Questions on Having Been Completely Forgiven – #2 : Don’t I need to confess every time I sin?

Don’t I need to confess every time I sin?

The word confess has become a loaded word in Christianity. Through tradition it has become to mean something other than what it means in context of the apostles’ teachings. So let’s start with a basic definition.

In Greek, to confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo is formed from two parts, homo (same) and legeo (to say, to speak). The combination of these parts means literally, to say the same thing. In biblical usage, the word can have a range of meanings, including: to proclaim, to profess, to agree, to admit, to say something that is true, to concede that something is factual or true, to share a common view about a matter.

So when the apostle John uses homolegeo in his gospel account, recounting John the Baptist’s confession that He is not the Christ, he wrote: “And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed ‘I am not the Christ’. So John the Baptist admitted he was not the Christ, he proclaimed as true that he was not the Christ, he acknowledged that he wasn’t the Christ. Note also, in the apostle’s usage, confess is often used as an antonym for deny.

In the apostle John’s 2nd epistle, he writes about deceivers who do not confess that Christ came into the world in real flesh:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7 NAS95)

In his 1st epistle, John writes:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NAS95)

The statement is clear enough: If we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The problem that this one verse causes for Christians is the way we filter the context of the passage – we read it as though John is writing to us about our experience as Christians and come to the conclusion that each new sin we commit causes us to be in a state of needing to be forgiven again. But the truth is, John is not writing about Christian experience, rather he’s making distinctions between true Christians and false Christians – deceivers – who have infiltrated the church, are in leadership positions, and are teaching and doing things that aren’t congruent with the Christian faith. They are heretics, and anyone who follows the teaching of these deceivers leaves the truth.

Consider the context and theme throughout the letter: John begins by writing about himself and the early disciples who were present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. From the very outset, he starts by challenging the lie that says Jesus didn’t have a real, fleshly body:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

John doesn’t mess around; he gets straight to the point. Jesus was a real person with a real body. We heard him, we saw him, we watched him, and we touched him. He is the Eternal Life and he was with the Father, but then he was revealed to us.

Why is it important to take on the false teaching that Jesus didn’t have a fleshly body? Historically, we know there were groups in Judaism and early Christianity (now referred to as Gnostics and Docestics)  who taught that the material world was evil, therefore Jesus, if he were truly the Son of God, couldn’t have had a material body – that he only ‘seemed’ to have a material body. Along with that false notion, some of these practiced unrestrained indulgence in fleshly lusts, since —  in their thought —  only the ‘spiritual’ realm was good, and the ‘fleshly’ realm was evil because YHWH created it, and He was an evil, lesser God to Sophia the goddess of wisdom. So a ‘spiritual’ person could be saved through secret knowledge, irrespective of his behavior on earth.

So John also wrote:

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16 NAS95)

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses (acknowledges) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;” (1 John 4:2 NAS95)

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7 NAS95)

John wrote his letters in this historical context. Deceivers were going out into the world, not acknowledging Christ as having come in the flesh. Why does it matter whether or not Jesus had a real body? Because if his body were merely an illusion, then he didn’t really shed his real blood on the cross as the sacrifice for sins, and we are still condemned and unclean in our sins.

In this context, John explains one of his purposes:

“These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” (1 John 2:26 NAS95)

But it gets worse. The situation isn’t just that there are many deceivers in the world, but that these deceivers are in the church!  And then it gets even worse; it’s not just that there are many deceivers in the world and that they are in the church, but that they are leaders in the church!

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:9–11 NAS95).

Diotrephes was in the church, first among the church (leader), and he had enough authority to excommunicate Christians from the local church. The ‘beloved’ were then told not to imitate evil, and that the one who does evil has not seen God. Diotrephes slandered John and the apostles with wicked words. He was evil, had not seen God, and was a leader in the church. John had a very serious problem to deal with.

The example of Diotrephes that John gives in his 3rd epistle gives light to what he means in his 1st epistle when he says,

They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” (1 John 2:19 HCSB)

They were us. But they weren’t really us, that’s why they went out from us (left us, opposite of abiding).

In the historical context and in light of the totality of John’s letters, we see that there was a very serious error in the church with deceivers teaching that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh and practicing unrestrained indulgence in fleshly lusts. The problem was inside the church, being propagated by leaders in the church.

So after explaining what we have seen and heard and touched, concerning the Word of Life, John continues with

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5–10 NAS95)

This passage is a distinction between those unsaved deceivers and the authentic Christians who submitted to John’s teaching. John isn’t writing about a Christian’s experience and how to deal with sins we commit as authentic Christians; he’s writing about the difference between heretics and believers so that the believers wouldn’t be deceived.  This isn’t about performing rituals to get new forgiveness, rather it’s about distinguishing an authentic Christian who doesn’t walk in darkness, who walks in the light as compared to those who walk in darkness, who do not practice the truth, who say they have no sin, deceive themselves, and do not have the truth in them. This is not about the experience or condition of the true Christian as he lives his life of faith in this world. When an authentic Christian sins, he does so in the light. He has been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God (Colossians 1:13). An authentic Christian walks in the light, the blood of Christ cleanses him from all sin, and he acknowledges (or confesses) his sins, knowing that God is faithful to forgive him and to cleanse him from all unrighteousness. He does not have to be concerned that his sins put him in darkness and undo the work of Christ that forgave him of his sins and cleansed him from all unrighteousness.

The point here is that a true Christian acknowledges his sins, is forgiven, walks in the light and has fellowship with God in a state of having already been cleansed from all unrighteousness. And when he does sin, he has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2 NAS95)

Knowing the real meaning of homolegeo (to confess), with the context, purpose and historical back-drop of John’s letters, we confess that genuine Christians agree with God (pardon the pun).

When it comes to sin, we say the same thing, we agree, we admit, we say that it is true, we concede that our sins are factual, we share a common view with God and other Christians about sins. In short, we acknowledge our sins rather than denying them. We don’t justify ourselves by claiming that our sins aren’t really sins or saying that our bodies are evil so it doesn’t matter if we sin (compare to the modern gnostic proclamation, “I was born this way so it’s okay”), but we admit them and trust in Jesus Christ, the Righteous one. We always acknowledge our sins, but we don’t make confession into a ritual that absolves us of guilt.

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