“If We Confess Our Sins ...”
Christians have special access to the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, a precious blessing because Christians sin. All who sin must be forgiven and cleansed to remain in fellowship with God. Constant fellowship with God provides the needed cleansing by the blood of Jesus. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Confession of sin is the condition on which his blood cleanses. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (verse 9).
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess means, “to speak the same thing, to assent, accord, and agree with.” W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Volume I, page 224. “To confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction.” (Ibid.) One who is guilty of sin but refuses to confess it cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood.
A.T. Robertson, wrote of the folly of denying that we are guilty of sin. He said, “We lead ourselves astray by such a self-delusion and deceive no one else, least of all God. The truth is not in us then. On the other hand confession of our sins to God makes it possible for God to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Full provision for such forgiveness is made by the blood of Christ, for us and God ‘is faithful and righteous’ to do it when we let Him.” (Epochs in the Life of the Apostle John, page 120). Only the individual who is willing to admit sin is promised forgiveness. Forgiveness is never automatic; it is always conditional.
This verse presents the last half of a contrast between those who say they have no sin and those who confess they do. The first group says they have no sin at all in their lives. The second group admits and confesses their sins and are forgiven. John calls those who deny they have sin, liars. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (verse 8). “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (verse 10). Confession of sin is an admission that one needs the protracted forgiveness by God. Those who arrogantly deny they have sin, devalue Christ’s blood.
John’s letter is antagonistic toward an ancient heresy called “Gnosticism.” Gnostics believed that sin was strictly a matter of the flesh and could not defile the spirit or inner man. Calvinists, like Gnostics, believe only the outer man is affected by sin; the inner man cannot sin. They affirm saved people, washed in Christ’s blood, cannot sin so as to be finally lost. John says you lie if you say you have no sin, and you make God a liar if you say you have not sinned.
It is error to assume the inner man is not responsible for sin. Jesus preached, “For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings: these are the things which defile the man” (Matt. 15:19-20). Jesus denied that only the flesh of a child of God is sinful. The spirit of man, not his body, thinks. Evil thoughts produce evil deeds and both are sinful. Thus Paul wrote, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Calvinists must deny there is any filthiness of spirit to be cleansed.
Forgiveness always assumes God is involved for only God can forgive sins. “Who is God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?” (Mic. 7:18). Men who claim to have a divine dispensation to act as God in passing over the sins of other mortals are false to the core. No man has the power of absolution from sin.
Jesus healed a man afflicted with palsy. Friends of this poor unfortunate soul removed the roof tiles and lowered the man into the room where Jesus was teaching. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, Son, your sins are forgiven you. But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone? And immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven you, or to say, arise, take up your bed and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” - he said to the paralytic, I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go your way to your house” (Mk. 2:5-11).
Adam Clarke comments, “It is certain God alone can forgive sins; and it would not only be but grossly absurd, to say that any creature could remit the guilt of a transgression which had been committed against the Creator.” (Commentary, Vol. I, page 658). Those who look for forgiveness of sins from a mere mortal, who dresses in clerical garb, are looking in the wrong place. Only God can forgive transgressions against Himself.
God promises, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Heb. 8:12). The one who confesses sin is completely forgiven of all sin. “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God always keeps his promise. He never lies, deceives, or misleads. He is faithful and just in everything. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26).
Acknowledgment of sin requires repentance. Repentance is turning from sin to righteousness. Like believing, confession is a general word, including other acts of obedience to God. Confession without genuine repentance is nothing. Confession is a life confessing daily dependence upon the Lord for his mercy and grace. It is a life that turns from every wicked way to the light and life that is in Christ. “Enter by the narrow gate ... because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). God’s faithfulness and righteousness provides his children a his only begotten son who faithfully leads through the difficult path of this life to eternal bliss.
God is faithful and just to forgive and “cleanses us from all unrighteousness.” Those under consideration in this passage are Christians, fallible and imperfect, who have elected to walk in the light of divine guidance. In addition to forgiveness, John says there is cleansing “from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing from all unrighteousness follows forgiveness of sins confessed. Verse 7 teaches that walking in the light cleanses one from all sin. Verse 9 adds that confession of sins is walking in the light. A mythical sinful nature one allegedly inherits at birth is not under consideration. Such does not exist. A sinful nature is cultivated, not inherited. What then did John mean by the cleansing from all unrighteousness in addition to the forgiveness of sins we confess?
Sins a Christian confesses are sins of which he is conscious, and in a general way those of which he may not be aware. All men have imperfect memories. Somewhere along the line all have forgotten some specific act of transgression. An honest man may have been ignorant in a transgression. His imperfection kept him from full knowledge of what is and is not sin, especially as a newborn babe in Christ. Confession of sin is both specific and generic.
The late Roy E. Cogdill said, “An individual can no more remember all the blunders and mistakes he has made than he can count all the blessings he has received.” With human limits and imperfections all must all turn to God’s mercy and love. We cannot exploit that mercy and love by continuing to sin, failing to study and grow, and exercising our minds to be able to “discern good from evil.” But we may all rest well in the assurance that when we confess our sins, both those we know of, and those we have perhaps forgotten, God is faithful and just to forgive the sins we confess and cleanse, whatever remains.
R. L. Whiteside wrote the following:
“There could be no fellowship between John and false teachers, for they walked in the darkness; but there was fellowship between him and all others who walked in the gospel light. And when people walk in the light, not only is there fellowship between them, but they also have the cleansing blood of Christ. This blood cleanses such people from all sin. This would include all those sins of which we may not be conscious. God graciously blots out such sins, as well as those of which we are conscious and of which we repent; and the next three verses of the chapter show that we all sin, whether consciously or unconsciously, and that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, if we confess our sins. And that is a blessing for which every sincere disciple of Christ is profoundly thankful.” (Annual Lesson Commentary, published by the Gospel Advocate Company, 1937, page 291).
What we have studied applies only to those who have entered the light through obedience to the gospel. If you have never obeyed Christ, never fully surrendered your will to His, you have no right at all to the great blessings we have studied. Please, obey Him today. Through your faith in Him, repent of sins, confess His sweet name, and be baptized into Him, entering the way that leads to life eternal.
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