It always is amazing to see how many verses of the bible are taken out of context. There is a history of using one or two verses of scripture to build a whole doctrinal belief system. So called Christian religions all over the world have done it through the ages.
Never base a belief system on what people tell you, but base it on truth. No one person has all the answers, but there is one that will show you the truth, and Jesus is the truth that shall set you free.
The bible is rich in information, but just like any book, if you pick it up and start reading in the middle, without understanding the complete context, you are very likely to get the wrong impression. Every book of the bible has it's own unique context for the period of time that it was written in. While every book of the bible has scripture that is profitable for teaching, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness; it is important to take everything in context before building a wrong belief system.
Today, as with any period of time, man has a tendency to be lazy, and wants to be spoon fed for most of their lives. Critical thinking skills are seldom taught in schools today. Part of the problem lies in the cold hard teaching of historical elements of history to our middle school, high school, and college age young people; without developing the understanding of what was going through the minds of the characters involved at the time. History is boring when nothing but dates and times have to be remembered, and even an understanding of certain issues are rather mundane without a complete understanding of the people involved at the time.
Current understanding of 1 John 1:9 for most people, is much like a statement of history without a proper understanding of the context in which it was written. Read more about understanding confession of sins in the context of 1 John 1:9.
What was going on, when John wrote 1 John 1:9?
First off, many of the letters of the New Testament are written in the context of responding to concerns, doctrinal error, and false teachings by certain groups of people. Think of many of the letters as being a type of response to a question or series of questions. Just like in the game show "Jeopardy," where a statement of fact is given, the person must answer in the form of a question. Well, we have the answers in the bible, but what are the questions?
1 John was written, in response to a pastor from a confused church in Asia asking John, "How do we deal with this doctrinal heresy of 'Gnosticism?'"
Gnosticism comes from the Greek word "gnosis", which means knowledge. The Gnostics were a group of people who believed they possessed superior spiritual knowledge. They believed that all flesh is evil and that only spirit is good. Because they believed that, they didn't believe that Jesus really came in the flesh - they believed He was an illusion. They also believed that because sin had to do with our flesh, there really wasn't sin - sin was also just an Illusion. (That's similar to people today who believe sickness is an illusion.) The church in Ephesus was filled with people who not only didn't believe Christ came in the flesh, they didn't believe sin was real. What About 1 John 1:9?
"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" (1 John 1:1). The Gnostics taught that Jesus didn't come in the flesh, so John assures his readers that Jesus was real and not an illusion.
"We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (verse 3). This verse reassures the people hearing the letter that he and others had seen and heard Jesus in the flesh and testified to this truth. It also shows that there were the group of Gnostics who in fact did not have fellowship, (salvation) with the group of believers. John wanted the Gnostics to believe in order to have saving fellowship with believers.
"This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (verse 5). There are two groups of people in regards to salvation, either those that are in the light (saved) or in the darkness (lost). If you are in Christ, you're in light, and you're saved. If you are not in Christ, you're in darkness, and you're lost.
"If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth." (verse 6). The Gnostics were great at claiming they were saved, in Christ; but in reality they were lying to themselves and others and were not living by truth.
"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" (verse 7). So, walking in the light is walking in the truth of Jesus and that the blood of Jesus goes on forever, eternally to cleanse us from all sin. A person walking in the light is saved, and those that walk in the light have fellowship with one another. Actually the teaching of going in and out of fellowship is a misrepresentation of the scriptures. A person is either in the fellowship saved, or out of the fellowship lost. There's no in between. If confession of sins (as in asking for forgiveness) was a prerequisite for forgiveness by God, then the statement that he "purifies us from all sin" could not be true.
Note: the true meaning of the Greek word homologeō, translated confess, means to agree with God completely. It does not mean to ask for forgiveness as many people teach.
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (verse 8). Sin to the Gnostics was a figment of their imagination. They felt, and believed they had no sin in their lives and so John addresses this directly with a very strong statement of fact. If anyone, including me, you, they, we, he, or she claims they are without sin, that person is deceived and the truth is missing in their lives. Jesus is the truth, and Jesus is missing in a person who claims to be without sin.
What does confess mean in 1 John?
On the other hand, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) The Gnostics were told in no uncertain terms, if they were to confess (agree with God completely) that they did indeed have sins in their lives, that God would purify them for all unrighteousness.
It is important to note, that the Greek language has many words that have subtle differences in meaning in Greek, but are translated to the English language using simple English words. Forgive and cleanse as used in 1 John are two such words that have much deeper meanings in the Greek language. "In the Greek language, the words "forgive" and "cleanse" mean past actions that have results today and will continue to have results in the future. Also, the word "all" used in these verses means all. It doesn't mean that we are cleansed of just our past sins and our past unrighteousness, it means we were cleansed of all our unrighteousness. And if God cleanses us from all unrighteousness, then we are cleansed forever!" (more information on 1 John 1:9) In other words, how could the individual confessing each and every sin attain forgiveness, (what if you missed one, or forgot a sin) when scripture tells us that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins? Hebrews 9:22
The literal meaning of 1 John 1:9 verse is to have forgiven and to have cleansed. Jesus' past action continues on into the eternal future. People can enter into the complete forgiveness and complete cleansing of all sins by God, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by confessing each and every individual sin, but by agreeing with God in regards to a person having and committing sins in their lives. Suggest reading Christian Living 1 John 1:9 about forgiveness and an understanding of what confession of sin really is about.
"If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives" (verse 10). Once again, the importance of this verse is to stress the fact that a person claiming to be without sin in their lives, has no place for the word of God. The Gnostics of nearly 2,000 years ago are very similar to the people of today that claim they had no sin in their lives.
The scriptures talk about various groups of people, and directly to many groups of people. Some of the people are lost, and some are saved. The first chapter of 1 John is definitely talking to people that are lost, and not a part of the body of Christ. It was a plea and a rebuke from John to this Gnostic group to repent from this false teaching and believe the truth.
So, What Does The Church Teach Today?
Many Christian churches teach that you must confess your sins in order to be forgiven. They teach that you can go in and out of fellowship with God. They say you must keep short accounts with God. The reason for the short accounts is so you do not forget the sins you committed and thus be out of fellowship with God for an extended period of time. This teaching of being in and out of fellowship is something that man has placed upon the body of believers.
What Does The Word of God, the Bible, Teach?
"God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Corinthians 1:9). Once in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, a believer is eternally in the fellowship. There is no bouncing in and out of fellowship. God's fellowship with a believer (a saved person) is not dependent on what a person does but on what Christ did. Bringing God's level of forgiveness and fellowship down to man's level of forgiveness and fellowship is a travesty.
People use the 1 John 1:9 as a Christian bar of soap. People say, "When I do something wrong, it makes me feel good to ask for forgiveness from God. There can't be anything wrong with that, can there?" This is how the keeping short accounts with God is justified by many in the world today as a means of getting back in good graces with God. The confession booth and the confessing of sins on a daily basis is the human works justification for using this single verse of scripture to keep yourself clean.
The Word of God teaches us, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins" (Colossians 2:13) God forgave people before they ever asked for it. We are reconciled with God, through Jesus Christ, now be reconciled. That means believe it and rest in it.
Once a person gets a hold of the truth of what God did for them in Jesus, then the forgiveness issue becomes much clearer. God's forgiveness is far far greater than any other type of forgiveness. Man's forgiveness is minuscule when compared to God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus. When a person fully accepts the complete forgiveness from God, only then can he or she start to reflect true forgiveness toward others as only can be found in Jesus.
For a person to go through life thinking that when they do wrong, they can simply go to God to get forgiven is nothing more than an extension of the old covenant or old testament. The Jews had their Mosaic laws, given to them by Moses, in which they would continually offer animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. However, the law never provided a release from sin. We see that, "the power of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56). The Jews continually had to go back to the alter, the Catholics to this day continually go to the confession booth — do penance — pray the rosary — go to Mass — obtain indulgences — and the performing of good works with the thoughts in their minds that this is all a means of paying for their sins before God, while the Protestants continually go and use one verse of scripture, 1 John 1:9 out of context, as a means of getting their sins forgiven and feeling better about themselves. But, none of this works self righteousness is effective for change in the person. This process just covers over the truth of what is going on in a person's heart. God is looking for a heart change, one of repentance and belief.
And so, the bible points out that there is a new and final solution to the problem of sin. "The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God." Hebrews 7:18-19
Confession of sins as a forgiveness vending machine keeps a person focused on self, rather than focused on others or even focused on God. When Jesus hung on the cross and said, "It is finished!", those words meant that everything was done. There was no more sacrifice for sins required. God is done with dealing with the sin issue from his perspective. He asks people today to simply believe it. "All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them... God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:18,19,21).
So, what is a person supposed to do today when they sin? Are we supposed to ignore it? Well, scripture gives us instructions in this area. Paul addressed this particular scenario for people thinking that the freedom in Christ would allow them to go out and sin more. Paul responded to this license to sin teaching, "By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:2). He continues to tell us that "we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. . . In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. . . For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:6,7,11,14).
Think about it. If you have been living under the teaching of asking for forgiveness, has it really brought about a life change, or stopped you from sinning? Once a person grabs a hold of the truth of the unconditional love, the total forgiveness, and never being out of the fellowship with God, that person will be one with a thankful heart toward God.
A wrong understanding of God's unconditional love and forgiveness will result in a love and forgiveness toward others that is based on man's forgiveness instead of God's. If a person thinks they have to ask for forgiveness from God in order to be forgiven, then that person will exemplify the same sort of forgiveness toward others. They will think that there is no way I am going to forgive the person that did wrong to me, until they ask for it. Believers are told today, "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) Understanding God's forgiveness is paramount toward treating others with the kind of love and compassion as completely displayed by God. Once a person accepts the truth, that they are forgiven completely, then that person will "love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
The issue of forgiveness is one of the most important elements of the faith in Jesus Christ. For a person to continually feel they must confess their sins in order to be forgiven by God is actually telling God they don't believe he did it all for them. I'm not going to pull any punches here. In essence, it's like spitting in the face of God and mocking him. They think that their confessing their sins is the reason God forgives them today.
Put the forgiveness issue to bed. Please, believe and receive the total forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus. If you are a true believer, your life as a believer in Jesus and the lives of those around you depends upon it.
Related information that is helpful to your understanding:
- Confession of sins as it relates to 1 John 1:9
- The Lord's Prayer in context before and after the cross
- Saints and sinners in God's eyes
- The sin the so entangles folks today
- Falling away from the faith
- Repent and believe in who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us
- What about 1 John 1:9?
Please read the welcome message.