All Christians generally agree that Jesus paid the high price for our sins by his blood but the disagreement has been the extent of this forgiveness (forgiven for only your past and present sins or for your past, present and future sins) and how humanity can enjoy this gift of forgiveness of sins.
Some say an unbeliever must confess his sins one after the other to be redeemed and after that he must continue to confess his sins whenever he errs. 1John 1:9 is the only New Testament verse of the Holy Scriptures that is used to support that belief.
Others say to be born again you only need to believe that Jesus shed his blood for you and confess Him as your Lord and Saviour and after that you keep confessing Jesus and all he has done for you in His finished work even when you fall into sin (Jn.3:16,18,36; Jn.5:24; Jn.6:29,35,40,47; Jn.8:24; Jn.20:29,31; Acts 4:4; Acts 8:12; Acts 10:43,45; Acts 11:17,21; Acts 13:12,39; Acts 15:7; Acts 16:31; Acts 17:11-12; Acts 18:8,27; Acts 19:4; Rom.1:16-17; Rom. 3:26-30; Rom.4:3,9,13,16,23-24; 1Cor.1:21; Gal.2:16; Eph.2:8 etc).
I like to categorize this believe systems for the sake of this study thus: Conditional Forgiveness Group and the Unconditional Forgiveness Group.
These both school of thoughts agree on the truth that Jesus Christ by his sacrifice has made remission or forgiveness of sins readily available but the means of receiving this forgiveness is the debacle. The main verse for this argument is 1John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [ESV]
In this study, I will only deal with the 1John 1:9 debacle and the issue of confession of sins. We will carefully and patiently see what John the beloved is saying here. In other studies I have done here we considered the extent of the believers’ forgiveness you can check that out also.
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
2 Timothy 2:15 is considered a basic verse for the interpretation of Scripture:
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. KJV.” The word “rightly dividing” there is orthotomounta in the original Greek language. It is a combination of two Greek words “orthos” (right) and “temno” (to cut).
The word is used in two places in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament. In Prov. 3:6 it is translated “direct thy paths” and in Jer. 36:23 “he cut it with the penknife”. So “cutting” and “dividing” are essential ideas of the original word.
Hear what a respected Bible scholar has to say about ‘Rightly Dividing’ “It shall greatly help ye to understand Scripture, if thou mark, not only what is spoken, or written, but of whom, and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstance, considering what goeth before, and what followeth.” – Miles Coverdale, the English Bible translator (1488-1569)
That is what we shall do now.
The Concept of Forgiveness in the Old Testament
I will begin this study by taking us to various Old Testament verses that shows vividly the means of receiving remission of sin – confession. Under the law your sins must be confessed and other requirements met for your sins to be remitted. So confession of sin is truly taught in scripture but in what dispensation? We shall find out.
5 when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed,
6 he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.
7 “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. Lev. 5:5-7 ESV
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat.
21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.
22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. Lev.16:20-22 ESV
40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me,
41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies-if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity,
42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. Lev.26:40-42 ESV
5 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
6 “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt,
7 he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. Num.5:5-7 ESV
let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. Neh.1:6 ESV
5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Psm.32:5 ESV
See more scriptures for more studies: Exo.23:21-22; Exo.32:31-35; Lev.4-6; Lev.19:19-22; Num.15:22-24,28; Deu.29:18-21; 1Kgs 8:47; 2Chr.6:21-39; 2Chr.7:14; Neh.9:2-37; Ps. 51:2-5; Prov.28:13; Isa.1:18-19; Dan.9:4-20
With all the scriptures here we can now see clearly that forgiveness of sins under the law was conditional. For anyone in the Old Testament to enjoy forgiveness he or she must confess and fulfill other conditions outlined in the laws of Moses.
The Concept of Forgiveness in the Gospels
Jesus had not offered himself yet as the one perfect offering for sin at this time so forgiveness was still conditional. Let’s look at some scriptures.
5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,
6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Matt. 3:5 ESV
5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Mark 1:5 ESV
See more scriptures for more studies: Matt 11:11-13; Matt.6:12-15; Mark 11:25-26
The Concept of Forgiveness in the New Testament
Now let us go through New Testament scriptures that speak about remission and forgiveness of sins. You will see a marked difference. The testament and testator has changed and the means of receiving forgiveness is also changed.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, Eph.1:7 ESV
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col. 1:14 ESV
Note the both verses above did not say we are going to have forgiveness after fulfilling some conditions, it says we have it already. We are not going to have it. We have it already. Jesus Christ fulfilled perfectly the conditions for it. Now we have it by his blood not our performance. Let us see more scriptures.
40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:40-43 ESV
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. Rom.4:7-9 ESV
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2Cor.5:18-19 ESV
You can see from these scriptures and many others that forgiveness of sin is by the sacrifice of Jesus not by confession. If we still choose to confess then we are going back to the law and have therefore fallen from grace (Gal.5:4).
It is now very clear that 1Jn.1:9 contradict the whole concept of New Testament forgiveness for sins but since the Holy Bible does not contradict itself it must mean something we need to find out patiently. For years we have been lazy to dig this out by simply reading contextually and rightly dividing.
Why the Difference
The forgiveness of sins has always been by the shedding of blood. The type of blood is what separates between the kind of forgiveness you will have and how you will have it. This is where some of us believers miss it. When you read your Bible you should find out what is said to you and what is not.
We are forgiven today by the shed blood of Christ and it was offered ONCE. His blood has covered for ALL sins. Forgiveness was given once and for all time. We are not told to beg God for forgiveness of sins in the New Testament. We have it already as a possession (Eph.1:7; Col.1:14).
Beloved, if you’re born again just receive and enjoy forgiveness for your sins. You have it already.
If you were in the Old Testament where you depended on the blood of Bulls and Goats for the remission of your sin then you know that you must confess and confess profusely to receive forgiveness that is not even perfect or complete.
Look at what the Scriptures has to say about Old Testament way of the remission of sins in comparison with the New Testament: Heb.10:1-4 and 11-14
1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?
3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Now read what Jesus did for us:
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
12 But when Christ2 had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
The Old Testament saints had to confess their sins constantly just as the sacrifice for sins then had to be regular. That’s why they suffered from sin consciousness. But today Jesus has once offered a one and forever perfect sacrifice for sin and sins. That one sacrifice has perfected us and we do not need anymore any other sacrifice for sin. Under the law everything was conditional, the forgiveness of sins inclusive but not under grace.
In the Gospels forgiveness of sins was still conditional. You must confess to be forgiven because Jesus had not yet shed his blood. But after the completion of the perfect sacrifice of the Christ the way of forgiveness became different but more pleasing and satisfying to God.
Let’s examine 1Jn.1:9
John’s Teaching on sin and Confession
As we go through the book of John we will discover very clearly that John believed and taught Unconditional Forgiveness of sins as clearly seen in other scriptures in the New Testament.
(1John 1:7 [ESV])
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 cleanses us from all sin.
(1John 2:1 [ESV])
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
(1John 2:12 [ESV])
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
(1John 4:10 [ESV])
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
What is Confession?
This word ‘’Confess” is greatly misunderstood today because of the extreme narrowing of it application in modern English. Today, it is usually used in a legal, or quasi-legal context, and deal with admitting or concealing criminal – or at least unsavory – conduct. This, however, comprises only a very minor part of classical and New Testament uses of the term.
Homologeo is the original Greek word for confession and it is traditionally translated “confess, profess, promise, and thank”. The literal meaning, from “homos”, “the same”, and “lego”, “to speak or to say”, was “to say the same thing as another, to agree, to acknowledge”.
The base word is ’’homou’’ and it means, ‘’together: of persons assembled together’’.
From the Greek which 1John was originally written, it simply means to say the same thing God says about your situation, in this case your sin. God says you are forgiven according to the riches of his grace, you simply agree, admit and affirm it by saying the same thing the word says. Together with God say what His word is saying about your sin instead of denying you do not have any sin.
Take time and read these verses (Mt.10:32, Lk.12:8, Jn.9:22, Rom.4:11, 10:9, 10:10, 15:9; Ac.24:14, Phil.2:11, Heb.4:14, 13:15; I Jn.4:2, 4:15; Mt.10:32, Lk.12:8, Rev.3:5) the word homologeo is what is what is used there and they all refer to acknowledging one’s identification with Jesus (not acknowledging your weakness and sorry state) or Christ’s affirmation of those who are his.
What John Taught about Confession
Let see from John’s writings what he believed and taught about confession.
(1John 4:1-2 [ESV])
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
(2John 1:7 [ESV])
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
You can see that John himself did not believe or teach the confession of sins. Even when he wrote about the woman caught in the act of adultery (Jn.8:10-11) he never told us where she confessed to be forgiven her sin of adultery. John must really have meant something we are not or have chosen not to understand. We are to confess Jesus and what he has done for us not sins.
A sick man is not to confess his sickness but healing, a broke man is not to confess his brokenness but riches and a man that falls in sin is not to confess his sin but his righteousness in Christ Jesus (Joel 3:10).
Did the Apostles Teach or Practice Confession of Sins
Reading through the New Testament you will discover that none of the Apostles taught or insinuated that forgives of sin is conditional or that we must confess our sins before we will be forgiven as 1John 1:9 seems to suggest.
See what the Apostles taught: Acts 10:40-43; Acts 13:38-39; Acts 26:15-18; Rom.4:7-9, 25; Rom.5:1; 2Cor.5:18-19; Eph.1:7; Col. 1:14; Col.2:13; Heb. 9:12, 26; Heb.10:10-12; 1Jn.2:1-2
So if none of the Apostles teach confession of sins how comes only John said it. If confession of sins is so important why do we have only one verse saying it in the New Testament? Could it be that we have misunderstood what John is trying to say? Could it be that all the other Apostles who taught forgiveness without the confession of sins are wrong? Or could it just be that at least for once have found a contradiction in the Holy Scriptures?
Who was John Talking To?
Everything in the Bible is written FOR you but not everything is written to you. So when you read find out what is written to you. Some scriptures are referring to the Jews, some to the believer and some to unbelievers (Isa 1:1; Jas 1:1; 1Pet 1:1; Eph.2:11-12; Rom.9:3-5)
He was talking to people who don’t have fellowship with God. He was talking to people who were not born again. Some have argued that the letter (1John) was written to the church and not to unbelievers. That is very true but you must also know that there are unbelievers in church then and even today (Gal.2:4; 2Pet.2:1; 1Jn.2:18-19; 1Jn.4:1-6) so John opened the letter by addressing this unbelievers.
John in verse 3 of his first letter invited these set of people to fellowship (that is to be born again).
3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
If they were already in fellowship with Christ he wouldn’t be inviting them to join them in koinonia (oneness, partnership, fellowship) with Christ.
And he began to really talk to believers in Christ in chapter 2. So see what he said to us believers from the very verse 1: (1John 2:1 [ESV])
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
We have diligently gone from the Old to New Testament to see how men enjoyed forgiveness of their sins. One thing has been made abundantly clear, under the law men had to confess their sins, but after the death burial and resurrection of Jesus the ground for forgiveness changed. It is now based on the work of Christ and not our works or confession.
For every believer in Christ you have forgiveness of all your sins. You are not to try to have it. You have it already as a present continuous possession. And unbeliever does not have this, he or she MUST be born again first to enjoy this perceive gift of forgiveness.
I must say it emphatically here that while it is ‘not wrong’ to confess your sin if you want to, we must not make it a doctrine and a compulsion for any believer. But you must also know that continuous confession of sin makes a believer sin conscious (Heb.10:1-4) instead of righteousness conscious.