1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If you haven’t read the first part of this two part series, you can read it here.
As we’ve already noticed, John has written this letter to born-again believers. Christians are his audience. He is telling believers that if they confess their sins, God is faithful and just to forgive those sins. What does this mean?
First, let’s look at the word faithful. This is a pretty well-understood term, I hope. To be faithful essentially means to keep your word. What this is telling us is that God has promised in His Word to forgive the sinners who throw themselves upon Christ. John has exhorted Christians that their lives in Christ should be marked by good works and a decrease in sin already in this letter, and will continue in future chapters. In order to remind the brethren of their security in Christ, John reminds them of God’s faithfulness.
There is an important attribute of God that must be believed and understood in order to truly be able to comprehend this verse. God is eternal; and so is His knowledge. God knows all things. He knew every sin you would ever commit. So when you were born-again, He didn’t do this on the basis that you would be sinless. He didn’t conditionally save you based on your ability to be righteous after your conversion, and He certainly isn’t going to save you by a work of the spirit through faith, and then condemn you for the very sin you still do in your flesh; the sin, as I’ve stated, that He already knew you’d commit. Oh yes, He who knows the beginning and the end has already placed you in secure standing with Him in Christ.
John 10:28-29 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Now the next term we must understand is less obvious. Why is it that God is just in forgiving us?
Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.
According to the verse above, God would Himself be an abomination if He forgave us. He would be absolutely unjust to forgive sin. In fact, God is unjust if He forgives sin! You didn’t read me wrong. God doesn’t forgive sin! God forgives sinners…but EVERY sin will be paid for.
Follow me for a bit. If God could simply forgive sins and willed to forgive sin, then why did Jesus come in the first place? If sin is something that God can overlook and just forget about, then what was the purpose of the shed blood of Christ and the crucifixion? Don’t be deceived, God punishes sin. Every one of them. Some sins will still be punished in a day to come. But brother or sister, your sins are forgiven. And God is JUSTifiied to forgive you your sins because they have already been paid for. Because God Himself came down as a man and BECAME sin for you.
2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
God’s immensely Holy wrath against sin was fully satisfied on that cross. Your sin debt was NAILED to the cross, and things that gets nailed to a cross DIE. They are no more! So are your sins forgiven? Yes, as far as they pertain to you, they have been. Forgotten: as far as the east is from the west, buried in the deepest sea.
Col 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
There is no fear of condemnation for those who are in Christ; there is no power, no creature that can take you from God’s hands and God Himself put you there and will not allow you to escape.
Yes God has forgiven your sins and will forgive your sins. Must you confess to have them forgiven? Is this a “work?” No, of course not. Will all believers die having some sin they haven’t even named? Or maybe a sin like David speaks of, of which he is not even aware?
Psalms 19:12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
I think the implication here is that the truly born-again believer WILL confess sin. We are commanded to do so, are we not? (James 5:16) If you are in Christ, failure to confess your sin will not condemn you any more than any other disobedience toward God condemns you. But even though it doesn’t change your eternal standing, it is a command, and they who love the commander will obey the commandments. Dear Christian, if you do not desire to confess your faults, the question is not, “Will God forgive you?” but rather, “Has God forgiven you?”
As far as being cleansed from all unrighteousness, this is a promise for future sanctification as well as forgiveness. Just as all those who are called are justified, all those whom He justifies will be glorified. You will one day receive a sinless body. The flesh that is at enmity with God where your new heart currently dwells will be no more, and you will have no more desire to sin. If this sounds boring or unappealing, it’s probably because you love sin and do not love God. (1 John 2:15)
What does all this mean? What are the practical implications of this?
- You are eternally secure. Your election unto salvation is not, and was not, based upon your ability to meet the perfect demands of the law, neither before nor after your rebirth. Christ fulfilled the law for you, and you can, in fact, you must, rest upon His work alone. God’s very Word is at stake should He allow you to leave His grasp, and He will be faithful to Himself forever.
- Now I’m going to make people mad. I believe this is good evidence for what is commonly called the “Limited Atonement.” God’s faithfulness and justice to forgive sinners based on the righteousness of Christ and the completed work of the cross extends ONLY to a few. How can it be that God spent ALL OF HIS WRATH on Christ on the cross, yet He still has some left for those who will eventually see the Lake of Fire? Was Christ’s sacrifice NOT sufficient for them? Or did God reserve some wrath for the non-elect? Because God is just for forgiving sinners, doesn’t it logically follow that He would be unjust to NOT forgive anyone who’s sins had been paid for? Yes, the atonement is limited. Christ atoned for the elect, paying fully and completely for their sins, even becoming sin on their behalf. There will not be a single person in the Lake of Fire who will have a valid claim that Jesus paid for their sins. Oh brother or sister, you need to love the God who IS, not the God of your mind. Do not let phrases like limited atonement conjure images in your mind of a Jesus that didn’t experience infinite suffering, because that is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that when Jesus paid the price for sin, He was most certain to pay it all for those to whom it would apply. The atonement is limited in the fact that it only atones for sins that God has decided it will atone for. An unlimited atonement theology is nothing but a slippery slope to universalism or an open door to another man-centered gospel. Simply put, Jesus did not atone for the sins of those who will not trust Him as Lord and savior; had he, He’d owe them glory.
- Finally, this verse is about our relationship with God. Although promised future glorification, present sanctification and a point in time past justification, we are all growing in the Lord each day. Each day as we pray, read His Word and try to live out His will we grow closer to Him. Having a dialogue with someone is an important part of a relationship and we do that with our Heavenly Father through prayer and reading the Word. Confessing to Him is agreeing with him that He is correct. Agreeing with Him that He is worthy, that He is perfect, Holy, merciful and full of Grace. It is our humble way of telling Him we know we have nothing to rely on but Christ. It reminds us as well.
It is, in fact, for us. God does not need us. He certainly doesn’t NEED us to tell Him our sins. But he commands it; thus, we know it is for our best, so we do it. And even though we may not do it cheerfully at first, we find that as we continue, we are blessed, and as we get to know Him better, and see ourselves better, we come to desire more confession, and hunger deeply for the improved relationship we sense each time we do.