is utterly sinful is not a believer and he is deceiving himself. He may say that he has done bad things in his life, but at heart he is a good person. Denying the reality of personal inherent sin, does not make it go away. Truth is reality as God sees it, and the reality is that man is born sinful.
4. Confession is Good for the Soul! (1 John 1:9)
In 1 John 1:9 the Apostle John gives the opposite of the person in 1:8. The person described in the previous verse is a prideful person, not willing to believe that he has a sinful heart. John says here in 1:9 that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us for the sins we have committed as believers and cleanse us from filth of this world with which we have soiled ourselves. Confession of sin demonstrates a regenerate heart and that one is part of the community of believers.
Those who are truly in the fellowship will be continually confessing their sins to God. They will not make light of them or deny them, but seek to maintain a close relationship with the Father. Confessing, in its basic sense, is agreeing with someone that he is right in his charge against you. We agree that we have not held to God’s standard and sinned against Him. That is a mark of humility in someone’s life. Knowing and admitting one’s fault and confessing that sin to God is key for His forgiveness and cleansing. It shows that one understands that his heart is sinful and that without a new birth he would be destined for judgment and hell (John 3:16-21).
5. Don’t Say That You Have Never Done Anything Wrong! (1 John 1:10)
I met a guy once who claimed to be a Christian, yet told me that he was living a sinless life. After showing him that this was not possible Biblically, he still would not accept the truth. This is an example of the person John is addressing here in 1:8 — those who say they are living a sinless life.
These are the ones who deny that they has personal sin at all. They advocate that they have committed no personal acts of sin. This is the downward spiral after they deny that they do not have a sinful heart. They lie (v.6), lead themselves astray (v. 8), and make God a liar (v.10).
To say one does not even sin at all is an affront to God and directly contradicts God’s Word. The whole of God’s dealings with men from Genesis 3 onward presupposes the sinful condition of man. After all, if man was not sinful, then why would he need a Savior? A true believer would not deny that he has no sin. If anyone denies that he has ever done anything bad at all, then he is calling God a liar and is not part of the Church.
John says his goal for those who are really believers is that they would not sin (1 John 2:1). This should be every believer’s goal — to live a life honoring to God obeying His commandments. This does not mean that we shall be perfect this side of the cross. What it does mean is that we shall walk in the light, we shall confess our sins to God, and when we do commits acts of sin, we do not remain in them for long.
God desires that His followers would be holy. If this is not the goal of individuals claiming that they are part of the community of believers, then it is fair to question whether or not they are really in the fellowship at all. Remember, “talk is cheap.” Anyone can say he is a Christian. Let their life demonstrate it by their obedience to the commands of Christ with their goal of personal holiness.