What Does “Walking in the Light” Actually Mean?

Ben Sternke: “Walking in the light has nothing to do with perfect behavior and everything to do with being known.”

walking in the light

“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 and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out 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

walking-in-the-light

In the past, whenever I would come across this verse, the quiet, unexamined assumption of my heart was that “walking in the light” had something to do with behaving well. Correspondingly, walking in darkness had something to do with behaving badly.

But that’s not it at all.

What does “walking in the light” mean?

Walking in the light has nothing to do with perfect behavior and everything to do with being known. Walking in the light means that we are willing to be known for who we really are (warts, sin and all). It doesn’t mean we have perfected morality, just that we have stopped hiding.

Walking in darkness means we are still hiding, pretending, putting on airs, attempting to be seen in a certain way, presenting an image that doesn’t reflect the inner reality of our hearts. Walking in darkness is the result of submitting to shame. It means we think we cannot afford to be known for who we really are, because we fear rejection, punishment, abandonment. Appearance is everything for those walking in darkness.

Darkness helps keep reality hidden. And we keep reality hidden because we fear that we need to perform well to be accepted. (Isn’t this the message many of us grew up with?) So we try to appear better than we actually are in an attempt to find acceptance and value from God and other people. Ironically, it never works, because the only way to actually walk with God is to walk with him in the light.

The good news is that we actually can be known for who we really are, because our acceptance is not based on our performance, it’s based on God’s love for us. Walking in the light isn’t something you have to “work up” to, because it isn’t about becoming awesome at life, it’s simply about letting reality be known. Coming into the light, willing to be seen, willing to be known. Walking in the light means actuality over appearance.

This terrifies most people, but it’s the only way we ever really find life. The cool thing is that we can actually start walking in the light today. It simply means giving up the games we play, letting down our defenses and pretenses and “getting real” with God and others. As soon as we are willing to be known for who we really are, God’s healing work begins.

We find that the light we are walking in isn’t harsh, it doesn’t shame us, doesn’t make us sweat. Instead, it is a healing light that allows us to rest in the love of God. The beautiful promise for those who walk in the light is that we have actual fellowship with one another, which means we really know other people, and they really know us.

The second part of the promise is that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. So we actually can afford to come into the light, stay there and walk in the light, because when we notice sin (because it’s obvious in the light!), we don’t hide it or pretend it isn’t there, we simply give it to Jesus, and his blood purifies us from it, healing us as we walk with others in the light of his presence.

How can you put this into practice? Think about ways you hide from God and others. How can you take a step “into the light” today, sharing more vulnerably with others?

Ben Sternke
Ben is a husband of one, a father of four, and is currently planting a network of missional communities in Fort Wayne, Indiana.