We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:3-4)
Fellowship, intimate relationship with God, is what salvation is all about. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). “Eternal life,” which is the life of the age to come, is not merely something that is gained by knowing God, it is knowing God, and knowing Jesus the Messiah, who is himself life. Knowing God is the essence of eternal life.
John and his associates experienced this fellowship with God, but he also wanted those to whom he ministers in this letter to experience it, too. And he wanted to experience it together with them, for our fellowship with God unites us together in holy community with each other as well. It is in this community that we find our joy complete — loving God and each other, and being loved by God and each other.
That is why John writes this letter. Yet there is an issue he must address and it has to do with light and darkness: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 5:5). “Light” is about what is good and true and just. Darkness is about what is evil. John the Gospeler writes:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)Darkness is incompatible with light, evil is incompatible with good, for light overcomes darkness and good overcomes evil. When we have fellowship with God, he will not lead us into darkness but into light, and into good, not evil. John brings out an important implication:
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 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, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)Our “walk” is our manner of living. If we profess to have fellowship with God, who is light, yet we practice sin and live in darkness, our claim is hollow because we are not living it out. The truth of our relationship with God is not just theoretical, something to know, but it is also practical, something we do. In John’s day, as in our own, there were people who thought it was sufficient to know or believe certain things about God, and if one had this knowledge, one knew God. But John shows us that if we are not living out the truth, we do not know God.
Now, our fellowship with God is not based on what we do but is revealed in what we do. A life marked by what is good and true and right — in a word, by godliness — is not the cause of divine fellowship but the fruit of it. When we have fellowship with God, even our doing is a gift of his grace. So if we walk in the light that God is in his very being, our fellowship with him becomes evident.
It is not only our fellowship with God that John has in mind. It is also very much about our fellowship with each other. The body of John’s letter is about how walking in light and keeping God’s commandments demonstrates that we truly know God and share in the divine life he brings. God’s commandments are here summed up very simply as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and loving one another (1 John 3:23). If we have no love for each, we are living in darkness. But when we walk in love, we show that the life of God, the life of the age to come, is at work in us.
John adds that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and this is very important, for it is this that enables us to walk in the light and share the life of God together with each other. For we are yet learning to walk in the light and live the life of love, and we often fail or fall short. But there is no condemnation in Christ, who manifested the love of God and gave himself up to the cross for our sake.