This letter is a testimony to eternal life revealed in the person of Jesus. It is a testimony to love – the love which is present in our fellowship with God the Father and God the Son. Indeed, the love and life which is testified to by John is a test of the church: a sure measure of whether we truly are walking in the light with Christ or not. And it is a letter speaking into eternal truth: a testimony to our being welcomed into the living light of God’s eternal glory, despite living in a world of darkness and sin.
God’s Love overcomes death: John’s testimony is to “the word of life.”
God’s Love overcomes sin which leads to death.
Even as John presents encouraging words of eternal life and joy to us right at the start of his letters, he isn’t writing simple, encouraging platitudes. He is partly writing to encourage a Christian community which has been under attack from people preaching a different Gospel in which the flesh and the spirit are seen as completely distinct – indeed, that Jesus was not truly human, but was perhaps a spirit taking over a human, because to the gnostic mind, flesh and spirit were irreconcilable. John takes this head on.
“Sin” is everything which does not conform to God’s perfect will. If we want to know what a human life free from sin looks like, we look to Jesus. John reminds us that Jesus himself is the light. In him, we see what it means to live in accordance with God’s holy will, to pursue God’s ways, to live and work as citizens of heaven, and strive to make things on earth as they are in heaven. In Christ, flesh and spirit are one: divine will and humanity are reconciled. At the Ascension, Jesus bears the wounds of the cross as he ascends into heaven, revealing that there is no dualism: our wounded humanity has its place in the spiritual perfection of heaven through Christ.
Yes, God’s light does contrast with our darkness. Yes, the holiness of heaven does contrast with the sinfulness of our lives on earth. But these letters of love call us to walk as children of light; to walk with Christ and with one another. To do this we need to confess our sins – our contribution to the darkness – and through the blood of Christ to be cleansed from all that is not of the light, and to receive God’s forgiveness.
So, as God’s forgiven and forgiving people, let us call to mind our imperfections; neither lightly, as if they are of no importance (for they are important enough that God sent his only Son that we might not perish but have eternal life); nor weighed down with a sense of hopelessness that our need of repentance is never-ending (for we are truly people of everlasting hope in Christ); rather, we call our sins to mind knowing that in Christ we are called to righteousness of life, and to walk daily as children of light.