According to most biblical commentators, the letter of 1 John was written in response to a group who had separated from the main Christian community and formed their own fellowship. While the full details of this division remain unclear, our Scripture reading today begins to offer some hints.
One issue seems to be the secessionists’ inconsistency between their profession and their lives. As Scripture indicates, our fellowship with God has moral implications. Because “God is light” (1:5), those who claim fellowship with Him must also “walk in the light” (1:7) rather than in darkness. In other words, the Christian life is not just a profession of correct doctrine; it is about living out the truth in our lives. Those who claim to be followers of Christ, but walk in darkness, are living a lie. A life of sin is opposed to fellowship with God.
Yet Christians do sin. Does this mean there is no hope for such fellowship? Absolutely not! Walking in the light and experiencing fellowship with God and one another is made possible through the purifying work of Christ. The high calling of the Christian life is to avoid sin (2:2), but God has also devised a way to deal with sin when it happens: the atoning work of our advocate, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1).
How do we benefit from Christ’s atoning work? Scripture is clear: only through confession of our sin. In fact, failure to confess our sin means “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). More than that, a denial of our sin also means that we are calling God a liar, for His whole purpose in sending Christ was to provide that needed purification from sin. In the end, true fellowship with God comes only by walking in His ways and confessing our sin when we fall.