The Truth About 1 John 1:9 and James 5:16
“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
“Here, take it,” a Jewish man says with his head hung low, passing off his prized goat to the priest. From the tribe of Levi, the priest walks the goat back behind the curtain in the temple, to be sacrificed for the past year of this man’s sins. Of course, this was before Jesus was sacrificed for all of mankind’s sins–but still, this was how the Jews received annual forgiveness from God. Not sin by sin, not day by day, not week by week. Instead, 365 days of atonement for every sin committed, once a year.
They didn’t ask, hope, plead, or beg for forgiveness. They didn’t repent for forgiveness, nor did they negotiate, get baptized, walk an isle, make alms or confess. The Hebrew people were confident as they passed off an animal as payment for sins one time every year. They didn’t worry about their sins being forgiven, until the following year, because they knew they couldn’t do anything about them until the next Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16 and 23, Hebrews 9 and 10).
Jesus was a Jew, John was a Jew, Peter, James, Paul–every disciple was a Jew. They all knew the only way to be forgiven was annually by way of blood. The words “ask for forgiveness” are not in the Bible for a reason. Asking never forgave anyone. Blood had to be shed and it was faith in that blood’s ability to forgive–because it was presented to God–which truly forgave (Hebrews 10:8).
A Jewish man or woman’s act of faith in presenting blood to God for their transgressions–breaking one or more of 613 commandments–is what settled them up with our Creator. There was nothing special about a bull or sheep’s hemoglobin, it was the heart of the person giving it to the priest that mattered (see Hebrews 11, Romans 3:21,22, Galatians 2:16).
Jesus said, “It is finished!” as He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on the Cross. These words would immediately resonate with the Jewish people; an explosion of epiphanies for all who would believe in what just happened: the Day of Atonement was abolished through His blood (see John 19:30, Matthew 27:51, Hebrews 8:13, 10:26-29).
The yearly cycle of slaughter for the Jews was a shadow of what Christ would do once and for all time! No more annual treks! No more animal sacrifices! Just faith in one Sacrifice! They were finally free from such a heavy burden!
Fast forward to today. The modern church has turned confession into a bar of soap for believers in Christ. From the get-go, this makes no sense because confession never forgave the Jews according to Moses, so it definitely doesn’t forgive us according to the New Covenant. If this were the case, I’d rather be living by the Old Covenant because they received forgiveness all at once–yearly. Further, there’s not a single Old Testament verse which claims confession resulted in God forgiving someone once and for all time. God requires blood to forgive, not words.
Something else that’s very important to know is this: animal blood didn’t remove sins, Jesus’ blood did. Instead, it atoned for or “covered up” sins, bringing their account back to zero. If a Hebrew man or woman had a boom-box, “Back In Black” would’ve been blaring from the speakers as they walked away from the temple–feeling relief until the next year. Just look:
“In fact, the Law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)
“But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:3,4)
Animal blood reminded them of sins, Jesus took away sins, for all who would believe! John the Baptist expressed this truth the moment he first laid eyes on Christ:
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Why would he call Jesus a Lamb, a proper noun? Because lamb blood forgave and Christ was the last (and only) Sacrifice from God to God! Jesus was the most perfect Sacrifice ever, resulting in no need for any further killings by priests! (See Hebrews 10:26-29). Messiah was a gift to us for our sins–to pay them off permanently–so we can live in graceful freedom while no longer worrying about punishment from our Creator! (See John 3:16-18, 8:36, 1 John 3:5, 2:2, Galatians 5:1, Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8,9, 1 John 4:18).
John the Baptist was a Jew too, so he was looking forward to the day he’d no longer have to make a trip to get forgiveness at the Day of Atonement. The Holy Spirit revealed that this man walking toward him would do just that! (See John 1:17,29). Yet still, we Christians are confused about how forgiveness is received. We’ve been taught the error of “confession to be forgiven” when only faith in Jesus forgives us once (see Hebrews 10:10, Romans 6:10).
As a believer, it’s impossible to be more forgiven than we are at this very moment. As an unbeliever, it’s impossible to be any less forgiven. Confession doesn’t achieve forgiveness for either person, repeatedly. On purpose or not, distorted context of Scripture is to blame for this fallacy. There are only two verses in the New Testament which speak of confession of sin–1 John 1:9 and James 5:16–and neither have to do with continual forgiveness from God.
Before I continue, if you believe confession forgives you on a regular basis, ask yourself this: “What if I forget to confess a sin?”
God doesn’t forget. Just because we allow a sin to float away into the rear-view mirror of our life without confessing it, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a sin. Our memory, or incorrectly justifying a sin, doesn’t save us or keep us saved. All sins are willful and all sins must be dealt with by Christ’s blood. Do you believe He has the power to remove every sin–past, present, and future?
Friend, the answer is yes. Yes, He does. All of our sins were in the future when He died for them. He isn’t bound by time. We are. He temporarily joined us in our human time frame, but only to take care of our sin problem with the Father. Then off He went, back into the timeless realm, leaving us His Spirit for comfort, strength, and guidance (see John 1:14, 14:18,26, 8:58, Revelation 22:13, 2 Peter 3:8, 1 John 2:2).
Please ask yourself one more question if you’re focused on confessing: “Why not just do a blanket confession for all of my sins for my entire life and get it over with?”
Seems shallow, doesn’t it? That’s not much of a relationship, is it? This theology makes no sense for a reason: because it’s not true.
Let’s break down 1 John 1:9 so we can be free in our thinking and truly enjoy our union with Christ!
“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)
I opened up this devotional explaining how the Jews were forgiven. Also known as Israel, this people group was God’s original chosen community to have a relationship with Him through the Old Covenant brought in by Moses. God requires Covenants. This is important because if we don’t understand how God forgives, this single verse can easily make us think admitting our mistakes regularly keeps us forgiven. However, the first chapter of 1 John is an invitation to believe from those who walked with Christ. John is making an appeal to unbelievers who said Jesus never came in the flesh, and that “sin” was a made-up idea. Just start from the beginning and you’ll see.
But if you simply look at the verse before this one–1 John 1:8–the context is straightforward. John is addressing people who believed they had never sinned a day in their lives; as if sin was not a real thing:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
This is a solicitation for non-believers to admit their sinfulness, which is the first step to becoming a Christian. What happens after we confess, after we agree with God, “Yeah, I am sinful. I need to be forgiven by Jesus.”? The next verse answers that. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness–ALL. The original Greek word, ola, means all. There is no ambiguity of how much forgiveness we receive the moment we first admit our sinfulness. After we do, we are cleansed by being supernaturally killed, resurrected, and then combined with Christ–while still in these bodies! (See Romans 6:6,7, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Corinthians 6:17,19).
Does He cleanse our sinful behaviors and attitudes? No. But He cleanses us. From this new identity our behaviors and attitudes can become authentically holy because now we have the heart of God in our very being (see Ezekiel 36:26, Hebrews 10:16, Romans 6:17, 1 Corinthians 6:11). There’s no need to fake it ’til we make it. Living right is what we do naturally (see 2 Peter 1:4).
Confession doesn’t keep straightening out a crooked stick, we’re no longer catawampus. The Cross has completely ironed our spirit out!
Friend, this verse has nothing to do with confessing daily, weekly, tri-annually, or whenever our conscience is killing us; and it definitely has nothing to do with confessing to a priest. With all due respect, priests are a made-up, modern day, useless middle man. That collar means nothing according to the New Covenant. There’s not one New Testament verse claiming we need a priest for anything.
On this side of the Cross, priests are obsolete, but even back then, nobody confessed anything to them to be forgiven. They were simply agents. Just like today, no more holy than anyone else. In fact, they had to offer animals for their own sins before they could do this for others. The priests at the temple–from the tribe of Levi, descendants of Aaron–took the animals from non-Levites as the second baton holder. If you weren’t from the Levitical priesthood you weren’t allowed to go behind the curtain where sacrifices were made on the altar. You had to wait outside. Now, there’s only one mediator between God and man, it’s Christ. He entered the real temple in heaven, once, and He’s not doing it ever again. New Covenant priestly representation isn’t biblical at all. The truth is, every believer becomes a part of a royal priesthood! (See Hebrews 1:3, 4:16, 5:3, 9:7,11,12 1 Timothy 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9).
James said we all stumble in many ways (see James 3:2). Because of this, he advises us to confess our sins to one another (see James 5:16). This is the only other verse about confessing sins in the New Testament. Which begs the question: If confession was necessary to be repeatedly forgiven, don’t you think Paul or Peter would have mentioned it at least once?
I sure do.
Let’s dive deeper into this passage from Jesus’ brother, James:
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
First of all, who is righteous? Every Christian, equally (see 2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 1:22, Acts 10:34). We aren’t going to higher “levels” of well-behaved religious people so that we can be healed. This verse is de-scriptive not pre-scriptive, and it’s referring to any believer in Jesus Christ, not just church leaders.
We could ask absolutely anyone to pray for us, and if they’re a Christian, their prayers are just as powerful and effective as anyone’s. But let’s back up. Why would I confess my sins to someone else?…So I can be prayed for, so I can receive healing in my mind. So that I can get whatever off my chest.
This isn’t talking about physical healing because St. Jude’s would be empty. This isn’t talking about spiritual healing because the Cross would be useless. This is talking about our mindsets.
If I’m struggling with a sin, I always feel better when I reach out to a trusted friend and say, “Hey buddy, I need you to pray for me. This is what I’m going through right now.” It’s a very healing thing. However, their prayers are not causing me to be forgiven. Only my one-time belief in Christ’s forgiveness did such a thing.
The advice and counsel of someone isn’t repeatedly forgiving me. It didn’t forgive the Jews according to the Old Covenant, and it’s not neurotically forgiving us now. We are free to confess to dependable friends and family, and we are free to confess to God. We should do this each time the Holy Spirit leads us to. Confession simply means admitting or agreeing with. It’s a very healthy thing! Confession reveals God’s truths and your identity! Confession will ease your mind!
So today, my friends, know this: Confess away! 1 John 1:9 and James 5:16 are true! If you’ve never confessed to a loved one about a struggle, try it out. It works wonders in your thought life. Even more importantly, if you’ve never confessed your need to be cleansed of your sins once and for all time, do it now! Today is your day of salvation! Afterwards, know that you have been cleansed of all unrighteousness! You are now sinless and free!
A prayer for you: Father, today I want to thank you for once for all forgiveness. What a wonderful idea. What a GRACEFUL idea. We have it so good as New Covenant believers, much better than any patriarch or prophet of the Old! We’ve been forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus, ONE TIME. Amazing! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them have been taught the error of confession to be constantly forgiven, yet this is not from you. Such an idea creates confusion and fear, removing the potency of the Cross in their minds. It also causes self-righteousness, belittlement of sinful actions and attitudes, hiding, covering up, and hypocrisy. Set them free, Father. Reveal the truth! You forgive us in full from the moment we first believe we NEED to be forgiven by your Son! What an awesome gift! Keep teaching us more about what He’s done FOR us and TO us! Amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 1. Check out my other bestselling books here!