Once again we read the claim to be without sin. This time the author levels his most serious charge yet: those who claim to be without sin make [God] out to be a liar. In fact their claim shows that it is not God's word or God's message (logos; 1:1, 5) that they have received, but quite another mes sage. We have then a crescendo of charges: "It is one thing knowingly to tell an untruth or lie; it is worse to deceive oneself to the point where there is no truth; it is still worse to make God a liar" (Brown 1982:231). The denial of sin makes God a liar because it rejects God's provision for sin, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Although John's purpose in writing is to exhort his readers so that you will not sin, he recognizes that people do sin, and that God has estab lished a means of dealing with that sin. Here he introduces the idea of Jesus as an intercessor. Although we are unrighteous, we have an inter cessor (parakletos) who is "in the Father's presence" (Brown 1982:216) and who is righteous. A paraclete was an advocate, representative or friend at court who could intercede on one's behalf with the judge. And where the judge is righteous, it is appropriate and to our advantage that the paraclete is righteous as well. Jesus, the righteous one, intercedes with the righteous Father for unrighteous sinners.
But that the risen Christ is an "intercessor with the Father," or, as the NIV renders it, one who speaks to the Father in our defense, does not mean that Jesus must plead with an indifferent, reluctant or hardhearted Father on our behalf. Instead, the image of Jesus as intercessor gives us confidence because the penitent believer has as an intercessor the one who has the most intimate relationship with and access to God. Jesus is "with the Father." A vivid example of his intercession is found in John 17, the so-called high priestly prayer in which he prays for the unity and faith of his disciples. Here there is no sense of Jesus trying to persuade God to do something that he requests but that God is reluctant to grant. Such a unity of will exists between Jesus and the Father that Jesus is aware that what he asks will indeed be granted to him. And what he asks for us is forgiveness. It will be granted.
The imagery changes from that of the court to the cultic realm of sacrifice (Balz 1973:169) when John reminds his readers that Christ is also an atonement for sins (NIV, atoning sacrifice). Just as Jesus' death has effected purification, cleansing and forgiveness of sin, so now, the Elder asserts, it atones for our sin. It removes sin so that we may continue in fellowship with God. Sin is a blot on the light, and it must be removed. All the images used to speak of Jesus' death remind the readers of this letter that they have fellowship with God on the basis of Christ's work on their behalf. Otherwise they remain in the realm of darkness, impurity and sin. But Christ's death removes the guilt and washes away the im purity that comes from sin.
The imagery of this passage—walking, confessing, purifying—leaves us with a picture of true allegiance to God that is not static but dynamic. John does not picture a plateau that one attains; rather, he envisions a pathway along which we walk. We walk in the light and toward the light. Within that light we know ourselves to be sinners and God to be all righteousness and truth. To know these truths about ourselves and God is the essence of what confession is.
It is said that confession is good for the soul. This is certainly true for the author of our epistle. Here we may conclude by summarizing what confession is and how it is "good for the soul." Confession is, first, the acknowledgment of sin—not the acknowledgment that there is sin, or that sin is wrong, but that "we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed." Second, then, confession means that we know God as light, as the measure of truth and righteousness by which we fall short. Third, when we confess our sin, we adopt a stance of dependence toward God. Precisely the refusal to confess their sin branded the secessionists as those who scorned the saving work of God on their behalf. Fourth, confession implies a turning to God, a desire to conform ourselves to God's character. Confession does not mean that we say, "I did it again; that's just the way I am." Confession means that we say, "Forgive me, for I have done it again; but I don't want to do it again. Please help me to live within the light of God's truth." Confession is a resource to bring our whole life into conformity with God's will.
Finally, we must always remember that confession is both personal and corporate. In confessing our sins, we acknowledge our place in the company of confessed sinners. Together we stand, on common ground, before God who accepts and forgives all of us. Confession can never be something by which we gain the upper hand over another brother or sister. It certainly is no mark of superiority to confess our sins. It is, rather, simply an acknowledgment of who we are. What God wants of us, then, is sincere commitment to walking in the light and honest confession of our sin.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.