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The Rev. P.G. Mathew: “Claims Examined” (1 John 1:5-10)

August 28, 2006

The First Epistle of John is perhaps my favorite book of the New Testament, and I came across a remarkable sermon, Claims Examined, by the Rev. P.G. Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in California. This sermon looks at 1 John 1:5-10 and what John had to say about six claims often made by people:

1. 1 John 1:6, “We have fellowship with God”

2. 1 John 1:8, “We are without sin”

3. 1 John 1:10, “We have never sinned in our entire lives.”

4. 1 John 2:4, “We know God.”

5. 1 John 2:9, “We are in the light.”

6. 1 John 4:20, “We love God.”

And Rev. Mathew also, at the beginning of this sermon, gives us the standard by which these claims are to be tested:

How can we fairly examine these claims? God have given us a standard by which we can judge all things. It is his standard of truth, the Bible.
The Standard of Testing: God Is Light

In 1 John 1:5 we read, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” John was saying that the unchanging and most important message he heard from the Lord Jesus Christ was that God is light, and in him there is absolutely no darkness at all.

We must first point out that John does not start his letter with man and his needs, desires, feelings, frustrations, and problems. That is what most of us would do because we human beings are anthropocentric. But here John starts his letter with the objective, ultimate reality of God.

The Bible itself starts this way. In Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning, God. . .” And John’s gospel starts that way as well: “In the beginning was the Word. . . .” When the Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, he began with God, saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven. . .”

We must always start with God! We must always affirm and assert the objective reality of God and his infallible revelation. So John says, in essence, “I want to tell you the message we have heard from the incarnate Son. It is not something we invented or made up, as philosophers make up their philosophies. This is divine revelation, originated in the divine Son of God, who himself is the radiance of God’s glory.” So the apostle says, “This is the message we have heard from him,” meaning “By the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ we are declaring to you what we heard, and we must declare it with absolute conviction and authority.”

John starts with God by defining God’s character. He says God is light, which means God is glorious and God is truth. It is this God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, for to see the Son is to see the Father.

During the nineteenth century, beginning around 1860, people abandoned this conception of the character of God as light, holiness, and truth, and began to define God by saying, “God is love.” Yes, God is love, and that idea is also found in this epistle, but the first thing we must know about God is that he is light. The Bible also says God is spirit, meaning God is immaterial, and that God is a consuming fire. So when we speak about God being love, we must understand it in the light of his holiness. God’s love is holy love, in other words. I think we all have, at one time or another, succumbed to preferring this definition of God being love at the expense of the other definition of God being holiness. I hope we will not make that mistake again. If God were only love, there would be no need for the incarnation and the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ in our behalf.

What explains the incarnation of Jesus Christ? What explains the Christmas season? What explains the conception, birth, life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? It is this essential nature of God: he is light, meaning he is characterized by perfect holiness and purity.

Not only does John say “God is light,” but then he adds, “in him there is no darkness at all.” God is not a combination of light and darkness. That would be pantheism. There is no evil in God at all. But when we murmur and complain before God, we are attributing darkness to him, are we not? We are saying that somehow God has sinned and become unfaithful toward us. Oh, that we would shut our mouths when we come before God! I pray that we would think about who God truly is and be governed by this definition that God is light. Psalm 104:2 tells us, “He wraps himself in light as with a garment.” In Psalm 36:9 we read, “in your light we see light.” In Psalm 27:1 we read, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”

But now we must ask the question: If God is light, how can sinful man have fellowship with him? Habakkuk the prophet said of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (Hab. 1:13). Throughout the Bible God tells us, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Jesus Christ told his disciples, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

This holiness of God explains why the eternal Son had to become man. He alone could take away our sins and make us holy, making us like God so that we can have fellowship with God. Fellowship calls for something in common, for a correspondence of character between people. To have fellowship between God and man, either God must change and become evil like us, or we must change and become holy like God. But the Bible says God cannot change, so in order for us to have fellowship with God, we must change. We must become holy.

The truth is, we cannot change. How can a sinner become a saint? It is an utter impossibility. God himself must work a change in us, and he has done so in Jesus Christ, who became our propitiation, the sacrifice of atonement to take our sins upon himself and pay the penalty for them, thus turning God’s wrath away from us. By his substitutionary death on the cross, the Light of the world has made us also the light of the world. Thus Paul writes in Ephesians 5:8, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Then he continues, “Live as children of light.” Therefore this statement, “God is light,” must be interpreted in the ethical sense.

In John 3:19 we read, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

God is light, he is revelation, he is truth. He disclosed himself in Jesus Christ, so the message of Jesus Christ is the truth. We must look to God in Jesus Christ, that is, in his word. That is why we must look into the Holy Scriptures to test all the claims people make, especially claims about their relationship to God.

Our God is not one light among many lights. He alone is the Light; therefore, in his light alone can we see light. As light, he is holy, and without holiness no one can see God. That is why we want to examine the claims made in this first chapter of 1 John in the light of this truth, which is the standard for testing: God is light.

I commend the rest of this sermon to you–as Rev. Mathew applies this standard to each of those six claims listed in 1 John. May the Holy Spirit of God guide us in applying the truths of Scripture in our lives.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Maribel permalink
    September 19, 2006 2:22 am

    Alot people don’t know the God of the bible. Jesus said in the last times that men would live for themselves rather than God(2 Timothy 3:2) and that’s already happening. Sooner or later, God will send great wrath on earth because mankind never made a commitment to him. We were all created in his image to glorify him. We should pray for the whole humanity.
    May God lead us from death to life,

    from falsehood to truth.

    May God lead us from despair to hope,

    from fear to trust.

    May God lead us from hate to love,

    from war to peace.

    May peace fill our hearts, our world,

    and our universe.

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