“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
This verse has been used over and over as a tool to comfort sinners who never enter sainthood. Many of us can recall times when we personally have used this verse to alleviate guilt, or to grant ourselves some sort of assurance. Our usage in modern day evangelicalism of this passage is asinine considering the context of 1 John. The whole 1st epistle of John is about laying out true salvation, and tests by which you can determine the true faith from the false. This 1st letter of John, if read just as it is should leave the reader in a state of self examination, no matter who the reader is. That is the point of the epistle. If we take this passage in the same manner as we take the rest of letter, then this passage can be used in a sense as a test of our confession.
The problem we have is that much of professing Christianity is a group of people who desire to avoid hell and feel that Jesus is the way to do that. When these people read 1 John 1:9 they are comforted because it seems like a simple fix to their sin problem. The thought is this, “I can tell God I have sinned, He will forgive me, and then I can go on my merry way, and hopefully sin less in the future.” To these people Jesus is only a means to their end, mainly avoidance of the punishment of sin. Moreover to these people worship is reduced to mere celebration of the idea that they get to go to heaven instead of hell, and their praise is not grounded whatsoever in whom God is, but instead in what they have received from Him. If you break it down, their entire ‘religious’ experience revolves around themselves, and their deliverance. In essence they are their own god, and Jesus exists for their deliverance, they in no way exist for Him, though they would never admit it.
Lets go back to 1 John 1:9, this majority of professed Christendom hears this, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins…” they never finish the verse. The end of this verse is equally as important as the beginning, and the end of this verse is what brings the true Christian great joy. “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and TO CLEANSE US FROM ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.” Let’s be very clear, if you do not desire to be cleansed, and only desire to be forgiven you will be neither cleansed nor forgiven, because you are not born of God. If there is no evidence of cleansing from your sin, should you not be analyzing whether or not your confession is truly confession. The promise is that if you confess He will forgive and cleanse. Let’s also be very clear that this cleansing is a visible reality, not just some theoretical change that happens in your relationship with God. It has been put this way “If you have a new relationship with God, then you must also have new relationship with sin.”
Remember the words of Paul when he speaks of what a wretched man he is in Romans 7. That is the cry of a man who desires cleansing, not to avoid hell. In fact Paul is so preoccupied with Christ that he never even mentions hell, he did not need to. Does that mean hell was not a reality to Paul? Absolutely not, Paul was focused on pressing on toward victory and Christ-likeness, hell was an afterthought to him. The same should be true in the Christian’s life. If indeed we have been redeemed our mind is consumed with serving Christ, being like Christ, and glorifying Him. Our desire is to be clean before Him so that we can commune with Him, we are a victorious people who press on toward greater and greater victory. We do find comfort in 1st John 1:9, but it has nothing to do with heaven and hell, it has everything to do with the fact that by confession our relationship to Christ though broken by sin can be restored and even more than that we can be cleansed and made to live more pure and clean.
Leonard Ravenhill used to say “Christianity is not N-O-T a sinning religion.” He was not speaking on perfection, but affirming that Christianity is marked by victory and righteousness, and overcoming of this world. True Christianity is not a pathetic group of worldlings who happen to mentally ascend to the right truth, while everyone else goes to hell because they haven’t made that mental ascension.
Let’s go back to that verse once more 1st John 1:9 “If we confess…” what does confession mean? Confess means ‘to speak the same of’ in other words to confess our sins means to speak the same of our sins as God does. God hates sin so much that He poured His wrath out on His own son because of it. How much do you loathe your sin? Is your confession merely a shallow admission of a sin that in reality you have no desire to actually overcome? That is no confession, that really is nothing more than some private religious ritual that you are enacting in order to try to save yourself. Is your Christianity victorious, or just a cycle of failure? Maybe your problem is your confession, read and study Psalm 51, break it down word by word, labor over it and you will find the true way that confession occurs.
The following thought must be added so that the true Christian who struggling with sin does not question their real faith. Just to clarify it is true that Christians will struggle with sin. With the key word being struggle. There are times, even frequent times when we fail in this struggle, and there are even sins that we will struggle with repeatedly. Nonetheless we will experience increased victory over these sins, and our life will become less and less marked by sin and more and more marked by righteousness and holiness. Now if those last few sentences brought you a ton of comfort be careful, because to think that we still may struggle with sin, and even fall into sin should not be a comfortable thing. Instead it should a reality we seek with all of our might to escape.
This could go on for awhile, but I will end here. Consider your confession.