By Grant Hawley
There's a beautiful verse in First John that is a great source of encouragement to me. I hope it will be to you as well. It's 1 John 1:9 and it reads, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Before I get into this verse, I want to point out the verses around it so that we can get a bit of important context. 1 John 1:8 says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." 1:10 reads, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."
Sometimes people get hung up on phrases like "the truth is not in us" and "His word is not in us" but he isn't trying to say that means we aren't believers or that we aren't secure in Christ. John is writing to believers (1 John 2:12-14) and he includes himself in the warning by using the words "we" and "us" instead of "you." There is no question about whether or not John is a believer or whether or not he is secure in Christ. What John is saying is that pretending we have no sin is not an expression of truth, and saying we have not sinned is not an expression of His word. John uses this kind of language often to express similar concepts.
So, John is laying out the principle first and bringing it back up after, that we all have sin in our lives. If this is true, and it is, then it only makes sense that we should confess our sins to God (since He knows everything).
The word "confess" comes from the Greek word homologeo which essentially means, "I say the same." So, to confess is to say the same things about our sins that God says. For example, I should agree with God that I have sinned (as 1:10 suggests). I should agree with Him that sin is destructive and wasteful. And I should agree with Him that I should not continue in it.
But there's another aspect of saying the same about our sins that we often miss: Our sins are taken away by the blood of Christ. We are justified by faith, and we stand righteous before God, not by our own merit, but because of Christ.
This restoration of fellowship is illustrated beautifully in Isaiah 6:1-8:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged." Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
Seeing God in all His awesomeness and glory terrified Isaiah. Not only is the Lord glorious and powerful, but He is perfectly holy. Isaiah understandably became so aware of his own sinfulness that he proclaimed "Woe is me, for I am undone [i.e. ruined, destroyed]!" Yet, the Lord cleanses his sin by sending the seraphim to touch his lips with a live coal. So, when the Lord asks "Whom shall I send...?" Isaiah is confident and volunteers excitedly. Faith in the Lord's cleansing made all the difference in the world.
Isaiah agreed with the Lord, he confessed his sin on both sides of the purging. Without God's purging, his sin would lead to his destruction and inability to be in God's presence. With God's purging, his guilt did not need to hinder him from fellowship or service.
Forgiveness erases the distance in fellowship created by sinning.
But God also promises that when we confess our sins, He will "cleanse us from all unrighteousness." What this means is that God works the sin out of our lives over time as we live transparently before Him.
This is why confession is so important. It isn't some ritualistic woo-woo, it is bringing our thoughts and prayers into alignment with God's word. And when we do this, we know that God is faithful (that means He always will), and just (that means He is right in what He does), to forgive us our sins (fix the broken fellowship) and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (clean up our thoughts and behaviors and bring them into alignment with His will).
Our part in this is really easy. We just have to agree with what God says about our sin. He knows everything and is always right and good, so it only makes sense to do that anyway. So, we don't have to jump through hoops to try to earn favor and friendship from God when we mess up.
Be honest with yourself and with Him and enjoy sweet fellowship with the Almighty God while you watch His cleansing work a transforming miracle in your life.