|Vol. 13 No. 2 February 2011||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
The Bible teaches that salvation is conditional upon human obedience, not to be confused with human perfection. Conditional Salvation: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16-17). Obedience Saves: “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Human Imperfection: “There is none righteous, no, not one… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). Therefore, it is inappropriate for Christians to possess solely and strictly a law mentality under Christianity, especially since it is tempered with divine grace (Ephesians 2:8) and mercy (Titus 3:5).
However, it is natural for new Christians who have not matured to fret over the conditional nature of their salvation. Respecting their saved status, they may succumb to persistent anxiety over inadvertently or unintentionally violating (1) secular laws (behind which are God, Romans 13:1-7) or (2) God’s law under which we now live (i.e., Christianity, New Testament, Gospel, “perfect law of liberty,” (James 1:25). A better understanding of the nature of human redemption, including keeping the saved in a saved relationship with God, will alleviate unfounded fears among Christians respecting their preparedness to meet God in Judgment (Amos 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
This brings us to the consideration of acquiring and maintaining fellowship with the Godhead. Since fellowship between God and mankind was breached first in the Garden of Eden through Adam and Eve, we mortals have been estranged from God because of our sins. Yet, God has always presented humans with opportunities to reestablish fellowship with Him.
Unencumbered fellowship with almighty God under Patriarchy and the Old Law of Judaism required absolute human perfection. However, no human upon maturing to a state of mental responsibility has ever achieved sinless perfection. Therefore, under both Patriarchy and Judaism, conditional fellowship between God and His faithful followers was attainable through animal sacrifices, which were themselves typical of and dependent upon the ransoming from sin sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Through those sacrifices and obedience to God under those respective law systems, in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice, human perfection was pronounced upon man by God, permitting fellowship between God and his faithful followers.
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)
No less under Christianity, true fellowship with Almighty God is only possible on man’s side through human perfection. Yet, no human upon maturing to a state of mental responsibility has ever achieved sinless perfection. Not animal sacrifices, but the ransoming from sin sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes it possible for a sinless God to pronounce perfection upon His obedient followers, which perfection is essential for unencumbered fellowship to exist between God and man. “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God” (Hebrews 7:19).
Furthermore, the circumstances by which fellowship is possible between God and man are the very exact same circumstances that broaden the scope of the fellowship between God and man to include in this fellowship every other soul who enjoys this fellowship with God. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The apostle John in the first chapter of 1 John wrote about how erring Christians can have perfection pronounced upon them whereby they can sustain fellowship with God and fellowship with other men and women who also have fellowship with God. Unknown Sins: “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” (1 John 1:7). Known Sins: “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).
First John was written to correct erroneous doctrinal beliefs held by some Christians in his day. No less today, we need to dispel misconceptions about the nature of redemption that may impair Christians’ confidence in the status of their salvation. Notice especially 1 John 1:7 and 9 more carefully. Before we do that, though, it is important for us to realize to whom 1 John was written, and it is equally important to comprehension of the passage to understand to whom 1 John was not written.
It must be noted that these words concerning sin, found in verses 8-10, are not addressed to Gentile sinners, but a generation which had grown up in the church. Indeed, of all the epistles, this is the only one which can truly be said to have been addressed to a Christian generation. Hence, it would naturally emphasize, not the unconverted sinner’s need of pardon, but of the Christian’s constant need of a pardoning Savior. It is the Christian who cannot say that he has no sin, and who must find pardon by confessing his sins to Christ. Acts 2:38 shows how the alien sinner may obtain remission; 1 John 1:9 shows how the Christian, when he sins, may obtain remission. (Johnson)
The object of 1 John 1:7 is sustained fellowship between the Christian and his God, which also affords sustained fellowship between Christians, too. The means by which this fellowship is sustained pertains to walking in the light of God’s righteousness. “Light represents truth, knowledge and holiness. Darkness represents ignorance, error, falsehood and sin” (Johnson). The verbs and their tenses in 1 John 1:7 and 9, however, convey the essential particulars of how Christians can maintain fellowship with God and other Christians, despite the occurrence of sin in their lives from time to time.
The verbs “walk,” “have” and “cleanses” in 1 John 1:7 are present tense, and they represent continuing action. As long as the child of God continues to walk in the light of God’s righteousness, he continues to have fellowship with God (and other Christians), because the blood of Christ continues to cleanse him from his sins. Delightfully, this fellowship is reciprocal between man and God, and between Christians (Wuest). Christians who conscientiously practice the Christian faith receive constant cleansing from the sins that may creep into their lives unexpectedly.
For those who walk in the light, the continual, ceaseless and effective cleansing through the blood of Christ is the means of their continuing in a state of absolute perfection. This cleansing, however, is not necessarily automatic. It is based upon confession, penitence, renewal (1 John 1:9), and keeping his commandments (1 John 2:3). Even beyond this, however, the cleansing effect of Jesus’ blood is operative unconditionally in instances of the believer’s unawareness of sins that lie hidden from himself. …This great verse [1 John 1:7] is the source of incredible joy, assurance and consolation to the child of God. He never needs to fear that some impulsive, unintentional, or atypical conduct might overtake him with the result of eternal condemnation. (Coffman)
“‘Walk’ in this passage, as frequently in the New Testament, is an idiom for the totality of human conduct” (Coffman). “Walk” means “literally, walk about; indicating the habitual course of the life, outward and inward” (Vincent). “‘If we keep on walking in the light…’ It must be a continuing walk. …‘Cleanseth’ …a constant process, conditioned on our walking in the light. As we thus walk the blood operates to keep us constantly cleansed from the defilement of sin… We keep on having an ever-present remedy for the isolated acts of sin which, through weakness, ignorance, and inadvertence, we commit” (Woods).
Whereas 1 John 1:7 pertains to sins of which the child of God is unaware, 1 John 1:9 concerns sins in the life of a Christian of which he becomes aware. Verse 9 is about forgiveness of singular, non-habitual sin, whereas verse 7 notes continual forgiveness of unknown sins as one habitually practices Christianity (Wuest). Verse 7 activates the forgiveness of sins based on the continual walking in the light of God’s righteousness, but in verse 9, the forgiveness of sins is as continual as is the confessing of the sins of which one becomes aware. “Confess” is 1 John 1:9 is present tense and indicative of continuing action, too.
In the overall context, we have these jewels as well. Verse 6 informs us with whom we do not have fellowship due to walking in the darkness of sin, but verse 7 tells us with whom we do have fellowship because we walk in the light of God’s righteousness (Robertson). Verse 8 notes the false affirmation by some Christians that it is not possible for them to commit sin, whereas verse 10 observes the equally false claim by some Christians that they are not guilty of specific acts of sin (Robertson). Wiersbe summarizes the two verses thus: “Lying about nature of sin (1 John 1:8) and lying about the deeds of sin (1 John 1:10).”
Happily, mankind’s redemption is conditional upon human obedience rather than upon human perfection. Yet, this is only possible through the benevolence of the Godhead and specifically through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. As long as Christians conscientiously practice Christianity and repent of sins whenever they become aware of them, the children of God continuously receive the cleansing of the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ – power washing our very souls from sin! There are no gaps in our salvation as long as we continue to walk in the light of God’s righteousness and repent of the occasional sins of which we become aware.
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. CD-ROM. Abilene: ACU Press, 1989.
Johnson, Barton Warren. People’s New Testament. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2008.
Vincent, Marvin R. Vincent’s Word Studies, Vol. 2. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1992.
Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: Peter, John, and Jude. Gospel Advocate Commentaries. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2005.
Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest’s Word Studies. 3 Vols. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
I vividly recall times as a young person when my dad would use the phrase “thin ice.” Usually, that phrase was directed to me because of one of my mischievous endeavors. I guess dad could see the tomfoolery in my eyes, and he would call out a familiar warning, “Son, you are on thin ice.” No one needed to explain that phrase to me, because it had already been explained in terms even a child could understand (by the warming of my bottom)! The phrase “thin ice” meant that I was about to get myself in a whole heap of trouble if I failed to heed that warning. Surely, most everyone has experienced the feeling of thin ice. Sometimes, warning “cracks” are heard and at other times no warning is given. I recently fell through some thin ice; when I heard the warning crack, it was too late; my feet were already in the freezing water. Thin ice cannot be trusted! Similarly, there are “pockets” of “thin ice” along our journey to heaven that cannot be trusted either.
Smugness is certainly a pocket of thin ice. The smug or proud do not always “crash” into bone chilling waters immediately, but eventually they will take that plunge! The wise man’s words warn, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Maybe not today, but eventually “A man’s pride shall bring him low…” (Proverbs 29:23a). You see the smug/proud walk confidently across what they believe is thick ice, but be not deceived, they are on seriously treacherous footing. Smugness is Thin Ice!
Stubbornness is certainly a pocket of thin ice. Sadly, some are so stubborn that even when it is pointed out that the path they are on is going to collapse, they refuse to heed the warning. Can you imagine how silly it would be for a person to hear the cracks beneath his feet, realize that he is about to plunge into deadly icy water, and yet be so obstinate that he continued with the same stride! As the throne was ripped from King Saul, Samuel warned, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). The stubborn will fall. Stubbornness is Thin Ice!
Satisfaction is certainly a pocket of thin ice. How often do Christians reach a point when they feel as though they have studied enough, worked enough and battled enough that they become complacent in their walk with God. God’s children are either “growing” or “dying”! If we become satisfied, then we are most certainly on thin ice and our spiral downward is inevitable. Paul strongly warned against becoming satisfied, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 15:58a; cf. Philippians 3:13-14; Hebrews 12:1, et al). We will never know enough, we will never be good enough and we will never do enough! Let’s keep growing (2 Peter 3:18), because to do otherwise is to find ourselves on dangerous footing. Satisfaction is Thin Ice!
Sadly, some are walking about each day on seriously treacherous ground. They walk as though they are on a secure foundation, but they are actually on thin ice. Dear Reader, can you hear the cracks under your feet? Will you allow Smugness, Stubbornness or Satisfaction to be your ruin? Or, will you heed the warnings and move to where the foundation is secure? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Thin Ice is Dangerous!