Do Christians Need to Confess Their Sins? (Pt2)

In Part 1 of the series we discussed James 5:16 but this time we will be discussing the often misunderstood 1 John 1:9.


Previously we spoke about whether it’s Biblical for Christians to confess sin, and in particular about James 5:16. In this article we’ll look at 1 John 1:9.


Firstly note we are NOT propagating a sinful lifestyle. We are NOT encouraging people to just go out and commit hideous deeds of licentiousness. We believe in obeying God and living a holy lifestyle, but these are only the fruit. The root is being established in grace and righteousness, knowing who you are in Christ. So let’s get into it!


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. (NKJV)


This verse has to be read in the context of the rest of the book of John – written to a group of believers whose ranks had been infiltrated by teachers of Gnosticism. John seems to be gentle whenever he addresses the Christians, calling them “my little children”. But in other parts of his letter, when he is countering the teachings of the Gnostics, he becomes quite protective of his brothers and sisters in Christ, and his words quite harsh. At the time John wrote this letter, the Gnostics had already left the ranks of the Christians:


1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (NKJV) 


Remnants of the Gnosticism teaching were still confusing the Christians who remained however.


Gnostics are people who believe that creation is flawed and was created by a flawed creator, a movement out of which the “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints”or “Mormons”has arisen. They also believe that there is no such thing as sin in the world, and as an UNBELIEVER that you do not have to confess sin to God to be born again.


Even though the book of 1 – 3 John was written to the church, 1 John 1:9 was NOT a command for people to grovel in sack cloth and ash, instead it is simply a statement to contradict the false teachings of the Gnostics. There were people in John’s church (who had not been born again yet) who were self-righteously claiming that they did not need to confess their sins to receive eternal life. They were still confused by the teaching of the Gnostics, even though the Gnostics had already left. John countered this lie and said the following:


1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (NKJV)


And then in the next verse he reveals how to be saved:


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. (NKJV) 


God will cleanse them from ALL unrighteousness if they will only confess that they need to be forgiven of their sins. If 1 John 1:9 were addressed to the believing Christians (the ones who were already saved), it would then contradict the following verse:


1 John 2:12 Little children, I write to you because you have been forgiven your sins through His name. (NKJV)


Why would John command people to confess their sins if He says a few verses later that they HAVE been forgiven? If confessing our sins was such an important practice in the life of a believer, why did the writer of the biggest part of the New Testament, Paul the apostle, not command us to do it once?


Under the New Covenant, ALL our sins (past, present and future) have been forgiven. When Jesus taught his disciples (who were still under the Old Covenant) the Lord’s prayer, He told them:


Matt 6:12 and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. (NKJV)


But under the New Covenant our motivation to forgive others is different. We don’t forgive anymore in order for God to forgive us, but now we forgive others because WE HAVE BEEN forgiven. 


Col 3:13 even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. (NKJV, emphasis added)


Countless doctrines have been formulated by the modern day church about confessing our sins to God, all based on this one verse (1 John 1:9). It’s quite amazing if we realize there are no other verses in the entire New Covenant that tells us we should confess sin to God! It’s even more amazing if we realize that this verse was not even intended for Christians who trust in the forgiveness of God, but for self righteous people! There are millions of people who have turned their back on Jesus and left the church, not because they are evil or sinful people, but because they are sincere people that for years and years have been taught a mixture of Old Covenant law and New Covenant Grace. These people have came to a place where they felt that other Christians and themselves were such hypocrites, that their failures and mistakes were so great, that their discouragement drove them away from Jesus into the wilderness. They gave up on Jesus and His word, although they still love Him in their hearts.


But you may ask, “Why would God not want us to confess our sins to Him? After all, we do make mistakes!” The answer is simple: Because walking around the whole day remembering all the bad things we have done will not bring us closer to God! Jesus already paid the full price so that we could have unbroken fellowship with the Father. This means that when we make a mistake, it does not break our fellowship or right standing with God. Jesus was forsaken by his Father on the cross so that we would never have to experience that! Does this mean that we just go out and live a life of full blown wickedness and depravity? No! But it definitely means that God wants us to have confidence before Him, and to be more aware of our righteousness and His grace than of our shortcomings and mistakes. 


Heb 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (NKJV)


How can we have boldness before God if we have to grovel on our knees and plead for the forgiveness of our sins every time we pray? If we can’t have confidence before God, how then can we even dream to stand in front of a blind person and say confidently: “Blind eyes open in the name of Jesus!” We’d always feel that God does not want to use us because we have too much sin in our lives. No amount of crying, confessing, remembering your sins, emotional torment or anything we can do can add to the finished work of the cross, where our sins were forgiven, once and for all.


So when you find yourself conscious of your sins, simply say: “Thank You Jesus for the perfect work of the cross that has removed my sins completely. Thank you Holy Spirit for convicting me of righteousness, not my own, but the righteousness given to me as a gift (2 Cor 5:21) and I praise You that nothing that I do can ever change that or ever separate me from your love!”


“Grace does not mean the denial of occasional mistakes in our lives, that is a dangerous thing to do. Rather grace removes the punishment and guilt of that sin.” (Tony Ide – Freedom Life Fellowship, Perth, Australia). Grace is what makes us worthy!


Rob Rufus (City Church International, Hong Kong) presented the following brilliant argument: “Let’s pretend for a moment that Christians DO have to confess their sins to God. Then for the sake of integrity, these people should please be consistent. They should not only confess those sins which they think are the big sins, but also ALL the little sins. Rom 14 says that ANYTHING a Christian does not do out of faith, is sin. [Rom 14:23b – for whatever is not from faith is sin]. This means that we have to monitor every single little thing we do the entire day, and if we find ourselves doing anything without faith (eat, go to work, go to church, drive home, talk to our children, take off our shoes, worrying about anything, etc.) that is sin, and we should stop whatever we are doing at that moment, and confess that we have sinned, because God has now cut Himself off from us, our right standing with Him has been broken and we stand in danger of being thrown into hell fire for sinning.”


So in closing, the Bible teaches all unbelievers to confess their sins to God to be born again and come into Christ, but the Bible does not teach New Covenant believing Christians to confess their sins to God.


  1. Hi there.

    I’m from Cape Town South Africa. And to be honest I’ve never found a church that teaches on the New Covenant. If you have any recommendations please let me know. I’m from the Northern suburbs in Brakenfell but I don’t mind traveling. Blessings*

    1. Hi Thami,
      Unfortunately we are not aware of any new covenant church in Cape Town. Will let you know if that changes.

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