In his First Universal letter, St. John the Evangelist shares some profound words; words that ought to immediately grab our attention and cause us to reflect.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:5-10).
In his opening remarks St. John states that in Jesus Christ there is only Light. In Him there exists no darkness, no sin whatsoever. Our Lord Himself even said “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (cf. John 8:12). As the Light of the World, and He Who is Light, He is likewise the source of all that is true, good, and righteous.
St. John then goes on to say “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Looking at this literally, one might be inclined to say “who then can be saved” (cf. Luke 18:26). After all, it seems fairly clear that if we walk in darkness, in sin that is, then we break our fellowship with Christ Who is Light and Truth. This truly would be a hopeless situation if we were to stop at this place in St. John’s letter. However, as we read on, we see St. John opening up to us a crack where the Light is able to shine through. The crack is not the Light itself, which is always present, it is our own admission of the darkness that is within us.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The first question that comes to mind is, what does it mean to “walk in darkness”? Archimandrite Justin Popovich equates walking in darkness with living in sin, and when there is no movement toward repentance.
“Whosoever lives in sin lives in darkness, and is unaware of where he goes. Every sin draws one into the kingdom of sin – death; and everything dark draws one into the kingdom of darkness – hell” (Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, pg. 16).
The key word to what he is saying here is “unaware”. This is the opposite of one who is able to “confess”, to acknowledge or to admit because they are aware of the darkness in which they are walking and the need to be pulled from that darkness into the Light of Christ, into His great mercy and compassion. Popovich says, “There is not one type of darkness that Christ cannot pull someone out of; there is no sin that they cannot defeat through Christ” (ibid, p. 16). To confess our sins is to show our desire to walk in the Light. If, on the other hand, “we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”. Certainly we cannot deceive God, but we can deceive other people who may not be privy to the truth of our life. In the end, though, we are the ones who will end up suffering because without Christ, without being honest with our self, we cannot live in Him Who is Truth. It is not hard to live a life of deception. There are many well-operating defense mechanisms in us to keep us going along in life walking in darkness. This, however, is a great tragedy because in essence one is not truly “living”. Our Lord said as much to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
On the outside they may have looked as though all was good, but on the inside, it was quite a different story. Popovich says, “the only way out of this involves impartial examination of one’s life, inspection of the evil powers of sin actually present in us and which tarnish our being, and acknowledgment of this and an admission that only the immaculate God-man Christ can save us. Such recognition awakens the man-loving, and all-righteous Lord to come to our aid and to save us from sin. Without such a recognition, He will not come to our aid, so as neither to impose Himself forcefully upon us nor to destroy in man the freedom and love upon which he stands and for the sake of which he exists” (ibid. p. 19).
I purposefully italicized words that we need to keep in mind: impartial examination, inspection, acknowledgement, admission, and recognition. All of these words speak to a necessary mindfulness on our part of our true spiritual condition. These words are operative in that as we “come to our self”, as did the Prodigal Son when he realized that he was eating with swine and the life he was living was not truly living at all. So too, as the Prodigal Son, we will be moved to return to our Father’s house, that is, we will confess our sins knowing that we are in need of such mercy. We will do so also knowing that God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” so that we may walk in the Light of Christ, and have communion with Him and with one another in Him.
The therapeutic medicine for the soul that brings such healing is the mystery of Holy Confession, which is our opportunity to experience the mercy and love of the One Who has given us our life in the first place. God’s faithfulness to forgive us our sins is never in question. His love never changes and never depends on our faithfulness or faithlessness. The world has never known, nor will it ever know such love, such mercy, such compassion, and such faithfulness as that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only the distorted thoughts that the Evil One throws at our minds will prevent us from seeing this and from approaching the blessed mystery of Holy Confession. After all, he is the adversary! But then again, we have the Advocate, Jesus Christ, Who Is greater and more powerful.
With humility and deep gratitude, draw near and receive the mystery of Holy Confession and taste the joy of the Father who received his wayward son with love.