8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (I John 1:8-10)
It was during my first year at Detroit Bible College (DBC) when one of my professors invited a friend of his to lecture to our Marriage and Family class. The lecture had really nothing to do with either marriage or family. Rather, the speaker’s contention was that he no longer sinned as a believer in Christ. He contended, and debated with several of us students, that he had achieved a condition of sinless perfection while here on earth.
It was during my second year at DBC that I read a book for a class entitled Philippians and Spiritual Life. The author of the supplemental book for the class proposed the perspective known as Carnal Christianity. He contended that the church must accept any individual’s profession of faith in Christ regardless of their lifestyle and lack of obedience to the Scriptures. In other words, such people who consistently live lives disobedient to the Scriptures are Carnal Christians. These are they who live in continual disobedience to God’s Word but are confident they are converted and are going to heaven when they die.
What do we make of these two extreme views of Christian living or sanctification? Can and may a believer achieve sinless perfection while here on earth? Or, may a professing Christian living as sinfully as they desire confident they are truly converted and are a child of God who possesses eternal life?
I submit that today’s text from I John refutes both of these extreme views of biblical sanctification. The Apostle John refutes not only the perspective of sinless perfection but also blatant carnality as two false views of spirituality.
John says that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” No believer in Christ, the apostle contends, can biblically say that they are without sin. To do so is self-deception and an indication that God’s truth is not in their thinking, emotions and will. Remember, John is writing to believers in Christ and not to the unconverted.
John also says that, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” This refutes that idea that sin is no big deal with God. The so-called carnal Christian is calling God a liar regarding the seriousness of sin. It also is evidence that God’s Word has not taken root in their thinking, emotions and will.”
What is the solution to avoid both of these extreme, and incorrect, views? The answer is found in I 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.” Both views are avoided in the believer’s life when they approach God with not only a recognition of their sin, but also a repentant heart to see their sin as God does. Sin is rebellion against a holy God.
How do we approach God in order to confess our sins? Taking our direction from King David following his moral failure as recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12, we see the following principles of confession from David’s Penitential Psalm: Psalm 51.
First, believers in Christ must acknowledge that they are approaching the God of mercy and grace. We must never presume on God’s forgiveness but rely on His unmerited favor towards wicked sinners. If we think we deserve forgiveness, then we do not understand grace.
Second, believers must have a genuine attitude of repentance. Understand your sin from God’s perspective. As Dr. R. C. Sproul contends, “Sin is cosmic treason.”
Third, ask for God’s mercy to forgive you of your sin based on the imputed righteousness of Christ applied to your eternal soul’s account before God. God forgives, not on the basis of your sincerity but rather on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary atonement applied to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Christ alone. Confession and repentance, resulting in forgiveness, is never based on one’s penance or attempts to make amends to God for sin.
Fourth, ask for cleansing and for strength to refrain from doing that sin anymore. Admittedly, believers will sin again and probably commit the same sin they just recently confessed and repented of before God. However, the promise from God is that He remains faithful to forgive and cleanse the believer from all remaining unrighteousness.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Not only did the false teachers walk in darkness (i.e., sin; v. 6) but went so far as to deny totally the existence of a sin nature in their lives. If someone never admits to being a sinner, salvation cannot result (see Matt. 19:16–22 for the account of the young man who refused to recognize his sin). Not only did the false teachers make false claims to fellowship and disregard sin (1 John 1:6), they are also characterized by deceit regarding sinlessness (Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 3:23).”
“Continual confession of sin is an indication of genuine salvation. While the false teachers would not admit their sin, the genuine Christian admitted and forsook it (Ps. 32:3–5; Prov. 28:13). The term “confess” means to say the same thing about sin as God does; to acknowledge his perspective about sin. While 1 John 1:7 is from God’s perspective, v. 9 is from the Christian’s perspective. Confession of sin characterizes genuine Christians, and God continually cleanses those who are confessing (cf. v. 7).”
I would encourage each of you to read Psalm 51 and David’s heartfelt confession of repentance unto God. May it parallel our own confession when we are tempted to either think we are without sin or that sin does not really matter to God.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!