About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Confessing Sin
(a second look at 1 John 1:9)


Taking a second and serious look at 1 John 1:9, as I do below, takes much thought.  The verse reads:


"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."


Most of us understand this verse to say that if a Christian sins his sin will be immediately forgiven upon his confession.  I suggest a different view based on church history and a contextual understanding of the pronoun "we" in 1 John 1:9.     


History tells us that some people to whom John was writing were adopting a false teaching stating that Jesus was not God in human flesh and a false teaching of the meaning of sin.  With this in mind, we can determine whom the pronoun "we" in "if we confess our sins" is in reference.  We begin with 1 John 1:1 which reads:  


"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."


From John's opening sentence we note the pronoun "we" included John, those who were embracing the heresies, and those who had rejected them.  The distinction between the two groups is seen from verse 5 onward.  Verses 5 and 6 say: 


"This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him [Jesus] and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth."  

John said that there is no darkness in Jesus.  He then said that if "we" claim to fellowship with Jesus and live in darkness we lie and do not live out the truth.  The pronoun "we" in verse 6 refers to those believing the heresies.  They lie and do not live the truth they claim to possess.  In contrast John said the following about those who walked in the light and rejected the heresies.  Verse 7 says:

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."


We now proceed to verse 8 where John reverted back to the "we" who had embraced the false Jesus and the false meaning of sin.  He said:


"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."


The heretics represented by the pronoun "we" in verse 8 were deceived and the truth was not in them.  They were not true Christians.  With this in mind we now know to whom the pronoun "we" in "if we confess our sins" in verse 9 is in reference.   Verse 9 reads:


"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."


To be contextually consistent, the "we" in verse 9 must refer back to the "we" in verse 8 who are unbelievers.  If then, the unbelieving "we" in verse 9 confess their sin, their sin will be forgiven upon their confession, at which point they become true believers.  


If we say the "we" who confess sin in verse 9 are Christians, we have questions needing answers.  Upon your initial confession of sin that saved you did Jesus forgive every sin you will ever commit in your life or did He just forgive the sins committed prior to your confession that saved you?  If Jesus has already forgiven your past, present and future sins upon your initial confession as I believe; does He forgive the sin you will commit tomorrow upon your confession a second time?  Does He forgive the same sin twice?  Why would He forgive tomorrow's sin if it has already been stricken from the heavenly record?  If He has not forgiven tomorrow's sin and it remains in the heavenly record until it is confessed, what happens if we fail to confess that sin?  What happens if we die with sin not confessed?  Are we doomed?  Can we ever be assured of our salvation?  These questions are central to our Biblical beliefs.  They require answers.    


Historically and contextually speaking, I believe the "we" in "if we confess our sins" refers to those rejecting the real Jesus.  If they confess their sin, their sin will be forgiven upon their confession and will be saved.  Their sins, like my sins, will be deleted from God's record of sin.  They, like me, will stand before God as being without sin.  Their names, like my name, will be written in the Lamb's Book of Life.  They, like me, will escape the White Throne Judgment that dooms unbelievers for eternity as seen in Revelation 20:11 to 15.     


When as Christians we sin, we confess and repent of that sin knowing it, along with all past, present, and future sins, was erased from the mind of God upon our initial confession of sin.  We move on with life in full assurance of our salvation, and as the rest of verse 9 says; "we will be purified from all unrighteousness." 


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