The Trouble with I John 1:9 (Part 1)

(Reinstating Sacrifices for Believers)

Ever since our Lord Jesus Christ set us free from sin and death through His work on the Cross there has been a concerted effort by the enemies of our soul to keep us from experiencing the freedom He procured for us. The traditional explanation of 1 John 1:9 has been for many a hindrance to their growth in freedom in Christ. 1 John 1:9 reads: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Most teaching on this promotes one of two ideas, both which put the onus on the believer to practice a legalistic ritual in order to stay right with God. One pastor puts the first idea this way: “One is to keep short accounts in asking forgiveness. Sin separates us from God. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”” In other words, it is our continual confession of sins that maintains our forgiveness with God. Someone has commented that instead of having to confess our sins to a priest for absolution as in the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestants have just eliminated the middle man. Now we can confess directly to God to obtain forgiveness. Before addressing how this kind of thinking is a denial of the finished work of Christ on the Cross the second idea promoted in traditional teaching on 1 John 1:9 should be addressed.

Many traditional teachings acknowledge the faulty logic of needing to continually confess our sins for forgiveness but maintain that continual confession is necessary for us to stay in “fellowship” with God. The Believer’s Bible Commentary puts it this way:  

“In order for us to walk day by day in fellowship with God and with our fellow believers, we must confess our sins: sins of commission, sins of omission, sins of thought, sins of act, secret sins, and public sins. We must drag them out into the open before God, call them by their names, take sides with God against them, and forsake them. Yes, true confession involves forsaking of sins: “He who covers his sins will not prosper: but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Pro_28:13). 

When we do that, we can claim the promise that God is faithful and just to forgive. He is faithful in the sense that He has promised to forgive and will abide by His promise. He is just to forgive because He has found a righteous basis for forgiveness in the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. And not only does He guarantee to forgive, but also to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

The forgiveness John speaks about here is parental, not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgiveness from the penalty of sins, which the sinner receives when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called judicial because it is granted by God acting as Judge. But what about sins which a person commits after conversion? As far as the penalty is concerned, the price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. But as far as fellowship in the family of God is concerned, the sinning saint needs parental forgiveness, that is, the forgiveness of His Father. He obtains it by confessing his sin. We need judicial forgiveness only once; that takes care of the penalty of all our sins—past, present, and future. But we need parental forgiveness throughout our Christian life. 

“When we confess our sins, we must believe, on the authority of the word of God, that He forgives us. And if He forgives us, we must be willing to forgive ourselves.”

It seems that we have found a way to continue the sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law for dealing with our sins. Instead of sacrificing animals, we substitute our confession of sin for either receiving forgiveness of our sins or maintaining our fellowship with God. It is true that we are to confess our sins one to another (James 5:16) and that we are to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” but that is not what is being addressed here.

Referring back to the first idea that in order to maintain forgiveness of sins we must continually practice confession for that purpose, Hebrews challenges that idea. In Hebrews 9 we read:

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Heb 9:24-28 NASB)

And in Hebrews 10:

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.” (Heb 10:1-3 NASB)


“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Heb 10:10-14 NASB)

And finally:

“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,” He then says, “AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Heb 10:15-18 NASB)

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin,” NOT EVEN OUR CONFESSION!!!

Part 2 addresses what 1 John 1:9 really about…


About Fred Jeavons

God is my Father and I am His son!
This entry was posted in Problem Passages. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Trouble with I John 1:9 (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Bema Seat of Christ – Part 1 (You Mean We Get a Reward Too!) | His Life

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