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1 John 1:9 Meaning | Why Confess If We're Already Forgiven?

1 John 1:9 Meaning

Does a Christian need to confess their sins to be forgiven by God, according to the 1 John 1:9 meaning?

Confessing sins is an extremely popular practice in Christianity.

It all starts with the fundamental belief that if you’re a true Christian, you are forgiven:

Ephesians 1:7 ESV

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Of course, all Christians believe they have forgiveness. But then we get to this verse:

1 John 1:9 ESV

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Wait a minute. Why do Christians need to confess our sins if we have already been forgiven?

Here is What Mainstream Christianity Believes About the 1 John 1:9 Meaning

When Jesus died for us, and we then placed our faith in him, we obtained “positional forgiveness.”

Positional forgiveness is the ultimate forgiveness that we always have, no matter how many sins we commit after salvation.

It is our fixed position in which we’re cleansed from all sin, past, present, and future.

But when we get to 1 John 1:9, John is dealing with what mainstream Christianity calls “relational forgiveness.”

Relational forgiveness is something we get whenever we confess our current sins.

As Christians, we will sin on our journey. When we do, mainstream Christianity believes that our relationship with God is “hindered” or “broken.”

With this belief, God is literally waiting for us to confess so that He can give us “relational forgiveness.”

However, some even go further and believe that we “lose our salvation” because of sins at times. We don’t “get it back” until we confess.

So, they say we need 1 John 1:9 and confession in order to:

  • Restore our relationship with God. When they say “restore,” they kind of leave this open to interpretation. Perhaps they believe that your prayers are not heard that much, you won’t experience blessings, or that God is simply angry until you confess.

  • Be forgiven. “Relationally,” not “positionally.”

  • Some say to get resaved.

In summary, they say that sinning doesn’t break that positional forgiveness but the relational forgiveness.

I partially commend those who have made this conclusion because they’re trying to reconcile 1 John 1:9 with the rest of scripture that clearly says we’re forgiven.

However, I think this is a widespread view about forgiveness in the church that does more harm than good.

First, there is no scripture for this “positional” and “relational” forgiveness view. It is simply a theory to explain 1 John 1:9 with no other clear scriptures to back it up.

Second, breaking the concept of forgiveness up into positional and relational is kind of splitting hairs.

When the disciples boldly said that we are forgiven, are we really going to say they were thinking of only “positional” forgiveness, and we still have to ask for “relational” forgiveness?

Or were they simply thinking of forgiveness and that there’s no need to split hairs and make this matter more complicated?

Third, this view goes against the blood-only method of forgiving sins:

Hebrews 9:22

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The writer explains that only blood brings forgiveness. And because of Jesus’ one-time sacrifice of himself, we have eternal forgiveness.

Therefore, to me, we cannot say that confessing our sins or apologizing to God for them brings forgiveness because only blood does.

Now, a person who believes in the difference of “positional” and “relational” forgiveness would say that Hebrews 9:22 is referring to positional. Only the blood makes us right positionally.

To them, the concept looks like this:

Hebrews 9:22 and mostly every other scripture about forgiveness

Positional forgiveness obtained by blood.

1 John 1:9

Relational forgiveness obtained by confessing.

But Hebrews 9:22 makes no distinction between two different “types” of forgiveness, and it’s more logical to view this concept the way the early Judeo-Christians would have seen it - blood being the only way to be forgiven of all sin and to be justified in God’s sight.

The Jews and early Christians did not believe that they got right by the shedding of blood but then had to apologize to God to make their relationship with Him good again.

The process of forgiveness was complete after the shedding of blood, period.

The Earthly Father Connection?

It’s often believed that we need to confess to restore the relationship because this is how it works with our earthly fathers.

When you were a teenager, perhaps you sinned against your dad, making him furious for days.

And maybe your dad had already forgiven you because he said he was going to love and forgive you unconditionally on the day you were born.

However, he was still mad for days, and things between the two of you were awkward and a bit broken.

It wasn’t until you confessed to him that what you did was wrong, apologized, and changed your ways that the relationship was fixed.

This sounds convincing, but is this really how it is with God?

Sure, our relationship with God can be likened to our connection with our earthly dads in some ways, but not in this way.

While it is true that our earthly dads might cross their arms and not speak to us for days after we sin, our heavenly dad is not like this. He’s better.

Humans often do not forgive until the offending person redeems themselves (confess, apologize, make amends, etc).

Dads are still human.

But if we only grant forgiveness when the person apologizes, that’s not Godly forgiveness. That’s earned forgiveness based on works, not grace.

When we sin against God, He is grieved (Eph. 4:30). But where sin abounds, grace abounds much more, and He sees the blood that has been applied to our lives (Rom. 5:20).

I believe we can see this in the story of the Prodigal Son. The father did not re-accept the son only when he confessed.

No, the father embraced the son and ran to him before he even said anything! He wasn’t refusing to talk to him until the son made the first move.

Before the son could fully confess, the father was already putting his royal clothes on him.

The Alternative View About 1 John 1:9

At this point, let me introduce an alternative view about 1 John 1:9.

In order to understand the verse, you have to understand the context and the whole letter.

1 John 1:1-4 begins by making a strong observation that the disciples have physically seen, heard, and touched God. God was literally walking among them in the flesh.

He then says this:

1 John 1:3

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.

It is clear that John is writing this portion to people who might not really be saved.

Scholars believe that the early church was a melting pot. Not everyone who hung around the church believed the truth.

There were many strange and conflicting beliefs. Some of which were Gnostic in nature.

Two big Gnostic beliefs in the early church were:

  1. There is no such thing as sin.

  2. God did not come in the flesh because flesh is too evil for God to dwell.

It appears that John is combating the second belief in 1 John 1:1-4. He is stressing that we’ve seen and touched God because He did come in a body.

He then addresses the first belief:

1 John 1:8-9

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

People who say that there is no such thing as sin cannot believe that they need deliverance from that sin and, therefore, cannot be saved in that state.

They have to believe that they do have sin and confess it, and then they step into salvation and forgiveness.

Therefore, 1 John 1:9 does not apply to you, a believer who has already confessed their sin and received forgiveness.

It was not written as a formula for a saved Christian to keep each time you make a mistake.

It was written to people who do not believe they have sin and who believe that God did not come in the flesh.

This concept gets clearer as we read on:

1 John 2:1

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.

Notice how John seems to change his tone a bit and now is addressing people who are saved (“little children,” not people who do not have “fellowship”).

He says if Christians do sin, they already have an advocate, Jesus, whose blood was the propitiation for that sin (verse 2).

He continues:

1 John 2:12

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.

He then makes a distinction between the saved and the unsaved (those who need to confess):

1 John 2:22-23

22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

The people who were denying the bodily incarnation of the son needed to confess, not the little children who did believe.

This is why context matters and why everyone should read more than just the one verse they’re building a whole doctrine out of.

Now, hear me out. I’m not the “confession police.” If you want to confess your sins to God or others and apologize for them, go ahead.

While I don’t think that confessing your sins, in and of itself, is necessarily a bad thing, I do think that if a saved Christian does it in order to be “right” again or to “restore the relationship” between them and God, this is a harmful, incorrect belief that should be corrected.

I think that’s a more scriptural, logical way to see 1 John 1:9.

But what do you think? Let me know!




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