Meditations in 1 John: Walking in the Light Shows that You Know God

By Colton Corter

“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.”

(1 John 1:5-7 ESV)

Our God dwells in inapproachable light. God’s holiness, His intrinsic worth and beauty, makes the chasm between us and Him incalculable.

This makes the beginning of John’s passage really bad news. God is light and in Him there is not one single shred of darkness. God alone is completely devoid of sin. God is pure light. He enjoys His own perfections perfectly within the Godhead. He is pure. We, however, are not. Really we are quite the opposite. In our rebellion, man is dark and in us is no light at all. The Bible paints a vivid picture of man’s natural state. We are lovers of darkness (John 3:19), not victims. Our hearts are turned inward, hell-bent on pursuing our joy in everything and anyone but God. This is the grandest injustice in the whole world. God, who created everything so that He might be made much of in the affections of His created beings, is infinitely pure and worthy of our pure devotion. We are unwilling and unable to render to God what is rightfully His!

But John is talking about this message in the positive. That is because God had given us new life. God’s Spirit quickens our dead hearts and opens our blind eyes to see the glory of Christ. No longer do we love darkness and hate God. Pure light now because our highest good. That is because Jesus Christ came, full of this divine light, but was judged as if it were He who had been in love with perpetual darkness. God’s purity was drained on His pure Son. The gospel, this news about the objective work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection, takes what was our worst enemy and makes it our greatest joy. The holiness that once threatened in wrath and indignation now captivates and produces wonder-filled joy. We stand justified before an aweful and holy God.

This very fact leads us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). John doesn’t say that fellowship with God through Christ is earned by walking in the light. However, he does say that walking with this God of pure light will necessarily be characterized more and more with holiness. Salvation, in other words, leads to something: happiness and holiness. Our obedience has been purchased and is worked in us by the Spirit of God. Justification leads inevitably to sanctification. Pardon leads to life.

John is writing to give us assurance but there is such a thing as false assurance. Assurance is not the same thing as security. We can be fully persuaded that we are indeed children of God but be dead wrong (Matthew 7). If we say that we have come to know God and yet our actions don’t match up with our profession then we are lying. Fruit betrays our real root.

God’s purity affects purity in us. As we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ found in its fullest in the gospel, we are exposed to the light of the knowledge of this glory. We are transformed as we fight to behold. We go from one degree of glory to another as we walk progressively through the Christian life with God in the light. We cannot claim to have fellowship with this God and continue in our love affair with sin and self. Grace promises so much more than that.

This is the mark of a true Christian. Certainly we aren’t perfect. But we are different. We are characterized by a warfare, even as we are characterized by unshakable gospel confidence. Notice that John says that our walking in the light is what gives us fellowship with the people of God in verse 7. The local church is comprised of those who walk in the light in such a way that testifies to the pure light of God’s glory. It is the church – full of repentant, justified and progressively sanctified people- that displays God’s manifold wisdom to the watching world (Ephesians 3:10).

Brothers and sisters, this passage finishes with an incredible encouragement. It says that if we are walking in the light, if we love the light and hate the darkness, then “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from unrighteousness.” Don’t get this wrong. All of our joy and comfort stand or fall with getting this verse right. Our walking is not the condition for the blood of Jesus cleansing our sin. The blood of Jesus creates our walking. Every good endeavor, every decision to gouge our eye or cut off our hand, was purchased by Christ and enabled by God’s holy Spirit. Sanctification is all of God’s grace. But this grace does more than just justify us. God gives us Himself and allows us to grow in our pleasure in Him. This walking in the light is proof that we have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood on the cross. Our holiness is the proof that the wrath of God due us has been satisfied on the Son. Our fight against our sin is the validation of what we have been declared to be. Subjective assurance gives us confidence in objective assurance.

We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, positionally. This is good news. You will never been more righteous in the sight of God than you are now. But you will be more righteous than you are right now. The same blood that cleansed us initially and that stands as our confidence before God will continue to cleanse us from sin until that one glorious day when we are free to sin no more.

Meditations on 1 John: Believing to Belong

By Colton Corter

[1] That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—[2] the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—[3] that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. [4] And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.  (1 John 1:1-4 ESV)

Fellowship. Fellowship is a word that is thrown around a lot but is rarely defined. Our churches have men’s fellowships, women’s fellowships, we get together to fellowship and we even have fellowship in the fellowship hall! But biblically, what does it mean to have fellowship with one another?

John is writing these things so that these people will have fellowship with them (v.3). He longs to share with them in the gospel. Christian lives, Christian churches are characterized by a “compelling community.” The world will know us by our love for every man to be sure, but it is our love for one another that Jesus says will uniquely testify to the gospel before men (John 13:35). Nonbelievers can have friendships by God’s common grace. But they cannot have biblical fellowship!

Fellowship is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of the “these things” that John is writing refers back to verses 1-2. John says that the words the apostles are writing, the authoritative Word of God through the mouths of men, are not a list of timeless principles for a better life. What they proclaim is “from the beginning,” that which they “heard,” and that which they “looked upon and touched” with their own hands! In other words, these things actually happened. It doesn’t matter if we think they did or not!

Jesus promised that his disciples would be given the Holy Spirit who would take what was God the Father’s and teach them, leading them in all truth (John 16:13). This apostolic witness if found in the written Word of God: the Bible. It is this Word that Peter says is “more sure” than even their eyewitness experience itself! (2 Peter 1:19) The Bible is the only inspired, inerrant, sufficient and authoritative Word of God. This is a firm foundation “concerning the word of life.” The Bible has its focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The apostles’ testimony is our only means to know God as He has revealed Himself.

This is the source of all truly Christian fellowship. John longs for them to have fellowship he and the others. And he says that the fellowship that he and the others have together is with God the Father and with His Son Jesus. Fellowship, at least in its biblical sense, is focused on God. It talks about God. It is had by those saved by God and satisfied with God. Christian fellowship shows the sufficiency of Christ and testifies to the power of the cross to bring together those who have nothing else in common save the righteousness of Christ.

It is common to say that someone has to belong before they can believe. It is thought that fellowship comes before doctrine. Deeds lead to creeds. But John would say that we have it backwards! Fellowship is only had with those who believe in the same Christ. Who defines this Christ? He Himself does! That which was from the beginning and has been made manifest to us in the Word is Himself our peace (Ephesians 2:14). The only ground of Christian love is that we have come to know God as He is. God has showed us His glory, turning us from our sins and compelling us towards His Son. Fellowship is had by those for whom God has done this. This type of fellow testifies to the world about God. When people are showed that they do not belong, they wonder just what these people believe so that they would belong together. Christian fellowship, fueled by and sustained by sweet affections and conversations about Christ, adorns the gospel and is attractive to a looking world.

Meditations on 1 John: That You May Know! (Part Two)

By Colton Corter 

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)

The Christian can know for certain that he is, in fact, a Christian. Assurance of salvation is a beautiful reality and is a fountain of holiness and happiness in Christ. Unlike all other systems of thought, the gospel motivates joy and obedience by giving certainty. Islam, Roman Catholic and any other man-made religions reject the notion of assurance of whatever they deem to be salvation. Wouldn’t assurance lead to presumption and moral laxity? Not in the gospel that creates joy in God and works from the inside out. The gospel, really the whole Christian life, is based on certainty. 

Assurance is possible first because of the objective work of Christ on our behalf. The gospel lies ever outside of us. Again it is the objective person and work of Christ that happened 2,00o years before many of us were born that is our confidence before God. God is ferociously holy. God created out of an overflow of His own glory and enjoyment of that glory with the Godhead so that He might display the riches of His glory in the gladness of a redeemed people. God’s worth demands His creatures total pleasure and worship. But we have all sinned and decided that our own glory is the goal of our universe. We have rebelled against a holy God and have lied about the worth and character of the only eternal God! For this reason, God’s wrath hangs over against us as the only good response to the heinous sin that we all have committed. Sin is the disatisfaction in God that begins in the affections and hearts that only then is expressed in thought, word and deed. We are very evil people. Our only hope is that God sent His Son Jesus to live a perfect life unto the Father. He, unlike us, relied on his Father, enjoyed His Father and glorified the Father on our behalf. He fulfilled the righteous demands of the Law. But then He was drowned by the wrath of God that was reserved for us. Like the Passover lamb, Jesus died as a substitute for all those whom the Father would call to Himself. Jesus rose from the dead, proving His power over death and the Father’s acceptance of His payment for our sins. Now everyone who comes to Christ as Savior, Lord and Supreme Treasure, forsaking their sin and running to superior joy in Jesus, will be saved! This is really good news. It is the work of Jesus on our behalf, through the instrument of saving faith, that serves as our only confidence before the Father. No one will boast before Him on that Last Day.

But the question of assurance is often not asking about this type of assurance. Many know the glory of the gospel and that Christ is there only plea. Their question, our question, is how we can know that we have true saving faith in that work? How can we have confidence that we should be confident in the gospel? We all know people who have proven that they were not really in the faith. Biblically, we know that we cannot lose our salvation but sometimes we struggle with our own sinful hearts to really know that we are children of God.

1 John 5:13 says this is the purpose of the whole book. This verse  is near the end of the book as so the “these things” he says are to give them assurance in his letter are the things found in the previous four chapters. We’ll be looking at these for the duration of this series, Lord willingly. All of these things that John writes are evidences that we have repented and trusted in Christ. Again, our confidence before God is ultimately the righteousness of Christ. But we can know by our lives that we have been born again. Justification is proceeded by sanctification. Being set apart as holy leads to real life holiness in everyday life.

John wants us to know that we have eternal life. He gives us these Spirit-inspired criteria so that we can examine ourselves to see if these things characterize our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is recognizable and grows. The emphasis on knowing contributes to something we saw earlier. Assurance begets enjoyment of God and obedience to God. Holiness and happiness may not be separated in the Christian life. When we lose assurance, for any reason, our souls shrink. But when we see these things in our life and the Spirit testifies with our Spirit that we are really children of God who are hidden with Christ, we can boldly live lives that display the glory of God!


 

Colton Corter is from Arkansas, a student at SBTS, and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church.

Meditations on 1 John: How does a series like this start?

By Colton Corter

Lord willing, I’d like to begin a series of short meditations from the book of 1 John. 1 John was inspired by the Holy Spirit so that we might know that we have saving faith in Christ. As we’ll see, the root of our salvation is proven by fruits. 1 John is a penetrating book that calls us to holiness by pointing us to the certain salvation found by faith in the Rock of Ages. I doubt that I’ll hit every line, but most posts will take a couple of verses and glean whatever we can of the glories of Christ from them.

But first I thought it would be helpful to show just how these posts have come about. You may not be interested in knowing that. I understand! However, I want you to see how I have come to see these things in the Bible, why I am writing and how to see these things for yourselves.

The series is entitled “Meditations on 1 John.” Each of these posts will be the fruit of Bible meditation. Think of Bible meditation as a combination of Bible reading and prayer. It is the process of rolling biblical truths around in your mind, squeezing out of them all that we can so that we enjoy the God of the Bible more. This type of type of study welds the head and the heart – taking what is objectively true in the Bible and submitting our subjective affections to it so that we feel deeply about God as He really is. I wonder how many of us meditate on the Bible. And yet, our brothers that have gone before us testify that Christian maturity will come by any other means.

I have just recently studied through the book of 1 John. Each night, I will write out a section of the book and study it. I’ll take two different color pens and draw lines so that it looks like something that only I could make any sense of!  During this time, I want to be focused on beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel. Therefore, I am coming to the Bible, not so much for practical “how-tos”, but to know God better (which ends up being the most practical thing in the world).

So Bible meditation takes two parts. First is the study of Scripture. Brothers, we must come to the Bible to know God. Eternal life is knowing God and His Son whom He has sent (John 17:3). We cannot know somebody that we know nothing about. To be sure, oh to be so sure, we can pursue “knowledge” in a way that puffs up and makes us stick our chests out. However, the problem with such a knowledge is not that we are too focused on our minds but that we have not yet begun to the love God with our mind. Mind and heart cannot be rightly separated. They aren’t even things to be balanced. True knowledge, all true knowledge of God, will result in increased affections, humility and holiness of life. Since the goal is to know God, we must think in theologically terms. Our longing is to see God! To do this, we need to view the Scriptures with an eye to what the whole Bible teaches about a particular doctrine. So when John says that he is writing so that we might not sin we know that he is not expecting some kind of sinless perfection, especially because he just said in the chapter before that the one who says that they don’t sin is a liar! So we want to see how different doctrines, those arising from the present text and those we have seen in other texts, connect with one another. And this takes a lifetime and will never be exhausted. What a wonderful God!

Second is prayer. We are desperate men. I am not capable of one God-honoring thought outside of God’s sovereign grace. I am to strive to know and think well, but all of my efforts are dependent on God’s enabling (1 Cor 15:10). For that reason, I am starting each time before the Book asking for God to help. John Piper taught me the acrostic IOUS:

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36)
  • Open my eyes to behold the wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18)
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14)

If we come to the Bible in our own power then we will utterly fail. Our Bible reading will just become another means to another end that is by nature not god. We must ask God to help us, to open our groggy eyes. It is the Spirit that does this, so enlightening our hearts that we might discern the depth of God’s love for us in Christ. Even as you read, pause and ask God. Does something seem off or difficult? Ask God to help you! Some of my sweetest times in communion with God have come at dead-ins in my Bible study. While languishing in my own futility, God gives light and opens up His Word to me. All of this should be turned into adoration towards God.

I hope that this process is the spring from which all of my writings come from. God forbid I ever write in a way that is less than doxological and less focused on the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ clothed in the gospel. It is dangerous to write for other reasons than a desire to enjoy God and help others do the same. I am praying to the end, that God would be pleased, from what He has shown me, to take these truths (insofar as I am faithful to the text) and press them deep into your soul. Oh that God would give us low thoughts of ourselves, high esteem for the gospel of the cross and a longing to see God maximized in our lives and teaching. Glory to God alone, in the white-hot affections of His people for Christ alone!


Colton Corter is a student at SBTS and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville.