I often hear Christians reject the notion that we are already, 100%, completely and totally forgiven in Christ without any need for new forgiveness. The Lord’s prayer and 1st John 1:9 are typically presented as the proof-texts to maintain that we need to keep asking for new forgiveness. The argument is that John wrote to Christians, so verse 1:9 must be a for Christians to practice, over and over again. Sometimes Christians even claim that we have to keep repenting again and again when we sin. But is that what the apostles really taught as they were moved along by the Spirit of God to instruct the churches?
I agree that John is writing to believers about Christians, but just consider for a moment the possibility that John is writing about ‘false Christians’ — people in the church who aren’t really Christians, but they call themselves Christians.
When John writes “If WE confess our sins” he seems to be making a black and white distinction. It appears there is a group of people (Christians) who do not confess their sins and are in darkness. The idea isn’t that true Christians must go to Mass or Confession weekly, or that true Christians have to have their eyes on their sin all the time (in order to confess and get new forgiveness), but that a true Christian “says the same thing” God says about sin. The Greek word for “confess” is homo-legeo, and it means, literally, “to say the same thing, agree, admit”.
If we don’t agree with God about sin, we walk in darkness and are not truly Christians. This reminds me of a present situation in America where some ‘Christians’ don’t agree about the sin of homosexuality. But if we do agree, we are in the light, and we have fellowship with the Father, and we are forgiven.
It’s an oxymoron to repent every day. Repentance is a ‘change of mind’ that results in a turn from sinful behavior. If we’ve already changed our minds about sin, do we really need to change our mind again? In the norm, ‘repentance’ is something that unbelievers or false Christians need to do. The problem — for an authentic Christian — is not that he needs to change his mind again, but that he walks around in an unredeemed body, housed in flesh that will not inherit the Kingdom of God and is tempted by ‘sin’. The flesh wars against the Spirit, but the answer is NOT to keep asking for forgiveness, it’s to THANK GOD through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 7:25) Christians are in this position of ‘futility’ and groaning so that their hope will be on the resurrection instead of this world (Rom 8:20-25).
But confession — since it is ‘agreement / admitting’ and not a ritualistic prayer that brings new forgiveness — is something authentic Christians continue in. Agreement with God about sin is a sign of an authentic Christian. Any Christian who doesn’t agree with God about sin is a lawless anti-christ.
So repentance and confession go together. We change our mind from making excuses for sin and justifying it and in doing so, we agree with God about our sins. We go from disagreement and excuse-making to agreement and admitting our faults – i.e., we change our minds.
John is distinguishing between true believers and heretical ‘Christian’ leaders who are in positions of authority in the church. Consider 3rd John, where he wrote to ‘the church’ about supporting those brothers who went out for the faith, but Diotrephes didn’t accept what John wrote and excommunicated believers from the fellowship if they supported the brothers who went out for Jesus. John tells the readers not to imitate what is evil. It’s clear that Diotrephes was a leader in the church (ie, a “Christian”) with enough authority to intercept John’s letter and to put other Christians out of the church.
John always writes about these same heretics in all his letters. Even in his gospel, he addresses their error when he says “The Word became *flesh*”. He addresses their error straight on (One of their errors was that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh).
So instead of reading first John as though he’s telling authentic Christians what ritual they need to perform to get new forgiveness, try reading it from the perspective that he’s addressing damaging heresy and heretics *inside the church*… that’s he’s making distinctions between true believers and heretics. He’s writing about people “who went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
Immediately after John makes his black and white distinction between believers and heretics, he addresses his ‘little children’ in one of the most overlooked passages on this topic. And he says:
“My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2 HCSB)
So if we sin… as true Christians… “we have an Advocate with the Father”.
So the issue isn’t about confession — but about new forgiveness. We are currently 100% forgiven in Christ, in faith. And that forgiveness, which we now possess by faith will be pronounced and shown to be true at the judgement when we receive the crown of righteousness. In Christ, we are righteous and forgiven now, through faith. At the resurrection, when our hope is realized (and we hope no more, since we will have the realization of our hope), we will be pronounced righteous and forgiven formally.
Forgiveness doesn’t come via confession / agreement of sins. It comes through the blood of Christ. Christ died once for sins and there is no longer any sacrifice for sins.
Heb 7:27 — [our High Priest] does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did *once for all* when He offered up Himself.
Heb 9:26 — Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now **once** at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Jesus has put our sin away. Done deal. Nothing more to do about it! But if we don’t accept that reality, and instead cling to ritual sacrifice (and that’s basically what we’ve turned confession into — a ritual sacrifice that earns new forgiveness) then we run the risk of
“going on sinning willfully (by rejecting the one-time sacrifice of Christ for forgiveness and reverting to a system where continual forgiveness is needed) after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, (by rejecting the one-time sacrifice of Christ for forgiveness and reverting to a system where continual forgiveness is needed) and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-28)
Asking for forgiveness over and over is the same as regarding the blood of the covenant as unclean.
Sometimes Christians quote Romans 8:13 and the dangers for the Christian “walking in the flesh”. But here Paul is also distinguishing between believers and non-believers (though in a different context), not giving a prescription for how to make the flesh better.
… For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
Those who are in Christ Jesus do not walk according to the flesh are not the same as those who walk according to the flesh. An authentic Christian has already put to death the deeds of the body:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? (Romans 6:3)
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Those who are in Christ Jesus are those who do not walk according to the flesh. This doesn’t mean that authentic Christians don’t sin — this is not a so-called holiness doctrine that teaches that a Christian can stop sinning — Paul had just explained in the preceding verses that Christians do sin, and he detailed the war that goes on between the flesh and the Spirit. Here, he’s giving the answer to that problem.
The righteous requirement of the law (complete righteousness or death for sins) is fulfilled already for those who do not walk according to the flesh. An authentic Christian walks according to the Spirit.
To be in the Spirit is to have a new mindset (weird that repentance means ‘change of mind‘, eh?) The body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness! Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Those who live according to the flesh are those who walk according to the flesh and are in the flesh. They have the mindset of the flesh, which is death. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5, HCSB)
Thus … you (dear Christian), are not in the flesh! You are in the Spirit.
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9)
To be in the Spirit is to have a new mindset — a changed mind, a repented mind.
The condition is real:
… if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, (Romans 8:10a)
… the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10b)
The body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness! Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! That’s why there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Nowhere do any of the apostles ever refer to a true Christian as having the capacity of “walking in the flesh” (though we tend to throw that phrase around a lot in modern Christianity as though it could pertain to true Christians).
In repentance we became united with Christ in His death and put to death the deeds of the body. (Romans 6:1-4, 8:4, 8:13, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9) and we are led by God’s Spirit and are God’s children. Anyone living in or walking according to the flesh needs to die (be united with Christ in His death) and put to death the practices (usual, everyday normal practices) of the flesh. Thus repentance, “change of mind” includes an agreement with God about sins AND a turning away from those sins.
Consider the difference in the Old Covenant, under the law of Moses, when Jesus (who was born under the law) was speaking to Jews under that law and gave the model prayer to the Jews under the law. He prayed “forgive us our debts AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS” and then said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father WILL NOT FORGIVE your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14–15 NAS95)
The law was a covenant that gave blessing based on ones own personal righteousness. “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.” (Deuteronomy 6:25 NAS95)
Grace gives blessing in Christ’s righteousness, given to those who are IN HIM. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS95)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3 NAS95)
But later in the new covenant which became effective at the cross, being instituted in Christ’s blood, the Spirit of Christ moves Paul to write about those who are in union with Christ:
“WE HAVE REDEMPTION in Him through His blood, THE FORGIVENESS OF OUR TRESPASSES, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7 HCSB)
“And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just AS GOD ALSO FORGAVE YOU in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32 HCSB)
“We HAVE REDEMPTION, the FORGIVENESS OF SINS, in Him.” (Colossians 1:14 HCSB)
“And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and FORGAVE us –>ALL<– our trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13 HCSB)
“accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as THE LORD HAS FORGIVEN YOU, so you must also forgive.” (Colossians 3:13 HCSB)
“Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18 HCSB)
After the cross, forgiveness is a DONE DEAL for those who are in Christ.
Not even confession can get new forgiveness because there is no new forgiveness needed (though every true Christian agrees with God about sin and sins).