David from Switzerland asks this super question:
Thank you very much for your work. I`m very happy about it; it is a very great help for me and my faith.
I have a question about fellowship forgiveness in 1 John 1:9. This verse says, that if we confess our sins, He will forgive our sins. As much I know, the word for confessing is homologeō. The basic sense is to agree with someone, to say the same thing. In this verse nothing is mentioned about asking for forgiveness.
But Jesus told us in the Lord’s prayer to pray: “And forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). Even Peter said to Simon the Magician in Acts 8:22, “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”
My question is: Are there two ways to receive this fellowship forgiveness of sins by either only confessing it or by asking for forgiveness, like in the Lord’s prayer? Or do we need both confession and asking for forgiveness?
Thank you very much for your answer.
I wrote a blog last year on confession and fellowship forgiveness. See here.
John is clear in 1 John 1:7, 9 that there are but two conditions for what we call fellowship forgiveness: 1) walking in the light of God’s Word (1 John 1:7) and 2) confessing our sins as the light reveals them (1 John 1:9). David is correct that confession is basically agreeing with God that we sinned in a specific case. It is not saying, “Lord, I admit I’m a sinner.” It is confessing the specific sin or sins that the light reveals: “Lord, I lied.”
Some have wondered how sorry we must be for our sin. The Scriptures do not suggest we need some level of sorrow. However, if we are merely going through the motions of saying, “Lord, I lied,” while intending all along to keep on lying, then we are not walking in the light, and our confession is a sham. There must be a desire to walk with God when we confess our sins. In a sense, walking in the light and confessing our sins are one condition. Because when we are walking in the light, we agree with God when He points out that we have sinned.
The part of the Lord’s prayer about forgiveness is part of the prayer. But just as the prayer is for daily bread, not for specific food that day, it is also for ongoing daily forgiveness. This is not prayer asking for forgiveness for a specific sin.
What Luke 11:4 is saying is that we daily look to God for forgiveness in light of the fact that we forgive those who trespass against us. If we are not forgiving those who sin against us (and who repent), then we are not walking in the light, and hence we are not in fellowship with God. The Lord’s prayer reminds us that in order to have daily forgiveness from God we must forgive others as well.
Peter’s remark to Simon the Magician concerns a specific, grievous sin. Remember in Acts 5 that when Ananias and Saphira committed a grievous sin, Peter gave them no hope for fellowship forgiveness because they dropped dead on the spot. In Acts 8 with Simon, Peter is not sure if God will take Simon’s life on the spot or give him an opportunity for repentance. The issue is not fellowship forgiveness or eternal destiny. It is whether Simon will keep on living. Of course, if God allowed Simon to repent, then he would be restored to fellowship and would keep on living. See here for an article that shows that Simon the Magician had everlasting life and was not being threatened with eternal condemnation.
Finally, a word about the difference between repentance and confession of sins. First John does not mention repentance even once. The condition for a person who is walking in the light to have fellowship forgiveness is for him to confess his known sins. However, if one is not walking in fellowship with God, then the condition for fellowship forgiveness is repentance, turning from one’s sinful ways. But since John is writing to people in fellowship with God (1 John 2:12-14), he does not mention repentance and restoration of lost fellowship.
Remember the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. He was a son of his father even while in the far country. But he was not in fellowship with his father at that time. He turned away from the far country back to his father’s house and to a loving embrace and acceptance from his father. That is a picture of the repentance and restoration of a believer who has strayed.
Zane Hodges once told me that he thought that a believer might go years or even decades without needing to repent. That is hard to say, since the Scripture does not address that point. But I think he is correct. As long as a believer is walking in the light, then confession, not repentance, is the condition to have fellowship forgiveness and to remain in fellowship.