In order for you to walk in the light as Jesus Christ is in the light, you must _______?
How would you fill in the blank? Before you continue reading, take a moment to think about that.
John opens his letter with what it means to walk in the light. And the answer is surprising.
“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 cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 ESV)
I don’t know about you, but when answering the question above, for me, fellowship feels like it would be towards the bottom of the list. It feels like the obvious answers would be to have faith, repent, read the Bible, pray, go to church, or serve. Now, those are certainly things that faithful Christians regularly pursue. But of all things that God could have put at the end of that sentence, He put “fellowship with one another.”
Fellowship, or consistent and intentional Christian community, is what it means to walk in the light. Notice that, based on how this verse is written, community is not the goal of walking in the light. John does not say, “We will have fellowship.” Instead, he says we already have it. Those who walk in the light are in Christian community.
This truth presents three immediate implications.
First, this truth dismantles any notion that the Christian life can be pursued alone.
The preceding verse in 1 John explicitly makes this point, “If we say we have fellowship with [God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6 ESV). To not be in community is to walk in darkness (verse 7) and to walk in darkness is to not have fellowship with God (verse 6). Put simply, we cannot have fellowship with God without fellowship with other Christians.
Second, our personal faith in Jesus is more communal than we think it is.
Verse 7 could have said, “… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with God.” But it doesn’t—it says “fellowship with one another.” If you are like me and were surprised to see community as the evidence of walking in the light, then perhaps we need the Holy Spirit to help us see that our personal faith is a communal faith.
Third, Satan wants us in darkness.
To get us into darkness, Satan wants us to be unengaged in biblical community. He wants to pull us out of a consistent and intentional community by presenting us with reasons that make pursuing community a challenge. Then, he wants to take it one step further. He wants to deceive us by making us believe that our reasons for not being in a community are valid! If he can pull us out of community for reasons that we believe are good and justifiable, then the essential nature of community becomes a matter of convenience or circumstance and not a matter of walking in the light. When that happens, darkness takes over and we might not even be aware of it. That is his goal.
I believe Satan uses two particular lies to prevent us from pursuing community. What makes them so powerful is that they all contain a significant amount of truth to them. They are legitimate and valid reasons for why pursuing community is a challenge. But, my hope for all of us is that even though these challenges are real, in order to walk in the light with Jesus, we have to be in fellowship with one another. So, we must overcome them.
Lie #1: New Season of Life
One of the more frequent conversations I have with men and women who lead community groups is how to address the dwindling size of their community. The group will start with X number of members and, over time, that number shrinks. When I ask them why members are leaving, one common answer is that the person is in a new season of life.
Starting a new job. Being in a new city. Being newly-married. Entering onto first-time parenthood. Being parents of a growing family. These are all common seasons of life that present real challenges to pursuing community.
My wife Jenny and I are experiencing this right now. Our daughter is almost three months old and is very needy (rightfully so). But our community meets at 7pm every Tuesday—exactly when we need to put her to bed. A few weeks ago as we were talking about how to navigate this, we considered maybe rotating weeks—one week I would go and then next week she would go. And then, I stopped and said to her, “God did not bless us with a child in order to pull us away from our community.” She agreed.
It was so interesting to see how the new season of life as new parents got us into a mindset that, somehow, our community was now less essential to our faith than it was before. I want to walk in the light as a new father and I need my community to help me do that. So, even though pursuing community is more difficult than it was before, it is still just as essential.
Graduation, graduate school, a new job, a new marriage, a new family, and a growing family are all good things! But God would not call us to those things at the cost of walking in the light. No matter how incredible the new season of life is, God will not call you away from the light; away from community. If walking in the light means we are in a consistent community, Satan wants us to believe that our new season of life makes community impossible to pursue. Please be cautious of the idea of taking an indefinite break from your community until things settle down. There is no middle ground between light and darkness. When considering a major decision, we should ask ourselves, “How will this commitment impact my community and in what ways can I overcome the challenges in order to stay in the community?”
Lie #2: Relatability
What all of us want out of a community is genuine connection with other people. We want to know and be known by other people. In order to experience this kind of connection, we naturally gravitate towards people who are just like us. This is why we may be tempted to find another community that “is a better fit” if we find ourselves in a group of people who are in a different season of life than us or have different personality types or backgrounds.
Let me be clear—there is nothing wrong with wanting to be in community with people you can relate with. In fact, relatability with other people is a good thing and an incredible blessing. The problem though is that Satan tries to convince us that relatability in the community is the ultimate thing. He tells us the lie, “Unless these people can relate with your season of life, lifestyle, interests, personality, or background, then this community isn’t for you.” This is a lie for two reasons.
First, what makes two people genuinely connect with each other is more than relatability. Does relatability help with connection? Absolutely. But, if relatability alone was the driving force of community, not many of us would want to join Jesus’ small group. Think about it—unless you are a single, Jewish, brown-skinned man from the Middle East, you probably don’t have a lot of things in common with Him as a person. And yet, of course we would want to be in Jesus’ small group!
What makes people genuinely connect with each other is more than relatability—it is a common experience. We are more than willing to overlook personality types and backgrounds if we can connect with a person on something we have both experienced. Common experiences allow people to empathize with each other. It creates an implicit bond that says, “You and I both know what it feels like to be …” A husband. A wife. A father. A mother. Single. A woman. A man. A survivor.
The common experience of the gospel is what establishes a deep connection between a person and Jesus and among a community of Christians. Being saved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is something that every person in the community has experienced—regardless of their differences in age, race, lifestyle, season of life, or personality. This is what the first church experienced. They were saved by Jesus Christ, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44 ESV). These new Christians were not all alike. They didn’t relate on everything. And yet, they had all things in common.
Second, Jesus wants you to be in a community with people that you might never choose to be in a community with. Take the community that Jesus created with the twelve disciples for example. One of the twelve was Matthew—a Jewish man who betrayed his people by working for the Roman government as a tax collector. He would collect money from other Jews, give it to the Roman authorities, and keep the remainder as his personal profit. The Jews hated tax collectors. Another of the twelve was Simon—a Zealot. The Zealots were a group of Jews who despised being oppressed by the Roman Empire and would start insurrections to rebel against the government. The only people that the Zealots might have hated more than the Romans were the tax collectors.
Jesus calls both of them into His community. Two men who could not see the world more differently. Never in a million years would either Matthew or Simon have chosen to join a community with the other. And you think you’ve experienced some awkward small group discussions … So why did they stay? Because to walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light, they remained in fellowship with one another. They committed to each other because they were committed to Jesus.
Let’s Walk in the Light
Take a moment to consider your community. If you are currently a part of a community, courageously stay committed to it!
Even if you feel like you are in a different season of life than the others in your community, if you walk in the light as Jesus is in the light, you will have fellowship with those people and realize that you need them and they need you.
Even if you feel like you are in a community with people that you don’t relate with, if you walk in the light as Jesus is in the light, you will have fellowship with those people and realize that Jesus loves making friends out of people who are very different.
If you are currently not in a consistent and intentional Christian community, please do not delay. You need community in order to walk in the light and we would love to help you find a group to belong to. You can find more information on how to get connected to one of our communities here.