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Confession and Unknown Sin

by Zane C. Hodges

    If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
      1 John 1:9

This verse ought to be familiar to every believer in Christ. Each of us needs to rely on it every day of our lives.

It is by confessing our sins that we receive the forgiveness which we need when we fail God. Of course, our sins do not result in the loss of eternal salvation. But they do interrupt harmonious personal relations with God our heavenly Father, and forgiveness restores that harmony.

However, some Christians are troubled by the thought that they may have failed to confess all their sins. If that were actually a problem, none of us would be exempt from it. Who can possibly know all of their sins? Obviously, God alone knows them all.

First John 1:9 contains the answer to this concern.

Since no one can confess what he does not know, clearly the verse calls upon us to confess the sins we know. God never gives us impossible commands.

But what about the sins we do not know? They, too, are taken care of according to 1 John 1:9.

Look closely at the verse. In the NKJV the second "our" is in italics. This means that the translators have supplied it, but that it is not actually in the Greek text.

Let's translate the first part of the verse literally without the second "our":

    If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us the sins . . .

What does "the sins" mean? Obviously it means "the sins we confess." If we confess the sins we know, God forgives us the sins we confess. But He does more than that. He also is faithful "to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness"!

So that's the answer! When I am honest with God and confess the sins I am aware of, His forgiveness and cleansing extend to everything that is wrong with me. "All unrighteousness" is dealt with by His grace so that, after my confession to Him, I can walk with Him knowing that my harmony with Him is fully repaired.

What a perfect provision! Let's not torment ourselves with our unknown failures. When God is ready to reveal them to us, He will (see Phil 3:15). Meanwhile, honest confession of known sin will bring complete restoration to fellowship with our gracious heavenly Father.

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