Shawn and I received this question from a friend named John:
Need some help to answer a question. Talking to someone who is not battling with an on-going sin but rather a past sin that has been confessed and forgiven (1 John 1:9). This person keeps coming to Christ and re–confessing the same sin. I believe that this grieves God. It is like going out into the wilderness and finding the scapegoat and repeatedly placing the same sin on his back again and again. Do you have any articles on this?
I know that a person battling with a sinful habit can come before God daily, confessing and seeking victory, but this is a different matter.
Praying for you constantly. Blessings this week.
This is an assurance issue. It is not an issue of assurance of salvation (at least there is no mention of that in the question). But it is an issue of assurance of forgiveness.
If we believe something that God promises, then we are assured that we have what He has promised. If we do not believe what He has promised, then we lack assurance regarding that promise. This clearly applies not only to the promise of life, but to the promise of fellowship forgiveness if we confess our known sins.
While there may be ongoing consequences from past sins (e.g., David experienced many negative consequences even after he confessed the sins of adultery and murder), the confessed sins are forgiven fully by God in a fellowship sense. In other words, our fellowship with God continues or is restored (cf. Luke 15:11-24).
The issue here is that John’s friend does not believe 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To understand and believe that verse, we must grasp the difference between positional forgiveness and fellowship forgiveness.
Unbelievers are unforgiven. When an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ, then all his past sins are forgiven in a fellowship sense (Acts 10:43i). That is, the new believer starts the Christian life in fellowship with God. In addition, all his past, present, and future sins are all forgiven in a positional sense (Col 1:14; 2:13). Notice what is missing there. The future sins of new believers are not yet forgiven in a fellowship sense. 1 John 1:9 is talking about fellowship forgiveness and fellowship cleansing.
An illustration of both types of forgiveness is found in the incident where the Lord Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. After the Lord had washed the feet of the other disciples, He turned to wash Peter’s feet. Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet,” then Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). The word part (meros) refers not to being born again, but to being in fellowship with Jesus. The Lord then went on to make that clear: “Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” (John 13:10). Judas was not clean because he was an unbeliever. But Peter and the rest of the disciples were clean in a positional sense.
The person who confesses a past sin repeatedly is clearly feeling guilty about the sin. For whatever reason, he does not yet believe that God forgives us when we are simply honest with Him, acknowledging our sin.
Maybe he thinks that he must ask for forgiveness. But God says nothing about asking for forgiveness. We are to confess, not ask.
The word translated confess is homologeō. The basic sense is to agree with someone, to say the same thing. When we confess our sin, we are agreeing with God that it is sin. We are making an honest admission of our specific shortcomings (Rom 3:23).
The power of forgiveness is in the blood of Christ. His blood is the only way for both positional and fellowship forgiveness. However, unlike positional forgiveness, which is total when a person first believes in Christ for everlasting life, fellowship forgiveness occurs when we confess our sins.
Many people who know 1 John 1:9 are not aware of 1 John 1:7, which is equally important: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Fellowship forgiveness is also achieved by the blood of Jesus Christ cleansing us. Fellowship forgiveness occurs when we confess our sins as we are walking in the light as He is in the light.
What does it mean to walk in the light? In his commentary on 1-3 John, Zane Hodges says,
1:7. Instead of walking in darkness, believers should walk in the light, that is, to live in God’s presence, exposed to what He has revealed about Himself, and to ‘walk in darkness’ (v 6) is to hide from God and to refuse to acknowledge what is known about Him. The believer who wants fellowship with the Lord must maintain an openness to Him and a willingness to be honest in His presence about everything that God shows him (Zane C. Hodges, “1-3 John,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary).
Walking in the light includes, but is not limited to, confessing our sins. To walk in the light one must be exposed to the Word of God. It is the Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to reveal sin and to transform our lives (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18). A local Bible-teaching church is the normal way in which God leads believers to holiness (Heb 10:23-25).
The problem with John’s friend is that while he recognizes the need to confess his sin, he does not yet understand or believe the promise of fellowship forgiveness.
However, God may be using John to meet that need. John is a retired pastor who for many decades has taught the whole counsel of God’s Word. If his friend is open to John’s counsel, he will gain assurance of fellowship forgiveness for confessed sin.
I agree with John. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Anytime we do not believe God, it grieves the Holy Spirit.
i Acts 10:43 could refer to either fellowship forgiveness, that is, starting the Christian life in fellowship with God, or positional forgiveness. While many commentators think Acts 10:43 refers to positional forgiveness, I think fellowship forgiveness fits the context better. God does not ask new believers to confess all the sins that they can recall that they committed before they were born again. Believers begin the Christian life with a clean slate in terms of fellowship with God (though there may well be ongoing consequences from their earlier sins, such as incarceration, divorce, illnesses, injuries, etc.).