The problem with constant confessions of sin

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.(1 Joh. 1:9)

Throughout the whole Bible, both the Old and the New Testament, it is clearly emphasized that repentance from sin is very important. But in spite of this undisputable fact, there is probably no scripture verse that has been so misunderstood and misinterpreted as 1 John 1:9.

The worldwide church has built monuments around this verse. Constantly repeated confessions of sins are part of the liturgy of many churches around the world, independently of denomination. The problem with that the church goers are encouraged to repeat the confession of sin in every church service or mass, is not that the intentions are bad. The problem is that it has led to that the church has lost the revelation about that we in the New Covenant, because of the finished work of Jesus, already have the forgiveness of sins, independently of how good we have been at repeatedly confessing our sins to God or not.

Another problem with the constant repetitions of confessions of sins, is that Christians have become more aware of their sinfulness than of their righteousness in Christ. Sin-conscious Christians often struggle with condemnation and walk through life with a feeling of never being good enough before God. This in turn has led to that we do not have a positive testimony to share with the world. What do Christians who struggle with a notoriously bad conscious have to offer to the world? Not much.

Yet another problem is that Christians are not able to overcome sin in their lives, since it is impossible to live contrary to our own self-image. If we see ourselves as petty and poor sinners, we will live as petty and poor sinners. The key of overcoming sin is not to constantly confess new ones, but to focus on that we already are forgiven and righteous by grace through faith in Christ.

The forgiveness of sins is not based on our performance, including the performance of having confessed all our ours sins! No, it is solely based on what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and whether we by faith have received His as our Lord and Savior.

A well-known preacher in America, with a great revelation of God’s grace and the New Covenant, has said:

“Since Jesus does not die daily, forgiveness is not issued daily. It is ‘once for all’ and it is finished!”

How then are we to correctly understand 1 John 1:9, where the condition of us receiving forgiveness seems to be that we first must confess our sins? By studying the context in which it was said.

Historians claim that the Apostle John in chapter 1 of the First Letter of John is confronting the Gnostics, who did not only deny that Jesus was God in the flesh (i.e. that Jesus had a physical body), but also the very existence of sin. To counter this false teaching that Jesus had not come in the flesh, John begins the letter by writing:

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…” (1 Jn. 1:1)

John emphasizes that Jesus was a man in a full “physical sense” – He walked on earth with a physical body, which the Gnostics denied. Why was it important to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh? So that:

”…you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”. (1 Jn. 1:3) 

The people John was addressing obviously did not have fellowship with “us”, i.e. John and all other true believers. And hence they did not either have fellowship with the Father or the Son.

John goes on to say:

5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to 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 practice the truth. (1 Jn. 1:5-6)

In other words, there were people connected to the church who claimed to have fellowship with God, but who in reality were walking in darkness.

But can a true believer “walk in darkness”? No! God is light and in Him is no darkness at all! Every believer has been placed “in Christ” and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). If we are in God, and if there is no darkness whatsoever in Him, there can be neither any darkness in us!

You are the light of the world…” (Mt. 5:14) 

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ’I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” (Jn. 8:12)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Eph. 5:8)

”You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.” (1 Thess. 5:5)

”He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” (Col. 1:13)

From the Scripture verses above, it is crystal clear that every true believer has left the darkness and now live in the light. Paul tells the Ephesians: “Earlier you were in darkness, but now you are in the light. Live according to what you already are”! Obviously, it is fully possible to belong to the light without always acting thereafter. You have probably noticed that believers often make mistakes. But when a true believers sins, this takes place in the light, since every believer has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved son.

Let us go back to 1 John chapter 1 again. In verse 7, we see what happens whenever we believe in Jesus and leave the kingdom of darkness: We get fellowship with all true believers and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

”But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)

In verse 8, John once again addresses people who are not yet saved. He counters the false teaching of the Gnostics, who claimed they were sinless in themselves:

”If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8)

The Gnostics denied the existence of sin and because of that they could not receive the forgiveness of sins. Since they claimed they had never sinned, they saw no need of trusting in Jesus as their Savior. They deceived themselves and the truth was not in them.

That this verse (1:8) does not refer to born-again believers, becomes obvious when reading the following in chapter 2, where true believers are addressed:

”I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” (1 Jn. 2:14)

The Gnostics, who denied the existence of sin, did not have the truth in them, while the true believers had God’s word, which is the truth, in them.

Let us now look at the Cardinal verse, verse 9, which so often has been misunderstood. John explains what happens whenever a Gnostic stops denying his/her sinfulness and turns to Christ, and becomes a true believer who walks 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.” (1 Joh. 1:9)

This verse is not directed to true believers, who already have received the forgiveness of sins. It is directed to the self-righteous Gnostics, who refused to accept their own sinfulness and need of salvation through Jesus Christ. How can I be so sure about that? Because the same John shortly thereafter, when he speaks to those who are “children” in Christ (i.e. new believers), says:

”I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (1 Jn. 2:12)

John says, “Your sins are forgiven! It’s a done deal!” He does not say, “Make sure you confess all of your sins, and only after doing so will you be forgiven”.

To sum up: When John addresses the Gnostics in chapter 1, he says that they:

– do not have fellowship with God or with the true believers (1:6-7),

– walk in darkness (1:6),

– do not have the truth in them (1:8),

– are not forgiven and therefore must confess their sins to be cleansed in the blood of Jesus (1:9).

But when John speaks to the true believers in chapter 2, he affirms that they:

– have fellowship with God and as “children”, “young men”, and “fathers” are included in the family of God (2:12-14),

– have overcome Satan, who is the prince of darkness (2:13-14),

– know the Father and has God’s word (the truth) abiding in them (2:13-14),

– already have the forgiveness of sins (2:12).

It is logically impossible to conclude that John is referring to true believers when he says that we must confess our sins to be forgiven in 1 Jn. 1:9. Actually, no one receives the forgiveness of sins by the confessing of sins. We receive the forgiveness of sins only by confessing Jesus as Lord. But for the Gnostics, who denied the very existence of sin, it was necessary that they first confessed their own sinfulness so that they could be able to receive the forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ.

The Holy Spirit does not focus on convicting us who are already believers that we must confess our sins. He convicts non-believers of the sin of not believing in Jesus (Jn. 16:8-9), so that they can realize their need of salvation and confess Him as Lord. But for believers, the focus of the Holy Spirit is to testify about that our sins already are forgiven, that the New Covenant has replaced the Old, and that nothing more needs to be done to deal with the sin-problem!

15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”  17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. (Heb. 10:15-18)

The word for “confess” in the original Greek, literally means to “say the same thing” as God. Through our constantly repeated confessions of sins, we are not saying the same thing as God – we contradict the finished work of Jesus. God says through the Holy Spirit, “My children, your sins are forgiven. Through one sacrifice Jesus has put away your sins. The world is reconciled to God. God does not remember your sins.” What do we do? We return back to Judaism, trying to appease God with new “sacrifices” by offering new confessions of sins!

It is time for us to repent and start saying the same thing about ourselves that God says about us. Because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, we should have “no more consciousness of sins” (Heb. 10:2). This cannot be reconciled with endlessly repeated confessions of sins.


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