Monday, June 15, 2009

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).

What does 1 John 1:9 mean? I know the traditional interpretation is that John is addressing Christians when he wrote it, but I wonder if that's right. And here are my reasons:

First of all, we are told that all our sins—past, present and future—have already been forgiven.

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43).
...rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me (Acts 26:17-18).

God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor 1:9).

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-19).

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake (1 Jn 2:12).

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-14).

...bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Col 3:13).

So is there still more forgiveness for us to receive? I don't believe there is.

Don't get me wrong. I do believe confession (which means "to admit or agree with") has a definite place in a believer's life, but not for forgiveness. Whenever we humbly acknowledge our sin, whenever we remember that God's way is far better than our way, whenever we put on the new man, we are confessing. Confession agrees with God, not only about sin, but also with the truth that we are forgiven.

True confession focuses our mind, not on our failures, but back to the finished work of Christ on the cross, which then leads us to a thankful heart. And confession should be a continual, dependent attitude throughout our life, not just a once-in-a-while response. When we learn to agree with God about His total forgiveness toward us, our minds begin to see the completeness of grace that God has for us in Jesus Christ. He did it all, because we were incapable of doing any of it.

So then, what about 1 John 1:9? In light of what I've just mentioned about forgiveness and confession, it seems incongruous to me.

Most of the commentaries I've read concerning 1 John 1:9 say that confessing our sins means that we as believers should frankly admit our known sins, realizing they come from our old sin natures which are still with us. And, we should also realize that we when we sin, we break fellowship with God and that confession accompanied by repentance (which they say means a turning from our sins to the sacrifice of Christ as the means of cleansing from our defilement) restores our fellowship with God. So apparently, the "He will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" means that God promises to remove our sins which are a barrier to our fellowship with Him.

But that happened at our conversion! Now, there is no longer any condemnation for us. Now, we are in Christ, and now God sees Christ's righteousness when He looks at us.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21).

It is interesting to note that right after Romans 7 where Paul tells us he does the things he does not want to do and doesn't do the things he does want to do, that he breaks forth in Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Notice He did not say, "Therefore we must confess our sins so that our fellowship with God will be restored." Paul never speaks about asking forgiveness in any of his letters. In fact, no where in the NT, after the cross, is there any verse or passage that speaks of asking for God's forgiveness. We are either forgiven and in fellowship and saved, OR not forgiven and out of fellowship and lost.

So what remedy is given in Scripture when we do something wrong? In Ephesians there were some among them who apparently were stealing. And Paul's counsel to those who were guilty was to steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need (Eph 4:28). In other words, "Stop it! That's not who you are anymore." (Rather reminds me of that old Bob Newhart skit. ha!) He didn't tell those who stole to confess their sins to God, because their sins had already been wiped away—and not only forgiven but forgotten.

To me, it creates such unnecessary anxiety and confusion when we're taught our sins are forgiven past, present and future, AND that every time we sin we're out of fellowship with God until we confess and clear our account with Him. It seems we are preoccupied with sin and how to get rid of it, when our main focus should be on what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross — because the more we think about sin, the more "we sow to the sinful flesh." Understanding God's grace is what changes how we live by enabling us to see people, circumstances, and things from His perspective.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age (2 Titus 2:11-12).

Any good theologian will tell us that it's intellectual suicide to build an entire doctrine around one verse of Scripture, but isn't that what we've done with 1 John 1:9? Or am I not seeing something right?

(To be continued.)


  1. thank u sir for this expository thought and revelation, I understd all of this now, but my confussion still is, before the word of grace I had struggled with sin and each time I fall, I feel guilty not worthy to aproach God in anyway, condemed, unholy and unrigteous. now I know grace and all the benefits that take away all of these, but I still fall and I understd regardless I am holy and rigtheous having being forgiven of all, but should I not stop in d same things dat were before grace came now that I have found grace?

    thanks in anticipation of your quick response.


  2. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul sets up the same argument for godly living over and over again. The pattern is always, this is who you were before you turned to Christ, this is what Christ did for you and who you are now, THEREFORE live for Him.

    For example, in Eph 2:1-3 Paul, through the Spirit, says — " were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind...."

    He goes on to say — "...But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:4-9).

    Then (and only then) does Paul exhort us to live for Christ: "...I, THEREFORE, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called..." (Eph 4:1) "... having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph 4:25-32).

    We are to live godly lives IN RESPONSE to what Christ has done for us, not out of obligation. But why wouldn't we want to live for Him after all He's done for us?

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