I’m frequently asked why I believe we should have to continue confessing our sins after being born again, since all our sins are already forgiven. People who ask point out that 1 John 1:9 is the only place this is mentioned and if it was so important wouldn’t Jesus have taught it?
Well it turns out 1 John 1:9 isn’t the only place confession is mentioned for believers and as a matter of fact Jesus did teach it. But before we get into that, let’s review what I call the two sided nature of our relationship with the Lord so you can see where the idea came from in the first place.
Union And Fellowship
I call one side Union. It’s eternal and unconditional, based only on our belief. Ephesians 1:13-14 describes our Union with God, sealed and guaranteed. Once we’re born again, we can’t become unborn. It’s good forever. The Holy Spirit is sealed within us from our first moment of belief until the day of redemption to guarantee that. 2 Cor. 1:21-22 goes even farther saying it’s God who makes us stand, and that he’s put His mark of ownership on us as well as sealing His Spirit in our hearts. In 1 Cor. 6:19-20 Paul wrote, “You are not your own you were bought at a price.” God purchased us with the blood of Jesus and then He put His mark on us. You could say He branded us, like a rancher brands his cattle, as proof of ownership. We’ve covered these verses many times in support of the Bible’s promise of eternal security.
I call the other side Fellowship and it’s a bit more complicated. Fellowship is that state of continual closeness to God that enables Him to bless us in our daily lives, both by protecting us from enemy attacks and by making good things happen for us (Romans 8:28). It’s like He’s taken our side to give us a supernatural advantage.
Fellowship is defined by 1 John 1:8-9 as being both earthly and conditional upon our behavior. Even as believers, as long as we’re here on Earth we’ll continue to sin. Since God can’t abide the presence of sin (Habakkuk 1:13), our unconfessed sins interrupt our earthly relationship with Him and may deprive us of blessings we might have otherwise received. Because of our Union with God we’re still saved in the eternal sense, but here on Earth we’re out of Fellowship. And when we’re out of Fellowship, we have to make it on our own while being legitimate targets for our enemy’s mischief.
One reason that many Christians live such defeated lives is that having only learned about the Union part of being a believer, they only know that God has forgiven their sins and that they’ll go to be with Him when they die or are raptured. They don’t realize that they still need regular confession to stay in Fellowship in the mean time.
Now by defeated lives, I mean they lack the spiritual success all Christians are promised (John 10:10). They might be doing all right from a worldly perspective, although many are deprived even of that, but their lives do not reflect the Spiritual well being for which there is no substitute in worldly living. Nor do they feel the sense of peace and satisfaction that we all desire.
Where Did This Come From?
Union and Fellowship are not just New Testament ideas. Consider the plight of Job, a man of God and the main character in the oldest book of the Bible. He was such a good man that God bragged to Satan about him. But he was not perfect. His sin was self-righteousness and what he said to his friends proves it.
“Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life.”(Job 9:21).
(Speaking to God) “Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands … though you know that I am not guilty?” Job 10:3,7
(To his friends again)“I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered— a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!” (Job 12:4).
I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. (Job 27:6).
In addition all 41 verses of Job 31 are devoted to Job giving evidence of his righteousness.
Because he wouldn’t confess his sin, he was out of fellowship. When asked, God had to let Satan afflict him in order to bring him to his senses. Once Job confessed (Job 42:1-6), he was restored (Job 42:10-17). Even though he was the most righteous man on Earth, Job still had to confess to be restored to fellowship with God.
Some say that because these verses come after God’s agreement with Satan, they can’t be the cause of Job’s affliction. Are we to think God didn’t know about Job’s sin until he said something?
Later, in Old Covenant times, the priests had to sacrifice a lamb on the altar every morning and every evening for the sins of the people. Although God was dwelling among them, providing for all their needs, there still had to be a twice daily sacrifice for sin to stay in His good graces.
1 John 1:9 is the New Testament equivalent of those daily sacrifices for sin. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
This verse was written for believers who are forever saved, but are in danger of being out of Fellowship because of their sins. When we confess in faith, we’re immediately forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness.
This is the real underlying issue of Hebrews 6:4-6. We know this because in the preceding verses the writer said he was leaving elementary teachings about Christ and going on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, etc (Hebrews 6:1-3). This alone tells us he wasn’t talking about our salvation.
The key is the phrase “renew again to repentance” in verse 6. Jewish believers were being pressured into keeping the law, especially where it concerned the sacrifice for sin. Those who relied on sacrificial lambs instead of confessing directly to God were in effect crucifying the Lord all over again, since He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The daily sacrifice was a foreshadowing of Him, and when He came the shadow gave way to the reality. The old way was no longer sufficient to restore them to fellowship.
What Did Jesus Say?
As for Jesus teaching about believers confessing, take a look at the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32) Seeking a life of independence from his father, the Prodigal Son left his father’s house and struck out on his own. He had soon squandered his wealth in wild living and would have happily traded places with one of his father’s hired hands. Swallowing his pride, he returned to his father’s house where he confessed and was restored. While He was away, he never stopped being his father’s son (Union), but during that time there was no communication and he didn’t receive any of the blessings that might have been his had he remained in his father’s house (Fellowship).
Like the Prodigal Son, we still belong to our Father’s family while we’re out of Fellowship with Him, but there won’t be any communication and we won’t receive the blessings we might have otherwise had. And like both Job and the Prodigal, when we return to our Father and confess our sins, we’re immediately purified from all unrighteousness and restored to Fellowship.
Why Do We Resist?
Since the penalty for all the sins of our life is already paid (Colossians 2:13-14) and therefore there is no more condemnation for us (Romans 8:1), why do many believers resist the idea of confessing when they sin? Don’t they know forgiveness is automatic? What’s the problem?
One reason is lack of knowledge. Most people have never been taught about staying in Fellowship and are only familiar with the Union side of our relationship with God. They’ve learned how to be saved, but they don’t know periodic confession is required to stay in Fellowship.
But there’s also a fair amount of pride contained in our fallen human state. Having to repeatedly admit to being a sinner can be embarrassing even when we’re only admitting it to God who already knows all about us. That pride itself is a sin that interrupts our fellowship.
And finally, at least in the US, there are many believers who have it too good to even realize they’re out of fellowship. They judge themselves the way others judge them, by worldly standards, and think they’re OK. They never stop to consider their lack of spiritual wealth.
Jesus was warning us about being out of fellowship when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He said if we don’t remain in Him, we’ll be like a withered branch, unfruitful, no matter what we do. Believers like this will soon discover that whatever worldly success they’ve achieved is meaningless in the Kingdom, and their life as a believer is mostly devoid of eternal value. To their dismay, they’ll discover they’ve hardly stored up any treasure in Heaven (Matt. 6:19-21). As one escaping through the flames, they’ll still be saved (1 Cor. 3:15) but with nothing to commend them. According to recent studies over 90% of this generation’s born again believers may soon find themselves in this situation.
By the way, this presents an interesting dilemma for the partial rapture advocates. They contend that only the best Christians will go in the rapture. The rest, they say, will be left behind for a while until they prove themselves worthy. At the Bema Seat, these faithful ones will find their works compared to gold, silver and precious gems that survive the judgment fire. But right there beside them will be those whose works are all burned up leaving them with nothing. If only the best are taken in the rapture, how did these others who don’t have anything to show for themselves get there?
What’s The Point?
Because of our unbreakable union with God we never have to worry about losing our salvation. Nor do we have to wonder if we’ll be included in the rapture. But to make our relationship with Him here on Earth as good as it can be and to accomplish all that He desires of us requires that we confess when we sin.
Confessing when we sin is like apologizing to a loved one. You know you’ll be forgiven but you feel bad about disappointing someone you love and want to make sure you’ve restored the relationship to its previous condition. Confession. It really is good for the soul.