"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
Under the Old Covenant, the very best the people could hope for was for their sins to be temporarily covered. Through various rituals and animal sacrifices, they could be ceremonially cleansed but yet even with the blood of bulls and goats their sin could never be taken away. In fact, through those sacrifices there was really only a reminder of sins (Heb 10:3-4). Contrast this with "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). It's interesting to me that the same Greek word used in Hebrews 10:3, in which it's said that the blood of bulls and goats only provided a reminder ("anamnēsis") of sins is the very same Greek word used by Jesus in the account of the Last Supper in Luke 22:19 and that Paul also spoke when he repeated Jesus' words, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me" and "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
See the contrast? The blood of bulls and goats only provided a reminder of sins, but through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, our sins were taken away, and this is now what we are to remember and be reminded of often. Our sins were taken away. They no longer exist. They were not simply "covered," as was the case under the Old Covenant, but they have been taken away. To bring them up again is to deny the finished work of Jesus. To do so is to not remember His broken body and shed blood through which our sins have been taken away.
When, then, about 1 John 1:9? Aren't we to bring up our sins again, by "confessing" them in order to be cleansed and forgiven? There are several problems with building a doctrine of confession-for-Christians from this lone verse. First off, nowhere else in the New Testament is there instruction for Christians to confess their sins in order to be cleansed and forgiven. Even in all of Paul's writings and in all of his dealings with sinful behavior in the church (and he dealt with a lot of it), not once does he give any instructions for confessing sins. In fact, time and time again he reminds the church of the finished work of Jesus and that they are already holy, righteous, cleansed, forgiven, sanctified, justified, and so on and so on. For example, in 1 Cor 6:9-11 he exhorts them to not live as those who have not yet been washed, sanctified and justified --- because they themselves have been washed, sanctified and justified. That's already who they are, so go ahead and live like it!
Paul goes on to say that "all things are lawful." There's no condemnation and we remain cleansed even when we don't live like who we are. "But," he says, "not all things are helpful... not all things edify... I won't be brought under the power of any." The issue isn't one of losing our righteousness, sanctification or justification, or of no longer being clean. The issue is living out who we truly are because that's who God literally made us to be. The issue isn't a matter of being cleansed and forgiven over and over again, each time we sin! We have been cleansed once and for all and we have been forgiven once and for all. "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Col 2:13-14).
With all of the rest of the truth of the New Covenant, it should be plain to see that John was not addressing Christians in the first chapter of his first epistle. Since Christians are already forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness, there would have been no reason for John to instruct them on how to become forgiven and clean! But the church that he was writing to was a mixed church, as many churches are, made up of not only believers but of unbelievers too. And among those in the church were some Gnostics, who, among other things, didn't believe that Jesus had come in the flesh. John addressed them, and I'll get into that in Part Two.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4