(What Is 1 John 1:9 Really About?)
Almost without exception, most of the New Testament letters were written to correct some doctrinal error that was being mingled with the Gospel message originally received and delivered by the apostles. In the case of 1 John the problem was that there were certain individuals teaching a form of Christianity known as Gnosticism. This can be easily inferred from reading the letter once there is a basic understanding of what constitutes Gnosticism. One definition reads:
“Gnosticism was (and is) a religious movement that employed the concepts of (1) dualism (consisting of two parts), the material and the spiritual and (2) syncretism (the attempted reconciliation or union of opposing principles or elements) that spread throughout the ancient Near East immediately before and after the time of Christ.”
Gnosticism taught a duality that designated the material world as evil while only the immaterial (spirit) was pure. This was a common idea among pagan philosophies. Those who practiced Gnosticism usually fell into one of two applications of this dualistic outlook. There were the ascetics who were unusually hard on the body because of its evilness. Others, believing that that immaterial was all that mattered lived a libertarian lifestyle believing that it did not matter what was done morally in the body since it was beyond redemption.
The Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald (available on E-Sword), in its introduction to 1 John, describes Gnosticism with respect to Jesus Christ as follows:
“At the time John was writing, a false sect had arisen which became known as Gnosticism (Gk. “gnosis” = knowledge). These Gnostics professed to be Christians but claimed to have “additional knowledge,” superior to what the apostles taught. They claimed that a person could not be completely fulfilled until he had been initiated into their deeper “truths.” Some taught that matter was evil, and that therefore the Man Jesus could not be God. They made a distinction between Jesus and the Christ. “The Christ” was divine emanation which came upon Jesus at His baptism and left before His death, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to them, Jesus “did” die, but the Christ did “not” die. They insisted, as Michael Green put it, that “the heavenly Christ was too holy and spiritual to be soiled by permanent contact with human flesh.” In short, they denied the Incarnation that Jesus is the Christ and that Jesus Christ is both God and Man.”
It was to address the Gnostic influence that had infiltrated this body of believers that John wrote this letter. See if you can see how he does this from 1 John 1:1 to 2:2. John’s letter is the Gospel message written in contrast to what the Gnostics were saying. He was outlining the way of salvation for the Gnostic and reassuring those who were being confused by Gnostic teaching. The verses in bold type addressed specifically some of the things the Gnostics were saying.
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1Jn 1:1-5 NASB)
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; (1Jn 1:6 NASB)
but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1Jn 1:7 NASB)
The Gnostics said that they had fellowship with God while yet walking in darkness. John says this is a lie and that they are not practicing the truth – they are not Christians. But to those who do walk in the Light, there is fellowship with one another and complete cleansing from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1Jn 1:8 NASB)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jn 1:9 NASB)
To the Gnostics who say they have no sin (and consequently no need of forgiveness) he says that they are deceived and the truth is not in them – they are not Christians. But to those who acknowledge their sin and need for forgiveness there is complete forgiveness and cleansing from unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1Jn 1:10 NASB)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1Jn 2:1-2 NASB)
To the Gnostics who insisted that he had not sinned, John says that they make Jesus into a liar and that His word is not in them – they are not Christians. But to those Christians who do sin, John assures them that that we have an Advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ who is the propitiation for our sins. This is an ongoing reality in the life of a Christian who, in Christ, is always forgiven. To require ongoing confession of sin for the purpose of receiving forgiveness denies the truth of the Gospel (see 1 John 1:9 (Part 1)).
To be out of fellowship with God means to be children of darkness. Christians are children of Light despite the fact that they might sin. Our behaviour is not the determining factor of whether or not we walk in the Light or darkness.
“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14 NASB)
“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph 5:7-10 NASB)
The traditional natural view of 1 John 1:9 has the unfortunate effect of keeping believers trapped in a sin-consciousness (the self-conscious fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil) instead of experiencing the transforming power of Christ-consciousness – that is, a continual looking to Jesus Christ to be the All in All of our lives.