“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)

This verse is commonly presented by those of the “free-will” persuasion as an invitation by God to the dead alien sinner to confess his sins and be eternally cleansed from his sins and be saved to heaven. In their mind, this verse is an invitation to the world for anyone to confess their sins, and God is still faithful and just to save even the vilest of sinners once they have met this one condition of confession of sins. While it’s certainly true that God does save the vilest of sinners (even a Mary or Manasseh’s stains or sins more vile than they), that salvation is not based upon our confession of sins, but based solely upon the sovereign grace and blood of Jesus Christ, not by any condition we meet to supposedly ratify our eternal life.

Scripture has to be read in its full context, not verses isolated by themselves, and this verse is a great example of that necessity. We have to determine who the audience that the Apostle John is writing to that he implores them to confess their sins to the faithful and just God with a confidence that they will be forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ.  When we consider the many characteristics of John’s audience to whom he gave this admonition, it’s readily apparent this were not unregenerate men in need of eternal life, but rather born-again children of God who needed reassurance of God’s forgiveness when they inevitably failed their Lord, just as we do every day.

Notice the characteristics of John’s readers whom he calls upon to confess their sins:

Their sins were already forgiven

  • 1 John 2:12 – “I write unto you, little children,because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.”

They are not being implored to “know God” to be saved eternally because they already “knew God”

  • 1 John 2:13 – “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning… I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.”

They already had “an unction from the Holy One”

  • 1 John 2:20 – “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.”

They already knew the truth

  • 1 John 2:21 – “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.”

They had believed in the promise of eternal life by Jesus Christ

  • 1 John 2:24-25 – “24) Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. 25) And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.”

They had already believed the love that God had towards them

  • 1 John 4:16 – “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”

They already believed on the name of the Son of God; then they are exhorted to continue in their steadfast commitment of belief in Jesus Christ

  • 1 John 5:13 – “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

(Then, since they already believed, 1 John 5:1 affirms that they were already born again)

  • 1 John 5:1 – “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.”

They had the love of the Father already bestowed upon them, and had been called and manifested to be the sons of God (notice the usage of “us” and “we”, John including his readers in these statements)

  • 1 John 3:1-2 – “1) Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2) Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

They knew that Jesus was manifested to take away their sins, and already believed it

  • 1 John 3:5 – “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”

John believed they had already passed from death unto life (notice the “we” again)

  • 1 John 3:14 – “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”

They had a perception of the love of God

  • 1 John 3:16 – “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

They prayed to God, obeyed God’s commandments, and were already doing things pleasing unto God

  • 1 John 3:22 – “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”

They already had assurance that the Spirit dwelt in them and were given the Spirit (notice the use of “we” and “us” again)

  • 1 John 3:24 – “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”

John had assurance that they were “of God”, that they had overcome the false prophets, and that Jesus was residing within them

  • 1 John 4:4,6 – “4) Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world… 6) We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
  • 1 John 5:19 – “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

John affirms that the love of God was already manifested towards them, that God loved them, and that Jesu was propitiation for their sins

  • 1 John 4:9-11 – “9) In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10) Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

It’s very evident from John’s descriptions of his audience that he was confident that they were already born-again, already forgiven of their sins, already knew God, already believed, and were already “of God”. Therefore, John’s intent in reminding them of the necessity of confession of sins was not to try to save these men and women to heaven, but to give them confidence and reassurance of our loving and faithful heavenly Father that is ready to forgive us here in time when we acknowledge and confess our sins unto God.

We all sin and fail the Lord every day. “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20). Therefore, for the children of God, for the believer in Christ, that are already forgiven of our sins eternally, we can have confidence to ask our Father to forgive our sins against heaven and against thee.  John, then, reminds these disciples that God is faithful and just to forgive us when we fail; he will not sever our relationship or salvation; and he will cleanse us (experientially upon our own soul) from all unrighteousness that we have wrought.