So how does the goal of Christianity—restored fellowship with God—look like?
John starts by reminding us that God is light. Wholly light with no trace of darkness. This is symbolic language. God is not actually light. God created light along with all of the rest of reality. To say God is light refers to His holiness. Holiness itself is a bit symbolic. We think of “Holy” as being “good” or “godly” but that is because God is holy. What the term really means is completely different. God is unlike His creation. And since creation has fallen due to the sin of humanity, creation is separated from God. However, Jesus Christ with His sacrifice on the cross has atoned for that sin so that we might again be in God’s presence and have fellowship with Him.
However, John insists that the light or holiness of God matters. We cannot waltz into a relationship with God unchanged. In Christ we have access, but we must approach God on His terms. John highlights three obstacles to a relationship with God; three false claims people buy into:
Unchanged Lives: “If we claim we have fellowship with God, but walk in darkness…”
Some people think that knowledge is enough to please God. If we simply acknowledge the FACT that Christ died for the sins of the world we will be in a restored relationship. We can go on living in our sins because Christ’s sacrifice has covered them all anyway. That is akin to saying that we are inside a building because we know where the door is. You must enter through the door to get in the building, and you must live a life pleasing to God to be in the Kingdom. Yes, it is Christ’s sacrifice that makes that possible, but it is not enough to know that. We have to walk with Christ and follow His lead.
Merited Grace: “If we claim we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves…”
Other people think that they are followers of Jesus because it comes naturally to them, or they are somehow more open to the truth than others. Some Christians quickly forget (if they ever knew) that they struggle with sin nature. More often than not, these people develop limited lists of what constitutes sin and what doesn’t. So homosexuality is a sin, but gluttony isn’t; robbery is, talking bad about others isn’t. This is the realm of legalists and Pharisees. Instead, John reminds us that we need to live a self-examined life. We need to allow God to convict us where we stray and confess and repent of sins where they pop up. Jesus offers us all the forgiveness we need, but we need to acknowledge our need.
Denial of Guilt: “If we claim that we have not sinned, we make God a liar…”
In John’s day, some people thought that the body was bad and that all goodness in people resided in the spirit. And, since only spirituality was eternal, they didn’t need to worry about sins. Anything done in the body was temporary. Faith and eternal life was intellectual.
(Believe it or not this idea persists to today. Some people think heaven will be a spiritual place in "the clouds." The Bible actually speaks of a new heaven with a new creation, and that things will be as they were in God’s original plan, in the garden. We are both spiritual and physical being and we always will be. Our sin problem is a very real problem.)
Another way this attitude is still with us today is in the denial of guilt. Guilt is seen only as a bad thing. People convince themselves that they should never entertain it. And, while false accusations leading to guilt can cripple us and rob us of the joy of fulfilling God’s plan for our life, guilt as a result of real wrongs is an important warning. When people today try to write sin off as genuine mistakes made by well-meaning people, they are not only making God out to be a liar; they are lying to themselves. We are all guilty and, without the Gospel, that is a terrifyingly real problem!