Is 1 John 1:9 a part of God’s will for the present Dispensation of Grace?
“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).
Guilt is a killer. A killer of our joy, our peace, our enjoyment of intimacy with God. It is one of Satan’s most effective weapons against the sons of men. Psychiatrists and doctors tell us that unresolved guilt is the number one cause of mental illness and suicide. Over half of all hospital beds are filled by people who have emotional illnesses. Guilt kills relationships, both among people and with God. We cannot freely forgive others until we first receive that forgiveness from God.
Our gracious and loving Father has provided a full and complete deliverance from sin and guilt. But if we believe a lie and fail to deal with guilt in the way God has dealt with it, we fall into a snare and it becomes a most grievous and cruel weapon against us.
Guilt is that moral sense of blameworthiness that each of us feels when we know that we have done wrong. It is not necessarily bad, for it tells us that we have sinned and that something must be done about it. Just as our bodies should hurt when they are diseased or injured, so our God-given conscience should hurt when we violate what we know is right.
At the beginning, we must realize that God has not dealt with the guilt problem in the same way throughout Bible history. This is of utmost importance to know, for so many of the problems regarding guilt are made worse by people trying to obey God’s commands given to people of other dispensations. For example, under the law of Moses, the children of Israel were commanded to “afflict your souls” as the high priest made atonement for their sins through animal sacrifice (Lev. 16:29-31). The writer of Hebrews elaborates on this Day of Atonement and the inability of the law to provide complete forgiveness.
“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
“For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
“But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4).
Although this was a merciful provision in Israel for the time then present, the law was inadequate to make the worshippers perfect in conscience in relation to the guilt problem. The very fact that the sacrifices had to be repeated was a constant reminder that God’s forgiveness was given out piecemeal, i.e., on an installment plan. It was never completed. God’s people were expected to lament and afflict their souls, which is the antithesis of a perfected conscience. Indeed, far from being a satisfactory answer for guilt, Paul tells us in no uncertain terms why the law was given.
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19).
God graciously provided the sacrificial system of the law to temporarily atone (cover) the sins of his people until the “precious blood of Christ” could be shed to purchase eternal redemption for us. Those living before the Cross were “saved on credit,” so to speak, until the fullness of time arrived for the complete removal of our sins. Even in portions of what we call the New Testament, forgiveness was conditional and therefore not complete (Matt. 6:12,14,15; 18:34,35; Mark 11:25,26; Luke 6:37c). The revelation of the Mystery through the Apostle Paul by the ascended, glorified Christ was yet future from the perspective of Matthew-John. And so the capstone of divine revelation concerning the total forgiveness of sins remained missing until that time. All of this is essential to understand throughout the remainder of our study.
With this in mind, there is one Scripture which in this writer’s view has caused untold harm and detriment to the people of God. Not because the verse itself is faulty, for all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, but because religious leaders have so miserably misinterpreted and misapplied its original intent. What makes this all the more tragic is that it comes not from the enemies of Christ but from sincere, well respected, Bible-believing Christians. The verse I speak of is 1 John 1:9.
In order to view the verse within its context, I ask you simply to prayerfully consider the following passage from 1 John 1:1-10.
1. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
4. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
5. This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.
7. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.
Are you confident that you understand verse 9 in context? Let us see. Although men have many variations of interpretation on this verse, we will mention here only three of the most popular.
1. It is a salvation verse which tells the sinner how to receive the forgiveness of sins today.
2. It is a restoration verse.
a. Restoring one to salvation or,
b. Restoring one to fellowship
3. It is a verse pertaining to the Jews under the Kingdom program of Prophecy and has little if any application to the Gentiles today under the Body of Christ program of the Mystery.
For the time being, I would like to pass over numbers 1 and 3 and deal directly with number 2. The other two will take care of themselves as we come to understand the passage. Part 2-a is the most easily answered. This is the view that a saved person can become lost again through backsliding, carnality, losing faith, etc.
Often a person is told that his sins are forgiven up to the time he is saved. From that point forward the merits of Christ’s death are beneficial to him only as he is faithful to confess his sins to God and thus stay cleansed in His sight.
First of all, regeneration or the new birth is spoken of as a one time experience. No Bible passage speaks of being born again and again and again. During my college years, I attended a tent meeting for three nights with some friends. I couldn’t help noticing that the same people went forward each night after the sermon to receive forgiveness. One night the evangelist quoted 1 John 1:9 and made the statement that no one with unconfessed sin will enter heaven. When I pressed him about this after the meeting, he finally conceded that John probably meant the grosser forms of sin. This underscores another problem with this view. How many sins did God allow Adam and Eve before they were cast out from His presence in the garden of Eden? Only one. And all they did was eat a piece of fruit that the Lord told them not to. How many unforgiven sins do you suppose it will take to banish you to the everlasting burnings? Only one. God is holy and of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. If your forgiveness depends on your confession of sins, you better be diligent not to forget even one.
The second reason 1 John 1:9 cannot refer to a restoration to salvation is that eternal life is a free gift. It is given by God’s grace not merely to the undeserving, but to those who deserve the exact opposite. If God rescinded His gift, that would make Him more gracious to His enemies than to His own children. God does not take back the gift if you become unworthy. We were never worthy to begin with.
Thirdly, God wishes for us to enjoy the gift of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord. Man’s only responsibility is to believe. Does God want us to walk through our Christian lives with a cloud over our heads? Those who believe that their forgiveness depends on their continual confession of sins soon find that their Christian experience has turned into “a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
The Scriptures tell us that upon believing that the Lord Jesus died for us and rose again we are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 1:13,14; Rom. 8:31-38). With the gospel of the grace of God, we have the pleasure of declaring the total forgiveness of sins. This brings peace, joy, and stability. More about this later.
Number 2-b above also speaks of restoration, not to salvation or even to maintain it, but rather to fellowship. Those who hold this view understand clearly the teaching of eternal security and the preservation of the saints. The issue this time is intimacy with their heavenly Father. Our relationship is like the Rock of Gibraltar, steadfast and immovable. On the other hand, our fellowship (we are told) is like a tiny thread which the slightest sin in thought, word, or deed can break. Perhaps the best illustration of this view is the fellowship between a father and son. If the son sins against his father, the intimacy formerly enjoyed by both is broken and the pleasure of each other’s company is strained. The blood relationship of father and son remains intact, but the fellowship must be restored by confession of wrongdoing. Likewise, Christians have a blood relationship to our heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. While nothing can break our relationship as sons of God, fellowship can only be restored by acknowledging the sin and an apology made, preferably with a pledge not to repeat the offense. This re-establishes the sweetness of fellowship and the pleasure with which both Father and son can relate to each other.
Believers who seek to practice this often speak of “keeping short accounts with God,” that is, making sure you confess sins regularly so your account does not build up with unconfessed sin. Psalms 32, 51, and John 13:1-20 are often quoted to confirm this position.
This view of 1 John 1:9 has more to commend it than the previous one. “Confession is good for the soul” is a truism which holds good for all ages and dispensations. Indeed, Proverbs 28:13 says,
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth1 and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
In my formative years as a Christian, this view seemed to me to be logical, balanced and right. I knew many respected Bible teachers who taught this. Through the years, however, I believe the Spirit of God was pricking my conscience to show me things which revealed the shortcomings of this approach. Among them were:
1. It is based on a performance system of conditional blessing, and shifted my gaze away from Christ and His grace to my own faithfulness (or usually failure) to confess.
2. If what I believed concerning confession was true, I was probably “out of fellowship” much of the time, and so were most believers.
3. There were many things in 1 John Chapter 1 which are inconsistent with this view.
4. Concerning the popular father-son illustration, several rhetorical questions could be asked to show its weakness. What if the son fails to confess wrongdoing? Should the father continue to show him the cold shoulder until he does? What kind of father would that make him? Would this be a fitting picture of how our loving heavenly Father deals with His children today under grace? Further, the phrase “faithful and just” more aptly describes the judge in a courtroom than a father in the family room.
5. I had to honestly admit to myself that I found it extremely difficult to confess all my daily sins on a consistent basis.
6. This view of 1 John 1:9 must, of necessity, occupy a major plank in a person’s belief system. Without regular confession of sin, the promise of continual cleansing is rendered null and void resulting in broken fellowship. And who wants to be out of fellowship with God?
7. Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, is silent in all his writings on confession of sins for forgiveness, parental or otherwise.
8. Paul’s epistles give us a positive affirmation of total, complete and unconditional forgiveness for all those in Christ Jesus.
A few examples should suffice,
“In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13).
Forgiveness for the believer is now spoken of as a finished transaction, past history. We do not plead for daily forgiveness any more than we should for daily redemption. It is a part of the “all spiritual blessings” with which we have already been blessed (Eph. 1:3). For further references to Paul’s doctrine of forgiveness for the present dispensation of the grace of God, consult the following Scriptures: Colossians 1:14; 3:13; Romans 4:5-8; Acts 13:38,39.
It is duly manifest that we must find a better explanation of 1 John 1:9. A good place to begin in the context of the passage is verse 6.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.”
The key question is this. Are those who “walk in darkness” believers or unbelievers? How we answer this question is absolutely critical to the interpretation of this passage. If they are carnal, disobedient, backslidden believers who are walking in darkness, they are lying about having fellowship with God. A confession of sin in their life and “walking in the light” will restore the fellowship. However, if it can be proved from Scripture that they are unbelievers who were falsely professing fellowship, the “out of fellowship” position falls apart, for no one could successfully argue a restoration to something which they never had.
In order to see which it is, please compare the following three Scriptures.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6).
“But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).
“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
Note carefully the relationship of these verses to each other and what they teach.
1. He that hates his brother2 “walks in darkness.”
2. Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer.
3. No murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Conclusion: He who walks in darkness does not have eternal life abiding in him, i.e. an unbeliever.
Once this is clearly perceived by the reader, the restoration to fellowship theory comes crashing down like a house of cards. Remove all doubt from your mind. A concordant study of Scripture reveals that the consistent, uniform appellation to darkness, whether it be the Word of God in general or to John’s writings in particular, refers to the unsaved (John 1:5; 3:19-21; 8:12; 12:35,36,46; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4,6; 6:14; Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13; 1 Thes. 5:4,5; 1 Pet. 2:9).
I can just hear some reader object, “Wait a minute, Brother Ken! What about the man living in immorality in 1 Corinthians Chapter 5? What about the Galatian believers who were `removed from Him that called [them] into the grace of Christ unto another gospel’ (Gal. 1:6)? And how about Peter, when he had to be rebuked by Paul for his hypocrisy among the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14)? Couldn’t it be said that they were `walking in darkness?'” Absolutely not. It will help the reader to understand that John does not address how they walk but where they walk. It is their abiding position in Christ. All unbelievers have their position outside of Christ and are thus walking in darkness. All believers in Christ, whether in the Kingdom program or the Body of Christ, have their position in Him and are walking in the light. A believer cannot walk in darkness any more than an unbeliever can walk in the light.3
With this in mind, the benefits of understanding the next verse becomes immediately apparent.
“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Notice the conditional nature of this promise. The cleansing of the blood depends upon our walking in the light. Indeed, all five verses of this section begin with an “if.” It is a test of spiritual reality (verses 6-10). For years I had a great deal of confusion of mind about this. I read it as though it said, “If we walk according to the light, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” I thought it meant that if I was very careful to obey God’s commands and walk according to the light I had, He would cleanse me, which was just another way of saying that I was cleansed when I did not need cleansing.
However, when the verse is understood aright, we find that the vilest sinner may have this cleansing when he comes into the light of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It does not say, “If we walk according to light,” but it says, “If we walk in the light.” Again, it is where we walk, not how we walk. It is to walk in the presence of God as an abiding position.
This is the fourth time we have come to the word “fellowship” (verse 7). How are we to understand this word in the context? This is important, for it is the main subject in the chapter. The original Greek word which is translated fellowship is “koinonia,” which carries the meaning of sharing in common, communion, fellowship. Like the Biblical word “sanctification,” it has both a positional and conditional aspect to it.
In Paul’s writings, fellowship is spoken of as:
a. Giving to poor saints (2 Cor. 8:4; Rom. 15:26,27).
b. Contributing to the Lord’s servants in the ministry (Phil. 1:5; 4:15-19; Gal. 6:6).
c. The fellowship of Christ’s suffering (Phil. 3:10 cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-33).
d. The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16).
These are examples of conditional fellowship. That is, we can refuse giving to the poor saints, neglect contributing our resources for the needs of the Lord’s servants, avoid suffering shame for His name, and choose not to participate in the memorial to Christ’s death for us. However, I believe that the New Testament Scriptures also teach a fellowship which is positional, permanent and the possession of every believer in Christ Jesus. Such fellowship belongs to all true Christians regardless of spiritual growth or dedication.
If any believers in the Bible were living in a state of broken fellowship, it was the Corinthians.
a. There were carnal divisions and contentions among them (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-3).
b. They were infatuated with worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5; 3:18-23).
c. They were judging things which they shouldn’t and failing to judge things which they should (1 Cor. 4:1-5; 5; 6).
d. They were allowing sexual immorality in the local church and were proud of it (1 Cor. 5:1,2).
e. They were taking each other to court before the unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:1-12).
f. They were visiting harlots (1 Cor. 6:13-20).
g. They were proud of their knowledge and causing weaker brethren to stumble (1 Cor. 8).
h. They were questioning Paul’s authority and apostleship (1 Cor. 9:1-6).
i. They were prone to idolatry by lusting after evil things (1 Cor. 10).
j. They had disorders at church, including making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11).
k. They were enamored with the spiritual gifts but were failing to exercise them in love (1 Cor. 12-14).
l. They were doubting the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
m. If all this was not enough, they were stingy in their contribution to the poor saints (2 Cor. 8; 9).
With all this sin in the church, you might not think that they were even saved. But Paul, by the Spirit of God, addresses them as “the church of God” and “them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). Moreover, there is no command to confess their sins in order to receive forgiveness and restoration to fellowship. On the contrary, Paul assures them that “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). It is a fellowship based upon God’s faithfulness.4
In spite of all the sins, failings and shortcomings of this church, they were “in Christ” and as such were a part of “the fellowship of His Son.” What was it that they had in common with Jesus Christ? They shared His life, His righteousness, His acceptance before God the Father (Col. 3:4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:6). This is all the gift of grace apart from works to all believers in Christ and forms the fellowship which remains our standing in Him.
The fellowship of 1 John Chapter 1 must most assuredly be taken in the same light. What is it according to the context that these believers shared in common with “the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ?” Eternal life (verses 1 and 2). Jesus Christ as the Word of Life is the embodiment of that life.
There is a truly amazing parallel between verses 7 and 9. It can be shown thus:
|Verse 7||Verse 9|
|But if we walk in the light as He is in light||If we confess our sins|
|We have fellowship one with another||He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins|
|And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin||And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness|
Both verses present the same truth only from different perspectives. These Jewish Kingdom believers were walking in the light by confessing their sins in relation to initial salvation. Having fellowship with God was based on the fact that God is faithful and just to forgive them their sins. And how many times could they be cleansed from all sin? If you say until they sinned again, they were not cleansed from all sin. Likewise, they could only be cleansed from all unrighteousness once (verse 9). This is further confirmed later when he addresses the believers and assures them that their sins were already forgiven.
“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).
Intimately related to Israel’s religion was confession of sins. Confession as well as its Greek equivalent (homologia) means to speak the same thing, admit, agree, acknowledge. Moses, writing prophetically, laid out the pattern for confession under the law.
“If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they have trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
“And I also have walked contrary to them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
“Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land” (Lev. 26:40-42 cf. 1 Kings 8:33-36; Neh. 9:1-3).
This is exactly where Israel found herself when John the Baptist came on the scene. Although they were still in covenant relationship with God, they had become morally and spiritually corrupt. And so John was sent as a preacher of righteousness to call the backslidden nation to repentance. This was in preparation to receive their Messiah, Jesus Christ.
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
“And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all region round about Jordan,
“And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:1,2,5,6).
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4).
There you have it. Repentance, confession of sins and water baptism for the remission (forgiveness) of sins went together as a unit in Israel’s gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35). Our key verse in 1 John 1:9 is found to be a salvation5 verse for Israel looking for the return of Christ to establish His earthly, Davidic, Millennial Kingdom.
The oft repeated phrase “if we say” in verses 6, 8, and 10 shows the false profession of fellowship without possession of eternal life. These were Jewish unbelievers who had a twofold spiritual problem: self-righteousness and rejection of their Messiah. They justified themselves before men. They trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. They thought that since they were the physical seed (descendants) of Abraham that God was their Father. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Luke 16:15; 18:9; Matt. 9:10-13; 21:31,32; John 8:39-44; Rom. 10:1-4).
In a gracious demonstration of godly love, John opens his letter with an evangelistic appeal to his Jewish brothers to forsake the counterfeit fellowship of darkness and come to the Savior and enjoy the genuine fellowship of light. This they would not do as long as they were trusting their pedigree, religion, and personal merit and rejecting “the Light of the world.” Since a more detailed explanation is not possible in this short paper, I simply invite you to perform an interesting experiment. Study 1 John 1:1-10 afresh, this time with the above points in mind and see how much better it fits with the passage.
How could one verse taken from one non-Pauline epistle, wrenched from its contextual and dispensational setting, be twisted and transformed into a whole system of conditional blessing and then used by our Adversary to rob God’s people of the very things which make the Christian life worth living? The answer can only be religious tradition and a failure to “rightly divide the Word of truth” (Matt. 15:3,6,9; 2 Tim. 2:15). We are like sheep and like to play “follow the leader.” When an outstanding Bible teacher or preacher teaches something, many tend to follow with uncritical minds. Although God has given teachers to the church, each believer is responsible before God to study the issues for themselves and make them their own. Otherwise we are only standing in the opinion of another. Men at their very best are only men and so are fallible. May we catch the spirit of the Bereans of old and “search the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:10,11).
Guilt is a killer, a killer of our joy, our peace, and our enjoyment of intimacy with God. If Satan can use guilt (which our Lord has already taken away) to use as a wedge to separate us from God, his strategy to take us as a captive in the battle is secure. It makes no difference to him that the guilt, separation, and captivity are imagined and not real. This is vividly described by the popular Christian author Hal Lindsey.
“One of the most successful tactics the demons use in neutralizing their enemies (the Christians) is to get them to dwell on all of their failures. Once they begin feeling guilty about their performance in the Christian life, they are no longer any threat to Satan’s program.
“Things haven’t changed much in Satan’s tactics. Why should they? He’s got a winner.
“There’s nothing Satan likes better than to get a believer started on a guilt trip.
“As I look back over my own life, I realize that guilt is a handle that the Devil constantly tries to grab to steer me. One classic illustration that comes to mind happened to me my third year in seminary. One fellow was a real close buddy of mine. We had had three years of great times together. Then I borrowed some money from him. I told him I would be able to pay him back in about two weeks.
“After a week went by, I began to be concerned a little about where the money was going to come from to pay him. But I had another week to work on it, so I wasn’t too worried.
“The second week went by, and I just couldn’t raise the money anywhere. I felt kind of strained around my friend, but I didn’t bring the subject up because I’d hoped he’d forgotten what the date was.
“As the days went by, it seemed as though he was looking at me with an accusing expression every time I saw him, and I did the best I could to stay out of his way. After the deadline had passed by two weeks, I began planning my day so I wouldn’t run into him. It was awful. I felt terrible to have lost such a good friend, but on the other hand, I couldn’t see why he wasn’t more understanding of my problem. Mind you, not a word passed between us regarding the money, but I felt so guilty that I was sure he had written me off as a friend.
“Finally, one day to my horror, I saw him coming toward me in the hall. There was no place to hide! He cornered me and said, `Okay, Hal, what’s the matter with you?’
“`Well, it’s about that money I owe you,’ I answered defensively.
“He laughed and put his big hand on my shoulder and said, `Brother, I thought that was it. Look, Hal, I haven’t changed. I don’t feel any different towards you than I did a few weeks ago. If you had the money, I know you’d pay me. But money doesn’t mean that much to me. You’re friendship means a lot more, and I’m still your buddy.’
“For three weeks, I had been going around thinking he was condemning me. But that wasn’t true at all—he was still my best friend.
“That taught me an unforgettable lesson. If we think someone is holding something against us, we become alienated and hostile toward them. It’s simply an inevitable reaction, a defense mechanism.
“I believe this is the number one reason why Christians fail in their relationship with God. Because we’re always aware that in many ways we fall short of what we should be as Christians, its only natural to assume that God must be displeased with our performance. The more we let God down, the more we assume His anger, until such alienation sets into our minds that it is virtually impossible for us to enjoy a vital relationship with God.
“And the pitiful tragedy is that all this is just in our minds. God isn’t mad at us!” (Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, pages 185,186).
Another illustration from Pastor Thomas Bruscha might be beneficial to help crystalize our thinking on forgiveness and our relationship with God.
“Wouldn’t it be annoying to you if you told someone, `I forgive you,’ and everyday afterwards for the rest of their life they came to you and asked, `Please forgive me?’
“Not only would it be annoying, it would hinder the growth of your relationship. Instead of leaving the sin behind and growing closer, it is brought up again and again, day after day, hindering both the growth and enjoyment of the relationship. So many people, who say they believe their sins are forgiven, spend most of their prayer time begging God to forgive them. Growth and joy are hindered all because a person refuses to believe that they have been offered complete forgiveness for all their sins.
“My sins (past—present—and future) have been put away by God forever since I believed. Now, rather than asking forgiveness every day, I thank Him for it and move on to grow in my relationship with my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“If you know that you have received the salvation which is through Christ by faith alone, and you know that your sins are paid for, but yet you walk around carrying the guilt of your sins, you have not yet come to enjoy and rejoice in your salvation. Do what Paul says in Philippians 3:13, `...forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before….’” (Dictionary of the Gospel, pages 50,51, Grace Bible Church, Warren, Michigan).
Our fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord can never be broken but our enjoyment of it certainly can, through a faulty perception. If you as a believer in Christ are still struggling with the burden of guilt, I have good news for you. God is for you, He is not against you, regardless of circumstances (Rom. 8:31-39). There is nothing between you and the Lord Jesus Christ that He did not take care of at the Cross. You are now a son of God with all the rights and privileges pertaining to it. All our sins, failures, and shortcomings were foreseen by Him and completely answered for by His precious blood. Now what is the response of your heart to that truth? Is it, “Let us continue in sin that grace may abound?” Or is it, “Praise God! This is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard. Lord I believe. Help Thou my unbelief?” Is it a heart response to His love which motivates Christian service or is it an occasion to the flesh? We need well to remember what the grace of God teaches us in the life of faith (Titus 2:11,12).
Dear unsaved friend, is your guilt seeking to weigh you down to eternal perdition? Come to the foot of the Cross and with the eyes of faith look upon the bleeding form of the One who was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities. If you believe in your heart that the Lord Jesus Christ died for you and rose again, the authority of God’s Word guarantees that you have passed from death unto life. As a child within the family of God you can turn your heart heavenward and sing:
“My sin—O, the bliss of this glorious thought
“My sin—not in part but the whole
“Is nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more
“Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!”
One final question remains to be answered. If 1 John 1:9 is not a verse for restoration to fellowship, what should believers do when they sin? We have a Pauline pattern that is much more effective in dealing with sin in the believer’s life. First of all, we need to recognize that we don’t have to sin. In each situation, spiritual power is available to overcome sin. God has provided a total victory program over sin to each member of the Body of Christ. Romans Chapter 6 is key in the knowledge of practical sanctification. Note especially the words “know, reckon, and yield” verses 3,11,13. Other “victory passages” include: Romans 8:1-11; 12:1,2; 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 9:24-27; 10:13; 13:4-7; 2 Corinthians 3:17,18; 6:14-7:1; 10:4,5; 12:21; Galatians 5:13-26; Ephesians 4:17-24; 5:1-21; 6:10-18; Philippians 2:5-11; 3:10-14; 4:5-9; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 5:22,23; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:11-16; 5:2; Titus 2:6-8,11-14.
If sin gets the advantage over us, the problem is with self, not because God has left us unequipped.
However, because of the infirmity of our flesh, even the most mature Christians do sin. When this happens, the first thing to remember is our complete forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This will prevent us from going on another guilt trip and instead produce gratitude, love, and stability. Far from resulting in a license to sin, the proper motivation (Grace) and empowerment (the Life of Christ) will be in a position to take over.
Further, an attitude of self-judgment should characterize the repentant believer (1 Cor. 11:31). Godly sorrow worketh repentance (2 Cor. 7:10) but the sorrow of the world worketh death (Matt. 27:5; Heb. 12:16,17). At times, the elders of the local church can be helpful (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Closely associated with self-judgment is Paul’s command to “put off” the old man and “put on” the new man (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10; Rom. 8:13; 13:14; Gal. 5:16,25). We say “No” to that old nature which we inherited from Adam and “Yes” to the new nature which we inherited from Christ. Nothing complicated or mysterious here, only obedience to the command of God. Although Paul does not speak of confession in his epistles, Luke does give us an inspired account of it in relation to his ministry (Acts 19:18). Many of Paul’s commands cannot be obeyed without self-judgment which would of necessity include a confession of sin (2 Cor. 7:1; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Cor. 5:2; 11:31,32).
When a Christian sins, we should agree with God’s Word that it is wrong (confess) and forsake the behavior or attitude by putting off the old man and putting on the new man. So we confess our sins, not in order to receive forgiveness, but because we wish to be properly attuned to grace and to thus glorify Him who has forgiven us all trespasses. Sin causes a disjointedness in the Body of Christ. When we see ourselves “in Christ,” and realize that sin is contrary to our exalted position as sons of God, we can take measures to adjust our conduct to conform to the image of Christ.
Finally, separation is absolutely essential to a life pleasing to God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). This involves insulation but not isolation. We separate ourselves from unwholesome and defiling influences (including worldly religion) and cultivate friendships with believers of like precious faith who will encourage us to more godliness.
These are not to be taken as separate steps but as a part of a whole victory program over sin. The Word of God acts as our teacher, nourisher, and disciplinarian (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 4:2).
In conclusion, 1 John 1:9 is a salvation verse which fits “hand in glove” with the Prophecy program of the Gospel of the kingdom. It is the Ephesians 2:8 and 9 of the kingdom dispensation. It is a gross perversion and wrong to use it to hound sincere believers all through their Christian lives over sins for which our Savior has already answered. God is no longer forgiving sins piecemeal or in short installments.
In view of the “now time revelation” of the complete, total, and unconditional forgiveness of sins, the never ending cycle of sin, guilt, broken fellowship, confession, and forgiveness can only become a treadmill for the flesh. It traps the person in a personal performance system (works) and dishonors the Christ of the Cross who died to deliver us from it (Gal. 3:10,13).
We are now members of a New Creation in Christ and live in a state of perpetual forgiveness. Those who have made the transition from law to the present truth of Paul’s epistles will never end a prayer by saying, “…and forgive us our sins for Jesus’ sake.”
My joy was great when I became a believer in Jesus Christ and knew that my sins could no longer separate me from God and a home in heaven. But how much fuller my joy became as it began to dawn on me that all my sins (including those I committed as a member of God’s family) were forgiven me for Jesus’ sake. Don’t you think it is appropriate to bow your head at this time and praise and thank Him for His grace? And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full. May the God of all Grace lead you from doubt and fear into the joy and peace of believing unto the praise of His glory. Amen.
“I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him” (Eccl. 3:14).
- We have not mentioned the Roman Catholic tradition of confession to a priest, but one verse from Paul should suffice to show the error of this custom. “For there is…one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
- Take note that the word “brother” in the passage does not indicate that the one doing the hating is a believing brother. Rather the racial relationship of the Jewish brotherhood is described as in Romans 9:3. Although they were kinsmen according to the flesh, nothing is clearer in John’s writings than that a Jew who believes in Jesus Christ should be prepared to endure the wrath and hatred of his unbelieving brothers in Israel.
- That is why sin in a believer’s life is so serious. When a believer sins, he is doing it “in the light.” A preacher once delivered a sermon on, “The sins of the saints.” Afterwards, a woman reproached him saying, “But pastor, the sins of believers are not the same as the sins of the heathen!” “Yes,” the pastor replied, “they are much worse!”
- Several other passages from the pen of Paul are often overlooked in this regard. For example, Ephesians 3:12 states, “In Whom [Christ Jesus our Lord] we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith [i.e. faithfulness] of Him.” The Greek word for faith (pistos) often carries the meaning faithfulness, fidelity, trustworthiness as in Romans 3:3,22; Galatians 2:16; 3:22; 5:22; Philippians 3:9; Colossians 2:12; 1 Timothy 4:12; 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22; Titus 2:10. The context determines. Here the phrase, “faith of Him” must remain as in the Authorized (KJV). Our access to God is established since it is in Jesus Christ. God wants us to have boldness and confidence in this. The “short accounts” (in fellowship—out of fellowship) system serves only to plant doubt and thus remove our boldness and confidence. Shouldn’t we rejoice that these blessings are by the faith (faithfulness) of Christ and not by our own? For other passages on access to God, examine Ephesians 2:18; Romans 5:1,2; Hebrews 10:19,20.
- If it be objected that this verse cannot be speaking of salvation because faith in Jesus Christ is not mentioned, they should consider that other well known salvation verses do not either. See Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:5-8,16; 5:1; Galatians 3:11; Titus 3:5. When this occurs, the body of the epistle makes abundantly clear (as in 1 John) that Jesus Christ is the object of faith (1 John 2:22,23; 3:23; 4:2,9,10,14,15; 5:1,5,11-13).