We have seen previously:

That walking in the light means knowing and acknowledging that we are sinners who sin. This knowledge comes from God’s truth, God’s word (1:8, 10).

That walking in the light means that we know that the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from sin (1:7).

John is addressing the perennial problem of sin in Christian believers, a problem that has caused not only much theological debate and controversy, but also, and more relevant to most of us, much personal heart-searching, guilt and fear.

John has no false delusions about Christians ever reaching a state of ‘perfection’ or ‘eradication of sin’. Indeed he says that to claim such removal of sin is to deceive oneself, make God a liar, and demonstrate that neither the truth nor God’s word is in us.

The opposite of this self-deception in denying sins, is confessing our sins (1:9). Our automatic understanding when we see ‘if we confess our sins’ is to picture ourselves verbally presenting God with an itemized list of our various sins, and hoping that we have remembered them all. People call it ‘keeping short accounts with God’, and recommend a daily personal owning up to specific sins, when we come to God daily in prayer. [In some groups ‘confession’ of personal sins to the group is required.] People tell us that only the sins we thus individually ‘confess’ to God, are forgiven, and that really bothers us. It takes away the joy and peace that the gospel is supposed to give us.

However, the word ‘confess’ does not mean to ‘present a list of’ sins. It means to ‘acknowledge’ – homologeo. This word is used:

By Jesus when he said: ‘Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:32).

By Paul: ‘That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Romans 10:9).

And also by John later in his letters, in relation to acknowledging Jesus Christ:

‘...every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God’ (1John 4:3).

‘If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God’ (1John 4:15).

‘Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world’ 2John 7).

Just as walking in the light, living by the truth, involves acknowledging both the deity and the humanity of Jesus Christ, so walking in the light, living by the truth, involves acknowledging oneself to be a sinner who sins.

It is only people who thus walk in the light who have fellowship with the Father, with the Son and with each other, and it is only these same people, whose sins are forgiven. So John gives us two parallel statements:

‘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, purifies us from all sins’ (1John 1:7).

‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1John 1:9).

Did you notice the comprehensive nature of the forgiveness of our sins: the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sins. God, in his faithfulness and justice, forgives our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness. Not, as some people would tell us, for only the sins we have named, but for ‘all’ sins, 'all' unrighteousness. This forgiveness, this cleansing, is not something that we to seek again and again so that our most recent sins will be forgiven. Forgiveness is not something that is on/off, on/off, as we tell God our various sins. Rather, is something that we have, something that we possess, in Jesus Christ, and it is something that is total and comprehensive.

‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’ (Ephesians 1:7).

‘in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’ (Colossians 1:14).

‘He forgave us all our sins’ (Colossians 2:13).

Forgiveness is not just something God has done through Christ, it is something he has given us in Christ. As long as we have Jesus Christ, we also have forgiveness.

John explains it this way:

‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1John 2:1,2).

This is the truth to which the faithfulness and justice of God mentioned in 1:9 refers: God, is faithful to the promises he had made concerning the death of Christ for our sins; God is just, in that he is not going to hold against us sins for which Jesus Christ has already paid the full penalty. He sent Christ to die in our place so that we could be forgiven, and he is faithful and just in holding to that purpose and that promise: that all who believe in his Son receive complete acquittal.

Walking in the light means walking with this grand and humbling assurance: that our sins, past, present and future, have been legally dealt with, once-for-all, by the death of Jesus Christ. If we have acknowledged him, we have also received, in him, this amazing, totally unmerited, forgiveness.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021