The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©



'This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to 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 cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.' (1:5-10).

The first four verses of this letter make clear the meaning and the purpose of God's sending His own Son Jesus Christ into this world. He wants us through Christ to have 'fellowship', fellowship one with another, but above all fellowship with Himself. And if we know that we can have life with Him like that, we have something to pass on, to 'proclaim' to others. Now these verses take up this matter of 'fellowship' with God, what it means and what are its conditions. They also say more about the 'message' that we have to 'proclaim'. No one can understand the 'message' unless he first and always realizes and accepts that 'God is light and in him is no darkness at all'. That means that God is all goodness, truth, purity, righteousness. There is no error, no sin, no evil of any kind in Him. All that is evil is completely opposed to what God is. Since this is so, if we were to see Him face to face, it would be for us like blinding light as it was for Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3) and for John on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:16). Because of this fact about 'the message' and because of what 'fellowship with God' means, three truths follow and three false claims must be rejected. The false claims that people were making when John wrote this letter are introduced by the words 'if we say' in verses 6, 8, and 10.

a. 'If we say we have fellowship with him'.

There were some who were saying that they had fellowship with God and they had no right to say so. They were walking in darkness. They continued to live in their own evil ways. They did what was dishonest and selfish. They thought that they could do these things and have fellowship with God at the same time. Impossible, John says. Light and darkness cannot exist together (compare 2 Corinthians 6:14). If light comes, darkness must go. If there is darkness, there is not light. If God is present in a person's life, if He is in control, if there is fellowship with Him, there cannot be darkness. 'If we say we have fellowship with him' and we go, on in the darkness of things we know are wrong, then what we say is a 'lie', and we do not live by the truth that God has given to us.

The real Christian is the person who realizes that God is light. He comes as he is to God. He lets the light of God show up the darkness of sin of his life. He acknowledges his sin, asks God to take it away and then shows that he wants for the future to live in the light and not in the darkness. Verse 7 says that if we do this, two things follow:

  1. 'We have fellowship with one another.' Sin not only destroys our fellowship with God, but also our fellowship with one another. When humbly we acknowledge our sin, and find forgiveness, we are able to meet together and live together as forgiven sinners.
  2. 'The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.' Unfortunately we do not stop sinning altogether when we first turn from the darkness of our lives to the light of the Lord. We often fail and sin, but as often as we do, we turn back to our Lord and we depend on what He has done for us to forgive us. I can say, 'Lord, I belong to the light, but I have sinned again, and I have let darkness come into my life. You have died for me. Your blood was shed as a sacrifice for my sins. Forgive me again, cleanse me again and help me to walk with You in the light.'

b. 'If we say we have no sin'.

There were those among the people to whom John wrote who were saying that they had no sin and evil in their lives - they had done nothing against God's will and purpose, nothing against their fellow men and women! Perhaps they said that since they had been baptised and become Christians, they did not have any sin left. Sometimes people today, even some who call themselves Christians, explain sin away and call it by another name. Sometimes we compare ourselves with others, and think that our lives are all right. Sometimes we are involved in a misunderstanding or a quarrel and we say that all the fault was the other person's and not ours. Whenever we say that we have no sin and that we are all right, we are in a dangerous position. John says, `we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us'. The nearer we are to God and to His truth, the more we will feel and realize the sins and failures of our lives. It is a foolish thing at any time to say or think that we have no sin. There is one way that is always right, to see and 'confess our sins'. Then we can rely on the fact that God is 'faithful' to His word and promise. He is 'just' and yet, because He has given His Son to die to bear our sins, He will forgive us, taking away the guilt of our sin, and He will cleanse us so that our past sin no longer defiles us and spoils our lives.

c. 'If we say we have not sinned'

This is a little different from what has been said in verse 8. Does anyone try to say that? Not if they know their own weaknesses and failures; not if they have any understanding of the light and purity of God; not if their lives have been set alongside the perfect life of Jesus Christ. But there are many people who think that they live a good enough life, and that God will accept them for it. It is not enough for us to feel that we have never committed the kind of crime that everyone talks about, and that is reported in the newspaper. 'To fail to be as good a father, mother, wife, husband, son, daughter, workman, person as we might have been is to sin' (Barclay). To know the right thing to do and to fail to do it is sin (James 4:17). So if we say that we have not sinned, we certainly deceive ourselves. We do something more than that, we make God a liar. We say that we are in the right, and He is in the wrong. For God shows clearly, in scripture, and in our consciences, that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23). We all in our different ways, and many times, have seen God's way and chosen our own ways. 'His word is not in us' unless we accept it, confess that we have sinned against God and against others, then turn from our sin back to Him for His forgiveness and to receive the desire and the strength to obey Him.


Lord, I cannot say that I am in the right and You are in the wrong. You are perfect light, and there has been so much darkness and sin in my life. I thank You that Your Son was willing to die for my forgiveness. Forgive me all my many sins; cleanse me from all the evil of my life; and help me to walk in the light with You and in openness and fellowship with others; through the grace of Jesus Christ my Saviour. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

  1. Study the following passages for the help that they give us in understanding that God is light and we are called to live in the light and not in the darkness: Romans 13:11-14, Ephesians 5:8-14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8.
  2. Consider carefully what it means to live or not to live, according to the truth' (verse 6) and to have God's truth (verse 8) or God's word (verse 10) in us or not in us. What are our ways of knowing the truth of God?


  1. The Christian life begins for us when we turn from the darkness of sin to the light of God instead of wanting to remain in the darkness (see John 3:17-21). When we turn to God like that we find His forgiveness and the cleansing of all our past sin. Verse 7 here describes (with three present tenses) the things that go on in the Christian life after that.

a. We walk day by day in the light of God

b. We have fellowship one with another

c. We are cleansed from the sin which we allow to come into our lives day by day (see how John 13:5-10 describes that first cleansing that we need, and then the daily cleansing).

  1. Verse 9 speaks of God as 'faithful and just' to 'forgive our sins'. The meaning of 'faithful' is that God is true to His promise to forgive us as we turn to Him - we can rely on Him completely to do this. 'Just' may mean much the same as 'faithful', or it may bring in a very different thought. It is the same word in the original Greek as that used for 'righteous' in 2:1. God's justice, the fact that God upholds righteousness and truth, means that He could not just set aside our sins with a word; He forgives them as they are borne by the 'righteous', sinless Son of God.