What about 1 John 1:9? Fourteenth and final part

Posted: Tue. Oct, 23 2018

1 John 1:5-10
5  This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.


What 1 John 1:9 means

We have now completed our bottom-up study of 1 John 1:9.

We have learned about the meaning of Greek words, examined logical relations for conditional sentences, and saw how subordinate clauses relate to the main sentence.

The findings from this Greek study support the following reading for 1 John 1:9:

If we [the real apostles and leaders] freely, openly, and publicly declare our sins, this shows (is grounds for concluding) that God is faithful and righteous, such that He would forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


The significance of 1 John 1:9

John wrote 1 John to a congregation in turmoil.  They were still reeling from the departure of a group of rogue preachers (John’s opponents) who left behind a legacy of false teaching and lies.  The people were very confused, to the point where they were questioning whether John’s apostleship was legitimate. As a result, they lost their assurance that they were saved and had eternal life.

So 1 John 1:9 is part of a court case where John is presenting evidence to his congregation about two groups of men, both claiming to be the authentic apostles and leaders.  One group is John’s circle of apostles and leaders. The other group is the opponents.

Now the congregation faced a crisis:  whom can they trust?

John presents evidence against the opponents by contrasting them with the real apostles and leaders.

John pointed out what the  leaders said and did.  This evidence would authenticate the real apostles while indicting the impostors.

In verses 6-10 of chapter 1, John makes one statement about the antichrists, and follows it up with a statement about the true apostles and leaders.  In other words, he alternates between the two, verse by verse.

The 9th verse presents evidence about the true apostles and leaders.

In the heat of the crisis, the apostles freely, openly, and publicly declared their sins.  The impostors refused to do that, since they taught that they were sinless.

The real apostles showed that God was faithful and righteous, while the antichrists made God out to be a liar.


The five alternative views of 1 John 1:9

In the first article of this series, I introduced five alternative interpretations of 1 John 1:9.  They are:

  1. It’s about the sanctification of believers.  Believers must continually confess all their sins in order to remain in fellowship with God, be forgiven of their sins, and thereby make progress in overcoming the flesh so as to grow spiritually.
  2. It’s a gospel message to unbelievers.
  3. It’s directed specifically to Jewish believers in an early Jewish Christian assembly.
  4. It provides the means for identifying true Christian leaders in contrast to false teachers.
  5. It describes Christian believers in contrast to any unbeliever.

Based on our study, we can eliminate 1-3 at the outset.

#1:  The letter of 1 John is not about sanctification.   The letter addresses the identification of false teachers, and the assurance believers are to have about their salvation.

#2: It’s not a gospel message to unbelievers. The gospel message says that you must believe in Christ to be saved - not that you must confess your sins.  

#3:  While it is true that John was an apostle to the Jews, there is no indication that the message of 1 John 1:9 is addressed to Jewish believers.

#5  is has more merit, but it does not fit the context in chapter 1.    The “we” in chapter 1 does not address all believers and unbelievers, but rather a subset: true apostles and false teachers.   John begins to address the Christian community (“you” in 1 John) in chapter 2.

The best alternative is number 4.  1 John 1:9 provides the means for identifying Christian leaders in contrast to false teachers.

The real Christian leaders will declare their sins, publicly if necessary, because they understand that the death of Christ is the one perfect and complete sacrifice for their sins.   God is faithful and righteous, having forgiven them of all of their sins, and having cleansed them from all unrighteousness. 


Implications for us

So what are we to take away from this verse of Scripture?  What does it mean for us, believers living 2,000 years after John wrote this letter?

It tells us that we have a right and even an obligation to test those who would teach us and oversee our assemblies.

Pastors and elders are to be examined for what we teach and how we act. While no man is perfect, a man must have achieved a certain degree of spiritual growth before he can be trusted as a leader. 

So you have every right to evaluate a pastor or an elder using the criteria we find in 1 John:

Do they say that they do not sin, or are they open about the fact that they sin?

Do they proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and that He has come in the flesh?

Do they teach that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah?

Do they teach that Jesus is the one perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins?

And that whoever believes in God’s Son as their Savior has eternal life?

Do they teach that Jesus is our one Advocate before the Father?

Does their life show that they love the brethren?


Critique of the “rebound” teaching

I cannot end this series without addressing a teaching that is called “rebound”.   It is one variety among several that teach that a Christian is out of fellowship with God when they sin.  In order to get back in fellowship with God, you have to first confess your sins.

This is a very popular (but damaging) line of teaching.

The rebound teaching says that we can be out of fellowship with God.  In fact, it happens every time we commit a sin.  We also lose something called the filling of the Spirit.

In this teaching, to be filled with the Spirit means to have the Spirit controlling you. The only way to get back in fellowship with God and be filled again with the Spirit is to confess our known sins privately to God the Father. 

The rebound teaching relies on a particular reading of 1 John 1:9 -

“If we name and cite our known sins privately to God the Father, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ”

There are several basic problems with this teaching.

  1.  This reading of 1 John 1:9 cannot be supported by the Greek text of the scripture.
    For one thing, homologeo does not mean to name and cite something privately to God the Father.  It means to declare something openly and publicly to other people.
    What’s more, the words “to God the Father” are not found in the Greek text.
  2.  We are not forgiven and cleansed when we confess our sins.  God has already forgiven us of all our sins, and we are completely clean by the blood of Christ.

    The leaders confessing their sins is evidence that God is faithful and righteous, such that He would forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  3. Confessing our sins does not allow the Holy Spirit to control us once again.

    Quite simply, the Holy Spirit is not even mentioned in chapter 1 of the letter of 1 John.  And throughout the rest  of the letter, the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry is featured, not his sanctification ministry.

    The passage that is cited to address the filling of the Spirit is Ephesians 5:18. However, there is no mention of confessing sins in this verse, this chapter, or indeed the entire letter to the Ephesians.
  4.  We do not get out of fellowship with God when we sin, nor do we get back into fellowship when we confess our sins.

    Nowhere in 1 John, or in the rest of the New Testament, is it written that a believer loses fellowship with God when he sins.

    In fact, there is no scripture that members of the body of Christ can lose fellowship with God at all.

    John and the other apostles are proclaiming the good news of eternal life to the audience so that they may have fellowship with the apostles.  The apostles, in turn, have fellowship with the Father and the Son.

    Fellowship in 1 John means sharing God’s life, eternal life. Eternal life is a gift from God and we cannot lose it.  Fellowship is not equated with having no unconfessed sin.

The final exam

John wrote chapter 1 of 1 John so that his flock could test the claims and credibility of his opponents.

But 1 John 1:9 also tests us.

The way we interpret and use 1 John 1:9 says a lot about our understanding of sin, the cross, grace, and forgiveness. It reveals the depth of our knowledge of Christ, and even how we see God.

Does 1 John 1:9 cause you to be grateful to God that your sins have been forgiven?  Or does it add the burden of confession in order to be forgiven?

Doesn’t God assure us in many passages of the epistles that He has already forgiven all our sins?  

All you have to do is turn to chapter 2:

1JO 2:12
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake.

Is the blood of Christ the all-sufficient sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins? Or do we have to add our confessions to that?

Why after all would God take the fickle volition of an unsteady soul that was not under the influence of the Spirit and make it the gatekeeper for His blessings to His child?

Doesn’t He tell us to pray at all times?  We couldn’t do that if we were continually bouncing back and forth between fellowship and loss of fellowship.

Haven’t we been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies? How could that possibly exclude complete forgiveness?

It does not!

EPH 1:3-8
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us.

Where you stand on 1 John 1:9 reveals where you stand with the grace of God.

The grace blessing of having our sins forgiven is not on the basis of confessing them but on the basis of believing in Him!

ROM 4:5-8
5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:




And on what does the Lord desire us to set our minds?  On sin?  God forbid.

COL 3:1-3
3 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

God forgave us all our transgressions when we were dead in them.

COL 2:13-14
13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

What more does God need to provide  before we will simply rest in the truth that in Christ all our sins have been forgiven?

And yet He does provide more:

COL 1:13-14
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

EPH 4:32
32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

HEB 10:8-18
8 After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, "BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,





He then says,



18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

An with that, this case is now closed.

This ends our series on 1 John 1:9.

Until the next time, we’re all ….


In His grip,

Pastor John

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