Dear Radio Friends,
Have you confessed your sin? Do you confess your sin? Do you know whether you are forgiven all your sins?
The most difficult thing for any person to do is to confess his sin—to say, “I am a sinner”; to say to God, “I am a sinner and I need forgiveness and grace.” It is difficult enough for us to admit to one another that we are wrong and to ask for forgiveness. That is not easy, is it? How much more difficult to stand before God and confess your sin?
It takes a work of God’s grace and spirit in the heart and life of a person to bring him to the point where he, before God, truly confesses his sins. And if we truly confess our sins, we know that God has worked that in us by His grace. And we can be assured of forgiveness.
Today we are going to talk about confession of sins from I John 1. I want to read verses 8-10. These verses deal with both confession and denial of sin. Listen to God’s Word.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth 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. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
In this letter, John gives several marks or tests of genuine Christianity. And this is one of them: confession of sin. A person who denies that he is a sinner, in need of forgiveness, is not a genuine Christian. The person who confesses his sin is a genuine Christian.
In verses 8 and 10, John talks about the denial of sin. He says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Now, the question is: who says this? Who says, “We have no sin,” and “we have not sinned”? Well, in the early church to which John writes, there was a group of false teachers called the Gnostics, and this is what they were saying: “We have no sin; we have not sinned.” They taught a kind of sinless perfection. They did not like people to be talking about sin. They said that when the gospel comes, we have to get beyond talking about sin because sin is forgiven. Then, if you would ask, “Well, what about remaining sin, that is, the sin that we still have to deal with,” then they would say, “Oh, it’s good for you to experience sin. The more sin you experience and the deeper you fall into sin, then the greater your spiritual experiences will be; the better you will know the love and the grace and salvation of God. So,” they say, “we don’t need to talk about sin. It’s been forgiven and what remains of it is beneficial for us.”
It is surprising how similar that teaching is to what we face in our day, not only in the world of psychology but also in many evangelical churches. Nowadays, the word sin is taboo. One who uses it is thought to be judgmental. Every sin is viewed as a disease or an illness. Criminals do not need punishment, but rehabilitation. A person does not do bad things because he is a sinner, but because of circumstances or influences. What he needs is the opportunity to unlearn his bad behaviors. Any mention of sin is viewed as destructive. Everything must be tolerated—except intolerance.
Now, why is it that our society does not want to talk about sin? It is a part of the denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They say, “Don’t talk about sin, because we don’t need a Savior. What the Bible says about sin, about Jesus, and about His suffering for sinners, and about the justice of God, and about heaven and hell, those things aren’t true. We don’t want to hear them. Don’t talk about sin.” That is a denial of the gospel. “We don’t need the Savior. We are OK. Just leave us alone.”
In these three verses, John mentions three specific ways that one might deny the reality of sin. In verse 8, the word for sin is in the singular: “We have no sin.” The idea is that someone says that there is no such thing as sin. We, the human race, do not have sin. This is a denial of the sinful nature of man. It is a doctrinal denial of human depravity, a philosophy that says man is basically good and not evil.
Then, in verse 9, John uses the word sin in the plural: “our sins.” Now he is talking about sin from a personal point of view—actual sins that I have committed. Another way to deny sin is to deny that I have actually done something wrong.
Then, in verse 10, the denial of sin is put this way: “We have not sinned.” This person is not saying that we are not sinners. But he is saying that we don’t sin anymore. This person comes to the end of a day and he looks at what he has and has not done, and he says, “I have not sinned.” So this person does not pray for the forgiveness of sins. He believes that in his salvation and sanctification he has come to the point where he does not sin anymore.
Those are the ways to deny sin. Some say man is not sinful; others say, yes, man is sinful, but not I. There is no personal confession of sin. Then others will say, yes, I have sinned, but not lately—I’ve progressed to the point where I no longer sin.
When you deny sin, what are you doing? John says in verse 8, “We deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In other words, we believe a lie that we have made up ourselves. We refuse to see who we truly are before God. And when we do that, there is no room for the truth of God’s Word. We harden ourselves against hearing that we are sinners. How self-destructive that is. The person who deceives himself goes on in his sin, unaware that there is anything wrong.
In verse 10 we not only lie to ourselves, but we also lie against God. We charge God with being a liar. How? In two ways. First, we say that God is bearing false witness against us when He says in His Word that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and when He says that there is none righteous, no, not one. We say God is lying when He says those things. We say God’s Word is not true. But also, we make God a liar in what He says in the gospel and in sending His Son to die for sin. Why did Jesus come? Why did He die? The answer: for sin. If we have no sin, then God’s work of salvation was pointless and unnecessary. But, you see, Jesus had to come and die so that, rather than God punishing us for sin, He punished His Son. So you see that a denial of sin is a denial of the gospel. If you deny sin, then you do not believe in Jesus.
In contrast to that, true believers do not deny sin but confess it—verse 9, “If we confess our sins.” To confess is to agree with and say the same thing as another. Confession of sin implies that, in the Scriptures, God has spoken to us and about us. He has said in the gospel: “Man is a sinner. You have personal sins. You continue to sin. And you need the blood of My Son, Jesus Christ, for forgiveness. Confession is to agree with what God has said, to bow before His Word, to have the same view of ourselves and sin as God has. That is confession.
Now, let me point to some characteristics of true confession of sin.
This confession of sin is doctrinal, that is, we agree with the teaching of the Word of God that all are sinners, that man is inherently sinful and not inherently good. Verse 9 speaks of sin as corporate: our sins. Sin is a reality that describes the entire human race.
This confession of sin, to be true, is personal. When I say “our sins,” I am saying “my sins.” I am guilty of specific sins. Sin is not an abstraction, an idea, but a living reality. The person who confesses his sin stops comparing himself to others and he stands before God.
That means that a true confession of sin is humble. The more God makes you holy, the more unholy you will judge yourself to be. The more you know God and Christ, the more you will see sin. One who has never seen Christ never sees his sin. The one who is forgiven does not stop weeping over his sin. No, his mourning becomes deeper. In proportion to his knowledge of the love of Christ, his hatred for sin will grow.
So this confession is continual. We can never say with verse 10: “We have no sin,” or “I have no sin anymore.” No, every day we awake to this: “Today is another day of battling with sin.” And at the end of the day we lie down knowing and confessing: “Today again I have sinned. Lord, forgive me.” This should never be missing from our prayers.
This confession of sin is total. John talks about “sins” in the plural. That means all sins. The person who is truly repentant hates not just some or most of his sins, but all of them. True repentance is a turning of the heart as well as the life. It is repentance over inward as well as outward sin.
That confession is sincere. It is not just words, but it involves a change of life. A person who truly confesses his sin turns away from it. If a person confesses his sin and then willfully goes right back to it, his confession is not sincere.
True confession is also God-centered. Only when I stand before God will I really see my sin. David says in Psalm 51: “Against thee, thee only have I sinned.” We sin not just against people and before people, but before Almighty God.
And, finally, true confession is characterized by this, that it is Christ-centered, that is, it should bring me to Jesus Christ. That really distinguishes the confession of a believer from an unbeliever. In confession we do not just say, “I’ve done something wrong,” but “Lord, have mercy on me. Forgive my iniquities. Blot out my sins.”
If we confess our sins, He, that is, God, is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That is the promise in this verse to all who truly and sincerely confess their sin.
Now, what does John mean by the word “if”—If we confess? Does he mean that God waits to forgive us till we do something, till we confess? Well, it is true that God does not forgive all sin, that He only forgives confessed sin. But God does not wait on man. God’s grace is never dependent on man. No, God has already forgiven our sins before we commit them, because Jesus has paid the price already for our sin. Our confession does not merit forgiveness. Apart from grace, man could not confess his sin. So we must see that the word “if” in the Bible very often has a time-element. The idea is “when we confess our sins.”
And John is talking here not about when our sin is forgiven but about when we experience or come to know that we are forgiven. This is what he means: “When you confess, then you will know that you are forgiven.”
There are three things here in verse 9 that you will know.
First, you will know that God is faithful to forgive your sins. Faithfulness means that God is true to His Word and character, true to His promises and people. He is trustworthy. His Word is that He will forgive all who believe and confess. In Psalm 130, “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared…. Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” That is His Word. And He is faithful to it. All who sincerely come to Him in repentance are forgiven.
Second, you will know that God is just. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. That means that in His forgiveness He always remains just. He does not just brush sin aside, but He punishes it with death. Having already punished the sins of His people in Jesus Christ, He has freed Himself to forgive our sins and to show His mercy without doing any injury to the justice of His own character. Your comfort, as a believer, is this: that Jesus stood in your place and carried the weight of your sins. Because of that, you are forgiven. In fact, if Jesus paid for your sins and God did not forgive you, then God would not be just in forgiving sin. But the wonderful comfort of the gospel is that when Jesus laid down His life for His sheep, He paid for all their sins, so that none of them would have to perish under God’s wrath. In believing and confessing and repenting, we show that we are God’s sheep. We believe because we are of His sheep.
One more thing. As we confess our sins, God is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Here John does not have in mind the forgiveness of sins, but the cleansing of sanctification. All unrighteousness here refers to remaining sin and evil. That, too, is an important part of our assurance as believers, especially as we struggle with sin. God says, “You confess your sin and you’ll know my cleansing, sanctifying power. You see, if you are one of God’s elect, if you are one for whom Jesus died, if you are one in whom the Holy Spirit has worked, if you are one who knows and confesses your sin, then you are one in whom God has begun the irreversible work of His grace. And, as you confess your sins, God’s Spirit will work in you a true hatred for those sins and a true turning from them, cleansing you from all unrighteousness. That begins in our life now, and that will become perfect in heaven.
So, do you, today, confess your sinfulness, your personal sins, your present sins? May God humble us to do that and in that way give us to know forgiveness and to hate more and more our sin and flee from it.
Let us pray.
Lord, we confess our sins. We are sinful. We continue to sin. That sin is not just in what we do, but we find the principle and the power of sin working in us. And it is a constant reminder of how dependent we are on Thy grace. It humbles us, Lord. As we confess, give us the assurance of Thy forgiving grace. Like the publican who said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner,” may we go home knowing that we are justified and forgiven. And, Lord, humble us and break us where we refuse to see and confess sin. Humble us before each other and humble us before the gospel and the cross of Christ. We thank Thee for the sufficiency of His death in our place on the cross. Amen.