The early Gnostics in John’s day perverted more than the identity of Christ. They also distorted the rules for godly behavior. “The physical body,” they said, “is inherently evil. Only that which is spiritual can be good.” To them, the human body is little more than a prison for the spirit. But rather than teach Christians to discipline their body and keep it under control, they suggested the body and what we do with it is entirely irrelevant (1Co 9:27).
Do whatever you want with your body. Have an affair, get drunk, start a fight—it doesn’t matter as long as you keep your mind and spirit pure.
John abhors the notion, writing, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his word is not in us” (1Jn 1:8; 10). We can’t separate our actions from our hearts. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil (Lk 6:45). Yet people still invent new ways to call evil good, and good evil (Isa 5:20).
Rather than confess our sins in pursuit of God’s forgiveness, we often prefer to justify ourselves, pretending our sin isn’t that bad and that God is happy to turn a blind eye to our mistakes (1Jn 1:9). After all, God is love (1Jn 4:8). What kind of loving Father wouldn’t readily excuse our trivial shortcomings?
How about the kind who warns each of us, “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when my righteous judgment will be revealed”? (Ro 2:5).
John realizes the New Testament church has a tendency to dilute God’s holy nature. We know he did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17). In turn, we think of God as gentler, more compassionate than he was in the past. We sometimes mistakenly distinguish between the God of today and the God of the Old Testament.
God is I AM WHO I AM (Ex 3:14). “This is my name forever,” he told Moses (Ex 4:15). YHWH is no different today than he was from the beginning (1Jn 1:1). The same God who sent his Son to save sinners is the God who threatened to destroy Israel and blot their name from under heaven (Dt 9:14). He is the LORD who regretted that he had made man on the earth and vowed to blot out man … from the face of the land, drowning them under a worldwide flood (Ge 6:6-7).
God is certainly gracious, but he is also light, and in him is no darkness at all (1Jn 1:5). The very essence of God is pure. Though he created an environment in which sin could exist, he cannot conceive of committing sin himself. Even the smallest transgression would aggressively violate his nature. Our God is a consuming fire who would destroy every sinner in an instant if not for his merciful patience (Heb 12:29).
When Isaiah stood before the throne of God, his gut impulse was not to express his love and admiration for the Father, but to tremble in fear (Isa 6:1). He shouted, ”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:5). The prophet assumed his life was over because the wages of sin is death, and he was standing in the presence of the righteous judge … who feels indignation at the thought of every sin, not to mention every sinner (Ro 6:23; Ps 7:11).
The word of life, that is, the gospel message, begins with a proclamation of God’s holiness (1Jn 1:1). How else could we understand the severity of our sin from which Christ saves us? How else could we understand why Christ was stricken, smitten by God and afflicted? (Isa 53:4). It is only after we have come to know the perfect righteousness of God that we can grasp the demands of his law as well as our utter failure to keep them.
To know God is light is to recognize his justification for condemning every last one of us, inflicting his wrath on us (1Jn 1:5; Ro 3:5). None is righteous but God, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God. All have turned aside; together we have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Ro 3:10-12).
Tragedy is too polite of a word to describe our attempts at diminishing the horrifying nature of our sin. As Arthur Pink writes in his book, The Attributes of God:
We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness.
Before we study the God who is love, we need to meditate on the God who is also light, and in him is no darkness at all (1Jn 4:8; 1:5). Before we read how the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin, we should understand why we need to be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness in the first place (1Jn 1:7; 9). Only then will we have a mind to confess our sins and plead for mercy. Only then can we truly appreciate God’s grace.
If God’s holy wrath against sinners seems contrary to what you know about Jesus, consider John’s source. From whom do you think he learned what he knows about the nature of God and his attitude toward sin? John clarifies, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you” (1Jn 1:5). He knows God is light because he heard and saw it from the Word himself who was God (Jn 1:1).