1 John 1_9 confess sins

Question:

If my sins are paid for, and I’m forgiven, why do I need to confess sins? How does 1 John 1:9 “fit,” if Jesus paid for all of our sins on the cross?

Answer

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This is a wonderful verse.  But it is often misunderstood and frequently misquoted (out of context).  We’ll explain the verse, but first,  let’s start with what we know to be true.  

Jesus paid for all of our sins on the cross.  When He declared, “it is finished,” He meant that.  All of our sins, past, present, and future, were nailed to His cross and His blood was shed to make atonement (payment) for them.  This was confirmed by Paul in his letter to the church at Colossae.

Colossians 2:14  Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross

What did Paul mean by “…handwriting of ordinances that was against us?”  He was speaking of a handwritten certificate of debt, which was an acknowledgment of debt, signed by the debtor. 

The Ordinances

Paul was also speaking in reference to the Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments, which reveal man’s sin debt. The Ten Commandments encompass all God’s ordinances for holy living.  The Commandments were given to reveal sin and to convict sinners. 

In His humanity, Jesus kept the Law perfectly.  Thereby, He fulfilled the Law  (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 8:13) and was proven by the Law to be the pure Lamb of God, making Him acceptable unto God to pay the sin debt of mankind. When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, He canceled the certificate of our debt (“nailing to His cross”).  It was by Jesus’ death that our penalty for sins was paid.  (Read more: The Gift of SalvaTION: Justification & Imputation)

Before Jesus breathed His last breath, He cried out the word (in Greek) “tetelostai.” This word means “it is finished.”  Ancient tax receipts have been found with this single Greek word written across them, indicating payment in full and the debtor was released from the debt.

Knowing that all of our sins are fully paid for, and for those who repent and trust in Christ all sins are forgiven, let’s return to the question about 1 John 1:9.  Why must we continue to repent to be forgiven of sins?

1 John 1:9

First, we must understand that this verse comes from the first of the disciple John’s three letters.  John’s letters focus on the Christian life after justification (forgiveness of sins and regeneration by the Holy Spirit).  The letters focus on the process of sanctification that is a saved sinner’s journey in life.  Sanctification begins when a person is saved by Jesus (forgiven and regenerated) and lasts until one goes to be with Jesus in Heaven.  Our sanctification is worked in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He works in and through us to conform us to the image of Jesus.

We know that in our justification, our sins have been washed aways by the blood of Christ and we have been given Christ’s righteousness.  (Rev 1:5, Rom 3:22, 2 Cor 5:21)  We are secure in the righteousness of Christ, in which we stand.  

Yet we continue to sin, and sin always leaves a stain. It’s a stain that affects our communion with Christ, but not our union with Him.  Our union with Christ is forever clean. We are washed clean of our sins and justified by His blood. However, our communion (our fellowship with Him) needs cleansing from the dirt of ongoing sins.

The Christian Bar of Soap

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This verse is sometimes referred to as “the Christian bar of soap“—and rightfully so.  But, what does that mean?

The only “soap” that washes us clean in our justification is the blood of Jesus (Revelation 1:5).  There is no other “stain-cleansing agent” for sin’s penalty.  John made reference to this in verse 7, …the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin

Verse 9  is not about our salvation.  The cleansing of sins in verse 9 is about our sanctification.  To better understand this, let’s take a step back in time, to the night before Jesus’ death on the cross, when He taught a glorious lesson about this.

The Last Supper

In the upper room, the night before His death, Jesus shared a supper with His disicples.  He also washed the feet of all 12 disciples. When Jesus began to wash their feet, Peter objected saying, “You shall never wash my feet!”  Jesus responded by telling him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” (John 13:8).  Then Peter, in his unbridled love for Jesus, replied,  “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9).  Then Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (John 13:10)

Consider now what transpired. Peter did not want his Lord to perform such a  menial task.  Foot washing was a task always performed by a servant. But when Jesus told him it was necessary, he eagerly desired not only his feet be washed, but all of him.  And Jesus said that was not necessary.

Look closely at Jesus’ words: “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (John 13:10)

When Jesus said, “but is completely clean,” He was speaking of the “bathing” (washing) that would be by His blood (1 John 1:7).  Only the blood of Jesus could make Peter “completely clean.”  So why would Peter need his feet washed?

Dirty Feet

While we remain in this world, we walk a path upon a cursed earth.  The earth is yet to be restored, therefore it is dirty and our feet get dirty.  Our “dirty feet” are symbolic of our ongoing sin.  Living in this broken world, and still living in the flesh, we continue to sin.  While we are completely washed of sin by Jesus’ blood in our justification, we must be cleansed of sin in our sanctification.  First John 1:9 is addressing that cleansing — the cleansing of a Christian.  That’s why this verse is figuratively called “the Christian bar of soap.”  

So Where’s the Soap?

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Some would suggest that the “soap” is our confession of sin, but I suggest that it is not.  If the “cleansing agent in our justification is Jesus’ blood, then the “cleansing agent” in our sanctification must also be of Jesus.  

In both our justification and our sanctification, our confession of sin is a demonstration of our hearts, our repentance, and our desire to draw closer to Jesus.  It is a demonstration of our unbridled love for Jesus, just as were Peter’s words.  And that’s exactly what God desires.  He wants us to repent, to turn from sin, and to seek His forgiveness. 

I suggest that the “cleansing agent” in 1 John 1:9 is the faithfulness and justice of Jesus.  Only Jesus has the power to “forgive us our sins.”

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The next time you sin, be quick to repent and cry out to Jesus for His faithful cleansing.

jesus-washing-feet2

Did Jesus Use Soap? 

We don’t know if Jesus used any type of soap in the water with which He washed His disciples’ feet.  The Bible only tells that “He poured water into a basin and began to wash…” (John 13:5).  But we can assume that the disciples’ feet were very dirty from the dusty roads. And since soap pre-dates this time, it might have been used. 

Just for Fun: Historical and Biblical Facts About Soap

Soap has a history dating back six thousand years. The earliest known soap recipe is credited to the ancient Babylonians around 2800 B.C. Throughout history, soap was used medically for treatment of many skin diseases.

The Bible mentions soap in two places, translating the Hebrew word “borth” to “soap.”

(Jeremiah 2:22)  For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.

(Malachi 3:2)  But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap

ATS Bible Dictionary

Malachi 3:2, Hebrew, borith, the cleanser; in Jeremiah 2:22 distinguished from nitre. It is well known that the ancients used certain vegetables and their ashes for the purpose of cleansing linen, etc. The ashes of seashore plants contain carbonate of potash. Combined with oil or fat the alkalies produced soap; but it is not known in what forms the Jews used them.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary

(Jeremiah 2:22; Malachi 3:2; Hebrew borith), properly a vegetable alkali, obtained from the ashes of certain plants, particularly the salsola kali (saltwort), which abounds on the shores of the Dead Sea and of the Mediterranean. It does not appear that the Hebrews were acquainted with what is now called “soap,” which is a compound of alkaline carbonates with oleaginous matter. The word “purely” in Isaiah 1:25 (R.V., “throughly;” marg., “as with lye”) is lit. “as with bor.” This word means “clearness,” and hence also that which makes clear, or pure, alkali. “The ancients made use of alkali mingled with oil, instead of soap (Job 9:30), and also in smelting metals, to make them melt and flow more readily and purely.”

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