Frank had been to my church on several occasions and wanted to talk further about my understanding of forgiveness. From the times he had heard me teach on forgiveness, he had come to understand that my view about forgiveness when people come to faith in Jesus is they are completely forgiven forever of all their sins never having to ask God to forgive them again. Through faith in Jesus, they can rest in the fullness of his forgiveness. His understanding about my view was correct. Now, he was seeking clarification on my view of forgiveness, especially 1 John 1:9.
As Frank and I talked, I shared with him I believed the Bible was very clear that Jesus died for all of our sins when he died on the cross. And, when we place our faith in Jesus, we receive complete forgiveness for all our sins forever. Furthermore, I shared with Frank that it was my understanding, through much study of the Bible, that the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us on he cross is credited to us the day we place our faith in Jesus. Since Jesus died for all our sins, it only made since that we are now forgiven of all our sins by his grace through faith. Therefore, there was no need to continually ask God to do what he had already completely done, forgive us for our sins. To continue to ask God to forgive us of our sins after coming to faith in Jesus, was a lack of understanding in the finished work of Jesus when he died on the cross for our sins.
Frank immediately replied to my understanding of forgiveness with this question, "What about 1 John 1:9?". And, to be honest, it was the same question I asked when I began to see the Bible taught that we had been forgiven of all our sins (Colossians 1:14). However, I had made the same mistake Frank made, and many others do, when understanding the meaning of a verse, I did not take the context of the verse into account. Because I did not consider the context of the verse, I misinterpreted 1 John 1:9.
When Frank asked me the question, "What about 1 John 1:9?", I told him that was a great question to ask and I had asked the same question when seeking clarification on the issue of complete forgiveness. I asked Frank if he knew the context of 1 John 1:9. I asked Frank if he knew what 1 John 1:8 or 1:10 said. He did not. I asked him if he knew what the book of 1 John was about. He did not. I explained to Frank that he had made the same mistake I did when determining the meaning of 1 John 1:9, which was failure to interpret the verse in its context.
I went on to share with Frank that John clearly explains throughout the book of 1 John the reasons he is writing. This gives us gives us clues about the context. Here is a summary of the reasons John writes this letter.
1 John is written by John to church families that had been infiltrated by false teachers trying to lead them astray from the truths of Christianity. These false teachers claimed to have additional spiritual truth needed to attain eternal life. They claimed to be in fellowship with God, some claimed to be without sin and others claimed they could sin all they wanted. They failed to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, having come in the flesh, and also they did not live according to Jesus' command to love one another. John, a disciple of Jesus, using the same language Jesus used to identify the Pharisees and teachers of the law as not in the truth, called the false teachers liars who were in the darkness, saying the truth was not in them. In doing this, he was helping the church identify the false teachers among them by teaching them to test the accuracy and credibility of what the false teachers were teaching by contrasting what the false teachers believed and how they behaved with the truths of Christianity.
I explained to Frank that it is unfortunate that so many well-meaning Bible teachers teach that those who are called liars and walking in the darkness in 1 John are Christians who are walking in the darkness because they are denying their sins. Those who teach this interpret 1 John 1:9 as saying these same Christians need to confess their sins so that they can be forgiven and cleansed from unrighteousness. However, that is not at all the context of 1 John. Those who were walking in darkness and referred to as liars by John where false teachers who had denied they had sinned, as did the Pharisees in Jesus time, and where in need of confessing their sins and receiving the forgiveness and righteousness that is in Christ.
As Frank and I talked more about forgiveness and 1 John, I showed him 1 John 2:12 where John says, "I write to you dear children because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name." I wanted Frank to see that John is not writing to Christians who are in need of confessing their sins so they can be forgiven and resume fellowship with God. But that John was writing to expose the false beliefs and teachings of those who had infiltrated the church with their lies. It was this group who claimed to be in fellowship with God, but were not, that John said was walking in the darkness and liars and in need of confessing their sins and experiencing forgiveness and righteousness through faith in Jesus.
In follow-up, Frank asked me a good question concerning the use of the word we in 1 John chapter 1. Another good question. I explained to him that John used what is called an editorial we. An editorial we is when a writer or speaker includes himself in the group he is commenting on, yet he himself may not hold the same views or be participating in the same acts of the group. For example, the writer of Hebrews 10:25 makes use of an editorial we. He himself has not deliberately rejected Jesus' sacrifice through unbelief (the meaning of the word sin in Hebrews) but is warning the Jewish people about their eternal destination if they purposefully reject Jesus' sacrifice by continuing to sacrifice bulls and goats in seeking forgiveness of sins. The writer had placed his faith in Jesus; yet, he used an editorial we to encourage the Jewish people to not reject Jesus but to accept him.
I explained to Frank that people use editorial we's all the time when they communicate. A coach may say, "If we do not get focused, we are going to lose." As a coach, he is focused. Now he is trying to get his team focused. (For more on the editorial use of the word we in 1 John 1:9, see Love Is Now by Peter Gillguist).
Frank and I talked a little longer and I shared with him that certainly John, when using the term we, was himself not walking in the darkness or a liar. He defending the fact the he and those whom he was writing to were in the light, and the truth was in them (1 John 2:8). So Frank asked, "In what way was he using the word we?" I shared with him a paraphrase of my understanding of 1 John 1:9:
If we as sinful people admit that we have sinned or broken God's laws, the ten commandments, then God is faithful to do what he said he would do when we place our faith in Jesus, extend to us the forgiveness of all of our sins, since Jesus died for all our sins, and declare us to be totally righteous or innocent before God of ever breaking his law.
I shared with Frank this interpretation of 1 John 1:9 is consistent with all of scripture following Jesus death on the cross when he ushered in the New Covenant of Grace. Paul makes it clear in Colossians 2:14 that all of our sins have been forgiven. In Romans 3:22-25, he clearly states that we have been freely justified or declared to be righteous and innocent before God by faith in the blood of Jesus, which Paul refers to as grace. (For more on 1 John 1:9, read Bob George's chapter entitled The Obsession With Confession in his book Faith That Pleases God).
Frank and I eventually wrapped up our conversation. I wish I could say that following our conversation he had come to accept his full forgiveness in Jesus. Yet, he was still struggling with that biblical truth because traditional teachings were etched deeply into his mind.
I can relate to Frank's struggle. My journey to embracing the full forgiveness that is ours in Jesus took me some time to accept. It required hours of Bible study and asking more questions about other verses. However, I stayed with it. Eventually, through diligent study and finding answers to my questions, and most importantly through God's grace, I finally understood that I had been forgiven of all my sins. I was able to clearly see the amazing grace of God's complete forgiveness.
As a result, I no longer had to keep asking God's forgiveness in order to stay in fellowship with God based on an faulty interpretation of 1 John 1:9. Now I was able to enjoy, for the first time, the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for me through his death. I was finally able to be honest with God about sin in my life. This honesty with God about sin was not to be forgiven or to resume fellowship, but was from the fact I was forgiven and in fellowship with God because of the blood of Jesus.
As you read through this, more than likely you have some questions. Probably, the same questions Frank and I had. Ask those questions. Study God's word in context. I understand where you are and what you are struggling with in understanding forgiveness.
If it would help, I have placed in the Audio Section of this website a copy of a message I have done on 1 John 1:9 entitled A Closer Look At 1 John 1:9 along with the outline that accompanies it. To find it, scroll down the page until you see the section called Individual Audio Messages. It is just underneath that heading. In addition, feel free to email or call me. You may also click on the 1 John 1:9 button located on the left side of this blog. If To contact me, see my contact information on the Contact page of this website.
Sometimes I think about my conversation with Frank and wonder, has he come to understand the full forgiveness that is his in Christ and the freedom of knowing he is forgiven? My prayer for Frank is that he has.