When It’s Hard to Agree With God
by Bob Burridge ©2010, 2018
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.”
The word confess can mean different things to different people. We need to be careful that we don’t confuse what John is writing about in this First Epistle by understanding this passage in a wrong way.
Confession is not just listing our sins in prayer, or reciting them to a Priest or Pastor. Sometimes people think that doing something good or giving up some pleasures for each sin on the list helps to get God to forgive them. But, forgiveness isn’t dependent upon something we say or do. Its foundation is God’s grace alone which sent our Savior to pay the full price for his people’s sins on the cross of Calvary.
The word for “confess” in the original Greek text of 1 John 1:9 is homologomen (ομολογωμεν), from the root word homologein (ομολογειν). It’s a compound word meaning, “same-saying” or “to say the same thing”. The closest word in English is “to agree with”.
When we confess our sins to God we are saying the same thing about them that God is saying. We are “agreeing with God” about how morally wrong we are and have been. It’s more than listing our sins. It’s recognizing our moral unworthiness in the eyes of a perfectly holy God. While we should address the individual sins of which we are aware, we also should be agreeing with our Creator that we are lost in Adam, and that aside from the righteousness of our Savior Jesus Christ being credited to us by grace, we are undeserving of the forgiveness for which we pray.
It’s the work of Christ as our sin-bearer that pays the horrible price our sins deserve. He purchased forgiveness and restoration to fellowship with God.
In true confession of sin we are agreeing with God that our sin condition makes us worse than we can fully appreciate in our creaturely limitations. We admit that there is real guilt and offense against the one to whom we owe all that we are and ever hope to be.
This is the hard thing: agreeing with God that we are sinners, unworthy of forgiveness, and that our only hope is in the work of Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing we can do as fallen creatures to atone for our sins.
This wonderful Bible verse then goes on to tell us about God’s promises. He is both faithful and just.
God is faithful to all the promises he has made. He will always be and do what he tells us about himself in his word. No promise ever fails or is turned aside by a power outside of himself. When God stirs his redeemed people to admit their offenses against their Creator, they can be assured that there will be forgiveness. This admitting of personal sinfulness is an evidence of God’s saving grace at work in the lost heart.
This does not mean that we are forgiven only if we remember each sin we have committed. The context of this passage shows a contrast. Those agreeing with God about their sinfulness are set in contrast with those who deny that they sin (1 John 1:8,10).
Failure to remember a sin, even if a person dies while committing it, will not prevent forgiveness to one who puts all his hope in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The promise here is the assurance that this sincere admitting of our sins as God brings them to our minds will result in forgiveness for all those who have first placed their faith in God’s grace and the atonement of the Savior.
God is not only faithful to his promises, he is also just. He always upholds the demands of justice. Forgiveness is based upon justice being satisfied by the perfect Redeemer. Guilt isn’t simply set aside or ignored. That would violate God’s basic attribute of Justice. Instead, the good news, the Gospel, is that Jesus has fully paid the debt of justice for his people.
This doesn’t make confession unimportant. It means something more profound than making a “please forgive me for the following sins” list. It’s admitting the horrors of your sin and guilt before God himself. It’s admitting that your thoughts, words, and deeds include things offensive to him. It means that you are sincere and fully agree with God about all he says in his word about your own sins and how offensive they are. It means you sincerely grieve for all you have done and want to overcome your sins.
When you pray, remember what God says about you and about the righteousness of Jesus Christ with which you are clothed by grace as you come to him. Be assured that no matter how horrible your sins have been they are fully satisfied by the life and death of your Loving Savior who took your place in all the suffering he endured. Rest assured that God’s forgiveness cannot fail.