1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Click here to watch my full sermon explanation of 1 John 1:9 (37 minutes, HD)

Or Short Youtube clip explanation (1:47sec).


Is this verse referring to someone who is saved or yet to be saved?

This is a very important distinction. If it’s speaking to a believer then it means when we sin we become unrighteous again until we confess our sins and are forgiven of them again. If that is true then Jesus dying on the cross didn’t properly deal with all our sins. I don’t know about you but I believe that the Cross was powerful and effective enough to deal with all of our sins!

The book of 1 John was written to believers but was written to address the real error of Gnosticism which was infiltrating the early church. If you research Gnosticism you’ll find out that it was a false teaching going around which denied that Christ suffered in the flesh for mankind and it denied the existence of sin. The church John was writing to had these false brothers in the church who were actively trying to deceive people. (See 1 John 2:18-27. Especially vs 26 “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.”)

From 1 John 1:6 to verse 10, John is addressing people who don’t believe in the existence of sin. They are therefore considered to be “walking in darkness” or a lie and are therefore not saved.

Two key verses that show us this context are:

1 John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

1 John 1:10 “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

If you don’t believe in the existence of sin you cannot be born again. Your belief undermines the Gospel by removing a need for a savior. If there is no sin then there is no need for a savior. Why would you call upon a savior that you don’t believe you need? If you don’t believe in sin then you don’t believe you need the blood of Jesus to cleanse you from sin. This is the description of those who are walking in the darkness of a lie. If they were to come into the light by confessing or acknowledging their sin then the blood of Jesus would cleanse them of that sin as verse 7 and 9 explain:

1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Notice how both verses say that we are cleansed from “all” sin. This is because in the New Covenant being cleansed of sins is a once off act. It’s not an ongoing act as in the Old Covenant. In the Old Covenant the blood of bulls and goats were continuously offered and could only cover sins but in the New Covenant the blood of Christ was offered once for all and it removes sins! (Hebrews 10 explains all this.)

Hebrews 10:10 says that through the blood of Jesus we have been made holy once and for all.

Hebrews 10:12 says that Jesus offered one sacrifice for all sins for all of time.

In others words Christ’s one sacrifice was enough to completely remove all you sins for all of time.

His sacrifice was superior to the Old Covenant sacrifice in that it doesn’t need to keep being offered in order to keep covering sins. It was offered once to completely remove sins!

That is why 1 John 1:7 and 9 are clear references to someone who is not born again, that if they would acknowledge their sin and their need for a savior then God is faithful to forgiven them and cleanse them of, not just their past sins, but all of their past and future sins once and for all time!

That is why chapter 2:1 says that if you do sin you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. An advocate is someone who speaks on your behalf and pleads your innocence. Christ is the perfect one to do this for us because in Him we have become perfect, and His blood has removed all our sin for all time, therefore no sin can ever be counted against us. We have a new legal status in Christ that says “not guilty”, “not condemned” and He is our advocate and our defense that pleads our legal status – even if we do still sin! Of course this doesn’t mean it’s ok to feel free to go and sin. The first part of the verse says “I write this to you so that you don’t sin, but if anyone does sin we have an advocate…”

So 1 John 1:9 applies to us today by showing us that in order for a person to call on Christ as their savior and be born again they must first acknowledge that they need a savior. Once they do that then He is faithful to forgive them and cleanse them of all unrighteousness.

It applies to us by showing us that in order for a person to come out of darkness and lies they must see the truth of themselves and of Christ.

It applies to us by showing us that it’s not ok to just consider everyone a brother or sister since those who walk in the darkness have yet to come into Christ and become a brother or sister. We must help them come into Christ by showing them truth and not to agree with them in their deception.

So when you do proper hermeneutics of 1 John 1:9 it becomes abundantly clear that it is not to be applied to a believer saying they have to be continually forgiven and cleansed of sin, since this completely undermines the very heart of the Gospel and the sacrifice of Christ. But it is to be applied to unbelievers who don’t believe in sin and therefore do not cry out to a savior to forgive and cleanse them of all sin.

Lets be responsible with Bible interpretation so that we don’t put people under the Old Covenant but help them walk in the wonderful freedom and power of the New!

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