On Confessing Sins: An Exegesis Of 1 John 1.

John begins his first epistle discussing the need for salvation. He is speaking in the opening of this epistle (i.e. 1 John 1) particularly to a sect called the Gnostics, that had infiltrated the Early Church. Since the Epistles (Romans-Jude) were written to both enlighten the saints and to equip them against false teachers/heresies, it is not uncommon for the Apostles to refer to the unsaved/heretics in their Epistles (see Gal 1:6-9, Col 2:4, 8, 16-23, 1 Corin 15:12-19, 2 John 7-11, 1 Tim 1:18-20).

The Gnostics (from the Greek “gnosis” meaning “experiential knowledge“) were an heretical camp well known in the 1st century AD. This sect, amongst many other things, believed and taught that all matter (that is, whatever can be seen, felt or touched) is sinful (also known as Greek dualism). The Gnostics denied that they were flesh (matter), otherwise they too would be sinful; but because “they were not flesh,” they therefore had no sin.

They also taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh (Docetic Gnosticism), otherwise, Jesus would be sinful (since all matter is sinful). John’s First Epistle combats this heresy. These Gnostics are the ones John describes multiple times throughout the Epistle as “antichrists” (1 John 2:18-19, 22, cf. 1 John 2:26, 2 John 1:7); they opposed Christ and His message by false teaching (“antichristos” in the Greek, meaning an opponent of Christ). They denied the incarnation and humanity of Christ, i.e. He wasn’t truly human/matter/flesh, He only appeared to be (1 John 4:1-3). They claimed to have some special knowledge/enlightenment unknown to the uninitiated (1 John 2:27). These individuals were not saved, since they claimed they had no sin. So John invites them to salvation. This is the aim of 1 John 1—to convince the unsaved Gnostics to believe!

Vs. 1 says, “That which was FROM THE BEGINNING, which we have heard, which WE HAVE SEEN WITH OUR EYES, which WE HAVE LOOKED UPON, and OUR HANDS HAVE HANDLED, concerning THE WORD of LIFE.

This sounds almost identical to the opening of his Gospel Account.

John 1:1-5 (NKJV)

1 In the beginning WAS THE WORD, and THE WORD was with God, and THE WORD was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 IN HIM WAS LIFE, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

That which was from the beginning is Christ, the Incarnate One, the Word made flesh. The apostles were eyewitnesses of His majesty,

Peter says in 2 Peter 1, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were EYEWITNESSES OF HIS MAJESTY. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And WE HEARD this voice which came from heaven when WE WERE WITH HIM on the holy mountain” (vv. 16-18).

Luke also refers to them as His eyewitnesses in Luke 1:2, “Just as those who from the beginning were EYEWITNESSES and ministers of the word delivered them to us.” The apostles did not believe on Someone they did not know. They ACTUALLY saw Jesus PHYSICALLY and interacted with Him. That privilege was reserved for them.

Jesus calls them His “witnesses“;

Luke 24:48 (NKJV)

48 And YOU ARE WITNESSES of these things.

Acts 1:8 (NKJV)

8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and YOU SHALL BE WITNESSES TO ME in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The apostles are witnesses that Jesus actually lived and died, and was raised from the dead. Peter says in Acts 2:32, “This Jesus God has raised up, of WHICH WE ARE ALL WITNESSES.

Peter and the apostles say as much in Acts 5, before the Sanhedrin.

Acts 5:30-32 (NKJV)

30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And WE ARE HIS WITNESSES to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Peter also reiterates the same at the house of Cornelius.

Acts 10:38-41 (NKJV)

38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 And WE ARE WITNESSES OF ALL THINGS WHICH HE DID both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but TO WITNESSES CHOSEN BEFORE BY GOD, EVEN TO US WHO ATE AND DRANK WITH HIM AFTER HE AROSE FROM THE DEAD.

The Gnostics cannot fault their testimony (that Jesus indeed came in the flesh) BECAUSE THEY SAW JESUS! The apostles were there WITH Him, during His 3 1/2 years of ministry on the Earth. John says they heard Him; they had listened to Him preach a series of sermons on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

They had asked Him questions, and He responded.

Mark 4:10-12 (NKJV)

10 But when He was alone, those around Him with THE TWELVE ASKED HIM ABOUT THE PARABLE. 11 And HE SAID TO THEM, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’”

He also spoke to them after He was raised. Luke says He taught them for 40 days.

Acts 1:1-3 (NKJV)

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of ALL THAT JESUS BEGAN BOTH TO DO AND TEACH, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom HE ALSO PRESENTED HIMSELF ALIVE AFTER HIS SUFFERING by many infallible proofs, being SEEN BY THEM during forty days AND SPEAKING of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

They also saw Him, John says. In John 14:8, Jesus says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” He was looked upon, and in Him (i.e. in His words & actions), the Father was revealed.

John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and WE (the apostles) BEHELD HIS GLORY, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Vs. 18 says similiarly, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, HE HAS DECLARED HIM.

The eyewitnesses also handled Jesus i.e. they felt His body, both before and after His resurrection. When Peter was about to drown, Jesus held him up.

Matthew 14:31 (NKJV)

31 And immediately Jesus STRETCHED OUT HIS HAND AND CAUGHT HIM, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Observe that His hand did not pass through Peter’s. This reveals that He was HUMAN.

A woman could pour oil on His body in Matthew 26. This shows He had a physical one.

Matthew 26:6-7 (NKJV)

6 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and SHE POURED IT ON HIS HEAD as He sat at the table.

Judas could kiss Him in Matthew 26:48-49.

Matthew 26:48-49 (NKJV)

48 Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.” 49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” AND KISSED HIM.

After He is raised also, they saw Him and He ate with them.

Luke 24:36-43 (NKJV)

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and SUPPOSED THEY HAD SEEN A SPIRIT. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for A SPIRIT DOES NOT HAVE FLESH AND BONES AS YOU SEE I HAVE.” 40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And HE TOOK IT AND ATE IN THEIR PRESENCE.

In John 20, Thomas put his fingers into His pierced hands and side.

John 20:27-29 (NKJV)

27 Then He said to Thomas, “REACH YOUR FINGER HERE, and LOOK AT MY HANDS; and REACH YOUR HAND HERE, and PUT IT INTO MY SIDE. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, BECAUSE YOU HAVE SEEN ME, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Mary clung to His resurrected body, she held on to it.

John 20:16-17 (NKJV)

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “DO NOT CLING TO ME, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”

All these would not be possible if Jesus did not truly come in the flesh—this is John’s argument to those Gnostics! The Word of Life (Jesus) was seen, heard and touched because He was a MAN. Paul says He is God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16).

Vs. 2 says, “the Life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.

The Son, who is the Word, is the author of eternal life to us. He says in John 10:28, “And I GIVE THEM ETERNAL LIFE, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” The writer of Hebrews says, “And having been perfected, HE BECAME THE AUTHOR OF ETERNAL SALVATION to all who obey Him” (Heb 5:9).

He (the Life) was manifested in the flesh and John bears witness, together with the Apostles, of this fact. John’s testimony is valid because he was known for being trustworthy. He was a man of truth.

John 19:35 (NKJV)

35 And he who has seen has testified (i.e. John), and HIS TESTIMONY IS TRUE; and HE KNOWS THAT HE IS TELLING THE TRUTH, so that you may believe.

John 21:24 (NKJV)

24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things (John), and wrote these things; and WE KNOW THAT HIS TESTIMONY IS TRUE.

John bore a faithful witness to those things which he saw.

Revelation 1:1-3 (NKJV)

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 WHO BORE WITNESS TO THE WORD OF GOD, and TO THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST, TO ALL THINGS THAT HE SAW. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Since John was known for not being a liar, we can trust his testimony about Christ. His character has been vouched for, and cannot be impeached.

Now, John, together with the other Apostles, show to them (the Gnostics) “that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to them (the Apostles).” This, they do, so they too can believe.

Vs. 3 says this, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, THAT YOU ALSO MAY HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH US; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

This statement (in vs. 3) readily shows that those John refers to in 1 John 1 cannot be believers/saved. He declares the Gospel to them so “that you also may have fellowship with us…” So those he writes to do not already have this fellowship. The fellowship here is salvation. John calls it “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Salvation is to have BOTH Father AND Son living in you, because you have received the Word (i.e. the message of the Gospel).

John 14:23 (NKJV)

23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and WE WILL COME to him AND MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM.

Salvation makes a man a member of God’s family. They (i.e. God and man) now have fellowship in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:9 (NKJV)

9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SON, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This fulfills Jesus’ high priestly prayer, in John 17, “That THEY ALL MAY BE ONE, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that THEY ALSO MAY BE ONE IN US, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (vs. 21)

The Gnostics did not have this fellowship yet, because they hadn’t believed. This is why John writes—that they too may be saved (come into FELLOWSHIP). The Gnostics gathered with the Church congregation, but were unsaved.

John calls the salvation of the Gnostics the fullness of their joy in vs. 4, “And these things we write to you (the Gnostics) THAT YOUR JOY MAY BE FULL.

He refers to that joy which comes with salvation.

John 15:11 (NKJV)

11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and THAT YOUR JOY MAY BE FULL.

John 16:22 (NKJV)

22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN and YOUR HEART WILL REJOICE, and your joy no one will take from you.

The apostles worked with God to get more men saved. They are described as co-workers of God, labouring together in the business of salvation. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God’s FELLOW WORKERS; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” Mark 16:20 records that, “…they (the apostles) went out and preached everywhere, THE LORD WORKING WITH THEM and confirming the word through the accompanying signs…

As co-workers of God, they plead with men to believe.

2 Corinthians 6:1 (NKJV)

1 We then, as WORKERS TOGETHER (with Him) ALSO PLEAD WITH YOU not to receive the grace of God in vain.

So John carries out that function here (as God’s fellow worker), by imploring these Gnostics to be saved. It is to them that He says in vs. 8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” This was very important because the Gnostics claimed they had no sin (since matter is sin, and they were not matter, but spirit only). Notice John uses “sin” in the singular here (“if we say that we have no SIN, we deceive ourselves“). He is not referring to sinful actions primarily, but to a sinful nature itself i.e. the state of being sinful.

The Bible is CLEAR on the spiritual state of the sinner. Paul discusses this in Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NKJV)

1 And you He made alive, who were DEAD IN TRESPASSES AND SINS, 2 in which you once WALKED ACCORDING TO THE COURSE OF THIS WORLD, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in THE SONS OF DISOBEDIENCE, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in THE LUSTS OF OUR FLESH, FULFILLING THE DESIRES OF THE FLESH AND OF THE MIND, and were BY NATURE CHILDREN OF WRATH, just as the others.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” He refers to the heart of the sinner here.

Psalm 5:9 says of the unregenerate that, “…there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is destruction; their throat is an open tomb; they flatter with their tongue.

In Psalm 140:1, the Psalmist prays, “Deliver me, O Lord, from EVIL MEN; preserve me from VIOLENT MEN, who plan evil things in their hearts; they continually gather together for war. They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips…” (vv. 1-3).

The sinner is in no way righteous.

Psalm 53:1-3 (NKJV)

1 The fool has said in his heart,

“There is no God.” THEY ARE CORRUPT, and have DONE ABOMINABLE INIQUITY; there is NONE WHO DOES GOOD. 2 God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. 3 Every one of them has turned aside; they have together BECOME CORRUPT; there is NONE WHO DOES GOOD, no, not one.

Even the sinner’s BEST deeds are not good enough. Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and ALL OUR RIGHTEOUSNESSS ARE LIKE FILTHY RAGS; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

This is why salvation is a crucifying of the old man (i.e. the old nature of sin). Romans 6:6 says, “Knowing this, that OUR (believer’s) OLD MAN WAS CRUCIFIED WITH HIM, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Colossians 3:9 says similiarly, “Do not lie to one another, since YOU HAVE PUT OFF THE OLD MAN WITH HIS DEEDS, and HAVE PUT ON THE NEW MAN who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.

But these Gnostics disagreed with the Bible, they believed they had no sinful nature; they were not bound to transgression in the old man, they were intrinsically good. John says that they deceive themselves in vs. 8, “If we say that we have no sin (i.e. that we are faultless and pure, in and of ourselves), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Note that “we” here is the “general we” (e.g. “We need to stop committing crimes in this country.” This does not mean the speaker is a criminal, he only makes a general statement). “We” here (1 John 1:8) is general; it does not include the writer or Christians. Christians do not say they have no sin. Only the Gnostic unbelievers did, and they deceived themselves, by so doing.

The word “deceive” translates the Greek “planaó” (πλανάω) which means to be led into error. The one who says such things (i.e. that he has no sin) “does not have the truth (the Gospel) in him,” since in the Gospel is a revelation of man’s sin.

Only Jesus lived without sin. He neither sinned nor was sinful. He always pleased the Father. He says in John 8:29, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I ALWAYS DO THOSE THINGS THAT PLEASE HIM.” No one could convict Him of sin. He says in vs. 46, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?

The devil had nothing in Him. John 14:30 says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world (the devil) is coming, and HE HAS NOTHING IN ME.

A revelation of how holy God is shows us just how unholy and sinful we truly are. Observe the following Old Testament texts:

Job 9:2 (NKJV)

2 “Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous BEFORE GOD?

Job 14:4 (NKJV)

4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean (man)? No one!

Job 15:14 (NKJV)

14 “What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?

Job 25:4-6 (NKJV)

4 How then can man be righteous BEFORE GOD? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? 5 If even the moon does not shine, and the stars are not pure in His sight, 6 How much less man, who is a maggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?”

Proverbs 20:9 (NKJV)

9 Who can say, “I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin”?

Ecclesiastes 7:20 (NKJV)

20 For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.

Man is fully, wholly and entirely given over to sin and sinning, without God. So, to be saved, one must ACKNOWLEDGE his sin and his need for a Savior. This is what vs. 9 is saying, “If we CONFESS OUR SINS, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This does not refer to a daily confession of sin, but a once-for-all acknowledgement that we are sinners, in need of God’s Grace.

The word “confess” translates the Greek “homologeó” (ὁμολογέω) which means to agree with another, to say the same thing as another; to assent/affirm that what they say is true. This agreement/confession happens at salvation, where we say what GOD says about us—that we are sinners, who have committed numerous sins, and are in need of salvation. This is what the Gnostics failed to do. They failed to agree with God and acknowledge that they were indeed sinful (1 John 1:8) and had committed sins (1 John 1:9). So 1 John 1:9 is a salvation text. It is not for those who have believed, but the unsaved who reject salvation in pride and false knowledge.

To those who DO acknowledge that they are indeed sinners in need of Grace, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The word “faithful” means reliable (“pistos” in the Greek). He is true and trustworthy. This is His character.

He is also “just” (“dikaios” in the Greek), which means He gives to each one what he is due. “Dikaios” (δίκαιος) is a judicial term in the Greek. God, like a righteous Judge, will give to each one what he deserves; to the one who acknowledges he is a sinner and believes, he shall receive forgiveness of sin and be cleansed “from all unrighteousness.

This shows that this one (in 1 John 1:9) was not saved in the first place (he is still in sins and unrighteousness BEFORE he is forgiven); he is still in darkness and needs the blood to cleanse him. John says this earlier in the same chapter, in vv. 5-7, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him IS NO DARKNESS (sin) AT ALL. If we (“general we”) SAY that we have fellowship with Him (merely professing that we do, without actually having that fellowship), and WALK IN DARKNESS (i.e. continue in sin, unbelief and false knowledge disguised as Gnostic wisdom), we (“general we”) lie and do not practice the truth (our very conduct shows our profession to be a lie). But if we (“general we”) walk in the light (by faith, through accurate understanding of the Gospel) as He is in the light (in accordance with God’s own testimony), we have fellowship with one another, and THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST HIS SON CLEANSES US FROM ALL SIN.

Vs. 10 then concludes the chapter, by reiterating John’s point to the Gnostics in the congregation, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Again, Christians never claim they have not sinned. We have a Saviour BECAUSE we sin! So the “we” here (vs. 10) is again the ‘general we,” referring to the Gnostics. This is what THEY believed and affirmed.

By claiming they had no sin, they made God a liar, since His Word clearly shows/teaches that they had sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” His word was therefore not in them. His Word is His Truth; the Truth found in the Gospel (Gal 2:5, 14). So 1 John 1, in its entirety, is an appeal to unsaved Gnostics to receive salvation. Note that John did not write 1 John to the Gnostics, but he did address them and their heresy as he wrote to true believers (since they would be in the congregation as his epistle was read out loud). 1 John 1:9 is therefore not an instruction to Christians to continually confess their sins.

When John refers to Christians in the next chapter, observe what he says.

1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV)

1 MY LITTLE CHILDREN, these things I WRITE TO YOU, so that YOU may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for OUR sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

John uses this phrase “little children” (“teknia“) six times in this letter (1 John 2:1, 12, 28, 3:18, 4:4, 5:21). It is a term of endearment. He begins writing to believers now. He says “these things I write to you…” (so everything from chapters 2-5 speak directly to Christians, while chapter 1 refers to the Gnostics). He also uses the word “beloved” (“agapétos“) in describing believers from chapter two onwards (1 John 2:7, 3:2, 21, 4:1, 4:7, 4:11, cf. 3 John 1, 2 & 5). Neither the phrase “my little children” nor the term “beloved” are present in 1 John 1, because John is not addressing Christians there.

In 1 John 2:1, John says to believers that he writes that they “may not sin.” But IF believers sin, they are not to confess sins again. This happens JUST ONCE, at salvation (1 John 1:9). Instead of confessing sins, they should know that they have “an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

So in the New Testament, Christians need not incessantly ask for forgiveness—we already have it! Those under the Old Testament had to consistently ask for forgiveness (Psalm 19:12, 25:11, Psalm 51) because the blood of bulls and goats which they depended on could never completely deal with sin (Heb 10:1-4).

But the blood of Jesus differs in that it completely wipes away our sins once for all, and grants eternal salvation (Heb 10:10-14, Col 1:14, Col 2:13, Eph 1:7). Asking for forgiveness when we have already been forgiven only leads to more sin-consciousness (Heb 10:2). Believers should not be confessing sins and seeking forgiveness, they should instead be confessing the righteousnesss and forgiveness which they ALREADY HAVE in Christ!


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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