1 John 1:9 (King James Version) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Sooner or later, in the discourse of the Grace message, 1 John 1:9 comes into the discussion concerning confession and forgiveness. The question is, Does God require that we confess sin before He can forgive us of those sins, or have all sins been forgiven at the Cross because of the Blood?
Context is very important to understanding verses like these that seem to stand against what the rest of the New Testament says about our sins; That we have been forgiven once for all by the Blood of Jesus already (Romans 5:8, Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 2:13, 1 John 5:19). The Book of Hebrews actually contrast the difference between a continual, on-going system of forgiveness, as compared to the one where all payment was done in Christ (Hebrews 9:25 – 28).
John is writing a letter to address a heresy that had crept into church by a group of people know as the Gnostics. Theses Gnostics had come into the Church, and set about interpreting the Gospel through Gnostic mindset. They held certain beliefs such as, Salvation was through secret hidden knowledge that must be discovered in this life, and they also believed there is no such thing as sin and everything physical was evil, so Jesus actually came spiritual rather than physical. John addresses some of these issues, testifying as an eye witness to what Jesus was actually like, and that they physically touched him (1 John 1:1-2).
Then John continues and addresses his intended audience concerning his testimony.
1 John 1:3 -4 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write “we” unto “you”, that your joy may be full.
In this passage, we identity the two groups, there are the eyewitnesses of Christ, conveying what they experience to another group of people, “that they may have fellowship.” So the group that John is writing to are not like-minded with the eyewitnesses, and he’s talking to them in the hope that they may come to agreement. In short, he is addressing Gnostic Unbelievers.
John goes further to identity the two groups, there are those who walk in darkness and those walk in the light. Those who walk in the light enjoy fellowship with one another and are cleansed of all sins by the Blood of Christ, NOT by confession. This letter is clearly an invitation to them that walk in darkness to come and enjoy the fellowship of the believers in the Light.
Then comes 1 John 1:9, where he invites the unbelieving Gnostics, to first admit they have sin, to confess their sins, and receive their forgiveness and remained cleaned like the people who walk in the light in the previous verse, by his Blood. In essence, John is inviting the Gnostics to repent of their Gnostic doctrine, and trust in the testimony that he is sharing about Jesus to be saved and enjoy the fellowship with himself and the other believers.
Just to cap the verse off, verse 10, is again addressing the Gnostic heresy that there is no such thing as sin. 1 John 1:10 (KJV) If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. Gnostic Teaching denied the existence of sin, and saw no need for forgiveness; this verse is talking to directly to that issue, for people who say they have no need for the Blood of Jesus.
Brook Potter – Explains the context of 1 John 1:9