Faithful and Just
In the Apostle John’s letter to the churches he makes it clear that ‘walking in the light’ is not a matter of sinless perfection, so much as it is walking consistent with what is true – even when we fail. It means that we have a fellowship around the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ and the ongoing effect of the purification from sin that the blood of Christ as produced (1 John 1: 7). John goes on to write of God being “faithful and just” to “forgive us of our sins” and to “cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (v. 9). It can seem like such a strange thing to account forgiveness as ‘just’ given that we deserve anything but. However, the justice of God is somewhat different than the justice of human beings.
The word ‘just’ that John uses here is speaking of God’s righteousness – that is his faithfulness to his covenant with humanity – which is ultimately about our restoration. The justice of God is about putting things back to the way they are meant to be, restoring things that are broken and repairing relationships that have ruptured. God’s ultimate judgement is still some way off and won’t be fully appreciated until the life to come. In the meantime, however, we have the hope of things to come and a taste of them as we are “cleansed of all unrighteousness” (v. 9). It is the first instalment of ‘justice.’
Naturally we can eschew this kind of justice in favour of our attempts at self-justification but to do so is to ignore the only hope we have of true restoration. If so we are liable to end up being cast aside with the debris as God goes about renovating the creation and removing everything that refuses to be justified.
John explains that we must confess our sins – which really means to agree with God that we need restoration. If, on the other hand, “we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (v. 8). Confession is the first and most simple way of letting God love us. We are saying we need his justification and restoration and the community of faith is built on this light and this truth.