TOTALLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY FORGIVEN!
CORRECTING THE 1 JOHN 1:9 ERROR
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
1 John 1:9
The Bible clearly teaches that if you're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ your sins have beencompletely and forever forgiven (Eph. 1:7; 4:32; Col. 2:13-14; 3:13; 1 John 2:12)! What an amazing and wonderful truth to rest in!
Unfortunately, religion usually complicates things and this is certainly the case with the predominant teaching in the church today on forgiveness. Because there is so much incorrect teaching on this vitally important subject, countless believers find themselves living in bondage to guilt, shame, and fear because of the sins they commit. They've been taught and believe that even though they're saved and possess eternal life, they have to regularly confess their sins to God in order to either be forgiven of their sins or stay in fellowship with God - or both!
This kind of false teaching doesn't recognize the great power of Christ's work on the cross to deal finally and effectively with sin. It also fails to correctly teach and encourage believers about the wonderful new spiritual identity they possess because they're now in Jesus Christ.
Tragically, so many believers don't know and appreciate that through Jesus Christ God has finally and completely dealt with all of our sins and the sins of the whole world! Christ came to take away the sins of the world - and He did just that (John 1:29)! At Grace Life Church we're dedicated to helping people understand and experience the truth that because of what Jesus Christ accomplished at the cross, all of their sins have been forgiven!
It's not what we do or say that somehow activates God's forgiveness (this is legalism), it's what Christ did at the cross that completely and forever provides the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus Christ shed His blood for us at the cross to redeem us and forgive us of all our sins (Eph. 1:7-8). The sacrifice of Himself was the only sacrifice - because it was a perfect sacrifice - that could effectively, finally, and forever deal with sin. The forgiveness of sins has been provided by Christ alone. He died in our place and received the punishment for our sins that we deserved. Only the cross-work of Jesus Christ deals with the sin issue. There is no other way!
As believers, God wants us to rest and rejoice in the reality that all of our sins have been taken away! When we do sin, it's normal and proper for us to be saddened and disappointed in ourselves - but God doesn't want us to stay stuck in that emotional condition. He wants us to move on living lives of victory that He's provided for us! He wants us to rest in and rejoice in the complete forgiveness we have in Christ. This total and unconditional forgiveness covers ALL sins - all past, present, and future sins! God's grace is truly incredible! His grace motivates us to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-14)!
Why do so many of God's children (probably the vast majority) fail to enjoy this total and complete forgiveness in Christ? The reason is found in the teaching, traditions, and scholarship in the church that have moved away from the clear teaching on forgiveness in God's Word. This has been a problem for centuries! Often times the error and confusion on forgiveness are the result of teaching centered on an incorrect interpretation of 1 John 1:9.
Many Bible scholars think that every part of every letter written in the New Testament was written only to believers. As a result, they believe that all of 1 John was written to believers. But you and I know that churches today are full of unbelievers! That was certainly the case in first century churches as well. Furthermore, a careful examination of the first chapter of 1 John should lead an objective observer to conclude that the Apostle John was addressing unbelievers in the beginning of his letter.
Furthermore, the interpretation that 1 John 1:9 teaches that believers need to regularly confess their sins in order for God to forgive them (keeping short accounts with God) and to stay in right fellowship with Him cannot be found anywhere else in the New Testament epistles! The Apostle Paul didn't teach it - and he wrote 13 out of the 27 New Testament books! The many churches Paul wrote to apparently weren't aware of this teaching! Surely, you would think that this would lead reasonable thinking people studying God's Word to, at the very least, be extremely cautious in forming any kind of firm doctrine on God's forgiveness based on 1 John 1:9 alone. Please understand that it's in the epistles, and primarily in the Apostle Paul's epistles, that we receive clear instructions from Christ on how to live the Christian life on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, religionists, traditionalists, and legalists don't appear to be open to the possibility that the interpretation of 1 John 1:9 is wrong. Their position is not open to discussion since it's locked to the position of their church, denomination, and/or tradition. It appears that they'd rather continue to keep believers in bondage to the guilt and shame that result when they sin or they forget to confess their sins, than teach them that God has actually already forgiven them for ALL their sins!
One of the primary reasons John wrote 1 John was to deal with false teachers that had come into a church in Asia. These false teachers were teaching that Jesus had not come in the flesh - that He was an illusion. They also didn't believe that they had sins that needed to be forgiven because they didn't believe sin was real. Many scholars believe that John was probably confronting an early form of false teaching known as gnosticism. Gnostics believed that they possessed superior spiritual knowledge. They believed that all flesh was evil and that only spirit is good. They also didn't believe that there was sin - to them it wasn't real.
"1 That which was from the beginning, we we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may also have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete." (1 John 1:1-4)
In these first four verses in the letter John is confronting the false teachers. He states the fact that he, the rest of the apostles, and other people saw Jesus Christ in the flesh. They looked at Him, heard Him, and touched Him. John wanted the false teachers to know that many people could testify to the reality of Christ - that he was not an illusion. He also says that there are some people in the audience he's writing to (including the false teachers) who were not in fellowship with Christ because they were unsaved.
"5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (1 John 1:5-10)
1 John 1:5-10 are the verses where there's a lot of confusion and incorrect teaching. They are used to teach believers that they need to keep confessing their sins to God (keep short accounts with God) in order to be forgiven and remain in fellowship with God. These verses are used to support the teaching that believers, because of a certain level of sinfulness, can be out of fellowship with God. As I said before, nowhere else in the New Testament epistles can the concept of "being out of fellowship with God" be found in describing a believer, a child of God! Churches and denominations for centuries have also used these verses to support the error that a person can lose his or her salvation because of sins committed and not confessed to God. The joy and peace that have been robbed from God's children because of incorrect teaching on these verses is no less than a tragedy!
Another point needs to be made here. Some people believe that since John uses the word we in these verses he must have been referring to himself and other believers. If this were true, all the verses in this letter where he uses we would also refer to believers. However, this isn't true. John is simply using a literary technique to make his points. He's using we to refer to all people in general.
John's message in verses 5-6 is very clear: "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth." God is light and in Him there is no darkness. We are either in the light, a saved person, or in darkness, a lost person. This comparison of light vs. darkness to describe being saved or lost can be found throughout the Bible. If someone claims to have fellowship with Christ but is lost, he is lying and not living in truth. He is walking in darkness.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (v. 7). This verse says that if we walk in the light, meaning that we're saved, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus continually cleanses us of all our sins. It should be clear here that it's not our confession that leads to forgiveness. We are forgiven because of what Jesus did at the cross for all of us. Please notice that this verse says the blood of Jesus "purifies us from all sin." ALL of our sins are purified by the blood of Jesus.
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (v. 8). Here John is dealing with the false teaching (possibly by the Gnostics) that there is no such thing as sin - that it's an illusion. Again, John uses the "we" not to include himself or other believers, but simply as a figure of speech. He is referring specifically to the false teachers who believed they were without sin. They were deceiving themselves and the truth was not in them. This reference to the truth not being in them means that Christ was not in them and they were, therefore, lost.
If verse 8 is addressed to believers according to a lot of the false teaching out there, what true believers actually think they don't sin anymore? In order to become saved you have to admit to God that you're a sinner in desperate need of forgiveness which is found in Christ alone! Also, can the truth not be in a true believer? Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6). It's clearly wrong to believe that this verse is describing the state of a saved person, a true child of God.
Now we come to verse 9, the verse that is used to teach that believers need to confess their sins to God in order to be forgiven. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (v.9). What John is simply saying here that if the false teachers confess that they do sin and put their trust in Jesus, then God will forgive them and purify them from all unrighteousness.
Please, again, notice the word "all" in these verses. It really means ALL! When we were saved, we weren't purified of only our past sins and unrighteousness, we were purified of ALL ours sins and unrighteousness. When God purifies us, we are purified forever! We don't need to confess our sins to God for forgiveness or to somehow remain in fellowship with Him. We are already completely and totally forgiven saints of God! We're always in fellowship with God because we're in Christ! Praise our Lord Jesus Christ for what He's done for us!
We need to understand and rest in the truth that God has completely and forever settled the sin issue. Before Christ's death, the sin in the world separated the human race from God. Christ was the only solution to the terrible sin problem that kept us as enemies of God. At the cross, Christ reconciled the world to God by the sacrifice of Himself.
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that Christ was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." (2 Cor. 5:19)
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29)
It was God's plan from eternity past and it was His initiative that has successfully dealt with the sins of the world. We are not the initiators. When people are told that need to confess their sins continually to somehow activate and receive God's forgiveness and cleansing, they are being led into a law system, or legalism. In this system man now cooperates with God in initiating forgiveness. This diminishes the cross-work of Jesus Christ and the power of God's grace because what Christ did at the cross was not enough to take away ALL our sins. This is false teaching.
This may be hard for you to accept based on a lifetime of teaching that's told you otherwise - that you need to recall your sins and confess them in order to be forgiven. What about all the sins you've forgotten and failed to confess? Confessing our sins to God after we've been saved does not cause God to forgive us. The truth you can rest in and rejoice in is that God has already forgiven you of all your sins and you've been totally purified, or cleansed. Because you have been saved by grace through faith, you're now in Christ, Christ lives in you, and you're a child of the living God!
Our total forgiveness is based on the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross, where the perfect, sinless, Son of God, shed His blood to take away the sins of the world! There is no other basis for our forgiveness before God!
In fact, when it becomes evident that John is clearly addressing believers in the second chapter of 1 John, he says "I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name (2:12)." It's very clear that John saw believers in the church as totally forgiven children of God!
Jesus took away all the sins of the world at the cross! Believers don't need to confess their sins to God in order to be forgiven because God has already forgiven all of their sins! This total forgiveness is continually hammered home in the Apostle Paul's writings.
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." (Col. 2:13-14)
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Col. 3:13)
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." (Eph. 1:7-8)
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Eph. 4:32)
As we understand and rest in the truths that in Christ we are God's children, totally loved, totally accepted, totally forgiven, perfectly righteous with the righteousness of Christ, and eternally secure, we will be protected from falling prey to false teaching that opposes or waters down these important truths.
Remember, God relates to us much differently than people, including believers, relate to each other. He and He alone can totally forgive us, give us His perfect righteousness, and give us new and eternal life that we can never lose! He carries out His promises to us through His perfect love and grace. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that God relates to you just like people do, who often disappoint you and fail you. He is God and they are not. He will never disappoint you, go back on His promises to you found in His Word, or fail you.
In Christ, our great God has given us everything we need spiritually. As a result, our fellowship with God is secure forever. Sadly, many Christians, perhaps most, aren't aware of the amazing and wonderful new identity they have in Christ. They either believe it's too good to be true, haven't been taught it, or just reject it because they like things the way they've been doing them! Many Christians are in bondage and actually like it! The reality, though, is they are missing out on so much and they don't know it!
Our church and ministry is dedicated to helping people understand the riches of God's grace to us in Christ. In the process, we will confront any teaching that leads people away from their secure and intimate relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, bad teaching on forgiveness dominates the church today and has been a major problem in the church since it began nearly 2000 years ago. Churches, denominations, and ministries of all sizes are putting people in bondage to guilt and shame by the erroneous teaching that their sins are not totally forgiven. We hope this article that defends our total and unconditional forgiveness in Christ is a help to you. The truth will set you free!
"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."(John 8:31-32)
Stephen J. Moll
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Grace Life Church
Proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Gospel of God's Grace