Today, I was reminded of a post at The Gospel Coalition on 1 John 1:9, when I read an article at Detroit Baptists Theological Seminary’s blog by Bill Combs, Th.D., which you may read here. Thus, I am prompted to provide what I believe will be a clarifying view of the 1 John 1:9 issue which numerous Christians have with regard to the matter of the further forgiveness of sins by God for the believer after one is supposed to have been forgiven at the point of salvation of all of their sins – past, present, and future.
Combs, in his blog post, cited the unmitigated disaster at The Gospel Coalition article here, where he quotes the author connecting this passage to our justification or the forgiveness of sins (again, which is supposed to be all sins, past, present, and future) when we are saved:
He says, at one point, “God commands us to confess our sins as we sin (1 John 1:9). This command not only apples to our initial justification, but as the context of 1 John makes clear, confession is ongoing for Christians.” Later he adds: “Such an experience [confession of our sins] is not a new justification but a renewed application of our justification.” It is a mistake to tie the confession of our sins to our justification.Consequently he adds:
What is strangely missing in the author’s whole discussion of the problem is the word sanctification. It is the believer’s sanctification, not justification, that demands confession of our individual sins. 1 John 1:9, which clearly requires believers to confess their sins, has absolutely nothing to do with our justification, but is an essential aspect of our sanctification. All of our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven as far as our position in Christ is concerned—justification. But God is still working to perfect us in this life—progressive sanctification. And our progress in holiness and our daily communion with our Father require what I have called elsewhere a “sin-confessing attitude.” We must, as Paul says in Romans 8:13, “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” and dealing with our sins requires so to confess and repent of our sins on a daily basis if we are to make progress in holiness.
It simply confuses the question under discussions to attempt to explain the requirement of 1 John 1:9 by relating it to justification. Confession of our sins is a matter of sanctification, pure and simple.So here is where I hop on the train. Let me say that the qualified statement above by Combs is generally a good one but there is a more finessed explanation which I am convinced, in practical terms, will significantly aid the Christian in his/her understanding, believing and applying its truth. In closing, Dr. Combs offers a Biblical policy which is my springboard. As we observed, Combs stated that “confession of our sins is a matter of sanctification”. As the advocate for those contending with this issue and seeking resolution I ask, just exactly, how does confession of our sin result in our sanctification?
To answer that I want to deal with the distinction and then the implication along with the necessary predicate of 1 John 1:9 (the thing upon which 1 John 1:9 exits).
Justification – The Satisfaction of God’s Justice
The moment you believe the gospel, God’s justice is satisfied with respect to your sins (this is but one of many wonderful things which occur when you believe the gospel but we are narrowing our treatment to the aspect to the forgiveness of our sins). The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:13:
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.Paul similarly qualifies this in Ephesians, chapter one:
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,Finally, in Romans 3:21-24, Paul instructs:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;So what is the problem? If we have been justified and forgiven by God the Father, through and in Christ, why is there a need for more forgiveness?
In answering that question, DBTS’s Bill Combs, rightly distinguishes between forgiveness for justification and that of sanctification. In my effort, which you might view as an augmenting piece, I will differentiate the two kinds of forgiveness not with respect to their results, justification and sanctification, but with respect to the nature of the forgiveness or the position of that forgiveness. And to save you the agony of further teasing, permit me to provide the classifications and then continue with this essay.
The Two Kinds of Divine Forgiveness in the Bible
The fundamental difference of these two types of forgiveness is that the first - forgiveness for justification, is judicial and the second – forgiveness for sanctification, is personal. Before going any further and in case anyone raises this issue, we must note that our Savior, himself, made the distinction abundantly clear in the foot washing episode in his dialog with Peter where he responds to Simon Peter’s uninformed declaration that the Savior would not stoop so low as to wash his feet. Our Lord says in response to this in John 13:10a:
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.Sometimes people get the idea that Jesus the Savior did not discriminate between forgiveness (cleansing) for justification and forgiveness (cleansing) for fellowship. Here, we have this exact communication in the metaphor of washing.
Salvation is a Matter of the Divine Judiciary
I am not here to belabor the point of our justifications since most readers get that but I do wish to provide a well-qualified reference to it for due diligence’s sake and frankly, its role as a juxtaposing one with regard to forgiveness for sanctification. In the Epistle to the Romans Paul uses categorical judicial language because our salvation is, in fact, a matter of satisfying the justice of God. Paul ultimately declares, in Rom 5:1:
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,This is a court rendering, a judicial disposition based on the work of Christ. God is the Judge and his role as Judge is not only eternal but is re-emphasized in the book of Revelation at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11), where those without divine justification in Christ, attempting to rely on some form of self-justification instead, are cast into what the Bible describes as a lake of fire, forever, as the reward or recompense for self-justification.
Grasping the basics of justification is the easy part, it seems (again, with Christians primarily in view as the audience). Most Evangelical Christians generally get that all their sins, past, present and future, are forgiven.
So what is forgiveness as it relates to sanctification, why is this so difficult? It is, possibly because of the language used and something missing in many essays on the matter.
In order to move to that point we have to note that from our justification, many things happen. One of those things, no small thing, is that we are adopted into the family of God. After Paul establishes his arguments for our justification in Romans, he then moves onto the many things received as a result of our justification, one of which takes us from being estranged to God to having his Spirit come to live within us and our being adopted as sons into his family. Here is the Apostle writing in the 8th chapter of Romans:
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”… 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.The Crux of the Distinction between the Two Kinds of Forgiveness
As this point we now have a relationship with God as his children when we are in Christ through our coming to believe on Christ as Savior. Our contact with God, now secured in and through Christ, is no longer one of a legal matter which needs to be resolved, that is - a judicial issue, since that problem has been resolved rather, our contact with God is now one of relationship (still based, however, on that legal rendering) and that relationship is codified with absolution in referring to us as being adopted into the family of God and so forth. It is now a personal relationship we have with God and more precisely, a familial one with God as our father.
Until you are born again, God is not your father. Hence, when you are born again via faith in Christ, the matter of alienation from God is resolved. It has been ruled you are his child through the merit of Christ which you received by faith in the gospel. He now responds to you as your father, always and forever, even in divine discipline. Thus, this changes - categorically - God’s forgiveness toward us after our new birth into his family.
This is Key to Keep in Mind as we go to 1 John which we will now do.
I John 1:3-10 with commentary
3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
The context is immediately revealed, one of fellowship. Fellowship refers to spiritual communion or walking together which is relational in context. The basis of that fellowship is being born again via faith thus, the writer offers both the gospel for salvation and post-salvational principles of spiritual commune with God and with one another or as is called, fellowship (koinonia).
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;Again, we have the context of relationship with respect to how we commune with God. If someone says he is in commune or fellowship with God but are practicing some form of sin, he is lying. This means he is refusing to admit that something he is doing is sinful when it clearly is, while claiming fellowship with God. This says nothing about salvation but about the nature of fellowship. God never walks in darkness and for us to deliberately walk in darkness means that we cannot or may not rightly claim to be in fellowship.
And when the expression, walk in darkness, is used, it refers to a Christian unrepentantly living contrary to the clear revelation of Scripture, i.e., in sin. This is not referring to the various struggles each believer may have with regard to his or her sin patterns whose product (thought, word and deed sins) are regularly confessed but those sinful thoughts, words and deeds which the believer knowingly refuses to confess and refuses to seek the empowerment of the Spirit, over that sin. Yes, you may fail many times but it is the acknowledgment of that sin as sin, which is done via confession to God, that is what is at issue, here.
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.Here we have the fullness of our salvation and its fellowship. When we have not sinned and are ordering our world as it should be via the revelation of God and the empowerment of the Spirit, not only are we in fellowship with God but with one another (assuming, of course, the other is in fellowship with God). It is automatic.
The expression, “and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin”, should be understood with its grammatical properties of a present, active, and indicative verb which means it keeps on cleansing us from all sin. In other words, our justification is without end.
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.John now switches emphasis and tells us that if we claim to never sin, we are not telling ourselves the truth hence, the truth (sound doctrine) is not present in us. But if we do homologeo our sins (that means to name them, specifically, to God) what does God do? He not only forgives those sins but all unrighteousness or sins of which we have forgotten or are unaware.
This is the foot washing referred to by Jesus when teaching Peter about post-salvational sins. When you confess your sins to God the Father, who is washing your feet at that moment? God the Father does this for us, when we confess our sins.
What is this Forgiveness, then?
Remember the context, it is relational. Here, John is writing about individual sins we commit which must be admitted to God the Father. John is building a thought process and gives us the crescendo, if you will, at this point.
In verse 7, where John referred to Christ continually cleansing us from all sin, John used the singular form of the noun for the word, sin, which referred to our ongoing and endless justification. But in verse 9, John uses the plural form for the word, sin. The implication is unmistakable. This second reference is an accounting or inventory of particular sins which we admit to God the Father.
It is at this juncture that our individual acts of sin are at hand and it is because while Christ’s blood continues to provide ongoing justification, it does not provide ongoing fellowship, only the justification for that potential fellowship with God.
Hence, if we are to be in fellowship with God or partnering with him, it requires we be honest with God the Father when we sin because when we sin, we enter into darkness (out of fellowship) and the only way to leave that darkness is to confess that sin to God the Father thus, returning to fellowship with God.
And if we do confess our sins, the Scriptures say God is faithful and just, which means he always will do this without exception and it is justified since we have been made clean via Christ and are now God’s children. And what is he faithful and just to do if we confess? He is faithful to forgive us the sin we confess and better yet, also forgive thoughts, word and deeds which we are either too ignorant to understand are sinful or sins we have forgotten and cannot remember at that time (though later it may come to mind via the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and then, those past sins need to be confessed, which has happened to me on more than one occasion, sometimes years later).
Ultimately, what you should understand this forgiveness as, is one which is a personal forgiveness from God based on your relationship. In other words, you and God are friends, so to speak. You offend your friend (he is much more but to make the point clear I will simplify since fundamentally, this is how it does work) by sinning. Just like any other person with whom you have a relationship with, in order to return to genuine commune or fellowship, you must admit to that person your offense and from that, he or she may forgive you, enabling you both to return to fellowship (and in God's case, he always forgives).
Conclusion – Forgiveness for Sanctification
So back to Bill Combs and his reference to this kind of forgiveness being for our sanctification. The way in which this forgiveness is for our sanctification is that it is the means, the vehicle, or the conduit through which we maintain fellowship with God.
Remember, when we refuse to admit we have sinned, when we have, we lie and then are walking in darkness. This means we are no longer being filled with God’s Spirit and are out of fellowship with God. This makes it impossible to mature, spiritually, which is the means by which we experience personal or practical sanctification.
So, understand. Forgiveness for salvation is judicial and forgiveness after you are saved has nothing to do with judicial or what is called, forensic forgiveness. This other kind of forgiveness from God is relational, it is personal forgiveness by God, that is, righteous person (God the Father) to righteous person (the redeemed saint) instead of Judge to sinner. May God bless this essay.