The Fork in the Road: A Reply to John, Part 2 (Regarding Confession and Forgiveness)

Many in the Churches of Christ have taught that, while baptism forgives our former sins, future sins are forgiven by a three-step process —

1. Confess the sin to God (1 John 1:9).

2. Repent of the sin.

3. Ask God for forgiveness.

Many add a fourth step –

4. Make restitution.

The fourth step comes from debates about whether someone married following an unscriptural divorce can remain in that marriage. The argument is that the sin of the wrongful marriage cannot be forgiven unless restitution is made, by returning the spouse to his or her former spouse — that is, the cure for a wrongful divorce and remarriage is another divorce.

That teaching is false, but not today’s discussion (see The Repentance Argument for that discussion). Rather, today I want to talk about confession.

(1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and [continuously] purify us from all unrighteousness.

The next test is whether “we confess our sins.” “Purify” here is also in the present tense, and so the promise is that we’ll be continuously forgiven if we do so.

The difficulty with this verse is the mistranslation of “homologeo” as “confess.” In this context it means “acknowledge.” John is not talking about a legalistic requirement that we confess every sin to be forgiven of that sin (who could meet such a requirement?). No, he’s insisting that we admit our sinfulness.

Consider, for example –

(1 John 4:15) If anyone acknowledges [homologeo] that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

The same word is translated as “acknowledge” in 1 John 4:2-3, 15; 2 John 1:7. In fact, it’s never used of confessing sin in the New Testament. Rather, the word used for confession of sin is usually “exomologeo,” as in James 5:16 and Matthew 3:6.

And this makes sense in context. Look at the verses that bracket 1 John 1:9 –

(1 John 1:8-10) If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 … 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

The obvious contrast is with refusing to admit that you sin. Therefore, the test is not whether we’ve confessed each and every sin but whether we admit that we are sinners. After all, we can only confess occasionally — at particular points in time — while we be humble enough to acknowledge our sinfulness continuously — just as we are purified continuously.

Moreover, “confess” in 1:9 is present, subjunctive active — indicating continuous action. Aorist would mean that we confess at a point in time and so receive forgiveness at a point in time. Present tense means we are to continuously acknowledge our sinfulness and so our reliance on God’s grace. John’s lesson is that the saved are those who continually admit their need for grace. This about humility before God.

Nowhere in the New Testament is it taught that we confess a sin as a condition to forgiveness. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t confess our sins. Rather, I’m just saying that John is not an idiot. You see, he also wrote,

(1 John 1:7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

“Purifies” is in the present tense, which in the Greek means “continuously purifies.” This is a promise of on-going salvation — but not a salvation that can’t be lost. He’s not teaching once saved, always saved. But he is teaching that salvation should be continuous, not occasional.

This test is whether “we walk in the light.”

(1 John 2:9-11) Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

Plainly, John is saying that we walk in the light if we love our brother. How can it be that simple?

Now, John cannot sensibly teach a continuous salvation in 1:7 and a salvation that happens only at the moment we confess our sins in 1:9! Those are two radically different theologies, and again, John is no idiot. Rather, we’ve gone looking for a verse to prove that we are damned for each sin we commit until we confess, and we thought we’d found it in 1:9. We were so certain of the answer, we didn’t bother to check the context or the Greek.

Just as in Hebrews, John teaches a continuing forgiveness. He doesn’t teach “once saved, always saved,” but he is far removed from the notion that I must participate in a 3 (or 4) step process to gain forgiveness of each sin. That’s not how it works.

But we do need to confess our sins. The logic isn’t some law of pardon. It’s all about how relationships work. As always, the best metaphor for our relationship with Jesus is marriage.

A man has a wonderful relationship with his wife. They love each other intensely and passionately. But he has a demanding job, and one year, he utterly forgets his wife’s birthday. What must he do to avoid a divorce — to avoid such a break in their relationship?

Well, a good and wise wife is sensitive to her husband’s situation and understands his imperfections. She loves him, and she knows him inside out. She hates and is hurt that he forgot, but she is not about to divorce him over such a mistake. Indeed, only a deeply neurotic, self-absorbed woman would react otherwise. And she is not that way at all.

Does he need to apologize? Absolutely. But why? She’s not about to divorce him over such a mistake. She’s a good woman. Why bother?

Yes, but he’s a good man, and he knows that they both need for the words to be said. He needs to confess his mistake so she’ll know how he really feels about her. And more importantly, if he doesn’t take the time to apologize, he’ll be more likely to do it again. And he desperately doesn’t want to see that hurt look in her face again. It’s an unbearable thought.

Confession is not only good for the soul, it’s at the heart of healthy relationships. It reinforces in our hearts that we were wrong and don’t need to do it again. Yes, he should confess — but not in order to remain in relationship. He confesses to have a better relationship — because she matters so very much to him.

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11 Responses

  1. Jay

    I talk to God many times in the day. I do apologize to him for my frequent flood of bad thoughts and open grudges I bear to not only the church folks but all folks.I do want him to forgive me for my rudeness but more important I wanyt to grow past that state of mind. Now this is where thye Holy Spirit helps. He tell me many times to cool it or stop daydreaming about some sex.

    The old school thought about sin seems to say that many times daily you are in and out of the book of life.

    Jesus told the disciples that he had to got to the cross but would send a comforter to help us break the hold sin has on us described Romans 7. That cure was the Holy Spirit that lives in us.

    We have a long way to go because the Holy Spirit allows those who are non believers to witness Jesus in us, in theory.. If we could see Jesus we would see him weeping at our lack of faith and our unwillingness to present a unified front to those who are lost. In my new community that would be more than 90% of the population. we should have the contrition Of John Newton, slave trader in the 1740’s as he was convicted by the Spirit for the ungodly act of slave trading.

    We need to let the spirit convict us the sin of apathy and our in difference. we have procrastinated far too long . That to me is the real sin we face today. Our lack of obedience to the two great commandments is inexcusable.

    We need to stop acting like little children fighting over an old toy . We need to pull together as a united church and put our PHd mentailties together and find a way to co-operate. The community I live in has a ministerial alliance. I did not see the COC or the Baptist Church there. The twenty or participants called each other brother and sister and reffred to them selve’s as a group, as the body of Christ in Bastrop.

    That is a strart.

    Bob

  2. Bob, I appreciate your candid honesty. Brothers and sisters in Christ need much more of that so that we can help each other.

    Everyone…
    Anytime I have quoted Heb 3:13 on this site….

    But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

    … it is only because Father knows we need help. He has given us His Holy Spirit. BUT he has ALSO given us each other, brothers and sisters who ALSO have Christ IN THEM.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have Jesus as our own personal spiritual trainer? That is what the Spirit and our brothers and sister ARE. Most who believe in the real and current work of the Spirit are comfortable with the idea of Him helping us. But in general, many feel UNcomfortable with receiving help and input and EXHORTATION from fellow believers. But that is what we are commanded to do… EVERY DAY…. “so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

    Hebrews 3:13 isn’t a legal command… it is a Spiritual Health and Thriving command… and we ignore it to our own detriment and the detriment of the Church.

    And we can’t fool ourselves into thinking the Hebrew writer is just talking about doing activities (benevolence, outreach, etc) together. He is not. He is saying… find a way to dig into each other’s hearts every day… not blog reading, not coffee with my Christian wife… but iron sharpening iron, every day. Is that everyone’s experience? I hope it is.

  3. pilgrim

    Encouragement is the glue that keeps whole. When we have doubts over anything to be able to go to a brother or sister and ask for help and support is as vital to our existence , second only to the Holy Spirit.

    Hebrew 10:25, has been used as a command to assemble. But I feel it is for encouragement and the support of our Christian family. I can’t imagine going to church and never talking or interfacing with anyone. Some do and want it that way.

    I have been to one cOC four times and have never received a phone call about our membership or well being. We need all the support we can get from Christians.

    You are right it needs to be face to face. We need at least five good contacts in Church. It would help if the preachers and wives were more outgoing or if the elders took more of an interest to us and their flock.

    We live in a world of mutual isolation from each other and our only contact is an occasional eye or lack of an eye contact in church. It makes you want to walk up and ask elders, preachers and other leaders…Am I invisable? Why do you drop you eyes when I pass you? Because we are not one of your team associate or friend..

    Things must get better, This attiude of the lack of encouragment is why we don’t bring our friends to
    church. They to would be ignored.

    I don’t know the answer.

    Bob

  4. In these days where so many are trying to steal sheep from each others congregations, it is so easy to misinterpret what I’m about to say… but I wish for ALL my brothers and sisters the family environment that I have been to be part of… some try to call it house church, but is MORE than that. True, we don’t have a building and we do all live in VERY CLOSE proximity to each other. We are IN each others lives every day… meals, working together, raising and educating children together and most importantly, encouraging and help each other BE HOLY and LOVING in the daily grind. Watch the video at http://www.JesusLifeTogether.com and you will see a scrapbook of what every day looks like for me. Father wants all His children to thrive in such an environment.

  5. pilgrim

    It looks like what you are doing was what the early church did in the first century. Paul greeted the church that met in the house of Priscela and Aquilla.

    I commend you for that. I’m sure your neighbors will be welcome.

    Your comments are from a spirit driven heart, Thank you and Jay for helping me.

    Bob

  6. Thanks Bob…

    Where it gets tricky and when we (the church I’m part of) start feeling the heat and the criticism is when we step over the line and say… All of those who wear the name of Jesus really SHOULD have a similar environment… not that meeting in homes ITSELF is the solution, but Heb 3:13 DAILY IRON SHARPENING IRON is part of the solution for sure to being a City Set on a Hill. Because daily “in your face” relationship is invasive for those who have a self-centered lifestyle to protect. It is easy to attend a few services and participate in a few potlucks and benevolence programs. It is MUCH more costly to live day in and day out with believers who are genuinely trying to help each other be more like Jesus. But oranges do much better in Florida than in Montana and much much better than in Alaska. Environment is CRITICAL to thriving spiritually. Jesus has specified an environment and demonstrated it by HOW He lived His own life with the Twelve. They were the first “church” so to speak… they were a family… walking together, talking together, working through sin issues together… they didn’t “attend” anything… they simply were a family together… Jesus, the Twelve, the other women and wives and children… THAT is HOW each of our environments can and dare I say SHOULD look. We know we need it but it just doesn’t quite FIT our American lifestyle… I say, let the American lifestyle suffer and let the Born of Heaven lifestyle reign. Jesus deserves it and we need it. Oh HOW we all need it.

  7. pilgrim

    I sincerely believe in what you are doing and I could elaborate in volumes if I could type fast.

    Rick Warren as you may know started his congregation with a home based Bible study with about twenty people. His “Purpose Driven Church” is easy to read and parts may make you feel better. If you attend a congregation that has been together for milliniums they have formed such a tight knit group and love themselves,Phileo Love not Agape love, That it is impossible to ever be included, Trust me we have been there to many times. They will never, ever reach out to anyone in the community. This is not an indictment on any particular group, we are all guilty.

    No matter our size we should be a “community” and not just the young people, young married, 39r’s and on and on. We are a body that all member work, play, suffer and worship as one unit.

    Your family church is just fine to me. It is more knit together than a two thousand member congregation rife with cliques and interest groups.

    What ever our size we srtil need to bring the lost. the unloved, unpopular,the discouraged, mentally ill, the drug addicted into our circle of love. There are so many so called undesirabes out there that need Christ and our encouragemnt. …Just a cup cold water.

    Pilgrim we all need to show the world that we are Christ and we will bring them into the protected fold.

    Thank you for your Christ like comments.

    Because of his Blood we are free.

    Bob

  8. Bob,

    Feel free to read and download anything from that link I mentioned above. It is all free for the building up of the Body…

    May HIS light shine in your heart, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

  9. I would add that confession is important, because in it we can find healing — James 5:16. When we confess to one another, at least…

    It’s interesting that in confessing our sins to God, we find forgiveness. But we’re told to confess to one another in order to receive healing. I wonder if we have trouble “feeling” forgiven until we actually experience it through our brothers and sisters? And how important is another Christian’s prayer on the road to my own healing?

  10. Amen Brett.. I just got back from lunch with a brother where we BOTH had real things that we wanted to expose and bring into the light, nothing real dark or anything (although those can come up)… but yes, there is a very real healing that takes place there as well as a stronger bond between us. It also gives us specific things we can pray for one another about. Those kinds of interactions need to happen “daily” even more than we need food or sleep. No accountability partners or confession time. Just simple-hearted discipleship. And when we turn from sin in such a way, whether “big ones” or “small ones”… satan is humiliated and Jesus is glorified and we slowly but surely grow INTO His Likeness.

  11. Regarding the comments…it may “appear” that pilgrim’s group is walking like they stepped out of the new testament, but this is how it was “experienced”..http://indianapoliscult.com/allatmikesfeet/FactnetList_about_Indianapolis.html

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