This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light [i.e. purity and holiness; cf. John 3:19–21; 8:12; 12:35–36], and in Him there is no darkness at all [i.e. no sin; cf. John 3:19; 1 John 2:8–11]. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness [i.e. commit sin], we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another [between God and the Christian], and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin [as believers] we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins [i.e. agree with God about our sin], He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned [as God’s Word declares], we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10 NASB)
What person can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Prov. 20:9). No one is ever free from sin in this life, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20). Sin (from the Hebrew חָטָא chata or the Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia) means to fall away or miss the mark of God’s intended will. Sin is failure to do God’s will, and both unbelievers and believers commit sin. “The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).” The Bible teaches everyone is a sinner (Rom. 3:9). We are sinners because of our relationship to Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are sinners by nature, born with a rebellious heart (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we are sinners by choice every time we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15).
At the moment of faith in Christ, all sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13), and the believer’s relationship to Adam is terminated as the Christian begins a new identity in Christ (Eph. 2:5-6). At the moment of the new birth, the believer is completely justified in God’s sight, and this is by grace, because Christ died in our place and bore the penalty that rightfully belongs to us (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18). Believers stand acceptable before God, not because of any righteousness of our own based on good works (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), but because of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us by faith (Rom. 4:1-5), “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). As Christians, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). God made Christ “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ died a death He did not deserve, that we might have a life and enjoy spiritual riches we could never earn (Rom. 5:5-10; Eph. 2:1-6). Salvation is truly a gift from God.
From the moment of my spiritual birth until I leave this world for heaven, I am in Christ and all my sins are forgiven (Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:13). In addition, I have a new spiritual nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), and the power to live righteously in God’s will (Rom. 6:11-14). However, during my time in this world, I still possess my sin nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and occasionally I yield to temptation (both internal and external) and commit sin. “Conversion does not mean the eradication of the sin nature. Rather it means the implanting of the new, divine nature, with power to live victoriously over indwelling sin.” My acts of sin do not jeopardize my eternal salvation which was secured by the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:28), but it does hurt my walk with the Lord (1 John 1:5-10), and stifles the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within me (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). I sin every day, and some days more than others. As I grow spiritually in my knowledge of God’s Word, I will pursue righteousness more and more and sin will diminish, but sin will never completely disappear from my life. Living in the reality of God’s Word, I know three things are true when I sin:
- There is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Though I have sinned against God, my eternal security and righteous standing before Him is never jeopardized. I am eternally secure (John 10:28), and keep on possessing the righteousness of God that was imputed to me at the moment of salvation (Rom. 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
- I am walking in darkness and have broken fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-6). When I sin, as a Christian, I have broken fellowship with God and stifled the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within me (1 John 1:5-6; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). If I continue in sin, or leave my sin unconfessed, I am in real danger of divine discipline from God (Ps. 32:3-4; Heb. 12:5-11; 1 John 5:16-17; cf. Dan. 4:37).
- If I confess my sin directly to God, He will immediately forgive my sin and restore me to fellowship (1 John 1:9; cf. Ps. 32:5). Being in fellowship with God means walking in the sphere of His light (1 John 1:5-7), being honest with Him about my sin (1 John 1:8, 10), and coming before His throne of grace in transparent humility and confessing my sin that I will be forgiven (1 John 1:9; cf. Heb. 4:16). God is faithful and just to forgive my sins every time I confess them because of the atoning work of Christ who shed His blood on the cross for me (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).
The forgiveness John speaks about here [i.e. 1 John 1:9] is parental, not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgiveness from the penalty of sins, which the sinner receives when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called judicial because it is granted by God acting as Judge. But what about sins which a person commits after conversion? As far as the penalty is concerned, the price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. But as far as fellowship in the family of God is concerned, the sinning saint needs parental forgiveness, that is, the forgiveness of His Father. He obtains it by confessing his sin. We need judicial forgiveness only once; that takes care of the penalty of all our sins—past, present, and future. But we need parental forgiveness throughout our Christian life.
God’s grace compels me to pursue righteousness and good works (Tit. 2:11-14). But since I still have a sinful nature and live in a fallen world with temptation all around, I occasionally fall into sin. When I sin, I agree with God that I have done wrong and I confess it to Him seeking His forgiveness. When I sin against others and wrongly hurt them, I confess my sin to them and ask for their forgiveness. Because my sin hurts others (and their sin hurts me), there is a need for love, patience, humility, and ongoing forgiveness among the saints.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Col. 3:12-15)
God’s grace is wonderful to me. By grace he saves, and by grace he forgives and restores me to fellowship. It is very simple. Daily I confess my sins directly to God, and He faithfully forgives me and restores me to fellowship with Him. It is all His goodness, and I am the fortunate recipient of His mercy and love.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Gospel Message
- The Life of Faith
- Reasons Why We Obey God
- The Righteousness of God
- The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
- Choosing Righteous Friends
- Theological Categories of God’s Justice
- Choosing the Faithful Way
- What it Means to Follow Jesus
- Walking with God
 Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin” In , in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).
 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2310.
 Ibid., 2310-11.