Christians and Those Claiming to be Christians
1 John 1:5 – 10
By Thomas Taylor
This will be a short Bible study on 1 John 1:5-10 because many people have misinterpreted this passage. Preachers sometimes try to over-simplify a book by stating, “It is talking to Christians here in this entire book.” But that is seldom the case. In fact, we know the letters written to the churches were not addressing only Christians. For the most part they were but, just like any local church today, the church being addressed was not comprised exclusively of born-again believers. There were a mix of believers and non-believers in the churches. Both parties should be addressed based on where they stand in relationship to God. How they were to be addressed is radically different from one another because one dwells in darkness and the other in Light.
The book of 1 John, particularly the first chapter, is often stated by preachers as being “A letter to the Church; so it is talking exclusively to Christians.” But that is just not so. Let us look at the passage and the text itself will prove my point that John speaks to believers and non-believers simultaneously. When we have that understanding, this passage comes alive with amazing truths that most people have not realized.
1Jn 1:5 – 6 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
John is dealing with Gnostics (non-believers sowing the seeds of false doctrine) in the churches in this first letter. So here he starts to separate the wheat from the chaff. He makes a division between God’s people and false Christians in their midst. He even speaks to the false Christians here as well as to true believers in this chapter so that they will both clearly see whose side they are on. He is bringing assurance to the believer but condemnation to the unbelievers. It is very important to realize that he is talking to both Christians and non-Christians who were claiming to be Christians.
Verse 6 is talking to those who walk in darkness. To walk is to not just make a false step but to continue purposely in darkness. He is addressing non-Christians in this verse who claim they are Christians but in fact are not, for they clearly “walk in darkness” as a lifestyle. These are the same people Jesus warned us about in Matthew 7:21-23, who say, “Lord, Lord” but Jesus will reply, “I never knew you.”
1Jn 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
Verse 7 switches to talking to and about Christians. So he is making a contrast with these alternating statements in verse 5-10. In one verse he is talking to and about false Christians, then in the next verse he is talking to and about real Christians. Then he switches back-and-forth. Here in verse 7 he completes the first contrast between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Christian walks, continually abides, in the light as a lifestyle. The unbeliever does not (verse 6 – they “walk in darkness”). Note from verse 7: If you are a Christian, your sins are constantly being blotted out (notice “cleanses” is a continual work). It is not saying in this section that a Christian never sins because here we see the blood is continually cleansing; we would not need cleansing if there were no false steps.
1Jn 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Here in verse 8 he goes back to talking about non-Christians claiming to be Christians. He is certainly not talking to Christians in verse 8. He is talking about non-Christians saying that they have no sin. John’s style of writing demonstrates alternating thoughts which contrast one subject against another to see the differences more clearly. For example, see 1 John 2:3-6; 2:9-11; 2:12-14; 3:4-10. If you do not pick up on this alternating contrasting subjects, you will misinterpret this crucial passage of 1 John 1:5-10.
This is the verse so many get confused because they try to apply this verse to a Christian – as if a Christian is supposed to say and believe we are in a constant state of sin. But to say and believe that would make the cross of Christ of non-effect. They would be saying Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead did not work! However, the blood does continually work again all sins. A Christian’s sins do not exist (Heb. 8:12); they are being cleansed by the blood of Christ (1 Jn 1:7). So the people who are saying “we have no sin” are the non-believers in this verse, not Christians. A Christian has no sin if they believe in what Jesus accomplished on Calvary and they can say “we have no sin!”
1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Here John goes back to talking to and about the Christian. A Christian will confess his sin so that he can be forgiven and cleansed. Christians should confess their sins, if they sin after becoming a Christian. This is not saying you have to confess your sins to become a Christian. He is addressing current Christians, not teaching how to become one.
1Jn 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John finishes his contrast between Christians and non-Christians by repeating what he said in verse 8 again. Here in verse 8 he has switched back to talking to and about non-Christians who think they are saved but are in fact walking in darkness.
By trying to force the verse talking to sinners (verses 6, 8, & 10) to apply to Christians, people have come up with some strange doctrines that deny the power of Jesus’ sacrifice. But if you believe that all sins were cleansed and permanently erased from the books, then you know it is not wrong for a Christian to say, “I have no sin.” That is a legal statement before the courtroom of Heaven. It is not a factual statement, for all have sinned. But it is a wonderful truth that Jesus paid the ultimate price for us to be able to enjoy. We are without sin in Christ!