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III. The Believer and Sin

C. The Need for Confession

I John 1:8,9

8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The Apostle, John, had been saved about sixty years at the time of this writing. Though he had grown spiritually through obedience to God, he realized that he still possessed a sinful nature and that he still had to deal with sin in his life (See Rom. 7:14-25 concerning the Apostle Paul). We, as born again believers, are afflicted with the same malady. In this passage he gives us “step one” in dealing with sin in our lives; confession of our sin to God.

C. The Need for Confession

1. For forgiveness and cleansing

Verse 9 contains what is called a “conditional” promise. God’s Word contains many promises, some of which are “conditional” and some “unconditional.” Examples of unconditional promises would be I Thess. 4:16, 17 and Rev. 22:12. These have to do with the believers being caught up to meet the Lord in the air and Jesus’ return to the earth. God has decreed these events to happen. They will occur no matter what man chooses to do or not to do.

The condition required here is confession of our sins to God. If we fulfill this condition, the guaranteed results are forgiveness of our sins and being cleansed from all unrighteousness. Just what does all this mean? The meaning of the word “confess” is sometimes misunderstood. The Greek word simply means “to speak the same thing,” “to agree with.” It does not mean to beg, plead, weep and wail, or gnash our teeth. It means to name your sins as God does; as sin. Note that we do not confess our sins to a priest or to another man (Jesus is our mediator, I Tim. 2:5, 6). If we sin against another person, it is appropriate to confess that sin to him and to seek their forgiveness (Luke 17:3, 4; Eph. 4:32).

It is very important to realize that this verse is not telling a person how to have eternal life. John is speaking to believers and repeatedly includes himself in the context of the chapter. There is nothing here that talks of salvation or receiving eternal life. It is speaking of a believer’s obedience. If we wish to know how to have eternal life, we must use the verses that clearly state how to be saved, e.g. Eph. 2:8, 9; John 3:16; I John 5:10-13. Let us not be guilty of circulating Satan’s counterfeit of salvation by adding works to salvation (II Cor. 11:3, 13-15; Gal. 1:6-10).

“…He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He is faithful.” God is the only One we can count on to be 100% faithful. He will do what He says. “He is just.” This literally means that He is righteous in forgiving us. God’s holiness demands perfection. His justice demands the penalty to be paid. His love sent Jesus to pay the penalty in our place (I John 4:10). He paid the complete payment so that He can forgive sin without conflicting with His holy attributes. That settles any question about righteousness. The grounds for this forgiveness is the shed blood of Jesus. "In Whom [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14; see also I Pet. 1:18, 19).

What about the phrase, “…forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness is not minimizing or overlooking the sin. It is not saying that the sin was OK. It is not saying the person deserves forgiveness. It is not just forgetting about sin, although, with God’s forgiveness, that comes with the package (Heb 10:17). The Greek word most often translated “forgive” means “to let go of,” “to send away.” God, by His grace, is releasing us from the debt we owe.

The Greek text does not include the second “our” in this verse. The verse literally reads that He would “forgive us the sins” not “our sins.” So what is the difference? The context is obviously speaking of our sins anyhow. That is true but there is an inference that if we confess the sins that we know about, He will forgive us of those sins (definite article), and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (even the ones we forgot about or do not know about. As we grow closer to the Lord we tend to see things more the way He does. As I mature I realize that some things I used to think were permissible in my life I now see as sin. In seeming contrast to this, the more I read in the Word about His marvelous grace, the more I appreciate the freedom that I have to serve in love and not be bound by legalism or someone else’s arbitrary set of rules.

Let us now pursue some inevitable hypotheticals. What about a sin that I have allowed to become an overpowering habit. How can I, in good conscience, confess this sin to God when I know that I will be back a dozen more times today? Should I still confess it? Yes, God tells me to and it would be more sin if I did not obey him in that area. This verse does not expire after it is applied a certain number of times. It cannot be “used up.” If we come to Him to confess a besetting sin and mention about the thousand other times we besought Him about that sin, He could rightfully say, “What sin?” He has promised that He will not remember my sins (Heb. 10:17).

When I was in a similar situation I found God wisely working with me in several ways. One way was that I got tired of confessing the same sin over and over again to my loving Father. I knew that it was grieving him and it was also detracting from my joy. My repetitious confession kept in the forefront the need to properly judge the sin.

A second fact rapidly became noticeable to me. Confession of sin brought forgiveness but did not necessarily bring the joy of service, take away the natural results of my sins, nor relieve me from God’s sure hand of discipline for His erring child (Heb. 12:6-11). God is gracious and His grace teaches us how we should live (Titus 2:11, 12).

I soon found that the best plan of action was to apply I Cor 11:31, “For if we should judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” The sooner I said “Yes” to God the more content we both were. In areas where I learned to judge myself, God had no need to. I could actually circumvent some of the “Hebrews 12” type of chastening. Do we really believe that God wants the best for us? He is not trying to restrict us with a bunch of rigid rules. He wants us to serve Him in liberty, liberty that is directed by divine love (Gal. 5:13). He wants us to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23).

A very helpful hint in the realm of confessing our sins is to keep the list short. That may mean talking to God more often during the day. That just might please our Father who is seeking our worship (John 4:23), our trust (Heb. 11:6), and our consistent prayer (I Thess. 5:17). It may seem to us to be more efficient to wait until we have a long list of sins and then to confess them all in one big batch. I doubt that God is as impressed with efficient assembly lines as He is with obedience (I Sam. 15:22). It is better to confess and judge a sin before it grows into something more. We can experience more fellowship with God and be more fruitful for Him as we do this. A Christian may sin all day, then when he hits the sack, say, “God, forgive me for my sins. Amen.” This is known as “sack religion.”

C. The Need for Confession

2. For restoration of fellowship

When a believer sins there is a barrier in his fellowship with God. In order to get back into fellowship with God when he sins, the first step is to confess his sins to God (I John 1:9. This is not a salvation verse. It is telling the believer how to be in fellowship with Him and to remain in a usable condition for God’s glory and for the Christian’s joy (Verse 7).

The first part of this chapter has been covered in a previous study. It emphasizes obedience to Jesus (walking in the light) in order to have fellowship (things in common) with Him. If we confess our sins as we are told, and then do not continue to obey him, that is sin. We then need to confess that sin and get going again. We are in a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10-20) Do not let Satan keep us down.

C. The Need for Confession

3. For restoration of fruitfulness (I Cor 15:34)

Confession, of itself, does not restore fruitfulness. It merely is a step toward fruitfulness. The same could be said about this as was said about fellowship with God; if you confess your sins then do not further obey God, you need to confess that sin and start doing what He tells us in His word.

A doctrine that was more prevalent in fundamental circles some years ago was called the “Faith-Rest Life.” A basic emphasis of this doctrine was that if we confess our sins, we are then spiritual. In some cases, a working out of this teaching produced Christians that confessed their sins but did not do anything else for God’s glory; commonly called Christian couch-potatoes.

What is produced as a result of a teaching is not near as important as how it stands when compared with God’s truth. The context of I John 1:9 emphasizes obedience to Christ (1:6, 7, walking in the light, not in darkness). The first verse of the next chapter states that these things were written for the purpose of encouraging us not to sin. Gal. 5:16 admonishes believers to “walk in the Spirit” not to “sit in the Spirit.” There is a valid place of rest in the Spirit-controlled life but it cannot Biblically be construed as a lack-of-service life (Matt. 5:16; 9:37; I Cor 15:58). May we confess and judge our sins, and get back into the battle for the short time that is remaining.

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