God is light.
There is something so special about John. Of all the apostles and disciples, I believe he got it. He was one of the “inner circle” in the group of disciples, and he was the only disciple who went to the cross with Jesus. When you read his Gospel, it’s immediately apparent that his focus was completely different from the others. For instance, instead of beginning with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, he opted to start at the true beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1)
In the first of three subsequent letters he wrote to the early Christians, he continues his simple, yet profound thoughts on God. This one stuck out to me today: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (vs 5)
If I were going to sit down and try to think of a simple way to sum up the entire, overarching message about God as revealed in the Bible, I don’t think I could come up with a better sentence than that. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. It is so simple, yet so deep, perfectly capturing the essence of the Gospel—the good news about the kind of person God is—in just eleven words.
I came to love this even more as I thought about how the whole Bible begins: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)
And how it ends: “There will never be night again. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God Himself will be their light.” (Rev 22:5)
There is so much darkness in the Bible—so much, in fact, that many people have tossed it aside. They can’t fathom a God who could tolerate such darkness even long enough to confront it. There is so much darkness in the Bible—but, at least to me, there is something so comforting about knowing that it begins and ends with Light.
What does that mean? Exactly what John said in another of his glorious statements about God: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to put it out.” (Jn 1:5) No matter how dark things have gotten in the course of human history (and, oh, have they been dark!), God’s light has never, never stopped shining. And though the darkness has raged against that Light, it has never been able to (and will never be able to) extinguish it.
Oh, how we should remember this when we go through the tunnels in life! When it seems like the light is suddenly gone and all we are surrounded with is darkness. The Bible makes it clear that in those times, the darkness we encounter is but an illusion, a passing fad, a fleeting phenomenon.
For the Light is still shining, and the darkness—no matter how dark, how black, how inky, how implacable, or how opaque it seems—can never, never, never stamp it out. Long before the beginning, God was there, and even if all created things came to an end, God would still be there.
He cannot be extinguished or defeated or vanquished.
He. Is. Light.
God is here to help.
There is a famous verse in this chapter that is commonly used to suggest the idea that Jesus is pleading with the Father in heaven to accept us: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (vs 1)
This is actually the most “neutral” of the Bible translations on this verse. The majority of them actually use phrases such as plead with and argue with. But, is that the only option we have for understanding this text? To examine this a bit deeper, how about a little study of the Greek?
In this verse, the Greek word translated “advocate” is parakletos, a masculine noun which simply means “a helper, aider, assistant.”
John is the only New Testament writer who used this word, but he didn't apply it only to Jesus. In his Gospel, he used the very same word—parakletos—four times to refer to the Holy Spirit:
- I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever. (Jn 14:16)
- But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (Jn 14:26)
- When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me. (Jn 15:26)
- But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (Jn 16:7)
An important question to ask about these verses describing the advocate is, who is the recipient of the help? In every instance, we are the recipients. It is clear that this Helper is being sent from the Father to teach us, exhort us, remind us, and lead us into all truth. In this case, the advocate is for us.
These are the five times this Greek word appears in the New Testament. But there is one more passage worth considering—written by Paul about God the Father: “All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles.” (2 Cor 1:3-4)
These verses describe God the Father, and there is an interesting connection in the Greek to the other verses we've examined. Here, the Greek word translated “comfort” is paraklesis, a feminine noun from the same root family as parakletos, meaning “consolation, that which affords help, comfort, or refreshment.”
Thus, what we have in the New Testament is the Son, the Spirit, and the Father all described in a similar way—as those who come alongside us in order to give us help, assistance, and comfort. And, in each instance, it is we who are in need of the help, not them!
So, I suggest reading 1 John 2:1 with a different set of lenses. How about this? “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate along with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (vs 1)
Jesus isn't our only advocate. The Holy Spirit is also our advocate. And so is the Father.
God—in all three Persons—is here to help.
God is an attitude adjuster.
Once again, it’s John who makes a simple, yet profound statement about one of the fundamental realities of what God is dealing with in His universe-wide war. And it’s something that many Christians (and even more non-Christians) don’t understand or appreciate. It’s about sin: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (vs 4)
Often, I think we just “read over” this verse, but there’s something very important here. Notice that it does not say, “Everyone who breaks the law, sins.” But that’s how we usually talk about sin, isn't it? We say that someone has sinned because they have broken the law.
But John is saying just the opposite. It is not breaking the law that leads to sin. It is sin that leads to breaking the law. In other words, if you’re breaking the law, it is because you have already sinned. If that seems a little strange, John goes right on to clear it up by defining sin as lawlessness.
Here’s the fundamental difference between those two understandings. The first one (which most Christians espouse) places sin squarely in the behavioral category defining sin as “bad” actions. But John’s definition places sin squarely in the attitude category, defining sin as a problem of rebellion.
If conquering sin were really just about refraining from bad actions, then Jesus shouldn't have had any problem with the Pharisees. Nobody was as “righteous” as they were, after all. They followed God’s law meticulously. In fact, they came up with additional laws to create new boundaries to keep them from going anywhere near “breaking the law.”
Yet Jesus scolded them for being rotten to the core.
It shouldn't surprise us that what Jesus said about sin was consistent with what John wrote in this chapter. After all, John heard Jesus’ teachings on morality firsthand. Here’s a great example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28)
At first, this might seem highly unfair—that is, if you define sin as “bad” actions. Starting from that context, the person who looks lustfully at a woman but doesn't commit an actual sex act with her should be commended, not condemned! But God doesn't define sin as “bad” actions. He defines sin as an attitude problem that, if left unchecked, will inevitably lead to “bad” actions.
When we contemplate sin, we get all hung up on the “actions” part, but God has made it clear that He’s more concerned with our attitude than our behavior. That’s why He is a self-proclaimed attitude adjuster! For if our attitude toward Him is right, then He can take care of any residual behavior problems we have.
But if our attitude toward Him isn't right, then there’s not much He can do for us at all.
It doesn't matter how “good” we are if, at heart, we’re rebels.
God banishes fear.
If John had been a mathematician, he would have declared that love and fear are inversely proportional to one another: “There is no fear in love, but full-grown love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and so he who is afraid has not yet grown up into the full maturity of love.” (vs 18)
In other words, the more you have experienced God’s love, the less fear you’ll have of Him. The more fear you have of Him, the more it is evident that you have not experienced or understood His love.
This verse presents a couple of challenges to our thinking about God. The first is the assumption that if God, then, is truly love, He would never employ fear tactics with His children. Thus, many people cite this verse when attempting to throw out or “reinterpret” large portions of the Old Testament (where God does, indeed, seem quite fearful).
The problem with this is that it fails to take into consideration the idea that God is a good and loving parent—just like many of us. And when you’re a parent, you don’t want or intend for your children to be afraid of you as they grow and mature into adulthood. However, that doesn't stop us from employing methods of discipline that may incite fear in our children when they are young if those methods are most appropriate for the situation. It is only as they get older and more mature that they realize they truly have nothing to fear from their parents who love them.
John doesn't say that love would never employ methods that would incite fear. He simply says that the more we mature in the experience of God’s love, the more we will realize that we have nothing to fear from Him.
The second challenge this verse presents is in our thinking about what God will ultimately do to those who reject Him. Let’s go back to our parenting analogy for a moment. When a child is two years old, a parent may employ a method of discipline that will incite fear in order to help the child learn to obey. For a child who is only beginning to mature in his emotional and cognitive development, this would be a loving action. However, when that same child is 32 years old, if his parents threaten to kill him if he doesn't do what they say, we may seriously question whether love is the motivation.
So, when God threatened to “punish” His people in the Old Testament if they didn't obey Him, does that mean He’ll ultimately destroy anyone who won’t do what He says? I would be afraid of a person like that, wouldn't you? If that is how God ultimately treats His creatures, then there is much to fear.
And that’s why John’s assertion is so counter-intuitive to the way we usually think God will deal with His enemies. John says that if God is truly love, then ultimately, we have nothing to fear from Him—even if we choose not to do what He says. That doesn't mean there won’t be serious consequences for making such a choice, but we can be assured those consequences won’t come from God’s hand!
What could your child do to make you torture him?
What could your child do to make you kill her?
If even you, who are sinful, know how to love your own children, how much more does God fully and completely love His children? And one of the greatest aspects of this love is that, when we have grown up into it, it banishes all our fear of Him.
Truly, we have absolutely nothing to fear from the One who loves us with an everlasting love!
God gives life. Period.
One of the things I love about reading the Bible is that, time after time, God pulls back the curtain on everyday things to give us a new perspective. For instance, in this chapter, John talks about what life is, and it doesn't sound anything like our definition of life.
Here’s what John said: “Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts God’s testimony. But whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (vs 10-12)
When we want to determine if a person is alive or not, we check for vital signs: Is he breathing? Is her heart beating? If not, we say the person is dead. But John’s definition of true life—as given through the testimony of Jesus—is something altogether different. (Although, understandably, it would be difficult for a doctor to diagnose whether a person “has the Son” or not.)
And that leads me to a couple of very interesting things to observe about this passage:
1. We have eternal life. Right now. Did you catch that part of John’s statement? He said, “God has given us eternal life.” He didn't say, “God has promised to give us eternal life” or “God will give us eternal life.” No, he says we already have it. We don’t have to wait for it. Today is simply one of an eternity for anyone who chooses to hold onto the life God has already given him.
2. God doesn't take eternal life away. Not everyone who has been given eternal life from God will actually live forever. But notice how this loss of eternal life is not a punishment inflicted by God. Rather, it’s simply a statement of fact based on the choice we make. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.
The eternal life that God gives is in His Son, and the most famous Bible verse in the world reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” God loved us so much that He gave us His Son, and part of the gift of the Son is the gift of eternal life. We don’t have to work for it. We don’t have to earn it. We have it right now, simply because God chose to give it to us.
Whether we hold onto that gift is our choice. We can choose to let it go—although that would be tragic! But whatever decision we make regarding our ultimate fate is in our hands, not God’s.
He gives life. Period.
He gives it freely to everyone, no matter what. It is a gift that knows no pre-conditions, no probationary period, and no expiration date. The only way we can lose it is if we willingly decide to throw it away. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if we’re breathing or not or if our heart is beating or not. If we have the Son, we are alive.