Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If we confess our sins...

Someone recently wrote to me with a great question.
I'd like your take on this issue: If all sins are forgiven at the cross, why does I John 1:9 say, If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to FORGIVE us our sins.
While 1John 1:9 is commonly used to teach that believers can confess their sins and be right with God again, the primary meaning of the verse is that true believers are those who have confessed their sins and so have come to God for salvation.

The immediate context is a series of five "if-then" statements that are parallel to each other.
  • If we say we have fellowship with Him, but walk in darkness...
  • If we walk in the light as He is in the light...
  • If we say that we have no sin...
  • If we confess our sins...
  • If we claim that we have not sinned...
These are parallels that deal with the same basic question - Who is saved and who is not saved? Each statement alternates between people who are not saved and people who are saved. If verse nine is forced to apply to forgiveness of ongoing sins it throws the whole passage out of balance and brings up good questions.

Of course, Christians should repent, confess their sins to God and seek reconciliation with God when they sin. But that is not the primary meaning of this verse. On the other hand, verse nine points to the basis of God's forgiveness. Namely, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness because "the blood of Jesus Christ, His son, cleanses us from all sin." (v.7)

One problem of using 1John 1:9 as an instruction to believers about their continuing relationship with God is that it then seems to mean sin is "no big deal." If you sin, you can just confess and God will justly forgive you. Some people think they can callously sin with the intention that they will later confess it and be forgiven.

Chapter two clearly says that the Christians should NOT sin, but that if they do sin, they have an Advocate with the Father. This makes it clear that we are not sinless, but that we should take sin very seriously. After all, Jesus Himself, is our blood sacrifice. Do we love Him or not?

Chapter three emphatically says that sin cannot characterize the life of the true believer. A person who is chronically defeated by the same sins needs to ask serious questions about his relationship with God.
(1John 3:9) No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (NASB)

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