1 Jn. 1:1-10
Confession of sin is the oil that keeps the engine of fellowship running smoothly. But biblically speaking, fellowship is not merely the absence of trouble, it is also a fullness of joy.
Summary of the Text
John begins his letter testifying that he and the other apostles have witnessed the “word of life,” which is that eternal life that was with the Father (1:1-2). It’s that word of life that they have declared, so that all who hear may have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and fullness of joy (1:3-4). The message is that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1:5). So John lines up these concepts: fellowship, joy, light, and truth such that those who say they have fellowship with God but walk in darkness are liars (1:6). But those who walk in the light are in the light with God and with everyone else in the light, which is fellowship, and the blood of Jesus washes away all their sins (1:7). But that way of being in the light and in fellowship (and in that joy) is the only way: those who say they have no sin and don’t need cleansing are liars and self-deceived (1:8). Those who confess their sins are forgiven and washed completely clean (1:9). Those who insist they have no sin are also lying about God, and they don’t have His word in them: the word of life, the word of fellowship and joy (1:10).
Getting into the Light
God is light, and sin is darkness. Therefore, whenever we find ourselves in a tangle of hurt feelings, critical spirits, broken trust, frustration, bitterness, and general unrest, the solution is confession of sin. But this really must start with each individual taking care of their own contributions first because sin means it’s dark and we can’t see clearly. “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5). This is true in the home with mom and dad and in the church with elders (Gal. 6:1).
Or to use another image from our text, sin is like mud all over your windshield and windows, and confession of your own sin is like running your car through an automatic car wash. In other words, following the pattern of the apostles, you cannot share true Christian fellowship with anyone else until you first have fellowship with the Father through Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:1-3). Are you right with God? And like the apostles, this really must be an experienced fellowship, full of joy. This means you must recognize that all of your sin is first of all a great offense to God. Generally, if things are out of sorts with your spouse or kids, things are not thriving with God.
Walking in the Light
Notice that walking in the light doesn’t mean you don’t sin anymore (1:7). Rather, when you walk in the light, the blood of Jesus is continually cleansing (1:7). How does it do that? By confession of sin (1 Jn. 1:9). So, you get into the light of fellowship and joy of the Father by believing in Christ, and that always results in confessing your sins and being forgiven, and you stay in the joy of Christian fellowship by confessing your sins (Ps. 51:12). It’s important to note that justification is not affected by confession of sin, but someone’s experience of the joy of justification can certainly be affected (Ps. 32:3-4) and someone who steadfastly refuses to confess sin ought to seriously question whether they really are justified (1. Jn. 1:8, 10, Jn. 9:39).
If a Christian lets sin go unconfessed it can get pretty dim and dark, but if you make a habit of confessing sins right away, you barely notice a flicker, and you will walk in the light as He is in the light (1:7). This is why families should have commitments not to let sin go unaddressed. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath; do not give any place to the devil (Eph. 4:26-27). Jesus made a similar point when he required us to leave our gift at the altar and be reconciled to our brothers (Mt. 5:24). Get right first. If you got out of fellowship on the way to church, do not go in to church until you have made it right. Don’t leave, don’t fellowship with others until you’ve made things right with your spouse, children, parents, or siblings. If you make a habit of making things right, right away, you can put it right just as fast (or faster) than you made it wrong.
How To Make It Right: Confess & Forgive
The word “confess” literally means to “agree with.” And in the first place, confession means agreeing with God, agreeing with His word that you have sinned with no excuses or blaming. Jesus bled and died for your sin, and that means it was blatant, willful, and on purpose. Secondly, confession means naming your sin what God names it. Christian confession of sin isn’t a mumbled, “sorry” or “my bad” or “I didn’t mean it” or “I don’t know what came over me.” Name your sin biblically: it’s lying or lust or anger or disrespect or stealing or adultery or whatever God calls it. A biblical confession of sin names the sin, admits that it was wrong, and asks for forgiveness. The promise of God is the ground of Christian joy: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). And perhaps the most glorious word in that promise is the word “all.” We confess the sins we know about, and God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We are like little kids who have been playing in the mud, covered head to toe, and we suddenly notice that we have mud on our hands. We rush to the house and ask our Dad to wash our dirty hands, and He, smiling, throws us into the bath. It’s this generosity that makes a Christian joyful, and it’s this generosity that teaches us to forgive, as we have been forgiven (Mt. 18:22ff, Eph. 4:32). And just as God’s forgiveness is a sure promise not to hold that sin against us, so too our forgiveness is a promise, not a feeling. Waiting until you feel forgiveness is a good way to cultivate bitterness, but forgiving in obedience is a good way to cultivate true joy.
It’s also worth pointing out that sometimes we are willing to forgive, but the person who has wronged us has not asked for forgiveness. When possible, you ought to carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully seek a conversation with that person (Mt. 18:15). In some instances, you’ve done what you can, but it isn’t the kind of thing that can or should be pursued any further, in those cases you cannot complete the forgiveness “transaction” in terms of restoring fellowship, but like bread baking in the oven, like a present wrapped and waiting by the front door, you should be looking eagerly down the road for them, with forgiveness in your heart, ready to give.
If there has been any sort of buildup of sin in your life determine now to start confessing and get back into the light, back into fellowship, back into joy. And if there’s a big pile, start with whatever’s right in front of you. It will get lighter and more joyful as you go, and the same faithfulness that forgives all your sin will strengthen you for these good works (Eph. 2:10).