I want to let you in on a little secret that is important in virtually every aspect of life – context is key. Whether you are trying to make small or large decisions, listening to a conversation, or dressing for an event, you put yourself in the best position when you know the context. It is just as important, if not more important when reading the Bible. It is so easy just to open up the Word, read a verse, and read into that verse something completely different than its meaning, only because we do not take the context into consideration. This happens more often than you think and can lead to a lot of issues. If you have ever read the Bible, chances are you have done this at least once or twice. Today, I want to talk a little about a verse that I have seen believers take out of context, taking them right back into a place of bondage that Christ has already freed them from. The passage is 1 John 1:8-10 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.”
As I was saying, I think it would be helpful to start off with the context of this specific passage. The book of 1 John was written to a confused church in Asia, with the goal of addressing some major doctrinal errors that had been floating around. One of these false teachings was called Gnosticism. The Gnostics were a group of people who believed they possessed superior spiritual knowledge, that Jesus did not actually come in the flesh, and that sin was just an illusion. These false beliefs were quickly spreading through the church, and a letter was written to help clear things up. Here in these verses, John addresses the Gnostics, who were deceived by their own teaching, wanting them to understand that what they believed conflicted with God’s Word.
Now that you know the context go back and read that passage again. John is saying that those who claim to be without sin (like the Gnostics) are completely deceived and are not actually saved. Just like anyone else, if they were to confess their sins (more on that in a minute), they would be forgiven and have their slate wiped clean. However, if they continue to claim to have never sinned, they are calling God a liar and His Word is not actually in them. Those top and bottom verses are pretty straight forward, but that one in the middle has tripped people up for centuries when taken out of context. Many people take this to mean that although their sins may have been forgiven before they got saved, after salvation, it is up to them to obtain forgiveness through daily, weekly, and monthly confession, or that they cannot experience forgiveness unless they confess or ask for forgiveness each and every time they sin. I often wonder how people even do that? What happens if you miss one? I would be filled with anxiety and guilt. Not only that, but this kind of thinking oftentimes makes confession a mindless cure-all, turns it into works-based salvation upkeep, and ultimately takes away from what Jesus did on the cross.So what does confession mean in the context of this verse? While most people might assume the act of confessing is the same as asking for forgiveness, it is not. Here in 1 John, the word that is used in the Greek basically means “to agree with.” To confess our sins is to look at our sin and call it what God calls it. If we do not recognize the fact that we are sinners, why would we need a Savior? It is only when we realize just how lost and wretched in our sin that we truly are that we realize how much we need Jesus. It is only through Jesus that we can be saved, and the blood that He shed on the cross was and is sufficient to wash every one of our sins away. God has forever settled the sin issue in the life of the believer. When Jesus said that it was finished, He meant it!