This Bible Study will begin by examining what 1 John 1:5-10 says about confession and forgiveness of sin, which are needed to have fellowship with God. Next, God’s wonderful promise of forgiveness in 1 John 1:9 will be examined in detail. “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). The final section will provide practical guidance on how to have and maintain fellowship with God.
Have you ever wondered what the Bible says about how to receive forgiveness of sins from God? What is the relationship between confession and forgiveness in Scripture? How can you have assurance of pardon? How can you know your sins have been forgiven by God and you have fellowship with God?
In his first epistle (1 John), the apostle John wrote to Bible believing Christians that their joy might be made full (complete) through fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3-4). Fellowship with God comes through faith in Jesus Christ who is “the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1-2) and whose blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
1 John 1, verses 6-10 give 5 if / then general conditions regarding fellowship with God, which are possibly true. Two of these conditions are positive. The other three are negative.
God is unchanging and holy. He will not change to be like us (sinful), so we must become like God. No one is naturally righteous, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10, 23). As sinners, we cannot cleanse ourselves. We need God to wash our sin away. Jesus Christ died and shed His blood to pay for our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Fellowship with God requires walking in the light “as He is in the light” (1 John 1:5-7). “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
If we say we are having fellowship with God, but are walking in darkness, then we are lying and not practicing truth (1 John 1:6). “Words are cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” What you do reveals the true you. God knows our hearts and minds. He knows whether what we say is true.
Many people claim to be Christians and have fellowship with God, but their actions and words (i.e.: their fruit) indicate otherwise. These people need to understand their lost condition, repent of their sin, and enter fellowship with God by trusting in Jesus Christ as their savior.
But if we are walking in the light, as God is in the light, we are having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, is cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
The use of present tense verbs in this passage indicates ongoing, continual or habitual action. It does not mean we are perfect and never stray from the light. We still have a sin nature, and like sheep we continue to go astray (Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6). But a true Christian who has fellowship with God will generally follow the path of righteousness and will return to the lighted way when into darkness they stray.
I think it is significant that the word “cleanses” (“cleanseth” in the KJV) is a present, indicative, active verb. It is not past, perfect, subjunctive or future in tense. While Christ shed His blood once for all in the past with continuing results, our cleansing is not only something that happened in the past or may happen in the future. It is an ongoing reality.
Yes, it is the blood of Christ that cleansed us from sin when we repented of our evil ways, trusted Jesus as our Savior, and entered into fellowship with God. But our cleansing did not end there. Every time we go astray, the blood of Christ is reapplied to wash our new sins away. So, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, continues cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Fellowship with God requires submission to God and His Word. We must agree with what He has said. God’s Word says, “all have sinned.” So, we must all admit that we have sinned, which makes us sinners.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
The three “If we say” phrases in 1 John 1:6, 8 & 10 use the Greek word eipon, which is the 2nd plural aorist, active, subjunctive form of lego, which simply means to speak, say or tell. The subjunctive mood indicates that the condition is possible, but not definite. So these phrases could be translated, “If we would say . . . ” or “If we were to say . . . .”
In each of these three verses, “If we would say . . .” is followed by a false statement that contradicts God’s Word. So, “we” are either lying or self-deceived. In each case, the false statement indicates that the person saying it is unsaved and has never had fellowship with God.
In 1 John 1:8, the false statement is that “we have no sin.” Contrary to God’s Word which says, “All have sinned,” these people claim to be without sin. John says the one claiming to be without sin is deceiving himself. The verb is present active, so the person is continuing in a state of self-deception.
The conclusion is that the self-deceived person claiming to be without sin does not have the truth in them. Jesus is “the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If the truth is not in them, then they are still spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Before examining 1 John 1:9, which explains how to maintain your fellowship with God through forgiveness of sin, we will discuss the 3rd “if we would say” statement in 1 John 1:10. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
In this verse, the false claim is not only untrue, but it is blasphemous. The phrase, “we have not sinned” uses a perfect, indicative, active verb. So, the speaker is not only claiming not to be a sinner by nature, but they are also saying that they have never sinned.
This claim directly contradicts God’s Word, which would “make Him (God) a liar.” But Paul said, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Denying that one has sinned and accusing God of lying demonstrates disbelief and shows that “His (God’s) Word is not in us.”
“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).
I believe this scripture is one of the most precious and reassuring verses in the Bible. In it we learn how to be forgiven and hear that our holy Heavenly Father is faithful and just to forgive us. But this precious promise is conditional. We must do our part.
1 John 1:9 is another 3rd class conditional sentence expressing a condition that is potentially true and the result if the condition is realized. In this case, the condition (confession of sin) and its result (forgiveness of sin) are both positive.
The condition for receiving God’s forgiveness is confession of our sin. But what does it mean to “confess our sins”?
The word used in this scripture is different than the word used for “saying” in verses 6, 8 and 10. In verse 9, the Greek word translated “confess” is “homologeo.” The literal meaning of this word is to speak or say the same thing. In this case, “we” must say the same thing as God. “We” must agree with God and His Word. “We” must agree with God that “we” are sinners and admit that “we” have sinned yet again.
The Greek word for sin is “hamartia”, which means ‘to miss the mark.’ When we sin, we miss the mark of God’s standard of perfection. Like an arrow, we fall short or miss the bull’s-eye. Our target is to be like Jesus, God’s perfect Son who always did His Father’s will and never sinned.
Confessing our sin means agreeing with God that what we did, or said, or thought was wrong. “We” disobeyed God’s revealed will and missed the mark of being Christ-like in all we think, say and do.
There is nothing that indicates we need to confess sins against God to a person here on earth in order to be given by God in heaven. However, if we have sinned against a person in some way, then we should confess our offense to them, make restitution if necessary and ask their forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24). It can also be helpful to confess your sins to spiritual people if you are seeking their help in praying for you (James 5:14-16).
When we confess our sins and ask forgiveness, we should do so by praying to our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son. Our priest is not a man here on earth. Our priest is Jesus the Christ who always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24-25). As John goes on to tell us, “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
If we meet the condition of confessing our sins to God, agreeing with Him that we have sinned, then God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Notice that John does not simply tell us that God will forgive our sins. He informs us that God “is faithful and just” to do so. But what exactly does that mean? Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Greek word translated “faithful” is “pistos,” which is an adjective meaning faithful, reliable, trustworthy, dependable. God is worthy of being trusted. He has promised to forgive our sins if we confess them, and we can depend on God to keep His promise because He is faithful.
The Greek word translated “just” (or “righteous” in some translations) is “dikaios,” which is an adjective meaning righteous, upright, just, acting correctly.
God is holy and righteous. He is a just judge who must punish sin. Yet He remains upright and just while forgiving us of our sins, because Jesus Christ died on the cross as the payment (propitiation / atonement) for our sins. Jesus shed His blood to pay the penalty for our sins and to wash our sins away.
To forgive means to let go or send away. Financially it means to cancel a debt that is owed. In a judicial sense it means to dismiss the charges against you. When God forgives our sin, it is as if we never did it.
When we confess our sin, God not only forgives our sin, but He also cleanses us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:7 elaborates on how God remains just while faithfully forgiving our sin and cleansing away our unrighteousness, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
To “cleanse” means to purify or make clean. “Unrighteousness” is any wickedness, wrongdoing, unjust deed, or any other act that violates God’s standards of right conduct. And “all” means all, the entirety, the whole, every bit.
The wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9 provides assurance of pardon, if we meet God’s condition. If we truly confess our sin to Him, admitting that what we thought, said or did was wrong, we can know without doubt that God will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteous because He is faithful and just to do so. And God can be trusted to keep His Word because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
True joy comes from having assurance of eternal life and continual fellowship with God, our creator and redeemer. But fellowship with God is only possible when our sins have been forgiven. Sin disrupts our fellowship with God and continuing to live in an ongoing state of unforgiven sin can not only destroy your joy, but also undermine your assurance of salvation.
God not only created us, but He took on human flesh, lived a perfect life as a man, and died a terrible death to pay for our sins. Christ has provided the way of forgiveness, salvation, and fellowship with God (John 14:6).
If we want the joy that comes from unbroken fellowship with God, we must do our part. Jesus did the hard part by paying for our sins on the cross (John 3:16). Our part begins with believing in Christ as the Son of God who died to pay for the sin of the whole world (John 1:12; 6:29; 3:18) and trusting Him as our Savior (Acts 16:31).
Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:25-26, 28; Romans 6:10). For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross once, but has been seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus has already paid for all the sins of every person who has ever lived or ever will.
Our relationship with God begins the moment we are spiritually born again by repentance and faith in Jesus as Christ our Savior. But believing in Christ does not make us perfect. We still have a sin nature and continue to sin.
Believing in Christ does not make us perfect. We still have a sin nature and continue to sin.
1 John 1:9 provides the remedy for our ongoing sin problem. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To maintain our fellowship with God, we must continually confess our sins as we commit them.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I liken the daily confession of sin to taking a shower everyday to wash dirt away. But instead of soap and water, we need the Holy Spirit to wash our sins away as we confess our sins and pray.
We should all strive to live a life free of sin, and ideally, we would succeed. But until we are fully sanctified in heaven, the reality is that we will continue stumbling spiritually.
We need the Holy Spirit to wash our sins away as we confess our sins and pray.
When I get dirty working or get sweaty exercising, I take a shower. And I wash my hands whenever they get dirty. As soon as we realize we have sinned, we should immediately confess it. Perhaps you could even use washing your hands as a reminder to confess any recent sins.
We should also make a habit of routinely examining our lives and confessing sins. I shower every morning. After my physical shower, I read God’s Word and pray.
I recommend all Christians have a daily devotional time to read the Bible, confess your sins and pray. I like to begin the day that way before my mind and spirit are distracted by the world and life, but any routine time can work. Find a time that works for you and commit to meeting with God every day.
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