“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 KJV)
Many people think this verse is saying that we must continually ask for forgiveness of sins we commit after our moment of belief on Christ and after receiving the free gift of Salvation through Christ, or else they will lose Salvation. But is this true? The answer is an emphatic, no.
It is important to understand that the context of John’s letter is to thwart a heresy that false teachers were trying to get true believers to accept. This heresy is called Gnosticism. This is the sin that John is referring too in his letter. Those believing this heresy.
Gnosticism in incompatible with Biblical Christianity because Gnostics do not believe that a person can be born again through Christ. They deny that we are saved because Christ died in our place and took on the punishment for our sins but instead rely on extra Biblical ‘secret knowledge’ they say has been imparted to them as if they are special somehow. The Gnostics believed that there was no such thing as sin and that we do not sin. This was a big heresy in the early church and is being shown as false by John.
The Gnostics teachings were causing fear in some of the believers and had them questioning their faith on Christ alone for Salvation. Another of the Gnostics claims was that Jesus did not really come in the flesh and that Jesus was not God. John puts an end to that argument from the get go stating very clearly Jesus was real and did come in the flesh! John says WE HAVE SEEN WITH OUR EYES and TOUCHED WITH OUR HANDS. They had first hand knowledge. They seen and touched Jesus when He rose fro the dead. John puts an emphatic end to the belief of the Gnostics that Jesus was not here in the flesh as the Son of God that died and paid for our sins and rose again.
“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; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 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.”
(1 John 1:1-3 KJV)
John then goes on to keep destroying the beliefs of the Gnostics and to eradicate the fear it brought to believers of Christ stating he is writing this for the believer’s so that their JOY MAY BE FULL. John seeks to restore their full belief and assurance in Christ alone for their Salvation.
“And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. 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. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 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 1:4-7 KJV)
Another good point here is to acknowledge that John is not only addressing believers in this passage as many believe. In fact, he is addressing the Gnostics and believers with emphasis to having Gnostics change their mind (repent) of their wrong beliefs and for believers to keep full assurance of their Salvation. The use of the word WE here does not mean it is believers only. Why? Let me give you an example:
Your best friend is about to steal something from a store. You see trouble. You say to him, “Hey brother, WE do not want to do that. It is wrong and could send you to jail and wreck your life.” Now, were you going to steal or was your friend the one doing something wrong? You were right and he was wrong….right? So why use the word WE? It is something people do to be gracious. That’s what is going on here in 1 John 1. John is telling the Gnostics they are wrong and the believers to keep their assurance of Salvation. This message benefits both believer and Gnostic. We know John is also addressing Gnostics because we read, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:“. What is John saying here? He is addressing the Gnostics who are saying they are saved but are not believing in the fact they have sin nor that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world on the cross. They think they are living in light but they are living in darkness, without light.
The key to understanding this passage of Scripture is in the understanding what it means to walk in the light and walk in the darkness. John is giving a comparison here to be sure that the one reading he letter is confident that they are truly saved. He uses the contrast of dark verse light to achieve this.
+ Walking In The Light
Jesus is the ‘light of the world’ (John 8:12) and so walking in the light is simply believing on Christ as your Savior. Believing that we have sins. That the sins have to be paid for and punished. That God became flesh in the person of Jesus The Christ, died on the cross, paying for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) and then rose from the dead. That all who believe this by faith and belief have all their sins forgiven.
Apostle Paul makes the Gospel very simple when he wrote to the Corinthian church,
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV)
This is the Gospel of the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. A person is walking in the light from the very moment they became born again by belief in Christ alone for Salvation which is not of ourselves nor works of any kind (Ephesians 2:8-9).
What if a believer sins? Well , he is a person walking in the light yet sinned. The believer is still in the light. Why? Well when we go to 1 John 2:12 (KJV) we read, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you FOR HIS NAME’s SAKE.” We see in Hebrews this is supported as well where it states clearly that “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR ALL.” (Hebrews 10:10 KJV) and in Colossians that we are (present tense) COMPLETE IN CHRIST (Colossians 2:10). Should we just ignore our sin then? No. We strive to not sin. But the point here is that those walking in the light are those who acknowledge they have sin and confess (agree) with God they are sinners and by faith in Christ alone in HIS finished work on the cross, atoning for our sins, and by His death and His Resurrection, we are freed from the debt of our sins as believers. 1 John 1:9 is NOT saying we need to confess every sigle sin or a sin is not forgiven. Not at all.
+ Walking In Darkness
This is the state of every person who has not yet accepted the free gift of Salvation through Christ. They walk in darkness because they have not come to the knowledge of the TRUTH in Christ and accepted the free gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is not dwelling in them nor guiding them.
The Gnostics were saying they were saved people, yet they were walking in darkness because they did not believe that we sin nor that Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, who is God, came in the flesh and died for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD – ALL SIN FROM ALL OF TIME (1 John 2:2). They said they were saved but the Holy Spirit was not even indwelling them. This is still going on today! False religions claiming they are saved people as members, but they are walking in darkness. Such as Scientology, for just one example.
This is why the teaching of falling in and out of Salvation is completely wrong when reading 1 John 1:9. A person is only saved by the Grace filled free gift of God through Christ’s atonement for sin or they are living and believing they require good works and never sinning. It cannot be both! In John 3, Jesus is very clear and simple about how a person is forgiven of their sins and saved for all eternity and the word ‘good works’ nor ‘sin’ is not mentioned.
“He that BELIEVETH ON HIM is not condemned: but he that BELIEVETH NOT is condemned ALREADY, because he hath not BELIEVED in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 KJV)
Apostle Paul also acknowledges this truth stating,
“For by grace are ye saved THROUGH FAITH; and that NOT OF YOURSELVES: it is the GIFT OF GOD: NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV)
Many teach that they must CONFESS their sins after Salvation or they will not be forgiven sins not confessed. The thing is John NEVER STATES THIS in 1 John 1, even if a pulpit is teaching that falsely. 1 John 1 is about encouraging the believers that the Gnostics teachings are completely FALSE and showing the Gnostics they are flat wrong thinking they are saved without Christ. Yet, they read the word ‘CONFESS’ in Scriptures as if it means to ‘ASK FOR FORGIVENESS’ but that is not how the Bible defines the word ‘CONFESS’. A believer’s sins were COMPLETELY forgiven and the Holy Spirit comes and indwells the person from the very moment of belief as we see in Ephesians where we read,
“In whom ye also trusted, AFTER that YE HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that YE BELIEVED, YE WERE SEALED with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the EARNEST (don: means guaranteed down payment) of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14 KJV)
Again here we see the word BELIEVE as the way to be saved just as in John 3 when Jesus Himself stated so. Peter says the same things to the Jews when he told them that they crucified Christ and that HE was really the Lord God. It ‘pricked’ them in their hearts because once they realized this as truth, some were very sorry and fearful. Peter says to them,
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent (Added for Greek meaning: change your mind), and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Act 2:36-39 KJV)
We need to use the correct Biblical definition for the word ‘confess’. The Greek for the word ‘confess’ in the New Testament is ‘homologeō’ and has a meaning of ‘to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent’. To confess is to agree with God that you did and have sin. We know all our sins were already forgiven, even our future sins because all sins are future to the cross. When we confess, we basically say to God, ‘God.. I blew it again and sinned. Thank you for your amazing grace and for already paying for this sin on that cross for me. I have remorse about this sin. Please help me stop this by the Holy Spirit.’ Do you think that is a prayer that God will honor? Yes, He will. This is proper belief and gives all the glory to God where it belongs! The process of our Sanctification takes time. In fact, a lifetime! Yet we are still saved by the grace of God through our BELIEF on Christ alone.
Look how Paul uses the word ‘confess’ in Romans 10 KJV where we read,
“That if thou shalt CONFESS with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt BELIEVE in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man BELIEVETH unto righteousness; and with the mouth CONFESSION is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever BELIEVETH on him shall not be ashamed.“
We also need to use the correct Biblical meaning for the word ‘repent’ as well, which means ‘ change your mind’ in the Greek. It is not Biblically defined as the modern dictionary states. It does not mean ‘turn from your sin’ nor ‘to be penitent’. Yes, we should turn from our sins and I am not saying otherwise. The Holy Spirit will convict us to. The reading of the Word of God for the renewing of our mind will also. Our newly created Spirit wars with our flesh for us to turn from our sins. Perfectly? Not yet. It is a real struggle! (Romans 7) However, we cannot have sinless perfection until our bodily resurrection when the sin nature will no longer exist within us. However, the definition of the word ‘repent’ in the Bible is not ‘turn from your sin’; it is ‘change your mind’. By changing our mind about sins we should be turning from sin but the repenting is not the turning from sin. The turning from sin is a result of repenting; that is changing of mind. And Apostle Paul tells us to renew our mind by the Word of God.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2 KJV)
I hope this helps to clarify 1 John 1:9 by using the proper context.