“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. The promise of forgiveness of sins is a precious hope for all disciples of Jesus Christ. It is the need for forgiveness that spurs us on towards our Savior. As Jesus looked forward to the fulfillment of Scripture in His death and resurrection, the promise to forgive the sin of the people stood at the center of the New Covenant:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine. Matt. 26:27-29
Jesus’ very incarnation was directly connected to the forgiveness of sins:
… to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins. Luke 1:77
The Book of Acts contains the first presentations of the Gospel after the resurrection of Jesus, and what do we find? We find a clear connection between trust in the finished work of Christ and forgiveness of sins:
…Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
In Acts 5:31, Peter, again, connects the salvation of all of Israel with forgiveness of sins when he says,
“God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Paul and Barnabas affirm salvation offers the forgiveness of sins:
“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-29).
The Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus that they had been forgiven in proportion to the riches of the grace given in Christ:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… Eph. 1:7
Paul tells the believers in Colosse that they are no longer in the kingdom of darkness but have had their citizenship transferred to the kingdom of Jesus; therefore, they had been completely forgiven of their sins:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col. 1:13-14
In our flesh, we believe that we are self-sufficient. It is this “self-trust” that is on display when we disobey God’s commands. However, Jesus trusted in God completely and it is His trust that was put on display through His dependency (see: faith) in the Father.
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Heb. 9:24-28
To trust in the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf is to be forgiven for your sin against God. Jesus’ sacrifice paid for ALL of your sin, once and for all. This is the Good News! Forgiveness of sin is the hope we have in the Gospel!
The forgiveness of sins is an act that is complete through the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. There are some that see forgiveness as a continual process. Unfortunately, that is a misunderstanding of what has been finished on the Cross that can lead to a haunting ritual—a ritual in which the Christian must confess sin in order to receive forgiveness. In this system, if sin is not regularly confessed, then fellowship with God is forfeit. One must hope that God will forgive the sins that have not been mentioned because they were forgotten. Those who subscribe to this belief will typically appeal to 1 John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It might seem, upon a first reading, that this is what John is communicating: confess and ask for forgiveness and God will forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Is this what the Apostle John meant when he wrote this verse? Did John connect our fellowship with God with our responsibility to confess and, thereby, receive forgiveness for our sins? What about all the other verses that indicate we have been forgiven when we first trusted in Christ for salvation?
Some will say that at the very least, I John 1:9 is God’s recipe for continual fellowship; while we have salvation through Jesus on the cross, it is our fellowship with God that is kept through continually confessing our sins.
Is that true? Is there an aspect of my fellowship that rests on my ability and my responsibility to confess sin? Is my fellowship with God dependent on my work? What if I forget? What if I don’t realize I am not living by faith at a certain moment? What if I don’t care at the moment of rebellion? Does that sin remain? In part 2, we will examine these types of questions to see if this reasoning makes sense according to the Apostle John’s teaching. In the meantime, take time to read John 1:1-10 to find out what he has to say about the matter.