“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).”
Our rhythm of life is disrupted at present and maybe, by this point in the shutdown, you are realizing how difficult it is to be a self-feeder. I’m sure this struggle has given us a greater appreciation (and desire) for the public gathering of the saints for worship. Yet, at the moment, we are all experiencing the same dilemma. We have Zoom and Internet fatigue. Internet worship services are more and more unfulfilling. Work and business are disrupted. Things are not meant to be this way and you are surprised by how disorienting this experience has been.
When our lives are under a great amount of stress, it is easy to fall back into the mindset that our acceptance with God is performance based. The best of saints struggle with this problem. Do you experience the sense of guilt that you are never doing enough to please God? Is there a lingering fear that maybe God does not love or accept you?
Most likely, those sentiments arise in connection with certain sins in our lives. Maybe it is that same sin you have struggled with for years without the deliverance you thought would be given by now. Maybe it is because you struggle with how little your devotion is to the Lord. Maybe the experience of constant failure has become overwhelming.
Would I be wrong in assuming that what is actually happening to many believers right now is not stronger devotion to Christ, but rather the resurrection of old addictions and struggles of the past? Stress and anxiety have a strange way of prompting us to reach for old idols. Those idols always have been and still are death to us, and yet, we grab them for relief. Through it all, we wonder, does the Lord still accept us?
At times like this, it is good to meditate on the promise of 1 John 1:9. The Holy Spirit inspired these words to reassure believers who are confused and struggling over the continued presence of sin in their lives. Here, God gives his prescription for how we can respond in faith when we find ourselves doing the things we do not want to do, or neglecting to do the things he wants us to do (see Romans 7).
In this remarkable promise, God provides ongoing help for those who are already forgiven of all their sins. While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us, so that all of our sins are atoned for; past, present, and future. If this were not so, His words on the cross, “it is finished”, would mean nothing to us outside of Jesus breathing his last. Jesus finished the work of actually atoning for our sins.
Having received Christ by faith, the Scriptures make clear that we have been forgiven (χαρισάμενος) of all our trespasses (Col. 2:13). The aorist tense of the verb is telling us this was a completed action. The force of this is to communicate that the objective work of Christ has secured the forgiveness of all your trespasses, now and forever. It was in this connection that Jesus assured the disciples that they were “already clean”, based on his sacrificial work.
1 John 1:9 is a recognition of our ongoing need for help and reassurance of the work of Christ for us. The marvel is that both verbs for forgive (ἀφῇ) and cleanse (καθαρίσῃ) are also aorist tenses. Most translators use these verbs in the future as if God will forgive at some later point. But that is not what the verbs are communicating; as if these are ongoing actions to be hoped for at some future point. Like Col. 2:13, they are verbs declaring that both the canceling of all debt (forgive) and purification (cleanse) have already happened, once and for all! Forgiveness is a definite outcome based on Jesus work on the cross.
“Confess your sins to me,” says the Lord. You don’t need a priest, pastor, or any other mediator outside of Christ to do this. Our heavenly Father is inviting us to be honest and open with him, with specificity, about the sins have we have committed. When we sin, we experience a disruption in our fellowship with God through the defilement sin brings. Sin is alienating and disruptive to proper fellowship with Christ. As saints who still sin, we regularly have need to be restored in the knowledge that we are forgiven and cleansed before the Lord. The Lord lifts us out of the guilt and defilement that we bring on ourselves. He assures us of his faithfulness to forgive and cleanse us once and for all, based on the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. He renews these objective realities to our hearts when we draw near to him burdened over our sins, with our eyes fixed on our righteous advocate who has already made propitiation for them all (1 John 2:2).
What a relief it is to remember and be renewed in the joy of our salvation; assured of the forgiveness and cleansing that is ours in Christ. Through prayer, by his grace, the Lord renews us in his promises as we receive from him the washing of our consciences from sinful works (Heb. 9:14). In this way, our hearts are “reassured before him” (1 John 3:19).
In your struggles with sin, talk with your Lord. Your heavenly Father is gracious, merciful, and longsuffering. As the Heidelberg catechism says, “For it is much more certain that God has heard my prayer than I feel in my heart that I desire such things from him” (QA, 129). Therefore, confess your sins to the Lord. He is faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, so as to reassure you of his steadfast love for you in Christ.