I was taught in college that 1 John 1:9 is the Christian’s bar of soap. In other words, our confession of sin cleanses us from sins we have committed. It says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” On face value, it certainly appears that this verse is what we as Christians are supposed to do. That is, we are to confess our sins to God each time we sin. This confession includes agreeing with God we have sinned, asking God to forgive us for that sin, repenting, in the sense that we are determined to stop committing that sin. Only then will God cleanse us i.e. forgive us of that sin.
But there’s more. This teaching says that until we confessed a sin to God, there was a barrier between us and God which breaks our fellowship with him. This once struck such guilt and fear in my soul, I believed that God was disappointed with me most of the time. I was certain that was why he often wasn’t answering my prayers. It was highly motivating to make sure I asked for his forgiveness when I sinned.
One of my friends in college, Chang, took this so seriously, he developed OCD – Obsessive Christianity Disorder! He was so afraid he might not confess a sin to God that it became his sole focus as a Christian. He ended up so overwhelmed with depression and anxiety, he dropped out of school.
If we need to ask God for forgiveness each time we sin, Chang’s approach was actually the one everyone of us should be taking. A lady named Ann believed this, too. In fact, she told me with anger flashing from her eyes, that if a Christian dies with “known” unconfessed sin, that person will go to hell. If our forgiveness from God is dependent on our confession of sin, she’s correct. However, this is not the gospel. Thank God!
Every single verse in Scripture must be read in context, including 1 John 1:9. 1 John was written to warn the early church about a heresy infiltrating the church. This sprang from a group, which would later be called the Gnostics, who believed weird stuff like Jesus was only a spiritual being who didn’t have a real body. They also believed a person who believes in “this” Jesus is sinless, because anything the body does is meaningless.
In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing we need including God’s forgiveness. Ephesians 1:7 is clear about this. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Also see Colossians 2:13, and Hebrews 9:15) There is only ONE condition for being forgiven by God. According to Ephesians 1:7, it’s being in Christ! If you are in Christ, you are forgiven for everything, even what you will do. Your experience of freedom in this area is dependent on whether you believe this, especially after you’ve just sinned.
Don’t get me wrong, confession of sin is still important but not to get more forgiveness from God. Sin is abnormal for us now as daughters and sons of God. Yet, we will all sin because of the flesh. I do. Don’t you? When we sin and God lets us know, it’s important to agree with him, thank him we are already forgiven, and repent by turning to Jesus in us as our only hope of not doing this again. Here’s a prayer that might be helpful.
“Father, based on your Word, I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for all my sins. I believe because of this, I am forgiven in Christ for all the sins in my past, my present, and my future. I also believe the punishment for my sins was placed on him and that you will never be angry with me or punish me. When I sin in the future, remind me to run toward you, not away from you. Then I can tell you my sin with the confidence that I am already forgiven. Remind me that I can repent, not promising to do better next time but turning to Jesus Christ in me. Then I can ask him to live through me so I don’t do it again, but obey my Father instead. Thank you for loving me so much that I am completely forgiven now and forever. Amen.” (Prayer from pages 121-122, Chapter 7, Christians Are Forgiven Before They Ever Sin, from “God’s Best-Kept Secret”)