PURPOSE OF THIS POST: To come to a correct understanding of 1 John 1:9 and of what it means “to confess our sins.” BACKGROUND: At first glance, this verse can appear to be teaching us to regularly confess our sins so that our sins are forgiven. This is how the verse has been mistakenly taught in the past, perhaps because of some carryover from the Roman Catholic practice of confession. A careful reading of the verse, however, reveals John is actually teaching us about the nature of our salvation. When we “confess our sins,” God forgives us (all) our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, this confession of sins results in salvation. This post studies this verse to understand its true meaning.
The epistle of 1 John can be viewed as a letter that assures true believers of their salvation by walking them through a series of spiritual tests. If you pass the tests, you should be assured in your faith, but if the tests raise doubts and concerns, you need to examine your faith to see if it is real.
Before John gets into his spiritual tests, he presents a series of contrasts between the one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus and the one who actually is a follower of Jesus. Verses 1:6 and 1:7 form one such contrast and verses 1:8 and 1:9 form another. We will examine these verses to see what they tell us about true faith.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1:6 – If we say/CLAIM “we have fellowship with Him,” but we walk in darkness, we are still unsaved and have an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12) and we do not believe in Jesus.
This is then contrasted with 1:7.
1:7 – BUT, if we walk in the Light (that is, if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him),
Result 1 – we have fellowship with one another (according to 1:3, believer has fellowship with believer and believer has fellowship with Father and Son), and
Result 2 – the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (Emphasis mine.) That means that all our sin – past, present, and future – has been washed away. This is a one-time event that occurred at salvation.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1:8 ‘we say/CLAIM “we have no sin,” we are refusing to confess our sin. That is, we will not acknowledge that we are sinners, and therefore we deny that we need forgiveness. As long as we say/CLAIM we have no sin, our sin will never be forgiven. The Lord will never forgive the one who denies their sin. The one who claims to have no sin cannot be saved.
Result: ‘we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ We are living in an ongoing state of self-deception. The truth is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are rejecting and ignoring that truth. Romans 5:12 declares that all sinned, but we CLAIM that “we have no sin” to confess or be forgiven.
In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is proud of his religious performance and the tax collector simply beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And the tax collector receives mercy from the Lord because he acknowledges his sin and begs the Lord for mercy. Just so in this pair of verses. Some claim that they have no sin and so have nothing to confess. They will perish. But there is the contrast.
1:9 – “(But) If we confess our sins”
This confession of sins has in view the acknowledgment by the convicted sinner that they have transgressed the Law of God and are justly condemned for their sin. They know they deserve the wrath of God. The person has been brought under full conviction by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) and feels the weight of their sin. The person fully and unreservedly confesses their sins to the Lord. This confession is synonymous with repentance unto salvation. It is the cry from David which said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). This confession of sins contrasts with the proud, godless refusal to confess or acknowledge sin that was expressed in 1:8. Instead, this confession to God marks the initial repentance by the sinner and so represents the moment of salvation.
Result: “He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us (ALL) our sins and to cleanse us (confirm in 1:7) from all unrighteousness.”
The result of this confession confirms the nature of the confession.
1:9 – “If we confess our sins,” we read of the results.
Result 1 – God forgives (ALL) our sins, and
Result 2 – God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
Notice that these results are two aspects of what God does in justification.
Result 1: God’s forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is bestowed on the repentant sinner at the moment of salvation. In justification, God declares the sinner to be forgiven of all of their sins. This is, by definition, a one-time event, for in the moment of salvation, God forgives all the person’s sins, based on their faith in Jesus. If all the person’s sins are forgiven, what is the reason to repeat this forgiveness again?
Result 2: And at that moment, God cleanses the person from all unrighteousness. Our confession and acknowledgement of our sins transfers all our sins to Christ, so that our sins were punished on the cross, and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, so that we are seen and treated as righteous. Our sins are forgiven because they have been atoned for and our unrighteousness is cleansed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness.
What we see happening, then, is that John is establishing the necessary starting point for passing all the tests in his first epistle. If you have come to faith in Jesus and you walk in His light; if you have confessed and repented of your sins; in short, if you have been born again, relax. You will pass the tests.
SDG rmb 9/5/2021 #432