1 John 1:5-2:2 is carefully crafted in terms of structure where between an introductory proposition and a concluding application and exposition we have three false claims reflected in if-clauses, “if we say that we…,” with their negative consequences expressed in the former two but not in the last one, i.e. falsehood both in our lives and in our relation to God. Sandwiched among these three are two true claims, ‘if living like Jesus’ and ‘confession of sins,’ with their consequences, i.e. fellowship with one another, cleansing by atonement, and forgiveness. In approximately the former half of the passage the expressions of light/darkness predominate, and in the latter half of the passage references to sin predominate.
|5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
|6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to 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 cleanses us from all sin.
|8 If we say that we have no 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 our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
|10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
|2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
It is important to note that in the clauses “that you may not sin” and “if any one does sin” the tense of the verb for ‘sin’ in the Greek expresses an act of sin, falling into an act of sin, not living continuously in it as a way of life.
In most other major world religions, the expressions ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ are used to express what is considered good and evil respectively, both with regard to concepts and life practice. For example, in much Gnostic-like thought in John’s world, darkness was ignorance of the divinity within oneself produced by attachment to physical life with all its desires, light was the realization of one’s own divinity and the practice of asceticism to keep the physical desires and their illusion in check. From the present passage what is the content of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’? Conceptually? In life practice? If ‘sin’ is ‘darkness,’ then sin in what sense?
In the solution for sin John uses the atonement concept from the Old Testament: blood that cleanses (1:7), expiation (2:2). Can one fully explain how this brings about forgiveness?
How can John use the way one lives one’s life as a test of whether or not one has genuine fellowship with God when he goes on to concede quite realistically that Christians continue to fall into sin?
What role does confession of sins play in being able to walk in the light? Is there more than one way in which to confess one’s sins? Must there always be a verbal confession (see Rom 10:8-10)?