Beginning in the first chapter of 1st John, the apostle John addresses the heresy that was being taught by deceivers in some of the local churches – that Christ didn’t really come in the flesh. These false prophets had gone out from the apostles of the church into the local assemblies. John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us”, 1st John 2:19.
Note: if you arrived here independently, you may want to read the previous article, “The Surprising Purpose of John’s Letters”.
Starting in verse six, John gives a series of contrasts so that the reader can make a distinction between the false prophets. Later, he wrote “Make sure no one deceives you!” (1st John 3:7)
So John writes in a certain style, “If we… but if we”. And it’s paramount to our spiritual health that we understand that John is writing in this manner: “If someone in the church does ______, but if someone in the church does _____”. In other words, John is making distinctions between false Christians and true believers.
As he said in 1st John 3:7 – “Little children, let no one deceive you.”
And again, “… many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 2nd John 7.
And in 1st John 2:19 – “They went out from us (the apostles), but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us”.
“I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes…” – 3rd John 9
So when we get to the ever-popular 1st 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 should stop and put on our thinking caps for a moment. Did John give us (true Christians) a prescription for getting new forgiveness for the sins we commit in our daily walk with Christ? Or was he, perhaps, trying to say something else.
Take a look at both the previous and the following verses (verse 8 and 10).
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1st John 1:8
“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1st John 1:10
Notice something? Or … notice a few things? Here’s what I notice:
- Verses 8 and 10 contrast with verse 9.
- In verse 8, the people do not have the truth (the truth is not in them)
- In verse 10, the people do not have God’s word (his word is not in them).
- The people who John writes about in verses 8 and 10 do the opposite of what true Christians do. They say they have no sin and they have not sinned. But if that’s true, then they don’t need a Savior at all.
- The word “confess”, which has become a loaded word, is used in contrast to “If we say…” and that just happens to be the literal meaning of the word in the Greek. The Greek word is “homologeo”. The first part is homo, meaning “the same”. The second part is logeo and means “to say”. So literally, “confess” means to say the same thing (that God says about our sins).
So, 1st John 1:9 isn’t a prescription for the true believer to get new forgiveness. Rather, it’s a contrast to 1:8 and 1:10 about false prophets in the church who say they have no sin and have not sinned, which is a dangerous heresy – one which, if believed, would turn a person away from Christ for salvation. After all, who would need a Savior (from God’s wrath against sin) if that person has no sin and has not sinned?
But, if we (true Christians) go around all day asking God to forgive us each time we sin a new sin, then we aren’t resting in the finished work of Christ. All day long we bring death to God instead of life! The apostle Paul wrote to us and said, “In the same way that Christ died once to sin (ie, once for all time) and now lives to God, we too are to consider ourselves dead to sin (once for all time) and alive to God (Romans 6:11, paraphrase).
And again in Colossians 3:13 – “… forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave (past tense) you, so also should you”.
And in Ephesians 1:7 – “In him we have (present tense – we have it now) redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses”.
Once more in Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave (past tense) you”
Forgiveness is a finished work.
The writer of Hebrews wrote,
“where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin”.
Still not convinced that you don’t need to approach God in death all day, every day (or at least, whenever you sin)? Then how about this in Hebrews 9:22,
“… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”.
Did you see that? You can ask God to forgive you all day long, but you won’t get it unless Jesus bleeds for you.
But we know Christ isn’t going to come down from heaven and die again! We know this because of Hebrews 10:12 –
“when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God”.
And then again, a few verses later in Hebrews 10:14, the writer says,
“by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified”.
Dear Christian, from God’s perspective, you are perfect right now. Your perfection was accomplished 2000 years ago through the blood of Christ. There is nothing left to be done in this regard!
But wait. Let’s finish up where we started – in 1st John.
Just two verses later – after our famous 1:9 – we come to 2:1. John changes his tone here. Now he begins with “My little children”. Instead of continuing with contrasts, John is now writing an encouragement (perhaps he’s doing so in case someone might misunderstand 1:9).
What does he say exactly in 1st John 2:1?
- My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, he should just ask for forgiveness again and again.
- My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, Christ will come back down from heaven and endure the cross all over again so that the sinner can get new forgiveness.
- My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, he should go sit in a dark box and tell his sins to a funny-looking guy dressed in a funny-looking robe.
- My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, he should verbally recount it as fast as possible in order to avoid “disfellowshipping” from God and the associated perils, such as lightning strikes, boils, pestilence, etc.
- My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have 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. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
To the little children, John gave no formula. He only reaffirmed a basic truth: “… we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. No formulas. No walking around in death. No trying to get yourself to be “the righteous one”. Just a simple fact. If you sin, you have an Advocate in heaven.
While we can distinguish between false Christians and true Christians by observing who agrees with God that they have sin and commit sins (something to which true Christians admit), we no longer need to do anything for our sins except trust in the finished work of our Advocate in heaven.
The next time someone points you to 1st John 1:9 to deal with your sins, kindly point that person to 1st John 2:1.