To this point we have been reflecting on what happens between God and me in fostering growth. But to these vertical realities we must join the horizontal. A Christian is connected not only up, to God, but also out, to other Christians.

An independent Christian is a nonsensical category according to the Bible. Scripture calls believers the body of Christ. That is perhaps a familiar metaphor for many of us, but consider what it must mean. We live our lives in Christ in a way that is vitally, organically joined to all other believers. We who are in Christ are no more detached from other believers than muscle tissue can be detached from ligaments in a healthy body. When you pass another Christian in the grocery store or in the hallway at church, that is a body’s hand passing that same body’s foot, both of whom are controlled by a single head. They may be different genders, different ethnicities, polar opposite personalities, and seventy years apart in age—but they are far more connected than two siblings from the same family, ethnic background, and DNA, one of whom is in Christ while the other is not. C. S. Lewis put it like this:

Things which are parts of a single organism may be very different from one another: things which are not, may be very alike. Six pennies are quite separate and very alike: my nose and my lungs are very different but they are only alive at all because they are parts of my body and share its common life. Christianity thinks of individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body—different from one another and each contributing what no other could.

And one reason the apostles speak of Christians as the body of Christ is to communicate that just as a body grows and matures, Christians are to grow and mature: “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16).

The Bible has much to say about how we are to interact with each other as fellow Christians if we are to grow. I’d like to focus in this chapter on one particularly important teaching from the New Testament, the most important corporate reality for our growth in Christ: honesty.

Walking in the Light

If I exhorted you to “walk in the light,” what would you instinctively think I’m talking about? Would you think I am exhorting you to live in a morally pure way? That would be a reasonable expectation. But if I spoke of “walking in the light” as the apostle John does, I would be talking about something quite different. Here’s what we read in 1 John 1:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5–10)

The key is verse 7: “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.”

So, does this text exhort moral purity? The Bible certainly does say this. “Be pure and blameless” (Phil. 1:10). “Keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22). “Be self-controlled, pure” (Titus 2:5). The apostle John himself clearly desires this for his readers: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). And at first glance it may appear that this is John’s point when he speaks of walking in the light in 1:7. After all, he says, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light”—that is, as God is in the light. God is morally pure, so surely we are being called to purity, like him, right?

But the point of this text lies elsewhere. John has something far more liberating to say. Walking in the light in this text is honesty with other Christians.

Notice the emphasis of the surrounding verses. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1:8). Then John speaks of confessing our sins—acknowledging honestly our failures: “If we confess our sins …” (1:9). And then verse 10 returns to the point that verse 8 made: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar” (1:10). Apparently walking in the light is confessing our sinfulness, and walking in the darkness is hiding our sinfulness. Walking in the light, in this text, is not primarily avoiding sin but acknowledging it. After all, even verse 7 itself concludes with an assurance of the cleansing blood of Christ—a natural reminder if “walking in the light” earlier in the verse refers to confessing our sins.

Here is what I want to say in this chapter: You are restricting your growth if you do not move through life doing the painful, humiliating, liberating work of cheerfully bringing your failures out from the darkness of secrecy into the light of acknowledgment before a Christian brother or sister. In the darkness, your sins fester and grow in strength. In the light, they wither and die. Walking in the light, in other words, is honesty with God and others.

The classic reflection on walking in the light is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. He titles one chapter “Confession and Communion,” because his burden is to show the vital link between those two horizontal realities. He opens the chapter by saying:

He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.

We consign ourselves to plateaued growth in Christ if we yield to pride and fear and hide our sins. We grow as we own up to being real sinners, not theoretical sinners. All of us, as Christians, acknowledge generally that we are sinners. Rarer is the Christian who opens up to another about exactly how he or she is a sinner. But in this honesty, life blossoms.

Dane C. Ortlund, Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners, ed. Michael Reeves, Union (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 16–19.

We have just completed a Bible study to guide your group into meditating on and applying these truths. Deeper is our Bible Study based on Dane Ortlund’s book by the same name. It consists of 7 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.