Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | February 19, 2015

Coming Out Of Religious Bondage: A Closer Look At 1 John 1:9

What you are about to read flies in the face of generally accepted teaching in the institutional church regarding this scripture. At face value, this scripture seems to be pretty clear and straightforward….right?

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Not so fast!

For many years, I wondered how this scripture “fit” with Paul’s doctrine of grace, and how it related to forgiveness of sin through faith in the finished work of Christ. I heard many different variations of teaching on this scripture over the years, but all had one basic premise at their core: that we as believers must continually “confess our sins” to God to be forgiven, or to stay forgiven, or to activate God’s forgiveness in our lives.

I’ve heard it taught that if a believer sins and doesn’t confess it to God, that he is “separated from God” until he does confess. Others teach that when a believer sins, it doesn’t sever his relationship with God, but does sever his fellowship with God, and until the believer confesses his sin, he is somehow “distanced” from God and cannot experience intimacy until the confession takes place.

Friends, when Jesus and His grace no longer hold a place of preeminence in our lives, and we replace it with our performance, I can assure you that there’s a spiritually downward spiral just around the corner.

Let me share my own personal experience with you.

Three years into my journey of faith, I moved to Raleigh, NC and began attending a local church. There were a lot of good things being taught; a lot of ministries designed to impact both Christians and non-Christians alike. Plenty of reaching out into the community. But one thing I noticed to be different from the previous church I attended was that there was a fairly strong focus on sin. I’m not talking about messages of fire and brimstone, but rather an inclination by the leadership to move people toward a sin consciousness through a strong focus on 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I heard this often, and every Sunday morning after the worship, people were invited down to the altar for prayer, many of whom were making the trip to “confess their sins to God.” It seemed very spiritual and biblical to me, so much to the point that after awhile, I began to join the throngs at the altar. My new “introspection” beckoned me to do so.

As time went on, I continued my habitual trips to the altar. After all, I loved God and didn’t want any of my sin to stand in the way of my relationship with Him. But as time went on, I realized that my new found spirituality in regards to confession of sin was not without a cost. Instead of feeling better, I was feeling worse…and worse. My spiritual vitality became drained. And I was feeling discouraged, depressed and indeed oppressed.

There was a particular day that I did something that I was feeling quite condemned about. But before I could “confess it to God,” the Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks and simply encouraged me to declare my righteousness in Christ, apart from any confession on my part. After fighting it for awhile, I did, and I could sense my spirit rejoicing as in times past, when I boldly stood in the grace of righteousness by faith:

“Therefore, being declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

This, my friends, is the amazing grace of God; that even in the midst of our fears, flaws and failures, we can declare that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, because our righteousness is not dependent on our performance (and that would include our confession). Righteousness is a spiritual state of being. We have been made righteous through the work of another; His name is Jesus!

It was after this that God led me to take a closer look at 1 John 1:9, and what I discovered has changed my life forever, and for the better. I want to dig into this portion of scripture from two angles: context & definition.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” (1 John 1:1-3, emphasis mine)

Do you notice how much emphasis John is putting on the physicality of Jesus? Back in that day, there was gnostic heresy that was prevalent and even creeping into the Church, and the heresy was that Jesus was “only spirit;” that He didn’t take on human flesh. So this is why John is focusing on the physicality of Jesus so strongly, and even says later on that anyone that doesn’t believe that Jesus came in human flesh is not from God.

Now another gnostic heresy during that day was the denial of the reality of sin, and John addresses that in verses 8-10. If we read verses 8-10 with this in mind, and also have a proper understanding of what the word “confess” actually means in the Greek language, we can accurately interpret this portion of scripture, and what we get is a far cry from what is typically taught.

The word “confess” in the Greek (Homo-logeo) does not mean, “to reiterate or say something out loud,” as it does in English. The word “confess” in Greek simply means, “to agree.” Many Christians are led astray by a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9. The poor translation, being the result of translator bias due to Roman/Reformation church doctrine of the 16th century, has led to some very poor teaching. So lets take a look at a paraphrase of 1 John 1:8-10, within context, with a proper understanding of the meaning of the word “confess,” and keeping in mind that John is combating the gnostic heresy of the denial of the reality of sin:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we agree with God that we do sin (or agree with God that we are sinners), He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and the truth is not in us.”

1 John 1:9 does not mean to “reiterate or repeat aloud” our sins to God, according to the English definition of the word “confess.” It’s not a call to be introspective, to keep a short account of every sin you commit so that you can confess each one to God so you can be forgiven, or have your relationship restored, or have your fellowship restored, or to somehow “activate” His forgiveness. Rather, 1 John 1:9 is a confirmation that “all is well” with the soul that gets into agreement with God about the reality of one’s sin and need for a savior. Our forgiveness and cleansing is not based on our confession. It’s based on the finished work of Christ. By faith, we have received grace, and it is finished…once and for all.

When we sin, we don’t deny its reality or pretend it doesn’t exist. By the grace of God (the Holy Spirit within), God points it out with no condemnation so we can learn from it, turn from it, and move on in the grace of God. We shouldn’t dwell there. If someone insists that we must do something at that point to be made right with God or have our fellowship restored, it’s nothing more than works; I must now DO SOMETHING to earn my right standing with God. If that’s the case, then grace (undeserved, unmerited favor) is no longer grace. Friends, it’s time for us to live under a New Covenant paradigm where we relate to God and receive from God by grace, through faith, rather than through an Old Covenant, performance based paradigm. If we think that God will not bless us, or has in some way withdrawn His presence from us because we haven’t performed the right spiritual calisthenics in order to be restored to Him, then we might as well just toss the New Covenant to the side of the road and live by the Old, for that is essentially what we’re doing anyway.

But what about David? David was a man after God’s own heart. And he confessed his sin. I think it’s important to understand that David’s confession didn’t actually result in forgiveness of sin. Without the shedding of blood, there was no forgiveness of sin. That’s why, once a year, the Jews would gather for the day if atonement, and through animal sacrifice the blood would cover the sins of the people for that year. So understand that when Jews sinned, their sin would be hanging over their head like a dark cloud until that once a year day of atonement, when the blood would cover their sin for that year. And each year they had to do it all over again. I believe David certainly found some relief in his confession, but Israel’s sin, including his, was not covered until that once a year day of atonement.

The Jews would have welcomed the day for their to be one sacrifice for sins forever, for as the author of the book of Hebrews says, “the worshippers, once purged, would have no more consciousness of sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4)

This is who Jesus is, the “one sacrifice for sins forever,” past, present and future sins remitted, who sat down at the right hand of God, waiting until His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He HAS PERFECTED FOREVER them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14, emphasis mine)

One sacrifice for sins, past, present and future. Then Jesus sat down. He sat down because there was nothing left for Him to do in the matter. It was finished. And anything in our soul’s perspective that falls short of once for all forgiveness of sins can only serve as an impediment to living in the complete and total freedom for which Christ has set us free…. a freedom that enables us to love others and serve God with joy, boldness and without fear, because we know we have been made right with God once for all by the work of another.

Yet on Sunday morning in churches all across the world, believers are lured into “introspection” and the “confess in order to be forgiven” cycle, making their trips to the alter week after week, a picture that looks quite similar to the Jews under the Old Covenant who had to go back year after year for a continual cleansing from sin. I think it’s important to note that Hebrews 10:3-4 shares how the Old Covenant sacrificial system not only didn’t make those who approached perfect, but actually served to remind the people of their sins year after year. And the same can be said of our present day religious exercise of incessant confession of sin: It does not make us perfect (Jesus has already done that), and it serves to remind us of our sins on a continual basis, thus establishing believers in a sin consciousness…. an effect that is completely contrary and opposed to the purposes of God intended through the finished work of Christ.

Friends, it’s time to stop ordering our lives according to an Old Covenant paradigm. The New Covenant is a better covenant, established on better promises, because 1) our sins aren’t just temporarily covered year by year; but our sin is remitted… past, present and future through the one sacrifice for sins forever, Jesus Christ, and 2) this covenant is not based on our ability to fulfill law or any other religious exercise, but on God’s grace and His faithfulness to keep covenant forever.

So what is the conclusion of the matter? To take our stand in the grace of God, and live. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for all who believe. (Romans 10:4)

Grace to all!

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Responses

  1. Good stuff! I have found that this verse is the one believers of performance count on more than any other, but it’s the one that also keeps them from understanding and embracing the fullness, purity and power of God’s grace. I should know–I was one of them. But six years ago, God started me on the journey to a better understanding of grace. It has been a wonderful journey so far–enlightening, victorious, joyful–a journey that has brought great contentment and clarity to my soul, answering questions I didn’t even know I had! God is amazing. He thought of everything!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your feedback, Debi. I have a similar testimony to yours; about 10 years ago, God began the process of showing me the implications of the New Covenant upon the life of the believer. Grateful for His grace!!

      Liked by 1 person


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