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).
If we confess. Don’t celebrate sin or deny it, rather own it; own up to it. The Greek word used here for confess is most helpful. It literally is, “to say the same word” or “to agree.” Why would the translators go with “confess”? We can see how diametrically opposite the biblical response to sin is from celebrating it and denying it. God’s holiness doesn’t allow him ever to celebrate sin or overlook it. But gloriously, he can forgive it!
But that forgiveness is conditioned upon the confession of the sinner; owning it. It’s not a syndrome. It’s not someone else’s fault. It’s not because of a family member or my genes. It is because I am a sinner. When I confess, I am saying the same word as God about my sin. I am agreeing with his assessment of it. I don’t hide it. I don’t deny it. I don’t celebrate it. I grieve over it. I repent. As a cross-centered Christian, I mourn in my confession that this is yet another sin Jesus died for.
But how does our confession produce freedom from guilt and allow us to continue to walk in the light?
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (verse 9).
Faithful and just? Faithful to what? Just about what? Both of these are character qualities of God. Did you know God has promised to forgive sins confessed to him?
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
This passage describes how God will relate to us in the New Covenant which was inaugurated by Jesus and defines our relationship with him. A covenant is a promise. God promises to forgive our sins and not hold them against us. There are many more promises like this. God promised to forgive. At issue are his trustworthiness and his integrity. How do we know God will actually forgive us? Because he is faithful to his promise to do so.
If God doesn’t forgive a truly confessed sin, he ceases to be qualified to judge the sin himself as he would be a liar (verse 10). Our sins are as forgiven as God is God.
But can God just do that? Just say, “You’re forgiven?” This gets at the second word, just. God is just? How? Look back at verse 7, The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin; then verse 9, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. They’re almost identical.
God’s justice was fully satisfied by the redemptive merits of Jesus dying on the cross as our representative and substitute. God has to punish sin. All sin is and will be punished and paid for either on the cross by Jesus or in hell by the sinner. How did Jesus pay it for us? God’s justice is fully satisfied by Jesus’ moral payment of his life. So God is just in accepting that payment, a payment he makes himself! As Paul says in Romans 3, It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26) The result of this forgiveness is the last phrase, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Here is the completeness of what God has done. It is one thing to say, “I forgive you for what you did.” It is another to clean up the mess. To cleanse something is to make it disappear. It’s like a child who, in defiance of a parent, pours grape juice on the white carpet of the home. If he repents and confesses to his dad, his dad can forgive him. But the stain is still there. To cleanse it is to make the stain—make the pollution, the offense—go away.
How does God make the stain go away? Back to verse 7, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. His blood is the moral carpet cleaner. The guilt is taken away AND in God’s eyes, it is as if there was never a stain in the first place. So what then is left for us?
This can be the hardest thing, particularly if you are a perfectionist type. We want to do something else to really show we are sorry for it. So we self-flagellate in some way, “God look, I really am sorry and I am not going to do such and such for three months as self-punishment!” What that really says is that Jesus’ death was not enough! I must punish myself in some way.
God says, Just receive it. I think of the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery, who apparently was sorrowful and contrite. Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more. (John 8:11)
This is more wonderful than celebrating sin or denying it can ever be. If we just own it, confess it, and take God at his word, then with a sincere desire, we can step back into life with a desire to sin no more. If God forgave us when we were in darkness, can’t he forgive us when we are in the light?
This is how we walk in the light. God continues to cleanse us as we confess and seek that cleansing. He purifies our hearts and minds and motivations and over time, we increasingly say no to ungodliness and create godly habits in our lives. It is never perfect. We are always in need of forgiveness, but we become more holy and grow more into the likeness of Jesus.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2012 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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