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Seeing the Beauty of God's Mercy in "If We Confess Our Sins" (1 John 1:9)

Aaron D'Anthony Brown

Contributing Author
Updated Jun 29, 2022
Seeing the Beauty of God's Mercy in "If We Confess Our Sins" (1 John 1:9)

Only if we confess our sins, through this process of renewal and accepting Christ’s righteousness, can we enter fellowship with God (1 John 1:6), and it is by knowing Christ more and more that we are able to live this way.

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

The concept of confession forgiveness recurs throughout Scripture and is important for Christians to know and experience deeply. Our struggle with sin requires us to seek forgiveness from one another, ourselves, and most importantly, from God.

We confess our sins, our faults, our wrongs to one another, and to God. Once we confess, Scripture says God will forgive. And when we confess to others, whether or not they choose to forgive us, God, through Christ’s work on the cross, takes our guilt and shame away.

The definition of confession is the “acknowledgment or disclosure of sin or sinfulness.” When we confess we acknowledge that something we did was wrong and deserving of correction. However, confession is not limited to simply acknowledging wrongdoing. Confession does not mean admitting fault without changing. Change is necessary. The author of this verse is aware of such truth and indicates this in the larger context of the passage.

What Does 'If We Confess Our Sins' Mean?

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

We read this verse within the very first chapter of 1 John, who also authored 2 & 3 John, the Gospel of John, and the Book of Revelation.

John was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. He and his brother James worked as fishermen with their father Zebedee before leaving to follow Christ (Mark 1:19-20). John in his own ministry went on to write five books of the Bible, making him one of the Bible’s more prolific writers.

In this particular passage of 1 John 1, John begins with a declaration about faith. What he and other fellow believers of Christ experienced have been revealed (1 John 1:2). In his admissions, John wants to be a witness to others and share the gospel with them (1 John 1:3). God is real. Christ is real. Not only that, but John’s relationship to both has been established. Through fellowship he can then guide other believers on the same path. And John makes clear that he wants to do just that because he wants everyone to find their own “joy” through this faithful fellowship (1 John 1:4).

John continues in the passage to identify what fellowship with God means. He says, “If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth” (1 John 1:6). In contrast John adds, “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” (1 John 1:7). Therefore, fellowship with God does not mean that John or anyone else is without sin, but rather that they are cleansed of their faults.

At the end of the passage, John emphasizes that everyone has sinned and to proclaim anything different is a lie (1 John 1:10). Before this final note, John makes clear in the ninth verse that when we are honest about our sins, God washes them away. He says “If we confess our sins,” leading to the implication that without practicing honesty, God will not forgive us.

We cannot seek forgiveness for something we do not truly see as wrong.

The purpose of confession is a changed heart, a person who receives forgiveness from God, and strives to change. Only through this process of renewal and accepting Christ’s righteous can we enter fellowship with God (1 John 1:6), and it is by knowing Christ more and more that we are able to live this way.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

Why Should We Confess Our Sins?

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

The allusion in John’s words is that honesty is key. When we practice honesty in our fellowship with God, we acknowledge Him as righteous and ourselves as unrighteous or flawed.  This allows for Him to right our wrongs.

This verse does pose a larger question, however. Why does John want us to confess our sins? Or rather why does God want us to confess our sins?

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

This verse is one of many that pinpoints for Christians the consequences of sin. Sin distances us in our relationship with God. Sin involves doing something that offends Him and potentially other people.

When we live a lifestyle of practicing these behaviors we forfeit our inheritance of the Kingdom. However the Bible acknowledges that everyone struggles with sin (Romans 3:23). Therefore, following God requires us to strive toward putting sin completely behind us. “Those who practice such things” are those invested in a lifestyle that leads to death (Galatians 5:21).

When we choose instead to invest into God, we will not be free of sin completely, but our relationship to sin changes. The Joy that John mentions in his verse is something we seek to receive from God instead of from sin.

God’s Everlasting Forgiveness

The fellowship that John describes in 1 John 1 is something God invites us into. We do not have to remain tied to sin and can instead seek the Lord’s forgiveness as we work to align our heart with His.

“God in His loving and merciful nature is abundant with forgiveness. Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

There is seemingly no limit to God’s forgiveness for our behavior. This should all the more encourage us to behave in the ways John writes about. God is not punitive, mostly concerned with exacting consequences for our wrongdoings. Instead, God’s love is more present than His wrath. His mercies are new every single day. If all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, then we know that everyone struggles and on a daily basis.

God has forgiveness for our actions each day.

That forgiveness starts with confession, and after we confess we work to change. We can rest confident that God will handle the rest. Confessing our sins is an important part of Christianity. It's often neglected in churches today, but the Bible asks us to do it. We can rest assured that this has been practiced by the saints since the beginning of the church and that God wants us to come to him, even when we mess up and go astray.

A Prayer to Confess Your Sins

Gracious Lord, give us the courage to seek forgiveness. Remind us that confession is never a mistake; it frees us from the chains of the enemy. We know we cannot hide our hearts from you. Help us to let go of our bitterness and fear, and purify us with the knowledge that you have taken away every sin. In your name, Amen.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Tonktiti

aaron brown profile pic bioAaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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