This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT)
Terry and I honeymooned in Las Vegas. We walked almost everywhere we went. It took us a couple of days and a few LONG walks to realize a strange phenomenon. We would stand on the corner, looking down the street checking out the sights we wanted to visit. After looking at the map provided by the hotel, we would begin our trek, just down the street. As we walked, and walked, and walked some more, it seemed we were no closer to our desired destination.
It didn’t take long for Terry and me to understand the map was not to scale. As we began to pay closer attention to the signs, the trick became obvious; the signs in Las Vegas are larger than the ones in our hometown. The large signs fool the brain into thinking you are closer to your destination than you really are. Understanding those two things made all the difference; our estimation of how far and long we’d be walking became much more accurate.
John wrote of a wonderful God, who is tried and true, pure and holy. Later in the letter, John will write about God being love. Love is not the attribute John chooses to use as an introduction. Instead, John introduces God first as sinless, pure, holy Light that can’t tolerate darkness or sin; Someone very different from sinful man.
Why not go for the warm fuzzy first? Don’t you usually lead with the best qualities and leave the more frustrating ones until later when you’re introducing someone? I don’t introduce my husband by telling people he can’t tolerate an unmade bed or crumbs on the counter; I introduce him as the guy who loves me and dared to take me as his own.
There must be something important about God’s holiness. The contrast between God’s light and man’s darkness must be significant. The tension between having fellowship, or a commonness, between two opposites is the first thing one must understand when coming to God.
Understanding God’s holiness sets the boundaries for the fellowship that is God’s desire.
First, God’s holiness causes the cross to make sense. It makes no sense for God to send His Son to die, if there was some way for man to achieve God’s standard on his own. You can look at God’s holiness, and it may seem like you can get there by yourself, there are only 10 Commandments. How hard could that be? Without the cross, without Christ’s sacrifice, you will never reach God’s holy standard.
Secondly, God’s holiness, the Light about which John writes, IS God; and it doesn’t allow for false pretense. God sets the rules; Light and dark can’t co-exist. Just as light extinguishes darkness, God’s holiness extinguishes man’s ability to come to Him and remain unchanged. Coming to God means change. It means change on God’s terms. Fortunately, in the next chapter, you’ll find the God that IS Light is also Love. His desired change for you is to lead you out of darkness and into His glorious light.
Lastly, understanding God’s uncompromising holiness in view of your pitiable darkness, makes grace amazing. If God were only holy, your state would be truly pitiful. Holiness demands payment for wrong. Holiness demands punishment. If God’s holiness were the end of John’s introduction, there would be no handshake of fellowship, there would be no common ground between God and you.
God, in His infinite holiness mixed with His infinite love, made a way for you to have fellowship with Him. The ground is leveled at the cross. The holy, unattainable God of Light stoops to sinful man in utter darkness and through the sacrifice of His Son makes it known there can be common ground between the opposites. Confession, repentance and acceptance of God’s standard are what lead the believer into fellowship with God and with other believers.
At a casual glance, it may appear that fellowship with God is only down the street, only a few short steps away; a doable journey in your own strength. Without first understanding God’s holiness, you can never arrive at the common ground of fellowship. You will never understand the price God paid for that fellowship. You will never be fully able to thank God for His love. You will never understand why grace is amazing.
Father, help me embrace Your holiness instead of trying to find ways to minimize it. I don’t want to settle for a god who can be like me, feeble and flawed. Thank you for reaching out to me when there was no way for me to get to You. Teach me not to fear the change You have for me. Help me see my sin the way you do, dark and fruitless. Cause to hate my sin the way You do, so I can give it up in repentance and have fellowship with You.