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 practice 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 to forgive us our sins and to 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 John 1:5–10)
John began his letter by laying out his credentials: he had seen, heard and been around Jesus. This person who was “from the beginning”, this “life made manifest” was someone whom John knew and had followed. He is the eyewitness, and he then goes on to lay out in a few verses what he had heard from Jesus.
First of all the Apostle sets out a radical distinction: light and dark. This had been a theme in the Gospel too, and it is at the core of how we should understand God. He is light. In him there is no darkness at all. There is a purity to God which is beyond our reach, yet we are called to fellowship with him, to walk with him
How might this be? The answer John gives is two-fold. First of all he urges us to simply live the Christian life, to be part of a group of Christians and to put into practice Jesus’s teaching. Secondly, though, he acknowledges that this walk is plagued with pitfalls. Although we can set out with good intentions, it is also the case that we sin. All of us. In fact, “if we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar, and his word is not in us”.
This is why confession is such an important part of the Christian life. It is a signal that we are trying to live in the light, and that we lament over the things we get wrong. To confess (to God or to another person) is a sign that we recognise that we are not perfect, as God is perfect. It is a sign that we are striving to be more faithful.
And then what a joy to know that we will be ‘cleansed’.