1 John 1:9
In my last writing, I showed the seven losses that happen to a Christian who continues in sin. Explicitly, the unregenerate is exempted of these losses, since he is not even in the family of God. Thus these losses are specifically aimed by the apostle John at those Christians with problems sinning, but John also gives us the most wonderful promise for restoration of the sinning Christian, and that is the subject of this piece.
Confession is the only way that the Christian is restored to fellowship with his Father. Many a Christian has foundered on this doctrine, believing that they must “beg” forgiveness of God for their sin. Such thinking actually insults the God of wonderful grace, and shows a basic misunderstanding of what Christ has done on the cross. Once we receive forgiveness, and that comes with our initial belief, we have been forgiven of all our sins, past, present, and future. There are some Christians, confused in their doctrine, who regularly practice asking forgiveness, and who believe that they have lost their salvation when they sin. Examination of their beliefs show that within their system is a confused morass of contradictory beliefs. Some sins are judged to be smaller sins, and their thinking is that God overlooks those somehow, but when it comes to bigger sins, these Christians believe that they must seek salvation again.
First, I note that God, being righteous, does not overlook sins. He cannot if he is maintain his righteousness. Instead, scripture indicates that he once for all poured out judgment on his Son, and that judgment is totally satisfactory for the remission of our sins. If there were any sin not covered by the cross, the believer would be in dire peril, and would never be able to satisfy a righteous God. God, in his wonderful grace, has totally and completely saved us, and this fact is not in any way altered by our disobedience.
Second, the Scripture gives us only one prescription for sin—to confess to God that sin is sin. If I were capable of losing what God has so freely given, I would have thrown it away long ago, for my heart is utterly corrupt, and bereft of any merit that would stand before God. Those who believe they can regularly lose their salvation neither understand the depth of the grace of God, nor the depth of their own sinfulness. But thanks be to God for his gracious provision in Christ!
Confession means to agree with God that your sin is sin. Implicit in the prescription of 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”) is the idea of repentance, or turning away from that which we know to be sin. The sovereign Father has already forgiven his children in the once for all sacrifice of his son. Those who would limit that sacrifice by excluding some sins from it are not, at the least, appreciating the grace of God.
Look at the verse again. The phrase, “to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” is there, The condition that John gives the Christian to follow is that only of confession—repentance can be assumed, for what kind of man could confess and have no repentance—but the promise of the phrase is unlimited in scope—to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Wonderful is the expression of new Christians, having fallen into sin, and wanting to make their way back to God, when the great truth of this verse soaks into them. I remember many conversations such as this, having them read the verse aloud:
I ask them, “How much unrighteousness has God cleansed you from?”
They usually do not see the point I am trying to make at first, so I press the question, “How much does it say God has cleansed you of?”
And then, if needed, I will press, “All what?”
They reply, usually with a very wide grin, “All unrighteousness.”
“But I am not done,” I reply. “If God has cleansed you of all unrighteousness, how righteous are you?”
As it says, we are made totally righteous in his sight. And when it dawns on the new Christian what acceptance from God means, the washing away of all the stain of sin, and forever being made to be a child of God, what joy spreads across their face. It is a shame that all too often we forget that first love, that deep joy of knowing forgiveness, and what a magnificent Light the Lord has shined upon us.
But I am not nearly through with this post, for John told us something else that it is very important for the Christian to know. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Chafer says this about our Advocate,
As Advocate He defends the believer when charged with actual sin. This He does while the believer is sinning and not sometime afterwards. The assurance is given that, if a Christian sins, he has an advocate with the Father. It might be supposed by some that the Advocate is begging the Father to be lenient toward the offender; but God cannot be lenient toward sin. Likewise, it might be supposed by some that the Advocate is making excuses for the one He defends; but there are no excuses. In like manner, it might be supposed that the Advocate is able to confuse the issue and make a case that would divert the natural course of justice; but that unworthy conception is answered in the very title which He gains as Advocate, which title is nowhere else applied to Him.1
And what is that title? According to the verse, he is called “the righteous”. In no manner could Jesus be called the righteous, if he were being devious, or trying to get justice off track. Instead, in every scene of sin, he reminds the court, and the Accuser, that for this sin He died. That taking that sin upon the cross, the Accuser has no grounds for his accusations—the penalty has been paid, and there remains no sin that has not been totally covered. Thus, we “have” an Advocate, and he presently advocates for us.
Thus we are made righteous, not in our own behavior, but in the reckoning of God. Not ever that we do not sin, but for the first time, since we are in Christ, we do not have to sin. When we do sin, we know that Christ is our Advocate, and we need not ever fear condemnation.
Realizing and making a point of this wonderful freedom, Paul elsewhere writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1 and 2). We are completely free. But we are bound by the love of our Father, and the price paid by our Advocate to live the life he has called us to. By the power of his Holy Spirit we can find a walk in this world that overcomes.
And when we do sin? Confession, says John, is the prescription that always will bring us back into fellowship with God.
1. Chafer, L. (1947). The Christian's Sin. In Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 344). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.