“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
1 John 1:9 is one of the first Bible verses I memorized as a young Christian.
It’s a verse with a challenge (If we confess our sins) and great comfort (He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness).
Maybe you feel stuck with God. You’d like to put some sins behind you and have a fresh start, but don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. 1 John 1:9 will help you.
John saw Jesus with his own eyes. He touched Jesus. He listened to Jesus’ teaching, witnessed Jesus’ miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection. He also wrote 1 John to tell us what authentic faith looks like. John writes,
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5–7)
John makes a contrast here between two ways of living: The first way is “walking in darkness” which is not real fellowship with God. The second way, which he calls “walking in the light”, is true fellowship with God.
John is telling us that you cannot walk in darkness and have true fellowship with God. If you’re a Christian, your sin will bother you and you will want to come back into the light.
Non-Christians are often content to remain in the dark and may have a mentality that says, “If I didn’t get caught, then I didn’t do anything wrong.” If you’re trying to hide your sin, you’re acting like an unbeliever.
Does this mean you need to confess every single sin you’ve ever committed for God to forgive it? No, it does not.
When you came to faith, at the beginning of your Christian life, you were justified. That means all your sins were forgiven—past, present, and future. This is the logic of Romans 8:1, which says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He doesn’t say “there is therefore now some condemnation” depending on if you confessed all your sins or not.
When John says, “if we confess our sins”, he is talking about our fellowship with God, not our salvation. If you knowingly sin and just hope it will go away, you will remain at a distance from God. Your conscience is troubled. You feel distant from your heavenly Father.
All of us who have walked with God for any amount of time have experienced something like this. It’s no fun. It’s like saying something mean to a friend or family member and then trying to ignore it. What do you need to do? You need to take responsibility for what you said or did, and that begins the process of reconciliation. You need to say, “I’m sorry.”
The same is true with God. The person who walks with God has a regular practice of confessing his or her sin to God.
Trust in the Character of God
Two questions inevitably come up in talking about confessing our sins to God:
- How do I know if/when God has forgiven me? Will I feel forgiven?
- Have I done enough to deserve God’s forgiveness? Am I sorry enough? Just tell me what to do!
Let’s go back to 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.
We find the answer to both questions, not in us and what we are doing, but in the character of God.
First, God is faithful to forgive your sins.
In other words, God keeps His promises, and He will restore fellowship with you when you confess your sin to Him. God will do what God said He will do.
1 John 1:9 is not simply John’s opinion about God. John, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was writing down God’s very words for us. In other words, God is saying,
If you confess your sins, I am faithful… to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. I will do it!
Second, He is just to forgive your sins.
If a judge lets a lawbreaker go free, we call him or her corrupt. How can a holy God restore fellowship with sinners like us? Doesn’t He have to essentially sweep our sins under the rug?
Absolutely not. God is committed to perfect justice. Every sin ever committed in the history of the world will be paid for. And God will see to it Himself.
Nothing we do in confessing our sins to God will make us more worthy of being brought back into fellowship with God. Jesus did all that was necessary to bring you into fellowship with God and to restore your fellowship with God.
You can ask God for mercy. You can ask God to restore you. And you can do it with confidence. Why? Because payment has been made and God is just. There is nothing further for you to do.