“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by 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, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)
I want you to close your eyes, and imagine with me.
Imagine… that YOU … are a spy.
Not one of those chumps you see in the movies. You’re not James Bond in a tuxedo. You’re the real deal.
You’re part of a classified, top secret division of the NSA called Third Echelon. And for years, you have worked as a field agent, collaborating with another remote support unit. As a team, you are known as a splinter cell. You are sharp, silent, and nearly invisible. With the information that you’re provided, the years of military training under your belt, and the top-of-the-line weapons and surveillance equipment you have with you at all times, you are paid by the U.S. government to infiltrate the most heavily-guarded, secure locations known to man.
The average person has no idea you even exist, and that’s how you like it. Because your biggest asset on the job is darkness. You thrive in darkness. Staying in the shadows, moving quickly and silently, is the easiest way to go about your business undetected. And your mission is always the same: to get in, fulfill your objective, and get out, without anyone having a clue.
You do this on a regular basis. This is your job. You’re good at it, and you love it.
Now I want you to imagine embarking on the most important mission of your career. The U.S. is teetering on the brink of nuclear war, and Third Echelon needs to obtain some sensitive information to avert triggering a national crisis. Your mission is to infiltrate the heavily-guarded fortress that contains the documents in question, and of course, get out — without being caught.
Now your support unit is talking to you through a special ear-piece, giving you the lowdown. He’s got a blueprint map of the fortress, so with his help you know exactly where to locate your access point to the building. The only problem, he tells you, is that to get to your access point, you must walk through a huge courtyard. And this courtyard is bad news. In it there are armed guards walking around, and a spotlight with a sniper overhead. If that spotlight hits you, the sniper will take you out. And if by some miracle the sniper misses, the myriad of guards, now alerted to your position… won’t.
But you’ve got something they don’t have — infrared goggles. These goggles help you see in the dark. So you can see them, but they can’t see you. These goggles enable you to, carefully and quietly, anticipate their movements, elude the guards, and make your way into the building.
Twenty minutes later, you’ve secured the documents, and you’re ready to go. As far as you know, the hardest part is over with.
But suddenly your support unit gives you some REALLY bad news.
A silent alarm was triggered inside the building, and all of the guards outside have been alerted to your presence, including the sniper with the spotlight. Not only that, but now ALL OF THEM are wearing infrared goggles. And you’re faced with the impossible task of trying to sneak by a group of guards who can all see in the dark just like you.
So now what you are gonna do? What do you do when your cover is blown? What do you do when your biggest strength becomes your biggest weakness? How can you make it without walking in darkness, when walking in darkness is all you’ve ever known?
That’s the real question.
* * *
Okay now, open your eyes.
I’m not asking you to imagine anymore, because some of us have faced that very question already. We may not work as highly-trained super spies, but we have our own covert operations goin’ on. All of us, at one time or another, have been involved with something that we didn’t want other folks to know about. I don’t need to know you personally to know that’s true, because we were all born into sin. So when you live like that, when you feel the need to keep secrets and withhold the truth, you are, by virtue of your actions, living in darkness. That’s essentially what 1 John 1:6 says.
I should know, because I had to face that question, too. When I was in college, I would never admit publicly that I was living in darkness… no one ever does. I just had certain habits that I didn’t want other folks to know about. Yeah, I could sing and write and I was talented and outgoing, but there were a few situations I just had to keep on the down low. I wasn’t trying to spill all that, you kna’m sayin? I mean, not everybody needs to know everything, but certain people need to know certain things. And yet somehow I decided that I couldn’t trust the believers around me not to put my business out in the street, so most of the time, I kept those things to myself.
And I liked to tell people that I was honest, because if someone asked me what I thought about some issue, I’d usually give an honest answer. But true honesty was scary to me. It was messy, and complicated, and real. I didn’t want other people to see my flaws, see my ugly behavior, and judge me because of it. Yet at the same time, I really wanted to tell somebody because it was killing me just keeping it inside all the time. Like David said in Psalm 51, my sin was ever before me. I wanted to walk in the light, but I was scared of what would happen to me if I did.
And you know why I was scared? Because I was surrounded by a LOT of judgmental Christians. Folks that were really nice to your face, and talked about you like a dog behind your back. Their translation of 1 John 1:7 went like this:
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have target practice with each other, and the blood of heathens is required for their sins.
I mean, with these folks, holiness was less of a lifestyle and more of a battle plan. They were always leading some Bible study, always involved in some “Christian” activity, and always ready to tell somebody else why what they were doing was wrong. I should know, because I was one too. I used to love to debate ethics and theology and eschatology, just so that I could get the intellectual upper hand, and nobody could challenge me on things that really mattered, like what kind of movies I would watch, and how much time was I spending alone with my girlfriend… you know, stuff like that.
But that’s not really what 1 John 1:7 says. What it really says is this:
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins” (NIV, emphasis mine).
See the difference there?
That’s why I thank God for Troy, Sahaan, Scott, and David. These are the guys in my Tuesday night accountability group. We are five guys that are committed to living a Christ-centered life. And what we have is by no means perfect, but it’s fellowship. We talk. We listen. We empathize. We get in each other’s faces. Sometimes it’s really deep, and sometimes it’s not. But there’s a common thread of grace and acceptance that abounds. We all know what it’s like to struggle, and we all know what it’s like to rejoice. And this, in my experience, is part of what it means to walk in the light.
Is it easy? Of course not. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s inconvenient. Sometimes it’s downright scary. But at this point in my life, I have no other choice. Because the alternative is continuing to walk in darkness, and like Neo in the Matrix, I’ve been down that road. I know exactly where it ends. It may not be death by gunshot, but nonetheless… it’s still death.
Ironically, I kept choosing darkness because I wanted to avoid being judged, but it’s only walking in the light that helps free me from that judgment. By walking in the light, not only do we have fellowship with one another, but the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins.
The Greek word translated for “cleanses” is katharizo, which is related to our English word “catharsis.” Catharsis is what happens when you someone else goes through something meaningful, but somehow you get the benefit from it. It’s sort of like the same way that my wife Holly loves to watch romantic movies that make her cry. She experiences the same emotions that the main characters experience. She goes through what they go through.
So the usage of the word katharizo in 1 John 1:7 means that when Jesus was crucified, He bore the weight of our sins, and when He resurrected, the curse of sin was removed from us. He did it once himself, but it worked for everybody. So there’s no more judgment. No outstanding record of guilt. No awkward plea bargains or community service. We sin, we repent, and we’re forgiven. Just like that.
Plus… and this is the really good part… even if there was some sort of record of our sin being kept, it wouldn’t matter anyway. Because the people that I’m walking in fellowship with, if we’re all walking in the light together, confessing our sins and witnessing each other’s restoration process, being privy to all the highs and lows of life, and generally walking through all of it together… all they can see is God moving. All they can see is how good God is. They don’t have the time or energy to focus on trying to judge me for my sin, and even if they did… God is too good. His light is just too bright. It’s like staring into the sun; once you do it, you can’t see anything else.
* * *
Which brings us back to our heralded splinter cell field agent. If you didn’t already know, the scenario I outlined is taken from a real story about a splinter cell field agent named Sam Fisher. And when Fisher’s enemies had donned infrared goggles, suddenly his cover of darkness was removed. With no other way to make it through his mission alive, he made a choice. It ran counter to all of his training and life experiences, and it probably felt like a foolish, suicidal move. But he did it anyway.
He walked directly into the spotlight.
See, if you’re wearing infrared goggles, darkness looks like daytime. So bright light looks REALLY BRIGHT. As long as Sam Fisher stood directly in the spotlight, stopped when it stopped, and moved wherever it moved, all his enemies could see was the light. They couldn’t see him. Fisher followed the spotlight all the way to freedom, and that’s how he made it out alive.
You and I may not be highly-classified counter-terrorist spies, but we’ve got a choice to make. We can walk in darkness, or we can walk in the light. And just like Sam Fisher, we have the benefit of someone who can talk to us and give us guidance about how to proceed. He’s the Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t need an ear-piece to speak. He just needs us to listen.
So take a leap of faith, and step right into the spotlight.
It might feel foolish. It might mean risking your unblemished reputation.
But it might just save your life one day.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.