Joseph Prince (August-15-2021) Daily Devotional: Confession of Sin
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
A question I’m often asked about total forgiveness of sins is, What about the confession of sins spoken of in 1 John 1:9? Don’t we have to confess our sins in order to be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness?
I have shared on several occasions about my own past struggle with 1 John 1:9—to the point of obsession with trying to confess every sin and living so sin-conscious that I believed I had lost my salvation. For now, I want to share with you a fresh and powerful revelation that the Lord opened my eyes to at the time of this writing. In my study, He asked me to examine the word “sins” in 1 John 1:9 and to see if it is a noun or verb in the original Greek text. Are you ready for this?
In the two instances where we see the word “sins” in 1 John 1:9, it is the Greek noun hamartia that is used. According to well-known Bible scholar William Vine, hamartia (“a missing of the mark”) indicates “a principle or source of action, or an inward element producing acts . . . a governing principle or power.” In other words, it refers to the sin principle, or our sinful state on account of Adam’s sin. By using the noun form of this word, John was clearly not referring to our committing of individual acts of sin, or he would have used the verb form, hamartano.
In the light of this, can you see how 1 John 1:9 is not talking about confessing our sins every time we sin in thought or in deed? John was speaking of the need to acknowledge and confess to God that we are sinners because of Adam’s sin, as well as to receive the total forgiveness for all our sins through Jesus’ finished work.
How often do we need to do this? Only once. That’s why 1 John 1:9 is primarily a salvation verse, one that encourages the sinner to acknowledge and confess his sinful state or “sinnerhood,” get born again by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have his sinful state through Adam replaced with a new righteous state through Christ.
In the first chapter of 1 John, the apostle John was addressing the heretical Gnostic doctrine that did not subscribe to a belief in man’s sinful state. John was encouraging the Gnostics to confess their sinful state and receive the Lord’s complete forgiveness and total cleansing from all their unrighteousness through His finished work at the cross.
Now, what does John say then, about our committing of sins after we’ve become believers? Just two verses later in the second chapter of 1 John, John answers this question as he begins his address to believers: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). This time, the words “sin” and “sins” are the Greek verb hamartano. John is now referring to believers’ committing of sins—their sinful thoughts and deeds. What does John say regarding this? He reminds us that when we fail as believers, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.
Because of our Lord Jesus and what He has accomplished at the cross, we have forgiveness and we still stand righteous before God even when we’ve missed it. As the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian believers who had failed that they were still the temple of the Holy Spirit, John reminds us of who we are in Christ and Who we have representing us at God’s right hand.
Can you see that the Bible’s answer to overcoming sin is always to remind believers of their righteous identity in Christ? This is not to encourage us to sin but to encourage us to look to our Lord Jesus, to see our sins punished at the cross and to live victoriously and gloriously for Him. Remember, that is what true repentance is all about—turning to the cross and returning to His grace!
When you fail today, know that you can talk to God honestly about your failing, but do it with a revelation of the cross of our Lord Jesus. See your sins punished in His body and receive afresh His forgiveness and unmerited favor to reign over your sins.