Cloud Law up in the clouds

26Jan/110

The Confession of Sins – Is 1 John 1:9 a Part of God’s Will for the Present Dispensation of Grace?

"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).

Guilt is a killer. A killer of our joy, our peace, our enjoyment of intimacy with God. It is one of Satan's most effective weapons against the sons of men. Psychiatrists and doctors tell us that unresolved guilt is the number one cause of mental illness and suicide. Over half of all hospital beds are filled by people who have emotional illnesses. Guilt kills relationships, both among people and with God. We cannot freely forgive others until we first receive that forgiveness from God.

Our gracious and loving Father has provided a full and complete deliverance from sin and guilt. But if we believe a lie and fail to deal with guilt in the way God has dealt with it, we fall into a snare and
it becomes a most grievous and cruel weapon against us.

Guilt is that moral sense of blameworthiness that each of us feels when we know that we have done wrong. It is not necessarily bad, for it tells us that we have sinned and that something must be done about it. Just as our bodies should hurt when they are diseased or injured, so our God-given conscience should hurt when we violate what we know is right.

At the beginning, we must realize that God has not dealt with the guilt problem in the same way throughout Bible history. This is of utmost importance to know, for so many of the problems regarding guilt are made worse by people trying to obey God's commands given to people of other dispensations. For example, under the law of Moses, the children of Israel were commanded to "afflict your souls" as the high priest made atonement for their sins through animal sacrifice (Lev. 16:29-31). The writer of Hebrews elaborates on this Day of Atonement and the inability of the law to provide complete forgiveness.

"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

"For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

"But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.

"For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10:1-4).

Although this was a merciful provision in Israel for the time then present, the law was inadequate to make the worshippers perfect in conscience in relation to the guilt problem. The very fact that the sacrifices had to be repeated was a constant reminder that God's forgiveness was given out piecemeal, i.e., on an installment plan. It was never completed. God's people were expected to lament and afflict their souls, which is the antithesis of a perfected conscience. Indeed, far from being a satisfactory answer for guilt, Paul tells us in no uncertain terms why the law was given.

"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19).

God graciously provided the sacrificial system of the law to temporarily atone (cover) the sins of his people until the "precious blood of Christ" could be shed to purchase eternal redemption for us.
Those living before the Cross were "saved on credit," so to speak, until the fullness of time arrived for the complete removal of our sins. Even in portions of what we call the New Testament, forgiveness was conditional and therefore not complete (Matt. 6:12,14,15; 18:34,35; Mark 11:25,26; Luke 6:37c). The revelation of the Mystery through the Apostle Paul by the ascended, glorified Christ was yet future from the perspective of Matthew-John. And so the capstone of divine revelation concerning the total forgiveness of sins remained missing until that time. All of this is essential to understand throughout the remainder of our study.

With this in mind, there is one Scripture which in this writer's view has caused untold harm and detriment to the people of God. Not because the verse itself is faulty, for all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, but because religious leaders have so miserably misinterpreted and misapplied its original intent. What makes this all the more tragic is that it comes not from the enemies of Christ but from sincere, well respected, Bible-believing Christians. The verse I speak of is 1 John 1:9.

In order to view the verse within its context, I ask you simply to prayerfully consider the following passage from 1 John 1:1-10.

1. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

2. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)


3. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

4. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

5. This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.

7. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.

8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.

Are you confident that you understand verse 9 in context? Let us see. Although men have many variations of interpretation on this verse, we will mention here only three of the most popular.

1. It is a salvation verse which tells the sinner how to receive the forgiveness of sins today.

2. It is a restoration verse.

a. Restoring one to salvation or,

b. Restoring one to fellowship

3. It is a verse pertaining to the Jews under the Kingdom program of Prophecy and has little if any application to the Gentiles today under the Body of Christ program of the Mystery.

For the time being, I would like to pass over numbers 1 and 3 and deal directly with number 2. The other two will take care of themselves as we come to understand the passage. Part 2-a is the most easily answered. This is the view that a saved person can become lost again through backsliding, carnality, losing faith, etc.

Often a person is told that his sins are forgiven up to the time he is saved. From that point forward the merits of Christ's death are beneficial to him only as he is faithful to confess his sins to God and thus stay cleansed in His sight.

First of all, regeneration or the new birth is spoken of as a one time experience. No Bible passage speaks of being born again and again and again. During my college years, I attended a tent meeting for three nights with some friends. I couldn't help noticing that the same people went forward each night after the sermon to receive forgiveness. One night the evangelist quoted 1 John 1:9 and made the statement that no one with unconfessed sin will enter heaven. When I pressed him about this after the meeting, he finally conceded that John probably meant the grosser forms of sin. This underscores another problem with this view. How many sins did God allow Adam and Eve before they were cast out from His presence in the garden of Eden? Only one. And all they did was eat a piece of fruit that the Lord told them not to. How many unforgiven sins do you suppose it will take to banish you to the everlasting burnings? Only one. God is holy and of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. If your forgiveness depends on your confession of sins, you better be diligent not to forget even one.

The second reason 1 John 1:9 cannot refer to a restoration to salvation is that eternal life is a free gift. It is given by God's grace not merely to the undeserving, but to those who deserve the exact opposite. If God rescinded His gift, that would make Him more gracious to His enemies than to His own children. God does not take back the gift if you become unworthy. We were never worthy to begin with.

Thirdly, God wishes for us to enjoy the gift of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord. Man's only responsibility is to believe. Does God want us to walk through our Christian lives with a cloud over our heads? Those who believe that their forgiveness depends on their continual confession of sins soon find that their Christian experience has turned into "a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness."

The Scriptures tell us that upon believing that the Lord Jesus died for us and rose again we are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 1:13,14; Rom. 8:31-38). With the gospel of the grace of God, we have the pleasure of declaring the total forgiveness of sins. This brings peace, joy, and stability. More about this later.

Number 2-b above also speaks of restoration, not to salvation or even to maintain it, but rather to fellowship. Those who hold this view understand clearly the teaching of eternal security and the
preservation of the saints. The issue this time is intimacy with their heavenly Father. Our relationship is like the Rock of Gibraltar, steadfast and immovable. On the other hand, our fellowship (we are told) is like a tiny thread which the slightest sin in thought, word, or deed can break. Perhaps the best illustration of this view is the fellowship between a father and son. If the son sins against his father, the intimacy formerly enjoyed by both is broken and the pleasure of each other's company is strained. The blood relationship of father and son remains intact, but the fellowship must be
restored by confession of wrongdoing. Likewise, Christians have a blood relationship to our heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. While nothing can break our relationship as sons of God, fellowship
can only be restored by acknowledging the sin and an apology made, preferably with a pledge not to repeat the offense. This re-establishes the sweetness of fellowship and the pleasure with which both
Father and son can relate to each other.

Believers who seek to practice this often speak of "keeping short accounts with God," that is, making sure you confess sins regularly so your account does not build up with unconfessed sin. Psalms
32, 51, and John 13:1-20 are often quoted to confirm this position.

This view of 1 John 1:9 has more to commend it than the previous one. "Confession is good for the soul" is a truism which holds good for all ages and dispensations. Indeed, Proverbs 28:13 says,

"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth1 and forsaketh them shall have mercy."

In my formative years as a Christian, this view seemed to me to be logical, balanced and right. I knew many respected Bible teachers who taught this. Through the years, however, I believe the Spirit of God was pricking my conscience to show me things which revealed the shortcomings of this approach. Among them were:

1. It is based on a performance system of conditional blessing, and shifted my gaze away from Christ and His grace to my own faithfulness (or usually failure) to confess.

2. If what I believed concerning confession was true, I was probably "out of fellowship" much of the time, and so were most believers.

3. There were many things in 1 John Chapter 1 which are inconsistent with this view.

4. Concerning the popular father-son illustration, several rhetorical questions could be asked to show its weakness. What if the son fails to confess wrongdoing? Should the father continue to show him the cold shoulder until he does? What kind of father would that make him? Would this be a fitting picture of how our loving heavenly Father deals with His children today under grace? Further, the phrase "faithful and just" more aptly describes the judge in a courtroom than a father in the family room.

5. I had to honestly admit to myself that I found it extremely difficult to confess all my daily sins on a consistent basis.

6. This view of 1 John 1:9 must, of necessity, occupy a major plank in a person's belief system. Without regular confession of sin, the promise of continual cleansing is rendered null and void resulting
in broken fellowship. And who wants to be out of fellowship with God?

7. Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, is silent in all his writings on confession of sins for forgiveness, parental or otherwise.

8. Paul's epistles give us a positive affirmation of total, complete and unconditional forgiveness for all those in Christ Jesus.

A few examples should suffice,

"In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).

"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32).

"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2:13).

Forgiveness for the believer is now spoken of as a finished transaction, past history. We do not plead for daily forgiveness any more than we should for daily redemption. It is a part of the "all
spiritual blessings" with which we have already been blessed (Eph. 1:3). For further references to Paul's doctrine of forgiveness for the present dispensation of the grace of God, consult the following
Scriptures: Colossians 1:14; 3:13; Romans 4:5-8; Acts 13:38,39.

To be continued...

Endnotes

1. We have not mentioned the Roman Catholic tradition of confession to a priest,
but one verse from Paul should suffice to show the error of this custom. "For there
is...one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).
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