Do you like to walk? Walking isn’t as popular as it once was. Children used to walk to school instead of taking the bus. Couples used to go for romantic walks after dinner in the evening. Or if you had to pick up a quart of milk at the store, you might walk there instead of taking the car. And people were healthier because of it. I read a book a couple years ago called “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat,” and you know what the bottom line was? They don’t get fat because they eat better food and walk wherever they go.
Nor is it French women only who do that. The same is true of Europeans in general. In Romania, for example, one of the favorite pastimes of teenagers and adults alike is taking a walk in the park with friends. Our friends used to tease us when we walked with them, because as Americans we walked so fast. So they’d ask us, “Where are you in such a hurry to go?” Because life is much more relaxed there, like it was here 50 years ago, and they enjoy walking wherever they go.
Of course, there are reasons we don’t walk like we once did. One reason is safety, which is why most parents no longer let their children walk to school. Another reason is bad weather, especially if you live here in Washington. I mean, who likes to walk when it’s pouring down rain? But the most common reason is we’re so busy these days we don’t want to take the time. Or if we do walk, it’s to raise money for a cause we believe in, like the Breast Cancer Walk, or health reasons—power walking to get the aerobic exercise we need.
That’s something I started doing about a year ago. I used to jog when I was younger but I don’t do that anymore because of my knees. So I started power walking, 15 minutes at first, and now after working at it for a year, I can power walk 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week without dying from it, and it’s made a big difference in how I feel. I can’t say I enjoy it or look forward to it, but I feel better afterward. So by God’s grace I plan to keep it up. I plan to walk for life.
And along about now, you’re probably wondering, “Why spend all this time talking about walking?” But if you’ve read our passage for today, you know why. That’s the metaphor John uses in our study for today. He likens a healthy spiritual life to walking in its various forms. Physically speaking, you can power walk, or if you’re a nature lover, you can hike, or if you’re European, you might stroll through the park with a friend. But they’re all types of walking. In the same way, John says there are 3 ways to walk for our spiritual health. And if you open your Bibles to 1 John chapter 1, I’d like to show you what they are.
1. Walk in the Light.
That’s one of John’s favorite themes both here and in his gospel—the battle between the light and the darkness! And what does the light symbolize? It symbolizes the life of God. Genesis, the first book of Bible, says that in the beginning the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. But then God spoke saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light, and His light continues to fill the earth today. In fact, the last book of the Bible says that in the New Jerusalem which Jesus has gone to prepare for us, God will be our light in every sense of the word. For no longer will we need the sun by day or moon by night to guide us, for the glory of God will be the light of the city and the Lamb will be its lamp.
But that’s also true today, whether we realize it or not. God is the source of our light in every sense of the Word. Speaking of Jesus, John says in his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
That’s John’s message here as well. He says in verse 5 (1 John 1:5), “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
That’s something that people in the ancient world would have understood right away because the world was literally very dark at that time. We’re used to having electric lights in our homes and illuminating our streets. In fact, astronomers say there’s too much light today, making it difficult to study the distant planets and stars, because the city lights wash out the light from the stars. But that wasn’t true in John’s day. In John’s day, the nights were very dark and frightening.
In fact, here’s a little trivia for you. Do you know when and where the first street lights were installed in Europe? I know because we lived there as missionaries. The answer is Timisoara where the first electric street lights were installed on November 12, 1884. The truth is, Romania was a very cultured society until socialism smashed it in the 1940s. It’s also a very safe place to live not only because of the street lights, but also because of the peaceful personality of the Romanian people and (I don’t recommend this) because it’s still a police state in many ways, and there are advantages to living in a police state, one of which is public safety. In fact, the streets are so safe that we often let our teenage girls walk home from special events in the city center at 10 o’clock at night, as long as there were two or three Romanian boys in the group with them.
But in the ancient world, the night was very frightening because that’s when most violent crimes were committed! In fact, I read something interesting the other day. It said that during the early days of the energy crisis, many cities turned off their street lights at night to conserve power? And what happened? The crime rate went up. So they turned them back on. But then isn’t that what Jesus said in John 3:19? He said, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” And that’s still true today. The most violent crimes are committed under the cloak of darkness, which answers a second question for us.
If light symbolizes life with God, then what does darkness symbolize? It’s a symbol of life without God! You remember what that was like—how lost and lonely and hopeless you felt? But what you didn’t realize at the time was how dark your heart was and how at home in the darkness you were. Think about a bat for a moment. Does a bat know how dark it is? Probably not because he’s a creature of the night and at home in the dark! And so were we! The Bible says we were children of the night and that our minds were darkened, so we were not only comfortable lying, lusting, boasting, cheating, cursing, coveting, carousing, and all the other things we did to feed our sinful appetite, but we also enjoyed it because that was our default setting. But then God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
And yet, what do many Christians do? They ride as close to the center line as possible wondering, “How much darkness can I tolerate before I’ve gone too far?” We had a young man like that in our youth group years ago. I believe he loved the Lord, but his home life was so unhappy and he got so little support from his parents that he was always drifting back and forth between the darkness and the light. And when you do that, it’s impossible to get an assurance of your salvation because you don’t see any lasting changes in your life. So every time we’d give an invitation at a retreat or summer camp, he’d ask the Lord in his heart again just to make sure. But before long, he’d start drifting back into the darkness again until one night, while drinking and driving, he really did ride too close to the center line, and God took him home to heaven. The Bible says God does that sometimes—takes a wandering child home to heaven so he isn’t completely overcome by the darkness.
The right question to ask, then, isn’t how much darkness can I tolerate, but how can I get more light in my life? And of course, the way to do that is by flooding your life with whatever will draw you close to Jesus—starting the day with Bible study and prayer, listening to sermons and worship music, joining a small group, taking a Bible class online, joining a ministry team. There’s no question about it. There is pleasure in sin for a season, but not the lasting kind of joy that comes from walking in the light. So step out of the darkness and into the light, so that you can experience all the love and joy and peace and power that comes from God’s blessing! Because having experienced both His blessing and discipline in my life, I can tell you, there’s no substitute for His blessing. Walk in the light and if you do that consistently, the second kind of walking will come naturally.
2. Walk in Fellowship.
Verse 7 says: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” One of the most common and debilitating problems on earth today is heart hunger, which feels a lot like physical hunger because they both cause a gnawing sense of emptiness within, which is why many people overeat. They aren’t really hungry. They’re lonely and trying to fill the void with food.
Have you ever had that feeling? Have you ever gone through a lonely period in your life? I’ll never forget the comment of one of our Apollo astronauts who told what it felt like to stay on board the ship while his companions were walking on the surface of the moon. He said it was the loneliest feeling he’d ever felt. And I bet it was! After all, isn’t that the stuff movies are made of? What it’d be like to be the last man or woman on earth without no one to keep you company? But God knows our need and would never leave us in such a situation? For what was the first thing He did for Adam, the only man on earth at that time? He said, “It’s not good for man to be alone” and created Eve to be his partner for life.
Marriage is God’s gracious solution to our loneliness. And so are families! Psalm 68:6 says, “God places the lonely in families and sets the prisoners free, so they go out with singing.” God loves you and never wants you to be lonely again. That is why He also created the church—so those without families of their own also get the fellowship they need. Jesus promised Peter, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children.” That’s also a good test of a church’s health. Are widows and singles and others who are lonely finding the fellowship they need in this place? That ought to be job one for every church—to become the most loving place in town, for “though people go where the action is, they stay where the love is.”
When I say that, I’m not talking theory only. I’m talking about a life-changing reality I’ve seen with my own eyes. For example, in the first church where I served as a youth pastor, an older woman and her daughter came to church for the first time one Sunday morning. Later we found out they were both so lonely and depressed that they’d made a pact beforehand. They were going to go to church and give God one more chance, and if it didn’t help, they were going to end their lives together. So they came to church, found hope in the pastor’s message and love in the way people greeted them. So they came back again and again, accepted Christ as their Savior, joined a small group where they found the fellowship they needed, and went on to become two of very faithful members of that church. But that begs the question: What if they’d come here? Would they have found in us the love they needed?
Of course, even if the church does everything right, we too have a responsibility. Proverbs 18:24 says, “He who has friends must show himself friendly.” And unfortunately, you and I aren’t always very easy to get along with. Most of you are probably familiar with Chuck Swindoll’s example of the porcupines huddled together for warmth in the winter cold. They needed each other, but they also needled each other. So they kept moving apart and coming together again in a weird sort of dance. And how like that we are! We need each other’s fellowship, but the question is: How do we get rid of our quills and enjoy the love God has for us. And again, the answer is: We need to walk in the light. John says that’s the only way to get the fellowship we want. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” And the point is this: Until you make peace with God, you aren’t going to have peace within, and if you don’t have peace within, you aren’t going to have peace with anybody else either.
That’s my testimony in a nutshell. I was carrying so much baggage when I came to Christ that it hurt every other relationship I had. I wasn’t outwardly rude. My mother taught me better than that. But I was angry on the inside and prickly on the outside. And maybe the same thing is true of you. Your marriage is rocky, your friendships are superficial, and you’re unhappy with your lot in life. But what you may be failing to recognize is that your complaint isn’t with the people around you, it’s with God who has failed to give you the life you want. So how do you get peace with God? You walk in the light, which will quickly expose your quills, and then you ask Him to help you begin to pull them out a few at a time. And that’s what the third type of walking is all about. We need to walk in the light and in fellowship with one another. And finally, John says we need to—
3. Walk in Forgiveness.
John makes one thing very clear in this passage. Walking in the light doesn’t mean to be sin-free. So if someone says to you, “I’ve reached a point where I no longer sin or I’m no longer tempted,” don’t believe them. They’re breaking the 9th commandment by lying to you. Instead, read them verse 8 where writing to Christians, John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Verse 10 adds, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” James talks about this in his epistle, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment, for we all stumble in many ways.” Anybody have trouble admitting that, that you still struggle with temptation and sin?
Good! Then let’s go on to verse 9, where John clarifies one more thing about walking in the light. It doesn’t mean to be free of sin. It means to walk in the light of God’s love and forgiveness, and he tells us how to keep on doing that even when we sin. Verse 9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession simply means to agree with God that what we’ve done is wrong, and then by His grace to turn from it and start walking in the light again. And when we do, how much does He forgive? Everything we’ve done wrong, including those things we may have forgotten or not even be aware of because what God is looking for above all things is not a perfect confession, but a heart that wants to be right with Him.
Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But sometimes, like a mirror, our hearts gets smudged with sin, so they no longer reflect the glory of God as they once did. So what’s the solution when that happens? Confession! When we confess our sins, God wipes our hearts clean again and restores our fellowship with Him, just as if we’d never sinned. In some cases, He may also ask us to make things right with those we’ve hurt on the horizontal level. But ultimately our sin is against the One who made us and saved us and told us how to live.
And again, why is He able to cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we sin? Because verse 7 says, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” That’s why Rick Warren says, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Because whatever we confess and bring out into the light, as humbling as it is, God is able to forgive! But if we continue to live in denial, He’ll let us struggle with our habits and hang-ups until we get real with Him. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers His sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” So whatever sins the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention—sins of impurity and dishonesty, sins of attitude and temper—confess them to God in the quietness of your heart, and He promises, “I will forgive your sins this very moment and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.”
So let me ask you as we finish. Where are you at this morning? Are you walking in God’s light, enjoying His love and forgiveness, confessing your sins to Him, and growing in fellowship with others? Or are you suffering from Spiritual Affective Disorder? Do you know what I mean by that? It’s like Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’m familiar with that because Cheryl my wife used to suffer from it. In fact, several years ago she took part in a clinical trial that treated it and was interviewed about it on KOMO news. For those who don’t know what it is, SAD is a painful condition that afflicts people living in Western Washington and other places where the winter skies are always gray and dark and they can’t get as much light as their brains need. So they suffer from seasonal depression.
So how is it treated? With lots and lots of light! For example, the first thing Cheryl would do in the morning was turn on these bright lights and soak up the rays with her eyes. Eventually, we also moved to a different house with more windows, fewer trees, and lots of light, and today she’s completely free of it.
Spiritual Affective Disorder is similar, for it too is caused by too much darkness and not enough light leading to the loss of all those things the Holy Spirit wants you to enjoy, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So how do you treat it? Walk in the light as He is in the light, and you’ll enjoy the fellowship with others you’ve always wanted, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son will cleanse you from all sin.