Saturday, October 15, 2022

"If we confess our sins." Not an ongoing confession for believers, but an end of denial for Gnostics.

"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

This verse has a much different meaning than an English language face-value reading gives it. Many have interpreted this verse to mean that believers are to continually confess their sins in order to be forgiven and cleansed over and over again by God.

But looking at the context of the culture, as well as the context of the surrounding verses, and also looking at the meanings of the words in the original language, all work together to give us a different picture of what John is really saying.

The word "confess" in English isn't necessarily a 'bad' translation, but it also doesn't really get to the gist of what is being said. Many take this to mean that they are to confess their individual sins to God. But that's not really what is being said. The word is homologeĊ (Strong's 3670), and it does not mean to make a confession of guilt before God for each of our sins. The word can mean "to say the same thing as another," but I think an even better definition, straight from a Greek lexicon, is "not to deny."

This fits the context of both the culture and of the previous verse. In the culture of that first century church that John was writing to, there were people known as Gnostics who were spreading false information about Jesus and the gospel. According to the introduction to 1 John in Nelson's Study Bible:

"Gnosticism was a teaching that blended Eastern mysticism with Greek dualism (which claimed that the spirit is completely good, but matter is completely evil)... Based on the concept that matter is evil and spirit is good, some Gnostics concluded that if God was truly good He could not have created the material universe. Therefore, some lesser god had to have created it... The dualistic views of Gnosticism were also reflected in the prevalent belief that Jesus did not have a physical body."

Because of their belief that the human body (which is "matter") is completely evil, and that the spirit is completely good, they denied that they had any sins. What was done with the body was irrelevant. And also, because of their belief that Jesus could not have possibly had a physical body, they denied that He had come in the flesh.

If you have this in mind while reading the entire first chapter of John's epistle, it makes a lot more sense. Right from the start, John is declaring to them that he and the other apostles have "heard," "seen with our eyes," "looked upon" and "touched with our hands" a physical being - the word of life, Jesus. He is declaring that Jesus did actually come in the flesh. Why? He wants those who don't believe that Jesus came in the flesh to understand that He really did come in the flesh, "So that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3)

It then makes all the more sense why John, in Chapter 4, would go on to say, "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God." We understand that as believers, we don't need to continually confess (over and over again) that Jesus came in the flesh. It's the same with 1 John 1:9 and sins. It's a matter of an unbeliever (specifically, a Gnostic unbeliever), stopping their denial that they have sinned and that Jesus came in the flesh.

In Verse 8, John says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It's not believers who say they have no sin. And of course, it's not believers who deny that Jesus came in the flesh. Believers already believe that Jesus came as a physical human being ("in the flesh") and that He came as the propitiation for our sins. John would not need to declare any of this to believers. It's the Gnostic deniers-of-sin and deniers-of-Jesus-in-the-flesh who needed to hear this.

On top of all this, the "confession" of sins is not a requirement to be forgiven of sins or to be saved. In all of Paul's explanations of the gospel, throughout his epistles, not one time does he tell anyone to confess their sins! Also, in Paul's dealings with sinful behavior in the churches that he wrote to, not one time did he ever tell anyone to confess their sins in order to be forgiven and have fellowship with God!

Paul was clear in his epistles that believers are already in the light (1 Thess 5:5, Eph 5:8). They already have fellowship with God (1 Cor 1:9, 6:17). They are already forgiven and cleansed of all their sins (1 Cor 6:11, Eph 1:7-8, Eph 4:32, Col 3:13). Look especially at those last two verses. They are exhortations from Paul, saying, "forgive others because God has already forgiven you."

1 John 1:9, and the epistle as a whole, isn't about believers continually confessing their sins to God in order to be forgiven and to have fellowship with Him.  In Chapter 2, John says, "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His name's sake" (1 John 2:12).  How would John know whether or not they have "confessed" all their sins in order to be forgiven?  He wouldn't know, of course, and that is why it should be easily understood that his words in the first chapter were not directed toward them, but rather toward unbelievers - specifically Gnostics who denied that they had sinned, and who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh.

John was declaring the truth to them, in hopes that they would stop deceiving themselves, and end their denial of these things so that they could come into the light and have fellowship with God and with the rest of the believers.

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