“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
The above verse may be one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible, even for relatively solid and well-versed Believers!
At first glance, this verse seems pretty simple. “If” we confess our sins, He (Jesus) will forgive our sins and cleanse us.
MOST churches today teach this verse means that we must confess our sins, on-going, to be forgiven. That we must continually “clean the slate.” An often heard reference to this verse is, “It’s the Christian’s ‘Bar of Soap.'”
But, thankfully, this is not true. We can’t scrub ourselves clean. Here’s why not…
For this verse to mean that we have to continually confess our sins to be forgiven, as the popular interpretation implies, means that the finished work of the cross is not finished. That Jesus didn’t pay it all, and that we have an ongoing part in our personal salvation.
And what if we don’t confess a sin? Do we lose our salvation? What if we forgot a sin? What if we didn’t know we had sinned?
Three Key Words
Under closer scrutiny of the verse we see there are three key words that prove it could not mean that we must continually confess our sins.
The verse begins with the word, “If…” This would mean that for your sin to be forgiven, it is dependent on something that you do, or do not do. It would imply a false works doctrine…. salvation based on what we do, or do not do.
But that’s not scriptural, anything to do with salvation by works contradicts other scriptures like:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works…” Eph. 2:8, 9
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” Titus 3:5
The second key word is “forgive.” For that verse to mean that you are not forgiven until you confess each sin is opposite what the Bible teaches… that ALL your sin was taken out of the way 2000 years ago:
“having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” Col. 2:14
The third key word is “cleanse.” Does ongoing confession make you clean? Not according to other verses discussing being cleansed in the past tense:
“… those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Acts 26:18
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Heb. 10:10
When you were saved, God the Holy Spirit came into your life FOREVER, never to leave (Heb 13:5). Therefore you were fully and completely cleansed FOREVER at salvation and it’s unnecessary to be ever cleansed again.
Did Paul Forget?
Paul, our Church Age apostle, never mentioned ongoing confession of our sins except to one another for accountability (James 5:16). If ongoing confession was required before God forgave each of our sins, did Paul just forget to mention it in all his letters? No, he said just the opposite:
“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Rom. 6:22
Jesus only mentions “confessing” when He was speaking to the Jews who were under the law in the context of salvation (Matt 10:32).
It is also interesting to note that John wrote 1 John in 95 AD, about 50 years after the first New Testament books were originally penned. Would this be the first mention of ongoing confession for the forgiveness of sin if it were THAT important!?
John did say in the verse before, 1 John 1:8, that if we say we don’t have sin, we are a liar. So even if we could continually confess sin for forgiveness, the moment we confess it, we are still the same dirty rotten fleshly person we were before we confessed! Nothing would be changed!!
Some people teach that you have “positional” sanctification at the moment of conversion but have to work for your “progressive” sanctification. This is not true – any concept of self-sanctification is from the pit of hell. All it does is yoke people with the lie that Jesus didn’t do enough on the cross and they have to do something to be acceptable to God.
The concept of ongoing confession of sin to procure forgiveness is simply a bad doctrine holdover from the Catholic Church… just as A-millennial and anti-Jewish doctrines were initially embraced by Luther and others in the early Protestant movements.
Then What IS the meaning of 1 John 1:9?
If 1 John 1:9 doesn’t mean we have to continually confess our sins to be forgiven, what the heck does it mean?
In his book, Forgiven Forever, Hector MacLeod explains in eye-opening fashion that 1 John was written in response to the Gnostic claims of the time. And he shows that the context is actually dealing with one time confession for individual salvation.
Yes, make no mistake about it, to be saved we ARE to confess to the Lord that we are a sinner, confessing that we know we can only escape the horrors of hell via the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.
And we are certainly to acknowledge and repent of each and every sin by which we are convicted by the Holy Spirit living inside us. But that is because we are already forgiven, not to earn forgiveness! Acknowledgement of sin is the natural process of spiritual maturity — growing in knowledge, faith and the grace of our Lord.
Ongoing confession of sin to the Lord, for forgiveness, is not required… actually, we are called “foolish” for even thinking that way!
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Gal. 3:3
I will go as far to say that there is nothing one can do, or not do, to make themselves more, or less cleansed, than that which Jesus accomplished on the cross!
Is that not just incredible! Everything that can be done, has been done by our Lord. When He said “It is finished” it was totally finished! Wow wow wow, that is just incredible!
Through the years while Hector was alive, we bought his book, Forgiven Forever, by the caseload. God has used his book to make known the true grace of God to countless individuals.
The most common remark we hear is that reading it brought them such a peaceful release!
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension…” Phil. 4:7
Before Hector died at age 93, he graciously gave the rights of the book to Compass in order to keep it in circulation. We have reprinted it and also have it available both in paperback and in a free eBook format. You can download it from the compass.org store.
Click here to order Forgiven Forever–
And reading it may very well just change your life!!!
Bill Perkins is the founder and Executive Director of Compass International, Inc.
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