If say we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 ESV
Three different times in 1 John 1:5-2:2, John uses the phrase, “If we say…” And each is followed by a statement that reflects a certain viewpoint or perspective with which John has a point of conflict. It isn’t just that John disagrees with them, it is that he believes them to be outright lies, declarations of deception. It would appear that these three viewpoints were being lived out in the local fellowship to which John wrote. These were not simply scenarios concocted by John, but examples of real-life attitudes held by some who called themselves believers. The first John addresses has to do with those who try to deceive others. It has to do with behavior that doesn’t accurately mirror or reflect stated beliefs. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6 ESV). To claim to have fellowship with God while modeling behavior that is well outside His holy expectations for His children, we end up living a lie. We don’t DO the truth. When John speaks of walking in darkness, he uses the Greek word, peripateō. It means “to walk, to regulate one’s self, to pass one’s life.” And John seems to be using this word in the progressive or continuative sense. Accordingly, the NET Bible translates this line as, “If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness.” It carries the idea of continual, habitual sin. It is to live one’s life characterized by sin. And yet John has said that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). So how can one claim to be in fellowship with Him, yet conduct their life as if His light never penetrates the darkness of their behavior. They claim one thing, but do another. They lie. All in an attempt to deceive others, to convince them that are something other than what they truly are. To live in darkness is to live without the benefit of the light of God in one’s life. To fellowship with God involves walking in the light – His light. It includes the bright illumination of His holy Word and the presence of His Holy Spirit. Fellowship with God will eliminate darkness by exposing sin and encouraging confession. To claim to have a relationship with God, while consistently living sinful, unrepentant lives, is to live a life marked by deceit and deception. It may be intended to garner acceptance and inclusion among those who truly love God. The object of the deception may be to feel a part of the faith community. But fellowship with God must include DOING the truth of God.
The second statement John addresses has to do with self deception. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). The claim of sinlessness seems ridiculous. That anyone would ever claim to be without sin after all God has had to say on the matter seems ludicrous. And even if you don’t accept God’s assessment on the matter, it would be difficult to conclude that sin either does not exist or that you don’t struggle with it. But the real issue here has to do with the rejection of the need for a Savior. Only sinners need a Savior. This second statement John addresses seems to reflect an attitude that contradicts John’s and God’s view of sin. These individuals did not believe their actions were sinful to begin with. They refused to admit that they were sinners and, as a result, proved that the truth was not in them. Had they had fellowship with God and been exposed to His light, they would have known their own sinfulness and their need for the salvation made available through Jesus Christ. As stated earlier, fellowship with God will eliminate darkness by exposing sin and encouraging confession. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). A lack of recognition of our sin exposes a lack of light in our lives. Our sinfulness remains unexposed and, therefore, unconfessed. The result if self-deception, believing we are spiritually healthy and whole, while God sees us as sinful, condemned and worthy of death.
The final statement is the most serious of the three. The first two have to do with those who do not DO the truth or simply do not HAVE the truth of God within them. But the third statement seems to address those who have been confronted by the truth of God regarding their sin, but who refuse to accept it. They have had the light of God illuminate their sinfulness, but disagree with His assessment. “If we say we have NOT sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10 ESV). While this one sounds similar to the second statement, it would appear that it is speaking about specific sin, while the other was referring to general sin. The situation seems to indicate an individual who has had a particular sin exposed by God, but rather than agree with Him about it and confess it, they simply deny it. And in doing so, they call God the deceiver. He is the liar. They reject His declaration of their sinfulness and make Him out to be a liar. And John sadly concludes that the word of God is not in them. They not only do not practice the truth or have the truth within them, they lack the word, the logos of God. I am reminded of John’s opening statement in his gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). Without the Word in our lives, we lack the ability to see the sin in our lives. And even when confronted by God’s assessment of our sinful estate, we will reject it, making Him a liar.
God has made the sinful state of man clear. His law proved it. All men stand before Him as sinful and guilty as charged. But God has also provided a solution to man’s sinful situation. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV).