The Joy of Being Clean
The apostle John begins his first epistle with a simple, but profound, phrase, "1What was from the beginning". This introduction is an almost identical match to the introduction of his Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word"(Jn. 1:1).
John means to reminds us that our subject matter for this letter, Jesus Christ, has existed from all eternity. John means to remind us that there was never a time when the 2nd member of the Trinity did not exist. This truth is awesome enough in itself, and yet there is more. John, writing about the One who has existed from all eternity, says that he has "heard" Him, he has "seen (Him) with (his) eyes", and he has "touched (Him) with (his) hands"(v.1). The apostle John has seen and touched God in the flesh.
The "Word of Life", the eternal Son of God, "was manifested"(v.2) to John and to the apostles. And now, this manifestation, this Incarnation, has become the foundation of their ministry. John writes that "3what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
John speaks of having "fellowship" with the "(heavenly) Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ". The Greek word used here for "fellowship" is the word koinonia. Koinonia is the experience of sharing something in common with others.
To have fellowship with God then, means to share the same values as God. Koinonia with God means to love what God loves and to hate what God hates. And though John describes his desire to have fellowship / koinonia with his readers, he reminds us that this fellowship begins with having fellowship with the "(heavenly) Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ". The basis of Christian fellowship then, is union with Jesus Christ.
And why is all this important? Why is it important to have fellowship with the "(heavenly) Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ"? Why is it important to have Christ-centred fellowship with one another? In this letter, John gives many answers to these questions, but his first answer is given in verse four, "4These things we write, so that your joy may be made complete."
I could give you, and John could give you, many reasons to be a Christian. To have fellowship with Christ means we won't go to hell. To have fellowship with Christ means we have peace with God the Father. To have fellowship with Christ means we have the been delivered from the bondage of sin. To have fellowship with Christ means we now possess the ability to please and glorify God. These are all terrific benefits of having fellowship with God, but John points, first of all to something else--our joy.
"4These things we write, so that your joy may be made complete." John recognizes that human beings have an insatiable longing to be happy. While it is true we sometimes long to please others, while it is true that human beings are sometimes motivated by a fear punishment, John realizes that the strongest human passion is our zeal for finding joy.
And John does not simply promise joy when gaining fellowship with Christ, but he promises joy that is "complete". The Greek word here, pleroo (play-ro-o), means to have a perfect supply. There are many things on this earth that can bring me joy. Watching hockey can bring me joy, eating a steak can bring me joy, spending time with my family can bring me joy, but none of these things can bring me pleroo joy. If I want a perfect supply of joy in my life, there is only one source--fellowship with Christ.
If this is true, if fellowship with Christ is the only way to "complete joy", then it follows that this should be our greatest pursuit. Our question should then be, 'How do I obtain fellowship with Christ?'. And subsequently, we should ask, 'How is my fellowship with Christ maintained?'.
John begins to answer these questions for us in verse 5, "5This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."
Before we can have fellowship with God, we must recognize who He is. We must recognize that "God is Light"--that is, God is holy and perfect, and in Him is no darkness, no sin, no imperfection.
Now how is it that we, who are full of sin, can fellowship with Him who has no sin? Rather than tell us, first of all, how fellowship with God is gained, John begins by describing the evidence of whether we have fellowship with God. John says, "6If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."
Here we learn a vital truth--fellowship with God changes us. While it is true that Christ meets you where you are, He does not leave you where you are. Fellowship with God implies that we no longer "walk in the darkness". Fellowship with God implies that we are now "walking in the Light"--that is, we are walking according to the will of Christ.
Does this mean that as a Christian we will no longer sin? No! In fact, John, perhaps fearing that we might conclude this, writes, "8If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." Walking in the Light does not mean we are free from sin. Rather, walking in the Light means that our fundamental direction has changed. Conversely, if our fundamental direction in life does not change, there is reason to doubt that we have fellowship with God.
If a change of direction is evidence that we have fellowship with God, how do we change our direction? John's answer is that "9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
You see, we don't change our direction, God does. And since God changes our direction, those who have fellowship with Him will indeed walk in the Light. Our job is to confess our sins, and Christ does the work of forgiving us of our sins, and the work of cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
Back to our original question: 'How do we obtain fellowship with God?'. Because God is holy and perfect, sinful human beings must be cleansed in order to have fellowship with God. We obtain fellowship with God, therefore, only through the blood of Christ which cleanses us of sin and of all unrighteousness.
And how do we maintain this fellowship with God? The same answer applies. Our fellowship with God is maintained by Christ cleansing us from all unrighteousness. We do the confessing, Christ does the cleansing, and our fellowship is maintained.
What then, does it mean to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus from all our sin? To be cleansed by the blood of Jesus is to be justified before God the Father. On account of the death of Christ, we are declared righteous before God.
The humbling truth of Scripture is that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is our sinfulness. We aren't justified by being 'a good person' because no one is 'good' when compared to God. We aren't saved by being active in the church, because activity doesn't do anything about our sin problem. As the hymn says, "Nothing but the blood of Jesus", can cleanse us from sin.
Now, to be fair to the context of 1John, chapter one, I don't think we should limit the meaning of Christ's cleansing us to simply being justified before God. The context talks about "walking" in either the darkness or the Light, which is a reference to how we habitually live (Stott, The Letters of John, 78). And when John says, "the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin", the verb is in the present tense showing us that this cleansing is a continuous process.
Christ's blood then, not only justifies us, once and for all, but it also sanctifies us on a continuous basis. So as long as we "confess our sins" on a daily basis, Christ is faithful to cleanse our sins on a daily basis.
We confess our sins daily then, in order to be cleansed daily. And we want to be cleansed daily in order to have fellowship daily. And we want to have fellowship daily in order to have our joy "made complete" daily.
Do you see the order here? Our goal is to be joyful, and John tells us that complete joy comes only from fellowship with God. John also tells us that fellowship with God is only possible when we are cleansed by Christ's blood. And, in order to be cleansed by Christ's blood, we must confess our sins.
You see, Christ's blood is to do more than simply acquit us; it is also intended to rehabilitate us. Christ's blood intends to do more than just pardon you; it intends to "make your joy complete".
Here lies our fundamental problem. Though presumably we know what it is like to be justified by the cleansing blood of Christ, very few Christians experience the "perfect supply of" (pleroo) joy in their daily Christian life. Apparently very few Christians actually believe the apostle John when he writes that, "complete joy" comes only from fellowship with Christ.
The unfortunate reality is that there are multitudes of Christians who do not experience joy on a daily basis. This, my friends, is a sign that you are not in fellowship with God--and this is sin. The Scriptures exhort, do I dare say, the Scriptures command, us to be joyful: Paul tells us to "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!"(Phil. 4:4); "These things we write", John says, "so that your joy may be made complete"(1Jn. 1:4).
How is this possible? How can we be so joyful when times are so difficult? We are joyful because our joy is not based on external circumstances. The basis of our joy is the knowledge that we have been cleansed by Christ's blood. The basis of our joy is our fellowship with God.
I know this to be true whenever Allie and I receive a letter from our foster child in Haiti. The conditions in Haiti make the poor in our community seem like upper-middle class. When our foster child writes us, his joyful tone saturates the pages. How is this possible? This is possible because this boy's joy is not based on whether he has enough food for the day, his joy is based on his fellowship with God.
God wants you to be joyful, but this joy is not to be based on what God does or doesn't provide. This "complete joy" that John speaks of comes from being cleansed by Christ daily; it comes from continuous fellowship with God. It comes from spending time reading your Bible; it comes from spending time with God in prayer; it comes from singing praises to His name.
Would I be a good husband if I only spoke to my wife once or twice a week? Then how can we consider ourselves good Christians, if we spend so little time in fellowship with God?
Keep in mind that time with God is not like visiting that grumpy uncle of yours who serves only strong coffee and stale cookies. Spending time with God is like visiting the King. And when you visit the King, you can expect a feast. When you visit the King, you can expect your joy to be made complete. Amen.