Chapter 5 - Fellowship With God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
We know that WE ARE OF GOD, and the whole world lieth with the wicked one (1 Jn 5:19). The theme of John’s epistle is the position of the Christian, and his duty with respect to life in this world. In a “crisis situation” the Scriptures first tell us to “think / understand” the incredibly important truth, that as believers we are “of God.” By the way, unless we accept this definition of a Christian, this epistle has nothing to say to us. Prayer is sometimes an excuse for not thinking; an excuse for avoiding a problem or a situation – as such, we often pray that God would “deliver us from our problems.” The Bible is not concerned simply with “making life easier” – it is concerned with “having courage to face the world as it is” – it is a book of “realism” – in it we see the world as it is, at its worst. If the world is “depressing to you,” it is because you either do not know or accept the teaching of the Bible. As Christians, we know that we are OF GOD, and we are told there are certain things that are always true about the world. Christians are not people who are in a state of uncertainty – scripture tells us who we are, where we are, and what we have – we are not men and women hovering in the dark. Christians must be absolutely sure of these things! So, we start with the truth which we believe by faith – there are certain things you and I must “know” – mature Christians don’t “doubt” these things; they know exactly where they are and how they stand. These are absolutes. (9-15)
Since we are of God, WE ARE PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE (2 Pet 1:4); we have been born from above, we have been born of the Spirit, we are a new creation. Those are the basic postulates the New Testament teaches regarding the “position of the believer” – as such, there is no consolation for us in difficult times if we do not start from that basis. We know that we are of God – children of God, related to God in that intimate sense, receivers of His very life. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim 1:12); “I am in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17); “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). The Apostle John starts on this assump-tion – that “we know Him.” Are we fully aware of the “new man” within us? One that is entirely different from the “old man” that we were by nature before we knew Christ? Are we aware that there is something about us which we can only explain in terms of God? Can we say in true humility with the apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10). Christians are those who have been called out of and delivered from this present evil world – we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness (Satan) into the kingdom of light (Christ). Thus we are able to say, “I am aware that this life in Christ is both beyond me and within me, and I can only ascribe it to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
Writes Lloyd-Jones: “Though I am amazed and astounded when I consider all the sins I have committed, and all my unworthiness – in spite of it all, I know that I am of God! God has had mercy upon me and has worked in me the miracle of the rebirth. Another thing I know is that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one; the whole world lies under the dominion and grip of Satan.” It is utterly ridiculous to think that the world can be “Christianized” – because it is in the power of Satan, and it always will be. Any positive characteristics are merely superficial. The world will always be the world; it will never get intrinsically better; its final outlook will be judgment and destruction. Christians start with that view of the world; therefore they should not be surprised at the state of the world. As such, they should not be made unhappy by what they see. So, should we as Christians seek to “reform the world”? No! that is not possible! Do we turn our backs upon it and withdraw from it? No! God does not say that either. Scripture tells us to maintain our Christian position – be salt and light (season the world with the love of Christ, and let His truth reign in our lives), restrain evil as much as we can, and pray that His will be done. Though we are in the world that lies in the power of the evil one, yet we may live in the world with inner joy and peace, and live the victorious Christian life – being more than conquerors. (16-19)
As Christians, we live in an extremely evil world that is highly opposed to God; because the world is opposed to God, it will be doing everything it can to drag us down. Thus, we live in a place in which we have to “fight for our souls!” That is the reality! From the beginning until today, the Church has gone in two extreme directions – there have been the “social reformers” (an impossibility) and the “monastics” (they believed in totally isolating themselves from the world – this position is far more common than many believers realize; many Christians “withdraw” from the world, and keep their light under a bushel). The New Testament avoids both of these errors. Christianity is not about “improving the world,” nor is it about “renunciating the world” – instead, it is about living in a world that is in juxtaposition to who we are – it is of the “evil one,” we are “of God.” Yet, we can be “more than conquerors!” John says, “These things we write to you, that your joy may be full!” (1 Jn 1:4; Jn 15:11). Christian people in this world are meant to be “full of joy” – not misery. As Christians, we have no right to be in a state of melancholy or unhappiness because the world is as it is. Christians understand that the world is an “evil place”… that they have not been given a mandate to “change the world”… nor are they to simply make the best of a bad situation – that would not be compatible with the New Testament concept of joy. Because we cannot improve the world, we are prone to want to try and isolate ourselves from the world – there are many kinds of monas-ticism in the spiritual world. (21-27)
How can we be “joyful” in this world? What does Scripture mean by being “joyful”? Well, there are three elements of joy – First, joy is a state of complete satisfaction; obviously, there is no joy unless we are satisfied. Second, joy is a spirit of exultation; there is a difference between happiness and joy – happiness fully depends upon what “happens” (both terms come from the same root word “hap”) in a person’s life; joy has a deep heartfelt genuine gratitude element in it. Third, in joy there is always a feeling of power and strength. Someone who is truly joyful, in a sense, is afraid of nothing. When you are truly joyful, you are lifted up above yourself, and ready to meet every enemy. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” So, joy is something very deep and profound, something that affects the whole and entire personality. Furthermore, there is only one thing that can give true joy, and that is a contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ – He satisfies the mind, the emotions, and our every desire. So joy is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. John writes to us that “our joy might be made full, filled to the brim.” The joy of the Lord is not dependent upon circumstances, like happiness. Joy is a deep, profound quality that enables us to stay standing whatever may be happening to us. (28-30)
In order for the Christian to have “fullness of joy,” he must have conscious fellowship with God; that is, he must be abiding in Christ (and that is not a “passive” abiding). There are certain things that hinder the experience of fellowship, that militate against it, and rob us of it – First, there is unconfessed sin; it must be confessed; sin will always rob us of a conscious fellowship with God. If we fall into sin (that is, we cease to actively trust – Rom 14:23), we begin to doubt and to wonder, and the devil takes advantage and encourages us in this. Second, there is lack of love for the brethren; one cannot love God and disregard fellow believers. Third, there is love of the world; a desire for its pleasures (you cannot mix light and darkness). Fourth, there is wrong understanding about the person of Christ – false notions concerning Christ result in having a lack of assurance with regard to salvation. It is imperative that believers are “absolutely certain” about the person and work of Christ – that is why Scripture is so emphatic on these subjects. There can be no true joy of salvation while there is a vagueness or uncertainty or a lack of assurance. Though “assurance” is not essential for salvation, it is essential to the joy of salvation. If a believer is certain about these things he will KNOW that he is a child of God, that he has “eternal life” (1 Jn 1:2; 2:25; 5:13), and that he has “fellowship with God” (1 Jn 1:3-7) – that is, a conscious possession of the life of God within us. Again, the hindrances to “knowing these things” are listed above. If you truly desire to know this “joy,” you cannot take short cuts in the spiritual life. There is only one way and that is to confront these great and glorious truths, to believe them and to joyfully accept them. There are certain absolutes – the Incarnation, the Atonement, Regeneration, Sanctification, the Doctrine of Sin and of the Devil, and the Doctrine of the Second Coming. As we believe and practice these things, we will exper-ience “His joy;” being lazy and careless with the teaching of Scripture results in “no joy!” (31-41)
One of the essentials of “true joy” is conscious fellowship with God – sharing in the life of God. This is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts in Scripture – and it should not be! The Devil simply does not want God’s people to get a handle on this subject. “Fellowship with God” is probably the most glorious and wonderful truth in all of Scripture. Life outside God is not life, it is merely existence – there is a radical difference between the two. Apart from God we are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). Those who have become conscious of the fact that they are “sharing the life of God,” know what it is to rejoice and know what it is to be emancipated from certain besetting sins which hitherto always got them down – these are the believers who “overcome the world.” John wants all believers to share this same joy and participate in this same experience. Regardless of individuality or temperament, every believer can know this same experience. Fellowship with God is the result of something that is based upon the belief of an objective truth – note carefully: this is not a primarily subjective experience. (55-65)
Mature Christians know there is a “radical evil” in life as a result of sin and the Fall; as such, they do not get excited about the various false hopes, and waste their time analyzing political theories. It was the initial act of rebellion that led to all other troubles – that is the story of the Bible. Men and women were really meant to live in “joyful communion with God,” but when sin made its entrance on the human stage, that changed everything – now, outside of obedience to God’s law, man only experiences turmoil, unhappiness and wretchedness. This is the state of the world apart from God – it is in rebellion against God and therefore produces its own miseries. Because men and women are in a wrong relationship to God, they can never change their condition. As Augustine put it – “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” It is because of sin that we live in a world like we do today. Is there any hope for us? Yes! (66-69)
Is there any hope for the WORLD? According to the Bible the situation will continue as it is. Therefore, what right do we have to expect “Christian behavior” from a world that does not believe in Christ? Why would the world embrace Christian principles? It is rank heresy to recommend Christian behavior to people who are not Christian. They are not capable of it! In a world that lies under the power of the evil one you can expect nothing but evil and wars. By the way, if the Holy Spirit stopped “restraining evil” in the world to some degree, things would be vastly worse than they are today (2 Th 2:7). Whether or not the presence of evil and wars is depressing, the business of wise men and women is to face those facts. Before people can live the Christian life they must be made a new creation. The Church’s responsibility in the world is to address “individuals” one by one, and tell them “the story about the world they are living in.” The supreme need of the world, and of every person, is that they KNOW GOD (Jn 17:3; 1:10; Phil 3:10; Jer 9:23) – knowing God restores the fellowship man had with God in the Garden of Eden. Because God has dealt with the barrier of sin that separated us from Him, by dying on the Cross for our sins, the CROSS becomes the central tenet of the Christian faith. We cannot be reconciled to God without the Cross. The justice and righteousness of God demands that sin be punished; so Christ became the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn 2:2). God laid on Christ the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6). You may not fully understand it (no one fully can), but it is the essence of the message of Scripture – God has done this astounding thing. He has punished our sins “in Christ” – thereby, removing the obstacle. As such, our thoughts of God are entirely changed – we now see that God is a God of love. (69-74)
Peter says, “believers have become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). We have become “children of God” (Jn 1:12). He has made us “new creations” (2 Cor 5:17). He has given us “eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The Christian life is a lot more than just experiencing “forgiveness” – it also means He takes up “residence” in us in the person of the Holy Spirit (Gal 2:20). And He restores the “fellowship” we had with God before the Fall. The summum bonum of the Christian life – the ultimate goal of all Christian experience – is fellowship with God; i.e., communion with God Himself (1 Jn 1:3). Christ did not come to simply save us from hell and to forgive us of our sins, but to have “fellowship” with Himself and with the Father.
What is “fellowship with God”? To be in a state of fellowship means that “we share in things;” we are “partakers” or “partners,” if you like – that idea is intrinsic to the Greek word koinonia. Therefore, the Christian is one who has become a “sharer in the life of God.” As mentioned above, Christians are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). The whole doctrine of regeneration and rebirth – being born again, born from above, born of the Spirit – carry exactly the same idea. Christians are not merely people who are a little bit better than they once were; rather, they are men and women who have received the divine life! Theologians aren’t sure exactly what it means to “possess the divine essence,” other than to say that in some amazing and astounding manner we know that we are partakers of the divine nature, that the being of God has somehow entered into us. Divinity lives in us! As Paul says, “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Though we do not fully understand exactly how this is possible, the Bible clearly teaches that Christ indwells us by the Holy Spirit – so, we are “sharers in the life of God.” Somehow we are in God and God is in us – it is a great mystical union, expressed in the term koinonia. As partakers of God, we are partners with Him, sharers in His interests and in His great purposes. That means we have become interested in partnering with God in His great plan of salvation. . . which would imply that true Christians are deeply interested in God’s enterprise in this world – we see the evil forces in this world as being enemies of God, and we are concerned to bring the purposes of God to pass. We meditate, we pray, we do everything that we are capable of doing in furthering the kingdom of light. All of this means that we have come to know God – we no longer see Him as a stranger or supreme energy far off in the distant universe. God is now a reality, we know Him intimately, and address Him as “Father.”
Those who are in “communion with God” know that He is there; they realize His presence; it is an essential part of this whole position of fellowship. . . and this leads to “confidence” in speaking to Him. Communion means “realizing the presence of God in your life.” God speaks in His own way to our soul; He gives us consolation. . . He creates within us holy desires and longings. . . He reveals His will to us. . . He leads us. . . He opens doors and shuts them. . . and sometimes puts up barriers and obstacles. Hence, as you go forward in this journey called life, you can be completely confident that God is there – that is having fellowship with God, knowing that He is there in these various ways, and is superintending the course of our lives, and giving us wisdom and understanding. Furthermore, He supplies us with strength according to our need and according to our situation (Phil 4:13, 19). (75-86)
Having “fellowship with God” is the only way to live a godly life in a world that is opposed to God. Genuine fellowship with God always starts with the Scriptures – understanding them. This evangelical doctrine tells us not to look into ourselves (like a mystic), but to look into the Word of God. It tells us that God can only be known in His own way – through the Scriptures themselves – thru objective revelation. In contradistinction to this approach, many during the Puritan period began to put a new emphasis upon the Holy Spirit – they put feelings before understanding, and is referred to as “Quakerism” or “Mysti-cism.” There were “two approaches” – one was called “quietism;” focus on abandoning yourself to God, and God will speak to you. The other approach was to indulge in “introspection;” examine yourself and meditate. The evangelical way of experiencing fellowship with God is to go straight to the “Word” – know its truth, believe it, accept it, pray on this basis, and exert your whole being in an effort to live and practice it. Mysticism is an attempt at taking a “short cut” to the great experiences – the way of the Scriptures is the other way. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled [with the fullness of God]” (Mt 5:6). Notice it does not say “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after spiritual experiences or happiness.” So rather than focusing on spiritual euphoria, start by building the foundation; then you can erect the walls – everything must happen in God’s way and in God’s time. Start with “Christ’s work for you” [at the Cross] before you focus on “Christ’s work in you.”
Reasons why the Christian’s “communion with God” is so frequently interrupted. The focus of the believer must be on God – not yourself (your performance) – if your focus is on yourself and your perform-ance, you will inevitably become overwhelmed with troubles. We must always start with GOD – “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:4). Lloyd-Jones put it this way: “Half of our troubles arise in the Christian life because we do not start with God. Most believers assume they have a right under-standing of God, so they start with themselves – yet the Bible constantly reminds us that we must start with God. If we start with man / self, we will ultimately go wrong in our thinking about truth, because we will demand that everything accommodate itself to man. Thus, we must be careful not to start with ourselves. Incidentally, it is very difficult not to start with ourselves, because our whole approach to the gospel and to Christianity naturally tends to be from that “self-centered” selfish standpoint —
We argue like this: Here I am in this world with its troubles and I am ill at ease. I am looking for something I don’t have. I am aware of my needs and desires. I am aware of a lack of happiness. The tendency for most of us is to approach the whole subject of God and Christian truth in terms of “my desires and my demands.” What has God to say to me and to give to me? Is there something in this that is going to ease my problems and help me in this dark and difficult world? That is the “initial fallacy” – it is almost blasphemy – we need to “forget about ourselves and contemplate God.” It is important to note that the great characteristic of the cults and of every religion that is not genuinely Christian, is that they tend to approach man in terms of “his need” – and seem to give man the thing “he wants.”
The Christian faith starts with “GOD” – The individual is silenced. He is put into the background. Man is not first and foremost. GOD is first – it all starts with Him – “In the beginning GOD;” he is at the center of all things, not man. The very term “theology” should remind us of that – it refers to knowledge of God, not man (“anthropology”). So this is of supreme importance to us as we come to consider the whole ques-tion of fellowship with God, walking with God, and enjoying the life of God. Once again let me remind you: Most of our troubles are due to our self-centeredness and concern for ourselves. The way to be delivered from “self-centeredness” is to stand in the presence of God and focus on Him. The vital question is this: What is the truth concerning God? (87-98)
To believe in God we must accept the revelation concerning Him (which is the essence of faith), and that revelation is only found in the Bible. Furthermore, there are only two ultimate positions on the Bible – we either regard the Bible as authoritative, or else we think it is the philosophy of humans. Reason can take us to a certain point, but it will never bring us to a true knowledge of God – it is here that we are left to rely on revelation. Ultimately, we cannot know God apart from the revelation that He has been pleased to give us of Himself. The apostle John starts with the “holiness of God” – “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Unless we start with the holiness of God, our whole conception of the love of God is going to be false. Many believers have had the sentimental notion of God as a God of love, always smiling upon us, and then when wars and calamities and troubles come, they are baffled and end up turning their backs on religion. The problem was they did not start where the Scriptures start, with the holiness of God. God is utterly and totally holy, righteous and just – “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The statement “God is light” means God is absolute holiness and purity. He is of such pure countenance that He cannot behold and look upon iniquity (Hab 1:13); it is the holiness of God that demands the cross, so without starting with holiness there is no meaning in the cross.
Thus, it should not surprise us why so many modern theologians DISCOUNT THE CROSS. It is because they have started with the love of God, rather than His holiness. The most “emphatic” statement in the entire Bible is the fact that God is holy – “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Is 6:3; Rev 4:8). By repeating the word “holy” three times, that makes this statement the most emphatic one in all of Scripture regarding the person and character of God. Therefore, above everything we know about God, first and foremost is the fact that He is “HOLY!” With God, love and forgiveness are not mushy things or things that are easily overlooked or compromised – God can only forgive sin as He has dealt with it upon the cross; remember, God is “holy.” Starting with the holiness of God ultimately saves us from the terrible danger of also “blaming God” and “criticizing God” in times of trouble. When we misunderstand God, we question, “Why does God do this? Did I deserve this?” When I start with the holiness of God I will never speak like that, because I know at once that whatever may be happening to me is not the result of anything unworthy in God – “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” – He is absolutely holy. So whatever may be happening to me is not the result of imperfections in God. God’s “holiness” demands absolute moral perfection in all things – all moral law and perfection have their eternal and unchangeable basis in God’s very nature. The darkness of sin is an eternal violation of God’s moral law; as such, it must be expunged and expiated – hence, the eternal condemnation of it at the cross. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [even in our desperately sinful condition], made us alive together with Christ by grace… according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph 2:4-8; 1:3-7). So, the “love of God” led Him to justly execute His own Son [in our stead] to satisfy “His holy justice” – He bore our sin and gave us His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:24; 1 Pet 2:24). As the hymn writer Charles Wesley said, “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!?”
Last, there is only one way to true and lasting joy, and that is to start with the “holiness of God.” If I start there, I shall be delivered from every false peace, from every false joy. I shall be humbled to the dust, and see my true unworthiness, and that I deserve nothing at the hands of God. We can do nothing better, every time we go on our knees to pray, than to repeat John’s words – “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” And when we feel like rushing into our own desires and complaints, just to pause and approach Him with reverence and godly fear, “for our God is a consuming fire.” (98-110)
Fellowship is a position in which two individuals are “walking together along a road” – it’s a journey, a companionship. Gen 5:22 says, “Enoch walked with God” – that means he had fellowship with God. Christians walk with God as they journey through this world. There are “two parties” involved here – God and the believer (not a perfect believer – an “imperfect believer” – a believer who “sins”). It is as true to say that man is sinful as it is to say that God is light (absolutely sinless, perfect in holiness). The doctrine of sin has never been popular even though it is an integral part of Scripture. Many Christians think sin is actually an “old-fashioned doctrine” in which their fathers delighted; as such they think the doctrine of sin has simply made the whole of life “miserable.” This has caused many to conclude that things are not quite as bad as the Bible and the theologians of the past have made it out to be – “so long as we do our best, and look to God occasionally for a little help, everything will turn out alright.” “We must not take these things too seriously; to be a Christian is to be as decent as we can be, and to do good as God assists and helps us.” This, in general, is the “modern attitude” regarding the doctrine of sin.
The apostle John teaches “three common errors” with regard to the whole question of SIN –
1. If we say that we have “fellowship with God”(1:6) – As members of the body of Christ, the claim we are making to the world, says John, is that “we have fellowship with God.” That statement does not mean that we are trying to be decent and moral – it simply means we do have fellowship with God – that is, we share something in common; irrespective of our stumbling and making mistakes. However, “if we walk in darkness,” obviously we lie, because we do not have fellowship with God – “walking in darkness” means “we habitually walk or live in the realm or kingdom of sin.” The Bible tells us there are two kingdoms in this world – the kingdom of God (light/righteousness) and the kingdom of Satan (darkness/sin); these are the two realms in which men live, and all believers have been trans-ferred into God’s kingdom of light (Col 1:13; Jn 3:3; 18:36; Rom 14:17; 2 Cor 6:14; Eph 5:8; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Jn 1:7; 2:9-10; Rev 1:6). The Bible goes on to tell us there is a “mighty contention” between these two powers or realms, fighting for supremacy over human beings in this life and world; there is a great clash taking place between the forces of God and the forces of Satan (Eph 6:12). All of us are born into this world under the domination of the “kingdom of darkness;” therefore, by nature, we tend to live and think accordingly (sinful self is on the throne). Scripture tells us that “men love darkness rather than light” (Jn 3:19). The kingdom of darkness represents everything that is “opposed to God,” opposed to His holiness, opposed to His desires for this world, opposed to His desires for humanity.
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“Walking in Darkness”
“Walking in darkness” means that you live in such a way that you rarely have any thought about God at all; He is not the dominating factor in your decision-making; His wisdom and principles are not the controlling principles of your life – that which controls your life are “self-concerns.” Should the unbeliever think about God, he would think of Him as some benign fatherly person who, generally, is ready to smile upon him in spite of his failures, and who is ready to grant him entry into heaven at the end, because he is a reasonably good person. Obviously, such people are not in fellowship with God. Someone whose whole outlook on life is governed by “darkness and worldliness,” cannot be walking along the same road with God who is “light.” Scripture says it is simply not possible.
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2. If we say that “we have no sin,” the truth is not in us (1:8) – This second failure is not realizing that our “very natures” are sinful. The reference here is not to “acts of sin”, but to the “sin nature” that produces the acts of sin – our sin natures are a continuous source of influence within us. It is essential that one not interpret this verse as speaking of “individual acts of sin,” but rather of a “sinful nature” (or sinful disposition). Apparently, people in the early Church were being swayed by the heresy of Gnosticism – they were being taught that Christians were “delivered from their sinful nature” and “given a new nature;” therefore, because we have received this new nature, there is no longer any sin in us; as such, if we do something that is wrong, it is not “we” who have sinned – the sin is merely in the “physical body.” Hence the heresy of “antinomianism” (no law) – as long as you claim you know God in Christ, it is immaterial what you do, because you do not sin, it is simply the flesh or body that sins. That is the view John is countering here. For someone to say that “he does not have a sinful nature” is nothing but self-deception. The fact is, the “presence of evil” (a sinful nature) dwells within everyone of us (Rom 7:18); that is, there is something in our essential being that has twisted and perverted everything – it is called our “sin nature” or “sin disposition.” That is why we have sinful thoughts and sinful desires. Not only do we do wrong as Christians, but our very nature is sinful. The human heart is “desperately wicked,” writes Jeremiah (Jer 17:9), and those who look at themselves and face themselves honestly, know that this is the simple truth about human nature – that at the center of our being we are evil and sinful. To not admit that is simply self-deceit, and evidence that the truth is not in us – because truth in us is like a great flashlight flashing upon the depths of our being… all the evil spots and darkness are evident to us.
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“Walking in the Light”
The apostle John says, “If we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). Fellowship is never mechanical; it is always organic. First we must consider what we must do with regard to fellowship, and then we must consider what God does in maintaining the reality of fellow-ship. Because John uses “word pictures” to teach certain ideas (like “light” and “life”), the danger is to misinterpret the pictures, as if John is teaching some form of perfectionism. So, what is it that we have to do? First, we must “walk in the light” as He is in the light – though the tendency is to interpret this as saying we must be “absolutely perfect” as God Himself is perfect; that is neither possible, nor is it what this passage is teaching. The “key” to understanding this concept is found in the previous verse, where it says, if we “walk in darkness” we lie and do not the truth – in that verse we saw that “walking in darkness” meant living in the realm of darkness; being controlled by the ideas of the world and of sin; belonging to the kingdom of darkness and Satan. In other words, the people who “walk in darkness” are not those who constantly commit overtly sinful acts – they might actually be highly respectable and very moral – but they are walking in darkness because they are outside the light of the gospel of Christ. So it is a “realm” to which people belong that John is referring to. Therefore when we come to this verse about “walking in the light,” we need to interpret it as the antithesis of “walking in darkness.” Thus, it does not mean that I claim absolute perfection… rather it means that I now claim to belong to a “different realm” – to the kingdom of light and to the kingdom of God. I am in it; I belong to it; I walk in the realm of light. As Paul said, “I have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son” (Col 1:13). So John is saying that every believer of necessity is one who is walking in the light, and every unbeliever is walking in darkness. All Christians, however feeble, unworthy and faltering, are people who are – walking in the light. As such, all Christians desire to know God better… want to please God… and are concerned about being holy. The bottom line? – if someone is not “walking in the light,” he simply is not a believer.
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3. If we say that “we have not sinned,” we make God a liar (1:10) – If we do not realize that we are sinners and need the forgiveness of God, we are making God out to be a liar. Scripture teaches that “no one is righteous, not one” (Rom 3:10); that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23); and that “Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10), to provide pardon and forgiveness of sin by the shedding of His own blood on the cross. If I say I have not sinned, I am also proving that His word is not in me (because the word of God and His Spirit convicts us of such). To summarize this: Not to be right about sin means we are still walking in darkness – we are either lying or deceiving ourselves. If we are in that position, obviously we are not in fellowship with God, because it is an utter contradiction of everything that God is; hence, we are not Christians. One of the most comforting passages in all Scripture for us as believers is this – all true believers “walk and live in the realm of light” – not in the “realm of darkness.” That does not mean we are “perfect” or “don’t sin” – it simply means that God is an integral part of our lives; in short, both by God’s choice and by our choice, we are now in partnership with each other! Thus the “essential difference” between believers and unbelievers is that our “essence” is not the same – even though in many respects our behaviors might be quite similar, we no longer share the same essence. (111-121)
When we have “fellowship with God,” we walk in the light, and confess and acknowledge our sins. Therefore, it goes without saying, if we are walking with God and having fellowship with Him, it follows of necessity that we shall be more conscious than ever of our sinfulness and our unworthiness – and that is the great problem always with regard to this whole matter of fellowship with God. When we are in fellowship with God believers sometimes feel hopeless, because they are so conscious of their sin and of the holiness of God, that they conclude, “Fellowship with God is a sheer and utter impossibility!” Remember, it is the character of light to reveal and expose the hidden things of darkness, and this is supremely true when we walk with God. When we walk with God and when His Word dwells in us, of necessity we are “convicted of sin” – everything that is sinful in us is brought to the surface. God’s presence within us “convicts of sin.” Remember Isaiah’s response to the work of God in His heart? “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips!” (Is 6:5). Likewise, Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). That is what happens when we are truly in the presence of God. (135-136)
So the question arises, “What can we do?” We are trying to walk in the light… we are doing our utmost… we are confessing our sins… but that in and of itself seems to break the fellowship and make it impossible, because our conscience condemns us and we feel we cannot dwell in such a glorious light! In order to answer that question, we must return to what John writes (1 Jn 1:7, 9) – we now need to emphasize the “Godward side” or the Godward aspect. There are two main principles here: first, God has provided to meet our need; and second, we should have assurance in view of God’s provision – “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Justification represents “our standing” in the presence of God. Justification states that God regards us as “righteous” (just as if we had never sinned) – all because of what Christ has done for us. What God does for us in Justification is “remove the guilt of our sins altogether and remove the sins.” Sanctification, on the other hand, is that condition in which the “sin principle” (sinful nature) is being dealt with. Remember, Justification does not deal with the “sin principle” which is within us – it deals with the “sins” that we have committed. After our sins have been forgiven, the “sin principle” remains in us. Sanctification is the “process” whereby the very principle and the activity of sin within us, is being removed from us – this ongoing process continues throughout the believers life on earth. Furthermore, God assures us that this work will ultimately be fully completed when Christ returns! (Phil 1:6). So the difference between Justifica-tion and Sanctification is the difference between dealing with the sins that we have committed and their effect upon us, and dealing with the principle of sin (our sinful nature) that still resides within us. (137-138)
Which of these two issues is the apostle John dealing with? Lloyd-Jones says, “Many people are literally on the verge of a breakdown because of confusion on this point, and they begin to feel they are not Christians at all. Verse 7 does not mean that the blood of the Lord Jesus is cleansing the “sin principle” out of us; that it is sanctifying us; and that we are being literally purged from sin as a power until we shall be absolutely free from it. The “blood of Jesus” in Scripture always refers to His death on the cross – nothing more – our Lord’s death is that which purchased our pardon… reconciled us to God… atoned for our sins… accomplished our justification… and removed the guilt of our sin. Whereas sanc- tification and the lifelong process of our slowly being changed and transformed into the image of Christ, is the work of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within us. (139-141)
The Apostle John is interested in both our “fellowship with God” and our “walk with God” – He is not interested in our “sinful natures” as such, but in the guilt of sin and the tarnishing effects which sin produces and which interrupts the experience of fellowship. What he is anxious to show us is that though we are guilty of sins… and though we fall into sin… we can still have fellowship with God. It should be noted that the Bible does not teach us anywhere that fellowship with God is made “impossible” because sin still remains in us; if that were true no man who has ever lived would ever have enjoyed fellowship with God. Here is what John is saying – though the “sin principle” remains in us, and we still sin, we can still have fellowship with God. But what about the polluting and tarnishing effects of sin? you ask. Ah, says John, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses the very guilt and pollution and tarnishing effect of sin, and therefore you will continue to have fellowship with God. Committing an act of sin does not change that! Here is where sanctification comes in – the believer’s effort to walk in the light is part of the sanctification process (becoming more holy); as is the recognition of and confession of sins. The question before us, however, is the issue of seeing ourselves as sinful and then feeling as though we do not have fellowship with God. Thus, we think we are unworthy of this fellowship, so what can we do about it?
The Christian, by definition, is always “walking / living in the light” even though he falls into sin. By falling into sin you do not return to “walking or living in darkness;” therefore, if you fall into sin you are still in the kingdom of God – it is the shed blood of Christ that still delivers you from the guilt of your sins in the kingdom of God. We might easily apply this principle to our “earthly parents” – when we disobey them, does that nullify “the relationship we have in common with them? Are we not still their children? Do they not still love us? Well, if our earthly parents continue to love us when we wander off, how much more will our heavenly Father? (Is 49:15; Mt 7:11; Rom 8:32-39). So, when you sin – confess it and move on! and stop fixating on it! Acknowledge it before God, and in His infinite mercy He will apply the blood of Christ to it; furthermore, He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins – affirm that fact as indeed being the case! That is faith! It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from the guilt of sin. We are called to “walk in the light” – be the children of light that Jesus died to make us – and to “confess our sins,” and as we do, so He will bring to bear upon our confessed sin the provision He made on Calvary. As such, we are delivered from that guilt and pollution and from that tarnishing effect of sin, and by faith we can consciously rejoice in the fact that we have fellowship with God. At this point the devil comes and says to you, “You’re no Christian! You can’t walk with Him! Look at all your sin and your guilt!” And he makes you feel like a deplorable, hopeless wreck. But here is the glorious answer to that, and this is our assurance: “the blood of Jesus cleanses us – it goes on doing so – and will continue to do so – from all sin!” That is why it is called “Amazing Grace!” It is truly is amazing! Almost impossible to believe!
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The Believer’s “Fellowship” with God
For years I struggled with the doctrine of the believer’s “fellowship with God,” and why there was so much misunderstanding in ecclesiastical circles regarding this issue. My question was this: Is every believer in “fellowship with God” or not? And just what is “fellowship with God” really about? Why all the confusion on such a significant issue? Let me state the case clearly – every child of God (every believer) has entered into “fellowship with God” as a result of the work of Christ on the cross. No child of God is not in fellowship with God. The NT word translated “fellowship” is the Greek word koinonia – this term is frequently translated companionship, fellowship, partnership, sharing, and communion. So koinonia describes a situation where two or more persons enter into a “partnership” in which they share things in common. Note the strong similarities among the various words that are translations of koinonia; in particular, note the “sharing in common” aspect. Every believer is in “partnership with God,” and every believer has become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4) – regardless of the depth of their spirituality, this relationship is eternally estab-lished (Phil 1:6); but that does not mean every believer “enjoys” the fellowship / partnership / communion they have with God. Here is the crux of the matter: the less the believer trusts God, and more the believer sins, the “less joy” he will experience in his Christian life. Nevertheless, regardless of the spiritual joy he experiences, he is still in partnership and fellowship with God.
Here are some other considerations regarding the believer’s “fellowship with God” – all Christians have fellowship with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and with one another (1 Jn 1:3; 2 Cor 13:14; Phil 2:1; 1 Jn 1:3, 7); as believers we are brothers and sisters! Christ prayed that as His children we would experience the oneness we have (Jn 17:21). Every believer has become a partner with God for righteousness in this sinful fallen world (Mt 6:33). God by His grace called us into “fellowship with His Son” (1 Cor 1:9). As Christians we must “walk in the light” to enjoy His fellowship (1 Jn 1:3, 6). Fellowship with God is essential to fruitfulness (Jn 15:4). It is natural that Christians desire to enter into the fellowship of the Lord’s suffering (Phil 3:10). Ultimately, our eternal fellowship with God will be fully realized in heaven’s glory (Rev 21:1-4).
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David was conscious of the pollution in his soul and his need of cleansing in Psalm 51 – “Who can take from me the pollution and tarnishing effect of my sin?” We need something that can cleanse us and give us assurance – the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us! You can trust that! Peter reminds us that we were redeemed by the “precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19). This is our comfort and consolation: “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Our comfort and assurance is the very character of God Himself – He has “promised” that if we confess our sins He will forgive us freely (because of the cross). Therefore, have no doubts, says John – rely upon the faith-fulness of God to His own word. Furthermore, John adds, God is “just” in doing so! The “cross of Christ” is the propitiation for our sins; God is both “just and justifier” (Rom 3:25ff). So, when you are aware of your sinfulness, look to the blood of Christ and see the justice of God. There is power in the blood! You are forgiven! To not believe that is to not believe God! Affirm that reality! And enjoy His fellowship! (141-145)
The “blood of Christ” cleanses us from all sin! That is the gospel of Christ! Remind yourself of that fact! Without Christ and the cross there is no good news – no hope! There is only one way of fellowship and communion with God, and that is through the cross of Christ! There is “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Be perfectly clear about Him! The “blood of Christ” is the gospel! Satan was defeated at the “Cross!” And that is where he focuses his efforts: “remove the cross and you lose the power!” – that is his modus operandi! Don’t be enticed by the devil to see the “cross” as an elementary principle that really isn’t that big a deal – that you need to press on to “deeper matters.” The CROSS is the essence of Christianity! Remember, it is the “blood of Christ” that keeps on cleansing us from all sin! It is His blood that purchased our pardon and forgiveness and reconciles us to God. It is His blood shed on the cross that sets us free from sin and death. “Love, so amazing, so divine!” (147-156)
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The Believer’s “Relationship” with God
Let me use the metaphor of a “baseball team” to illustrate your relationship with God. Being a Christian in a way is like “being a member of God’s ball club” – He drafted you on to His team, and from day one He has been committed to making you a great ball-player, even though at this point you hardly know anything about how to even play the game; the reality is, you have never even played the game! So God didn’t draft you because you were some great proven commodity! Like many young people you don’t adapt easy to the game or to His training techniques; as a matter of fact, sometimes you don’t even like the game, so you feel like quitting and just giving up. Sooner or later you find out that that is not an option either – even when you go AWOL (absent without leave), He comes after you and finds you and takes you back to the ballpark! You see, God drafted you on to His team and now that you are on His team, that is never going to change. You are on His ball club forever! Another amazing thing about being on God’s team, is that He really likes you – as crazy as that sounds, He really does! How is that possible? Regardless of how lousy a player you are, He keeps working with you and does everything He can to make you a great ballplayer – He encourages you, instructs you, disciplines you, rewards you, pats you on the back, shows you the ropes, spends time with you, is patient with you, and never loses His cool with you, no matter how “lousy a job you do,” or how much “grief” you cause Him. He just keeps on loving you and working with you. Why does He invest so much in you? It doesn’t make sense. Many years later you find yourself in a “big game,” and He looks over and says to you, “You’re pinch-hitting!” You can’t believe what you’re hearing! How can it be? . . . your knees are shaking. . . your mind is racing. . . and you just know you’re going to “lose the game” for the team. Then you hear the Coach saying to you, “Don’t worry about all that stuff. . . just go up there and give it your best; you’ll do fine.” Sure ‘nuff, you go up to the plate, and in spite of all your inadequacies and frailties, you get a hit, and you drive in the winning run! You’re dumbfounded and grinning from ear to ear! “How in the world did that ever happen?” you wonder. Why would Coach have ever put me in the game? How did He know I’d come through with the winning hit? Read through the following scripture passages with this metaphor in mind – Ps 138:8; Phil 1:6; Rom 8:28-31; Lk 15:4-7; 1 Th 5:24; Heb 12:4-11. By the way, don’t get so uptight! Relax and enjoy playing the game! You are on His team!
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Once again, fellowship describes a situation where two or more persons enter into a “partnership” where they share things in common. John tells us that “God is light” – in Him there is no darkness at all (1 Jn 1:5). He is absolutely holy. Because God is light, those who desire fellowship with Him must also be pure. Therefore, in order for a person to be in “fellowship with God,” he cannot “habitually walk in darkness” (1:6); those who habitually (present tense verb) walk in darkness have never been saved. On the other hand, those who habitually (present tense verb) walk in the light are saved, and as a result, have fellowship with God (1:7). So, John tells us here that a man is either in the light or in darkness – if he is in the light, he is a member of God’s family; if he is in darkness, he doesn’t have anything in common with God, because there is no darkness in God at all. To claim fellowship or partnership with God, yet live a life that is in juxtaposition to the truth is a complete contradiction – John calls that a lie (1 Jn 1:6). Those who walk in the light (i.e., those who live in such a way that they are enlightened by the truth of who God is) have fellowship with one another (this may refer to fellowship with God rather than other believers), and the blood of Jesus Christ continually cleanses them (present tense verb) from all sin.
Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from all sin, and make it possible for “imperfect believers” to have fellowship with a holy God. Be very clear about this! Every believer lives in the realm of light and has continual fellowship with God; but enjoying that fellowship requires “walking intimately with Christ.” Regrettably, many churches teach the idea that believers can actually be “in and out of fellowship with God,” depending upon their walk – when they sin, they are said to be “out of fellowship,” and when they are walking in faith, they are said to be “in fellowship.” Though this erroneous view of fellowship is commonly held by many Christians, that is not at all what Scripture teaches. When believers sin, they do not “enjoy their fellowship” with Christ, but that does not mean it has been dismantled in some way, or uprooted as a reality in their lives – should believers sin, and that they do often, they continue to be recipients of the life of Christ and have an “intimate common bond with Him” (sin does not alter that in any way!)… but their enjoyment of that intimate bond is clearly affected; in short, the “partnership” continues, but the joy of that partnership is eclipsed. This is a very critical principle for the believer to understand.
Let’s return again to what the apostle John says concerning the believer’s “fellowship” with God. To be in genuine fellowship with God (i.e., being a believer) requires that we acknowledge the truth about ourselves. For instance, to deny that we have a “sinful nature” means we are simply deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8). Notice that John makes a distinction between “sin” (1:8) and “sins” (1:9) – sin refers to our corrupt, evil nature; sins refers to the evil acts we have done. Conversion does not mean the eradication of the sin nature; rather, it means the implanting of the new divine nature, with power (Holy Spirit) to live victoriously over indwelling sin (sin nature).
In order for us to walk day by day in “joyful communion with God” and other believers, obviously, we cannot be living a life of sin. Hence, we must “confess our sins” (i.e, “agree with God about our sins” or, literally, “say the same thing about our sins” that God says about them). The bible teaches that the one who “covers his sins will not prosper; but the one who confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prv 28:13; Mt 6:12). When we agree with God about our sins, we can claim the promise that God will forgive us our sins (He is faithful and just to do so), and also cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1:9). The forgiveness John speaks about here is parental – not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgive-ness from the penalty of sin (death); the sinner is exonerated when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ – this forgiveness is called judicial because it is granted by God as our Judge; so all the sins a believer has or ever will commit are judicially forgiven. Regarding the sins believers commit after conversion – (the “price” of those sins has already been paid for at the cross and has been judicially dealt with) – those sins, however, require parental forgiveness, and that is obtained when we confess our sins (1 Jn 1:9; Mt 6:12). Parental forgiveness restores the believer’s joyful communion and fellowship with God; remember, the “joy of fellowship” is not possible when there is unconfessed sin in the heart.
Finally, writes John, if we deny that we have committed “acts of sin,” we are actually calling God a “liar” (1 Jn 1:10). Why is that? God says we all sin and stumble in many ways – which should be pretty obvious to everyone (Rom 7:14-24; Jam 3:2). Denying that we commit sinful acts, indicates that God’s Word is not in us; as such, His Word does not effect a change in those individual’s lives (1 Pet 1:23; 2:2; Rom 12:2; Col 3:16). So John teaches us here in his First Epistle that fellowship with God is the result of being in a right relationship with Him (i.e., living in the light / being a believer). Therefore, fellowship with God does not require sinless living (which is not possible); rather, it means that as God’s children we strive in a Godward direction (“walk in the light”), and when we stumble and sin, we acknowledge our sins before Him, and confess and forsake them – and this we do because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Ps 32:3-5; Jn 16:8). If these things are not being done in a person’s life, then God’s Spirit is obviously not present in that person’s life; hence, they are simply not a Christian. By the way, Christians cannot live their lives in complete delusion and separation from God, because the work the Holy Spirit in their hearts simply would not permit such a wayward attitude of indifference (Ps 32:3-5; Ps 51:2-3, 12, 17; Heb 12:4-11).