The belief I am addressing concerns whether or not I John 1:9 has any bearing upon a Christian’s life, or whether these verses were intended for an entirely secular audience.
Considering I John 1:9
Now there are many different takes on 1 John 1:9, the following are the most prevalent:
- 1 Jn. 1:9 was not written to Christians but to Gnostics.
- 1Jn. 1:9 was written to Christians who were being influenced with a Gnostic distortion of the gospel.
- 1 Jn. 1:9 was written to Christians.
Now to be fair, there is in fact a “sub-group” of those who believe it was only intended for the specific Christians John was writing and therefore has no bearing on the rest of the Christian church worldwide – throughout time.
This of course begs the question – “Then why did God see to it that it was included it in the canon of Scripture?”
In my experience this later view is not well known and has even worse credentials for supporting it than any of the others above, so we will not address that view directly.
Now, that John was here writing to a group of Christians who were being seduced into false doctrines seems most likely to me. Almost without question, it was the doctrine of Docetism that he was confronting.
[I know they are big words, and I can already sense a number of people are checking out mentally and in all honesty I don’t blame you. Nevertheless, I beg you PLEASE, stick it out and you will find it was well worth your while to press through the theological mumbo-jumbo (Yes that’s a real word).]
Believe it or not, Docetism (and Gnosticisim) are still very much alive today and variations of these doctrines are taught from pulpits and TV media. Oprah Winfrey’s points of view are largely a new form of Gnosticism (or Neo-Gnostic teaching). Furthermore, this very view that I John 1:9 was only written to a particular flavor of Christian as mentioned last above, is in part a Gnostic approach to interpreting this verse.
So, let’s explain some pivotal truths first, and then we will proceed with our study.
What is Gnosticism and Docetism and is it addressed in the Bible?
2,000 years ago there were several versions of the Docetic and Gnostic beliefs, but the one we will focus on here was the one being addressed by John, in this epistle of 1 John. I believe that the audience of this 1st epistle, was being deluded predominantly by a Docetic doctrine, not a Gnostic doctrine.
In brief this was the thought that all flesh was inherently evil and that all spirit was inherently good.
Following this notion to it’s fullest natural conclusions you get…
- A gospel void of the body and blood of Jesus (because flesh is inherently evil, therefore Christ could not become flesh – John 1:14).
- A gospel which lacks promise of physical redemption and resurrection (flesh IS evil and therefore cannot be redeemed – Rom. 8:23).
- A gospel which teaches that sin is normal for the flesh and was never intended to be eradicated by the work of Christ, since there is no redemption for the flesh anyway – Rom. 8:3.
- Sin is not possible for the “redeemed” because they are spirit (This is dangerous because there is some truth to this See I Jn. 3:9 & Rom. 7:16-21. These verses actually refer to the Christian PRODUCING sin from their core nature. This of course cannot happen, because once born again, the seed of Christ remains in us as we cannot PRODUCE sin. Therefore when we sin it is no longer us who produce it..meaning our spirit..but it comes from our flesh).
- The flesh will do terrible things, but that has nothing to do with the Christian themselves, so there is no need to deal with sin in the flesh.
On the other hand Gnosticism teaches that it is through the revelation of “special” knowledge (Gnosis) that one contemplates the Divine and ascends to the Divine nature.
They believed that the material world is evil, and so is its Creator. So it follows that since the Bible teaches that the world was created by God then, accordingly the Gnostics teach that God is evil. They teach that the “True God” presides over the spiritual universe. According to Gnostics, our souls became trapped in the evil material world and therefore we must seek the special secret knowledge (gnosis) that allows us to escape from the material world (hell) to the spiritual plain (heaven). In particular, we have to understand that the “god” traditionally worshipped as the Creator(-s) is(are) the ultimate false god(-s), and that therefore Jesus would be the very incarnation of evil.
Nothing in the first chapter indicates a Gnostic audience and only a few references later in the letter could.
The Danger of a Little Leaven
All false doctrine has its roots in truth, which is what makes it believable! Just like rat poison, false doctrine does not need much error to be deadly.
Consider this… How many grains of sand would I have to put into a jar of honey to make it not 100% pure honey?
How much leaven (yeast) does it take to raise a whole lump of dough? – (the metaphor Jesus used in His teaching for the false doctrine of the Pharisees – Matt. 16:6-12; Gal. 5:7-9).
Not to make too much use of examples, but this is a very clear illustration of the dangers of a small deviation from true and sound doctrine…
In a ship’s navigation, all it takes to leave New York heading for Portugal, Spain only to arrive at Western Sahara, Africa is a small percentage of a degree. The further you follow that line, the greater the distance from your intended destination!
Today there are those who believe that because Jesus did in fact, deal with sin once for all on the cross (Heb. 7:27; Heb. 9:12; Jude 1:3) there is, no need to come to Him for forgiveness of individual sins once you are born again. While the doctrine of sin being paid for ONCE FOR ALL is 100% correct, the conclusion that this means forgiveness is unnecessary, is false.
Let me interject here that any interpretation of scripture, which is not straight forward and obvious, but has to be looked at a certain way in order for it to make any sense, is (in my opinion) immediately suspect.
To be certain, passages which are difficult to understand exist. The true litmus test of accurate interpretation of scripture is – does it agree with the whole of what scriptures teach on the given subject.
In my opinion, the only reason for belief in another interpretation of 1 Jn. 1:9, other than the one which has been accepted throughout the last 2,000 years of history, is in order to preserve a pet doctrine, which needs protecting because it cannot stand on its own.
I say these words with no animosity intended. In fact, I speak from experience. I have done the same thing and so I recognize the symptoms.
Three Important Questions:
So to create a logical framework and flow for this study, let us approach each of the following questions in order:
- Are the people mentioned in 1 Jn. 1:7-10 Christian Docetics (or Gnostics)?
- Are they Docetics (or Gnostics) who are simply “professing” Christianity, but are not truly born again?
- Does it apply to real Christians of any era, regardless of a belief in Docetism or any other individual beliefs or doctrines beyond those necessary for salvation?
Are the people mentioned in 1 Jn. 1:7-10 Christian Docetics (or Gnostics)? The answer is almost certainly YES! Although, it cannot be confirmed (as far as I know) with 100% certainty, it does provide us with the most viable reason for why John addresses some of the issues he does in this letter (especially in the first chapter) and why he outlines specific points in his introduction. As far as I am aware, there are no note-worthy scholars who are divided on this point. It seems virtually certain, that these people were being influenced by those who held Docetic beliefs.
During the first century, the Essenes were still prevalent throughout the Asian province of Rome, and this epistle is generally believed to have been addressed to the churches within Asia. Perhaps they were the same 7 churches of Asia addressed in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. In any case, it is possible that this influence towards Docetism came through the Essenes.
Are they Docetics (or Gnostics) who are simply “professing” Christianity, but are not truly born again? This is a key question, which I believe both John and the entire Bible make clear. There are absolutely NO biblical writings (with the possible exceptions of Luke & Acts) which were addressed to people outside of the covenants of God. Luke was indeed writing to Theophilus, but whether or not he was already a believer is uncertain. The only thing we know for sure is that Theophilus was already instructed concerning the person and doctrines of Jesus prior to the writing of Luke.
“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” Luke 1:1-4
- In the Old Testament, the writings are to and about the Jewish nation.
- In the New Testament, they are to the church (whether predominately Jewish or not).
Though the Gospels also served a secondary purpose (which John mentioned at the end of his gospel Jn. 20:30,31), their primary purpose was to preserve an accurate account of key truths and points of Jesus’ earthly life, lineage and ministry for the church born after the demise of those who walked with Him.
So even if we looked no further, than using the testimony of the 63 “other books” of the Bible (66..minus Luke, Acts & 1 John), I would say we are on crazy good ground to assume those being addressed in this epistle are in fact genuine Christians.
To go a little further on this point requires that we read further into the epistle…
Perhaps the 1st glimpse at a Christian audience is found in chapter 1 verse 7. John offers no further proofs of being in union with God, than the actions of these people. John knew, that actions alone do not save. In fact, all actions can do is affirm a current reality of being born again – it cannot create that state!
His statement to them was as follows…(definitions added)
If you walk (or conduct yourselves) in the light (revealed truth) 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.
We need to take this verse as it is written, AND realize, that in the 6 verses prior to this statement, there is no invitation to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus and enter into relationship with the Father through Him. This SEEMS to point to the idea that those to whom John was writing, were already in a position to have fellowship, so long as they were not walking in disobedience to the light.
Also a key point is that the word sin here is NOT referring to known sin but sins of omission.
“To forgive” (in 1Jn 1:9) is hina aphēi, “in order that He may forgive.” Aphēi is second aorist subjunctive, speaking, not of a process, but of a single act here. In 1:7 we have durative action, “keeps on continually cleansing,” referring to the constant cleansing of the saint from the defilement of sins of ignorance by the blood of Jesus. These are habitual in the life of the believer. But sins we confess, as in 1:9, are not habitual… These sins for which confession is required are infrequent, isolated instances in the well-ordered life of a believer. Therefore, the aorist tense is used here, speaking of a single act of forgiveness.”
This idea agrees with the statement Paul made to the Corinthian believers,
2 Cor. 6:11-18,
(11) We have spoken frankly to you, Corinthians. Our hearts are wide open.
(12) We have not cut you off, but you have cut off your own feelings toward us.
(13) Do us a favor-I ask you as my children-and open wide your hearts.
(14) Stop becoming unevenly yoked with unbelievers. What partnership can righteousness have with lawlessness? What fellowship can light have with darkness?
(15) What harmony exists between Christ and Belial, or what do a believer and an unbeliever have in common?
(16) What agreement can a temple of God make with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said: “I will live and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
(17) Therefore, “Get away from them and separate yourselves from them,” declares the Lord, “and don’t touch anything unclean. Then I will welcome you.
(18) I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters,” declares the Lord Almighty.
It is clear that Paul sees the Corinthians as genuine believers and that an “uneven yoke” for them would be to commune with unbelievers. If in fact light can have no fellowship with darkness, and those mentioned in 1 Jn. 1:7 were not even born again, how could simple external alignment with the teaching of God (walking in the light) cause the genuine fellowship John promises his readers? The word “fellowship” used in verses 3,6&7 means “to have joint-participation with someone else in things possessed in common by both,”. It means partnership with, participation, communion…fellowship. This is NOT available to a person so long as they are a non-believer.
I am aware that there are loop hole arguments which “could” stand against this, but I am looking to reveal a very straight forward and obvious understanding of these verses. This is a reasonable approach, because one would have a hard time arguing a position which requires these passages to be anything BUT straight forward, ESPECIALLY if the audience were not even born again. If one is lost, simple speech which is direct and easily understood, would be the most effective approach. So just consider this 1st point as a possible brick in the structure of this position.
There is also the fact that John continually refers to these people as unified with himself, by the use of the words “we” “us” “our” and “ourselves”, with the exception of verse 6, which is clear in the Greek. “If we say” is a deliberative subjunctive, proposing a hypothetical case. John puts the case as a supposition, not an assumed fact. He deals gently and humbly with his readers, including himself in the statement. The claim of this hypothetical person is that he is having fellowship with God, while in fact he is not. It is here that John is addressing Docetism directly. He is warning these believers that if anyone comes to them claiming joint participation with God and yet conducts the whole of their earthly life-style patterned after the darkness of this world they are NO children of God – therefore, do not follow them.
Let’s examine these pronouns by which John identifies himself as one with and among those he is addressing.
(7) But if we keep living 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 do not have any sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we make it our habit to confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us those sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we say that we have never sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
If we are to take John’s words as they are written, we must conclude that he sees these people as genuinely born again or himself as being lost. However, even if he did not see them as Christians, he includes himself in the statements concerning sin, confession, being deceived and the Word not being at home within him, under the conditions stated. Certainly we must believe that John was born again, yet he was clearly not exempt from these statements, by his own admission.
Furthermore, in 1 John 1:12-14 he refers to the same people as…
- Little children your sins are forgiven you for His Names sake.
- Fathers, you have known (intimate knowledge) Him Who is from the beginning.
- Young men, you have overcome the wicked one (See I Jn. 5:4, 5).
While there is a clear transition in tone when we arrive at chapter 2 verse 1, there is NO transition from one AUDIENCE to another indicated in the Greek. It is only that John moves from a formal address to an endearing one.
Smith says: “Observe the sudden change in the apostle’s manner. His heart is very tender toward his people, and he adopts an affectionate and personal tone: (1) he passes from the formal ‘we’ to ‘I.’ (2) He styles them ‘my little children’ . . . his favorite appellation (compare 2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21)…
“He assumes this tone because he is about to address a warning to them, and he would fain take the sting out of it and disarm opposition. He foresees the possibility of a two-fold perversion of his teaching:
(1) ‘If we can never in this life be done with sin, why strive after holiness? It is useless; sin is an abiding necessity.’
(2) ‘If escape be so easy, why dread falling into sin? We may sin with light hearts, since we have the blood of Jesus to cleanse us.’
‘No,’ he answers, ‘I am not writing these things to you either to discourage you in the pursuit of holiness or to embolden you in sinning, but, on the contrary, in order that (hina) ye may not sin.’
So it is that these statements (as written) are not able to be said of unbelievers, nor of any Christians who have converted wholly to Docetism, therefore again, one must conclude that those John was addressing in 1:9 were in fact Christians.
Even the 1st statement is NOT true for unbelievers, which I believe to be a pivotal issue to those who believe 1 Jn. 1:9 does not apply to Christians. They believe that the Word teaches that everyone’s sins are forgiven by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of a misquoting and misunderstanding of a key New Testament verse.
(2) and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
This verse says that He is the propitiation for EVERYONE’s sins.
So what does that mean? Does that mean everyone is forgiven – carte blache with no need for faith in Jesus? No, not at all!
The word propitiation simply means – the sacrifice which paid the price.
Jesus is the propitiation, which supplies the method of deliverance from our sins and of reconciliation with God. We are acceptable for fellowship with God, because we have relied upon Christ, as the One Who became the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was both the priest offering the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself. He did this for every human, born in every age, from the beginning to the end of the world. – ALL TRUE!
This does NOT mean, however, that because the price was paid, it immediately eradicates sin in relation to the sinner OR the believer.
It simply means the price was paid.
That is a absolute fact- structurally, grammatically and historically!
To add to this statement, that His propitiation forgives sins, which remain unacknowledged or unrepented of, is simply not true!
To pay for something is entirely different than utilizing it.
Upon reading this my wife Teri made this wise observation…
He is the bridge – just because the bridge is there for everyone does not mean that everyone crossed it.
Even in the wording of I Jn. 2:2 it is grammatically clear, that the propitiation was not just once for all, but continual. The sacrifice was offered ONCE FOR ALL, but the propitiation is ongoing. He IS (not was) the propitiation. His blood still speaks better things before God the Father than Abel’s. –
(24) and to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel.
The word speaketh implies that it is a continual speaking forth. It would seem that it is due to this, that Jesus is able to continuously be our Advocate before the Father. His blood is speaking mercy and grace resulting in forgiveness for all who will rely upon it, even still!!! It is also in this way that He functions as High Priest. Yes, He offered (poured out) His blood once for all, but ever stands applying said blood to penitent sinners and RE-pententing saints.
Now, forgiveness for sins should not be understood as referring to forgiveness for our nature. Once born again, our spirits are re-created and everything is of God – II Cor. 5:17-21. We become one spirit with Him – I Cor. 6:17. This does not however, negate our need for reconciliation of the soul and body. In fact, it was because of sexual sin among the Corinthian believers, that Paul wrote I Cor. 6:17 (read it in context – I Cor. 6:15-20).
Rom. 6-8:8 talks about our proclivity to walk according to the flesh even after having come to Christ.
Rom. 8:5, says that this is due to the attention we allow our minds to give, to the cravings of our bodies.
James, writing to the Jewish Christians of the dispersion said that they needed to receive, with a teachable heart, the engrafted word of God, which was able to save their SOULS.
You cannot graft something into a stalk that is not genetically compatible! These were Christians, whose fleshly tendencies were very evident (See James 4:1-12), but he claims by his wording that they were of the same sort or stalk as the Word they were to receive.
These same Christians were called “sinners” in chapter 4:8, because their actions were so profoundly sinful that it began to define them as people. Nevertheless, they needed only to repent of their sin and draw near – they did not need to come to Christ – for they were already His. This was an inference from Jesus’ lesson to Peter,
(6) …Peter said, Lord, are my feet to be washed by You?
(7) And Jesus, answering, said to him, What I do is not clear to you now, but it will be clear to you in time to come.
(8) Peter said, I will never let my feet be washed by You, never. Jesus said in answer, If I do not make you clean you have no part with Me.
(9) Simon Peter said to Him, Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head.
(10) Jesus said to him, He who is bathed has need only to have his feet washed and then he is clean all over: and you, My disciples, are clean, but not all of you.
(11) He had knowledge who was false to Him; that is why he said, You are not all clean.
Notice that Jesus states that anyone who IS clean, does not need to be cleaned all over again, but that even clean people’s feet get dirty!
Later in James 5:14,15 sick believers are told to call for the elders of their church to anoint them and pray for them that they may be healed. Then he says to these believers, “IF they have committed any sins they SHALL BE forgiven.”
That James was talking to Christians is obvious through the entire letter, though I offered but a single example of it above. However, it is clear from this verse alone that those he is addressing are Christians by the fact that it is in question as to whether they have sinned or not. Consider the wording, “IF THEY HAVE COMMITTED ANY SINS”. If these were non-Christians this would be a ridiculous statement!
So in answer to the original question, “Are they Docetics (or Gnostics) who are simply “professing” Christianity, but are not truly born again?” I believe, due to all the proofs written above, that the answer is a clear and definitive NO!
These most certainly had to be genuine born again, Christians. They were, however, Christians who (like the Galatians) were being seduced, to sway from the clear teachings of the Apostles, concerning the real body and blood of our Lord and its necessary sacrifice for our redemption from sin.
“Does it apply to real Christians of any era regardless of a belief in Docetism or any other individual beliefs or doctrines beyond those necessary for salvation?”
I will address this by actually dissecting the verse in question. It is my belief that if one carefully considers the words being written by John, they will have to come to the conclusion that it cannot be written to an unbelieving audience. I believe the words themselves clarify for us that John’s epistle was directed to those who knew God and were His by faith.
Let’s examine 1 John 1:9,
“If we make it our habit to confess our sins, He is Faithful and Righteous to forgive us those sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As I said before, the “we” includes John here, and it seems clear to me that he is speaking to Christians, for in other places John tells the unregenerate that faith is the means necessary for pardon as in John 3:16, “…whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
However here, these people are told only to confess – not the Lordship of Jesus as in Romans 10:9,10, but to confess their sins for forgiveness. This is a VERY important point and should not be blithely swept aside.
Notice also that the word sins is in the plural!
The only sin a unbeliever needs to repent of, is the sin of unbelief as John 3:16 says. They need to change their minds about Who Jesus Christ is, in relation to them and God.
Also notice the tense – “if we make it our habit”.
The Greek word for confess here is homologeō, (I will address its meaning in a few paragraphs). The important thing I want to point out in this verse is that it appears in the present subjunctive. This turns this verb into a continuous action of speaking. Therefore, once again, it cannot be for the unbeliever, for their confession of Jesus Christ, as Lord unto salvation, has a specific point at which it is accomplished in them.
No, this confession in I John 1:9, is continual, not for the sin immediately being confessed, but a continual coming to confess sins, because the saint never becomes completely sinless in his ACTIONS, this side of eternity. Thus, John’s statement in 1 John 1:7, 8 & 10.
I find it a little humorous that those who often believe that this verse is for the non-regenerate, are also against the teaching that in order to get born again, one needs to first repent of their sins.
If this IS in fact to non-believers, why then would they be asked to confess their sins?
Now, I am NOT in disagreement with the idea that sinners DO NOT need to repent for their sins in order to come to Christ. In fact NOWHERE in the whole of the New Testament, following the ministry of John the baptist, is a sinner EVER told to repent of sins for salvation.
If you will read every account of a non-Christian being instructed to repent – it is ALWAYS about their beliefs concerning Jesus. In other words, they are being told to “change their mind” (repent) about Who Jesus is to them and before God.
I state this as a challenge to those of you who believe that repentance of sins is a necessary step in salvation. You will find, if you are honest with yourself and the Word, that no such requirement is even mentioned in the whole New Testament!
The ironic thing is, that the only ones who ARE told to repent of sins in the New Testament are Christians! For they are the only ones whose minds are new in Christ.
Only the Christian CAN repent of sin!
A sinner’s thoughts are one with their sin. Until THEY change by coming to Christ, their thoughts cannot change in relation to sin. Before salvation, sin is the very nature and mind of a person – just like Jesus & Paul said …
(43) Why don’t you understand my language? It’s because you can’t listen to my words.
(44) You belong to your father the devil, and you want to carry out the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and has never stood by the truth, since there is no truth in him. Whenever he tells a lie he speaks in character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(3) We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also.
Furthermore, the word “confess” (homologeō) means, “to say the same thing as another,” or, “to agree with another.” Confession of sin on the part of the saint means that they say the same thing about their actions of sin that God does. They are to agree with God regarding all the implications of that sin as it relates to the Christian and to their Father as a holy God, against Whom this sin was committed. What it DOES NOT mean is to confess who they ARE before God. This passage says CONFESS your SINS – NOT your being. Many people from the “grace movement” espouce that we should only confess that we were not being true to ourselves. While it is a healthy thing to realize that as a child of God your actions of sin are NOT YOU, this is NOT what the Apostle here commands of the sinning Christian.
This process includes the saint’s hatred of sin (even that sin he is confessing in particular). He is confessing his sense of guilt and contrition because of it, as well as his determination to rely upon Christ within to put it out of his life once and for all.
This is what confession of sin here means. It is a much stronger word than the English word which with it has been translated – confess.
All of this so far was stated by Paul to those Corinthian believers, who repented of the sin of allowing unrepentant believers to worship with them in their sacred gatherings.
Paul addressed the specific instance of sin in I Corinthians 5:1-13. By the time of the writing of II Corinthians, Paul had received word back from Corinth by Titus, that the church was repentant of their sins and so wrote these words in response to them [See II Corinthains 2:1-11],
(5) In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were afflicted in every way: struggles on the outside, fears inside.
(6) But God, who comforts the humble, comforted us by the coming of Titus,
(7) and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort he received from you. He announced to us your deep longing, your sorrow, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
(8) For although I grieved you with my letter, I do not regret it–even though I did regret it since I saw that the letter grieved you, though only for a little while.
(9) Now I am rejoicing, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us.
(10) For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.
(11) For consider how much diligence this very thing–this grieving as God wills–has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you have commended yourselves to be pure in this matter.
(12) So even though I wrote to you, it was not because of the one who did wrong, or because of the one who was wronged, but in order that your diligence for us might be made plain to you in the sight of God.
(13) For this reason we have been comforted. In addition to our comfort, we were made to rejoice even more over the joy Titus had, because his spirit was refreshed by all of you.
(14) For if I have made any boast to him about you, I have not been embarrassed; but as I have spoken everything to you in truth, so our boasting to Titus has also turned out to be the truth.
(15) And his affection toward you is even greater as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you received him with fear and trembling.
(16) I rejoice that I have complete confidence in you.
Now I highlighted certain parts of this passage so that those who are protecting their “Christians do not need to repent of sin” theology, cannot escape the plain truth of this letter.
The points are:
– They grieved over something.
– Their grief lead to repentance.
– Their repentance lead to salvation (not spiritually, for they were already born again, it resulted in the salvation of their souls).
– It produced diligence.
– It produced a desire to clear themselves. Of what? The obvious answer is…of something they knew was wrong a.k.a. sin.
– It produced an indignant heart. To what? The straight forward answer would be… to the sin of the one and their sin in tolerating it.
– It produced fear. What kind? Again, the obvious answer would be… Godly fear or reverence. Paul is here praising them for it, and one could hardly attribute to Paul, that he would praise a church for being fearful or full of terror.
– It produced longing. For what? For God and for right standing with God and Paul, their Father in the faith (I Cor. 4:15).
– It produced justice..
– It produced a situation where it was clear, that in every way, they had “commended yourselves to be pure in this matter.“ Pure from what? Again, I believe this is obviously speaking of sin.
Now in 1John1:9, we have so far covered the words confess and sins (plural).
The next pivotal word is Faithful…
“…He is Faithful and Righteous to forgive us those sins…”
This is the Greek word πιστός (pistós) and means two things.
- Objectively (meaning from God’s perspective) it means trustful or one who can be relied upon with assurance.
- Subjectively (meaning from our perspective) it means trustworthy, someone you can safely place your reliance in or on.
It means to be certain, sure and true to.
Let me add here that this is probably another place where confusion sets in concerning this promise. God’s faithfulness is not at stake, neither is it on trial here.
God’s faithfulness is a state of being. He IS Faithful, but He is also TRUE!
God’s faithfulness remains steadfast, regardless of your confession. God stands behind the finished work of Jesus on the cross. He supports it and honors it in every way! That is why, when we sin as Christians, we do not immediately fall away to the point of apostasy. HE WHO KEEPS YOU IS FAITHFUL – Hallelujah!
However, Paul tells Timothy,
(11) This saying is trustworthy: For if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
(12) if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us;
(13) if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
(14) Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
People who misunderstand I John 1:9, will most likely misquote and miss apply verse 13, of 2Timothy chapter 2 as well.
They will likely say that it means, if we are faithless to God He remains faithful to us. That is NOT even what the plain English words say, and it is not in keeping with the meaning and flow of the entire passage.
The word faithless means to NOT BELIEVE or in the case of a Christian – it means to cease to believe in and rely upon Christ – a.k.a. to deny Him.
Read the previous verse, “…if we deny Him, He will also deny us;”
In fact, notice how ALL of the promises listed in these verses to BELIEVERS were conditional! They all begin with “IF“.
Beyond that, it does not say that God cannot deny YOU – for according to the previous verse we know He can!
This verse says He cannot deny Himself.
In other words – your faithlessness – does not make God’s Faithfulness void – He is Who He is. He cannot deny that!
Calvin said, “Our faithlessness cannot in any way detract from the Son of God and His Glory. Being all sufficient in Himself He has no need of our confession. It is as if he had said, ‘Let all who will, desert Christ, for they deprive Him of nothing; when they perish, He remains unchanged.”
No, I am not a full, card carrying Calvinist, but neither am I an Arminian. I am actually somewhere in between. Never the less, just because I do not agree with everything someone says, does not mean I cannot learn some profound wisdom from some things they say. Calvin here is right!
So, I Jn. 1:9 does not mean that if we fail to confess our sins, God suddenly becomes unfaithful to the covenant. What it means is that YOU have become unfaithful to the covenant. You have failed one the the “if” conditions of our covenant with God. This is easily fixed – just confess it! You will find that He is Faithful!
God is NOT under any compulsion to adhere to or honor our misunderstandings of His promise.
The next word is Just…
This is the Greek word δίκαιος (díkaios) and though it is similar to the word for righteousness, it is not that word. It actually means, equitable in character or action. By implication is means innocent, holy, just, meet.
The next word is Forgive…
This is the Greek word, αφίημι (aphíēmi) and is a very powerful word. It means to liberate a person from their sins (plural) including liberty from the incurring guilt of sin and its power over them. In other words, it means to destroy sin itself, in relation to the forgiven, and thus remove its power and authority to harm, lord over, or cause guilt again.
What it DOES NOT mean, is that God is simply disregarding our sins, choosing to do nothing about them, but sweep them under the carpet.
The final words are taken together because it includes not only the word Cleanse, but the unrighteousness we are cleansed from.
Cleanse… This is the Greek word, καθαρίζω (katharízō) and means to cleanse thoroughly and set free from the filth (or stain) of sin. To purify from the pollution and guilt of sin.
from…Unrighteousness… This Greek word, αδικία (adikía) means all that is not in 100% conformity to God’s perfect Justice!
So the answer to the question, “Does it apply to real Christians of any era regardless of a belief in Docetism or any other individual beliefs or doctrines beyond those necessary for salvation?“, I believe to be ABSOLUTELY!
I hope that you can now see that this statement in I John 1:9 is actually an invitation to intimately commune with our Lord in the middle of our sins.
We are invited in the midst of our weakness to receive the strength He offers, which cleans us from the filth and stain of sin, removes from us a guilty consciousness of sin, and empowers us to live free from it’s ability to lord over us ever again!
It is very much the same conversation and invitation God gave to Paul in II Cor. 12:8-10 concerning another type of weakness.
In short, a religious faith without I John 1:9 is tantamount to a religion that acknowledges God, but denies the power of knowing Him. (II Timothy 3:5)
Audio Teaching on I Jn. 1:9:
During two lessons I taught on this subject, you can listen to the following recordings. Please excuse the poor quality, I did everything in my power to clean them up.
The following are taken from a series entitled, Faith in Trials or Faith on Trial!? which I taught throughout 2011.
Something to consider:
Both in the Old Testament and in the New, there are scarcely any stronger warnings to the people of God, than to fall prey to false doctrine. To create a reason to consider what I write in this study, carefully read the following passages – realizing that they were written to Christians under the NEW Covenant.
- II Peter 2:19-22 [esp. recognize WHO he is addressing in II Peter 1:1-4 & where the heresy will be taught II Peter 2:1,2]
- I Cor. 5 [esp. recognize that Paul is advocating brothers judging another brother in sin and removing him from their fellowship until he repents – which we know he did as it was recorded in II Cor. 2:5-11. Paul seems to think sin is important and has to be repented of and dealt with.]
- I Cor. 11:18-34 [esp. recognize that these people were genuine Christians and members of a local body]
- Gal. 5:1; Gal. 5:16-21 [esp. recognize that these were Christian Gentile brethren – born again – Paul says sin is deadly and important to recognize.]
- Eph. 5:1-7 [Again, recognize that these were predominately Gentile Christians, THEY KNEW GOD! Paul was a Jew. The only way in which these people could be considered “brethren” was if they were one spirit with him through Christ. PLEASE read this book in context and know Paul never warned non-believers of sin. He never told them to clean up their act – he only invited them to Jesus. Here Paul is addressing wayward Christians!]
- James 4:1-12 [This book was predominately to Christian Jews – see James 1:1,2,19; James 2:1; James 3:1] In James 5:19 he clearly sees these people as living in the truth (Jesus) or they could not do what he tells them to do here. You cannot turn someone from error if you are in error yourself. – Lk. 6:39.