Real church gets messy, and that’s good
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 1:7
When God moves in reviving power, a church might get worse—at the level of appearances, anyway. Why? Because real problems that had been submerged force their way to the surface, consciences long for relief, the Spirit presses us to come clean. First John 1:7 offers practical guidance for a church that, by grace, is getting messier than ever before. This verse explains how to experience our free justification as an ongoing reality, while God is resurrecting our otherwise dead selves. Here is the wisdom provided by this verse:
But if we walk in the light
Walking in the light is being honest with God and with one another, as he convicts our hearts of sin. We can and sometimes do lie to ourselves and leave our sins comfortably undisturbed for too long: “But this is my personality. But my wife isn’t the girl I thought I was marrying. But look how others have wounded me. But what the Bible says is too demanding. But I can’t change.” And so on. Making excuses and shifting blame—this is walking in the darkness. It is hanging back in the shadows of denial and evasion. But our hearts start cracking open when we call our sin what God calls it: sin. No softening it, but honestly facing it.
Walking in the light means we no longer need to look better than we really are. Our needs are too intense, and only God’s mercy will suffice.
As he is in the light
It isn’t about rules. It isn’t even about accountability, which can become oppressive, a way of cornering people, pressuring people. But this is more profound. This is about God himself—who he really is, where he really is. And reality with God is not hard to find. It’s waiting for us out there in the light of confession, humility, openness. If we are walking in hiddenness, we cannot experience God. He has not located himself in our self-concealment. The verse is telling us where we go find God at any time: out there in the light of truth and sincerity, so that we let our guard down and face him and face ourselves in the light of who he is.
When we step out into the light, two things happen, right out there in the light and the mess: we discover fellowship with one another, and we experience the blood of Jesus:
We have fellowship with one another
When we start walking in the light before the Lord, we are surprised to discover one another at a deeper level. When the walls fall down in every appropriate way and we stop playing church and guarding our appearances, we enter into fellowship. We find out how much we have in common. The sympathy flows back and forth in a gentle community of grace. We discover that the most delightful people in all this world are the sinners gathering humbly around the foot of the cross. We no longer fear one another; we support and comfort one another.
And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin
Real church is more than a human support group, more than empathy. The sacred blood of Jesus is here. And we bring no sin out into the light which his blood cannot cleanse away: “. . . all sin.” This is not sinless perfection, but it is substantial healing in every area of life. That particular sin weighing most heavily on your conscience, that sin that shames you and damns you and haunts you—that is the sin Jesus bled for, and that is the point in your existence where he loves you the most tenderly. Take a step out into the light, as the Holy Spirit nudges you. Confess that particular sin to God and to your fellowship, in some meaningful, appropriate way. Then take the next step after that, as God leads you, and then the next—a new person walking in the light day by day, continually cleansed, constantly reinvigorated, daily included in the circle of grace, not shamed, not forced back into hiding, but trusting in the ongoing power of justification by faith alone, welcomed into the fellowship of the forgiven, and you’re free as never before.
Here is the price we pay: putting our pride away and admitting the truth, moment by moment, as we walk together in the light of the Lord.
This post was originally published on The Gospel Coalition