Animal sacrifices provided a temporary forgiveness and cleansing under the old covenant system. The old covenant system required repeated confession and forgiveness.
But what about us today? Is confession and seeking God’s forgiveness an over and over process for us? What if all your sins – past, present, and future – have been forgiven the minute you believed the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is an important question to ponder.
Hidden within the pages of the Old Testament is a promise of something better; the promise of a new covenant. And the promise of this new covenant, this new arrangement between God and His people, has been completely fulfilled in Jesus. And this is its fulfillment: when we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are immediately and forever forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus. The minute we believed, Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing – accomplished on the cross – was granted to us; was credited to us. Not because of anything we had done, but because of what Christ had done for us.
This is such an important promise to grasp. Many of us have been taught that some process of continual confession of sin is necessary to be in right standing with God. Friend, the blood of Jesus Christ has eternally forgiven and internally cleansed you from your sin. Once and done.
- What is your reaction to this once and done idea of being forgiven and cleansed? What questions remain about your new purity?
Now let’s visit a passage of Scripture from the New Testament that has led to some confusion in this area, I John 1:9. It reads, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Many Bible teachers hold this verse up as an example of repeated confession, forgiveness, and cleansing being required of us as believers. I don’t believe this fits the context of John’s letter.
In the first letter of John’s epistles, the apostle is addressing infiltrators in the church who came in preaching a Gnostic-type message. The Gnostics of John’s era placed a great deal of value on what they saw as a secret knowledge. It was a knowledge that combined ideas derived from Greek philosophy, Oriental mysticism, and Christianity.
One of its tenets was a separation between the spiritual and material world. The spiritual world is good. The material world is evil. So the Gnostics refused to acknowledge Jesus as God in the flesh. Since the material world is evil, God the Divine One could not have appeared in a human body. That is why John repeatedly emphasized in his letter this core belief of ours; Jesus Christ came as God in the flesh.
One of the outcomes of this spiritual/material divide is that the Gnostics treated sin with indifference. Since sin took place in the material world which was already looked at as evil, sin was viewed as a natural outcome of our material lives. There was no guilt involved here. A person could be very spiritual while doing something sinful with their mortal body because the body is evil anyway and divorced from our spirituality.
With this cultural background in mind, John seeks to make clear that prior to our conversion, we were all guilty of sin; sin was our very nature. So let’s look at the context of I John 1 in light of this Gnostic challenge to true Christian belief.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5).
The contrast between God as light and evil as darkness is a prominent theme in the Bible. The “no darkness in Him” suggests that those who walk in darkness are unbelievers with no connection to God.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:6).
If we say we are joined with God in His family and yet our true identity is one walking in darkness, we are lying. Because the one walking in darkness is an unbeliever who has never come into the Light.
“But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).
In contrast to the lost, believers walk in the Light, not the darkness. Believers have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus provides a one-time cleansing from all sin. (See Hebrews 9:14)
Now we switch back to the unbeliever.
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).
This is another direct response to the Gnostics of John’s day who believed they had no need of Jesus as Savior because they were not guilty of sin. John again calls them liars who are deceiving themselves because we all are guilty of sin. But Christ has provided an answer for our sin in verse 9.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
This incredible promise was written as a choice offered those who are walking in darkness (I John 1:6); those who have yet to believe the gospel.
And the promise of I John 1:9 is this: If we confess our sins – if we agree with God that here, prior to our conversion, we are sinners, and we need a savior, and that savior is Jesus – then Jesus will come to us, He will forgive us of all our sins, and He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The blood of Jesus eternally forgives and internally cleanses from all sin at the time of our conversion. This confession is a one-time agreement with God about our sin and when we agree with God in this way, He forgives, cleanses, and saves us forever.