Verse 6: The Lie
6 If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.
This verse is the first of three antithetical statements (v.6;v.8; v.10) to verse five’s claim that “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him”; plainly stated, the idea that anyone can experience the joyful unity of life and fellowship with God while still walking in darkness is a lie that runs contrary to the fundamental nature of God.
The phrase “not practicing the truth” explains the condition of darkness that veils their life to the blessed fellowship of Christ because Christ is the truth and God has caused the light of Christ to shine in our hearts:
2nd Corinthians 4:3-6 (CSB) But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. 6 For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is their satanic unbelief in the gospel that arrests the saving power of the resurrection in their lives; they are blind to the knowledge of God’s glory in Christ Jesus because of the hardness of their heart:
Ephesians 4:18-19 (CSB) They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. 19 They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more.
Yet the blind “say they have fellowship with God”; we cannot assume that those who make this claim agree with John’s assessment that they walk in darkness.
This is the terrible reality that haunts this verse: those who walk in darkness do not usually know that they are walking in darkness! As it is written, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25) and darkness became their light, even as Jesus warned, “So if the light within you is darkness, how deep is that darkness!” (Mt. 6:23)
However, this verse does not immediately assume this level of self-deception from the start. Rather, this kind of self-deception haunts this verse from the distant echoes of 1st John 1:8. Not everyone who claims to have fellowship with God while walking in darkness has exchanged the truth of God for a lie and made the darkness their light; not everyone like this is self-deceived about their sin. But many are. Many cannot see their sin and are internally convinced that they are walking in the light, although the Word of Life does not dwell in them and they have no true fellowship with the Holy One.
This ought to give us reason to pause for a moment and ask what it means to walk in the darkness.
Bede the Venerable (673–735 A.D.), who was born in Northumbria, wrote this about this verse:
The mere confession of one’s faith is not enough for salvation if there is no sign of good works confirming that faith. But at the same time, the goodness of the works is of no value either, if they are not done in the simplicity of faith and love. Anyone who is in any way surrounded by darkness is totally unable to have fellowship with the One in whom there is no sign of wickedness at all.
If I may be permitted to paraphrase, Bede explained further that if one’s life does not originate from faith in the word of life and is not expressed in the love of the Beloved, then one’s life is founded on a lie and its fruit will be darkness.
Therefore, at one level we can say that anyone who says they have fellowship with God, and yet their life doesn’t originate from faith in the word of life and isn’t expressed in the love of the Beloved, is lying and not walking in the truth.
However, there is another level that defines what John means when he refers to the darkness in this epistle that I think is most important to bring to light:
1st John 2:9-11 (CSB) The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
John is unfolding another point from his prologue that is vital to catch: he wrote, “what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”. Anyone who claims to have fellowship with God and yet walks in the darkness of separation from his brothers and sisters in Christ does not walk in the light of truth.
It is impossible to have fellowship with Christ in a state of separation from the body because the Holy Spirit indwells the temple of the Church body.
Hatred towards our brothers and sisters in Christ blinds us to Christ and separates us from him into the terrible void of darkness.
I believe it is easy to deceive ourselves about the condition of our souls when we deal with this verse at the level of “origins” that I first expounded; we can say “yes, my life comes from faith in the word of life”, and we can speak in general terms, saying “I express my life with the love of the Beloved One”. But it is more difficult to deceive ourselves when we realize that the hatred of disunity is an indicator of darkness itself as well.
While much more than can be written here can be said about the light of fellowship and the darkness of disunity, this verse demands that we pause and examine our lives in the truth of God’s word to ensure that there is no darkness at all in our lives. Hatred blinds us to God and those who walk in hatred towards their brothers and sisters in Christ have no fellowship with God whatsoever.