In the first four verses John’s first epistle, we saw that the Word of Life which was manifested of the Father is not a thing, but a Person. It is the Son of God himself. He who was in the bosom of the Father “with him” from the beginning, that is, from all eternity, was made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is that life-giving Savior of the word, the one who gives eternal life to all those under the threat and curse of death, who receive him by faith. He is that word of life which the apostle John with the twelve has seen, heard, and touched. He bears to us his eye-witness testimony, a credible evidence to be received with absolute confidence that everything that Christ’s own chosen messengers, the apostles, preached about the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been written down for our benefit in the words of the New Testament, is a credible record. We know who Jesus is and what he did for us based on the testimony of these men, which is worthy of belief.
John proceeds to teach his readers in detail about the message of him, that is of him who is the Word of Life. He came, bringing a message about the Father, to teach us who he is and what he has in store for us. This message is now elaborated by the apostle. It is a message from him who is the Word, the sermon of God himself, what he came to say, when he came as one of us, before he laid down his life for all of us. This message is one that we need to know. It’s the gospel itself, the good news about Jesus Christ, preached by Jesus Christ.
This message is not popular with mankind, in its natural condition. Ever since man fell into sin, he would rather not admit it. He tells himself that he is a good person, and judges by any standard but by God’s holy standard. He excuses himself, and justifies himself, and this is consistent. Find anyone in this world, apart from God’s grace, and scarcely can you get one who will admit to being anything other than a good person. Even incarcerated offenders justify themselves in comparison to others, thinking, “I’m a pretty good person, not like some of the thugs in here,” or “not like the sex offenders.” It is human nature to justify and excuse oneself, not to admit to being a sinner. John’s message, which is not his, but the message from him who is the Word, that is the Son of God, is that of the light that shines into this darkness of mankind’s perverse attempt to cover his own sinful nature, his own human reality, by tons of excuses and ill-intended comparisons to others. It is a message about who God is, that obliterates all the comparative excuses and self-justifying that anyone attempts, because no one can live up to God’s holy standard. By his standard, we all all counted an unclean thing, unworthy even of this life.
In a nutshell, John’s message is this:
God is light, so let us who are his be truthful about ourselves, and confess our sins to him.
1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Light enables us to see. It reflects or refracts off of objects, hitting our retinas, and in this way we perceive what is in front of us. Darkness hidden and conceals what is there. We can’t see in perfect darkness. The darker it is, the more hidden, concealed, and distorted our vision becomes. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle, makes clear that God is light. He shines, and the lie disappears. In him is no lie, no contradiction. His righteous character is the objective standard of ethics for the universe, and everyone who inhabits his universe. Though there are plenty of people who do not acknowledge him, they show his law written on their hearts, through their conscience, and by crying out for justice, although they tend to excuse themselves and only want justice to be exacted against the crimes that others commit. In this their minds have been darkened by the sin of self-love. The law was given as a concrete expression of God’s own character in written form. It is as unchangeable as God is. And one day the entire world will be judged by that unchanging standard, that is, God himself.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
Now there is a way that this sinful nature of man expresses itself among hypocrites, not only out there in the world, but inside the church. These are those who claim to be Christians, but who do not do as the Lord commanded. They live and wallow in sin as if they had never been born again at all. Some cover their sin under the mantle of Anti-nomianism, the idea that the law no longer binds Christians because they are under grace. This doctrine misses the whole point of God’s grace. He has recreated us “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10) and chosen us to be “holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4) God’s grace is intended to separate, to make holy a people for himself, to make us sons and daughters of his indeed and not only by category, who do the will of our loving heavenly Father and reflect his character. There are those, many more than who would actually profess this “Antinomian” doctrine, who simply lie to themselves and others, who claim to have the root, but bear not the fruit, who do not do works worthy of repentance. They are of their father the devil, Jesus says, and so they lie, as the devil was a liar from the beginning. They lie to themselves and others about being born again, about being a child of God, about having fellowship with the light, while they are yet in darkness.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
Walking in the light means holding ourselves up to God’s holy standard, confessing our sins to God as individuals, and as one body in fellowship, the body of Christ. Walking in the light means having our deeds exposed to ourselves, and then admitting who we really are, sinners saved by grace alone, not hypocrites like actors on the Greek stage in ancient times, who wore masks as they played a character different from who they actually were. And it is easy for Christians to fall into the same practice, of wearing a mask to church, pretending like they’re not sinners. In contrast true Christians encourage one another to admit that they are sinners, and to walk humbly before God relying only on his mercy. I do not mean that we should all be getting in circles and sharing each of our sins in particular with people that have nothing to do with them, that neither knew about them nor were affected by them, because that just leads to a perverse curiosity and a kind of reveling in the sins of others.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we say that we have no sin, we lie to ourselves. What a strange thing it is for a person to lie to himself. What good could it do? Yet millions of people are doing this. It must be an act of desperation. Who would rather lie to himself than profess the truth? Only someone who is afraid of the truth would do this. But if we are in the light, we know that the God who is true is also gracious, that he will forgive us, and that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by admitting our true condition, by letting the light shine in our hearts and on our deeds, and coming to him for mercy.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we walk in the light, we must let the light shine on our deeds, by self-consciously confessing our sins to God in prayer. This is a critical part of prayer that is often lost today. When we come to God, we come to the light. And when the light shines on us, we see who we truly are, sinners in his presence, tainted by pride, greed, lust, hatred, and hypocrisy, and we don’t try to hide it anymore. Walking in the light, we confess our sins to the Father. And we receive his forgiveness, in and through Christ, and are wiped clean. This does not mean that as Christians who have placed our faith in Christ, that our slate has the handwriting of the law written to condemn us once again until we wipe it clean by confessing our sins to God in prayer? No, for then we would live in fear that we might forget to pray at the last moment of our lives, whenever that might happen in this accident-prone world, and then we would be lost forever. Justification is a once-for all act of God, who declares righteous the ungodly sinner, when he or she first places faith in Jesus Christ the Savior. At that moment, he is once and for all forgiven of every sin that he ever has or will commit, and of the sin of his inherited sinful nature itself. But by continually confessing his sins to God, the justified sinner shows that he has this forgiveness. The evidence of having been forgiven is to continually confess ones need for God’s forgiveness for ones sin. In this way we know that we are forgiven.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Let us not be like those living in darkness, who habitually and compulsively lie to themselves and others, but walk in light, and admit that God’s word about us is true, when his law condemns us as sinners. God is not a liar. We are liars. His word about us is true in condemning us to hell forever for our sin. Let us freely confess it, in reliance upon his grace, and so show the work of his law written on our hearts.
God is light, so let us who are his be truthful about ourselves, and confess our sins to him. If you are a follower of God, confess your sins to him daily through Christ. We have to confess our sins every day because we are still sinners, prone to think that we are good people, proud and self-justifying. Confessing our sin reorients our minds, puts down our pride, and let us rely on God alone. It keeps us on our knees, relying on him, walking in the light. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. What greater motivation could there be?
Forgiveness and justification in Scripture are tied to confessing our sins in prayer. This is one important reason why all of the historic orders for worship of the Christian Church have always included a prayer of confession of sin. Corporate confession of our sin as the church is as important for the health of the church as individual confession of sin to God in secret is required for the spiritual health of the individual Christian.
There are several examples of prayers of confession of sin in Scripture. They demonstrate for us its part in prayer, and also provide helpful guide to teach us how to confess our sins to God.
Nehemiah’s prayer of confession of sin in Nehemiah chapter 1:5-11 is a helpful example teaching us that we ought to confess our sins as a body to God, those things which we have failed to do, or have done amiss, as a body, as the church. From this prayer we learn that we as a people deserve his wrath, and rely only on his grace, that he would keep his covenant with us despite our sin. It is appropriate to confess the sins of the church when God puts his fatherly hand upon us to lovingly chastise us for sin, to bring us back to repentance to him. When he sends hardship our way, whether persecution, or the threat of financial insolvency, or anything else, let us come to our knees in prayer and confess our sins as Nehemiah did, relying only on his grace to help us and sustain us.
Isaiah teaches us that it is important to confess our sin whenever we enter God’s presence. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6:5 This confession of his own sin is an example for us that we should emulate whenever we come together to worship the LORD of hosts. The prayer of confession of sin has always been an important part of the order of worship, because from the moment that we get a glimpse of who God is, as he has spoken to us in his word, we are immediately convicted of our own unworthiness to enter his presence. The proper response is to confess our sin to him, before doing anything else. That is why we confess our sin in prayer to God as the Church every Lord’s Day in our Order of Worship.
David, in Psalm 51, gives us the prayer of an individual Christian who has fallen into gross sin, and stubbornly clung to it without repentance for some period of time. He makes reference to original sin, noting “Behold, I was shaken in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” v. 5, which is a part of our sin that we ought to confess to God. He reminds us in this prayer that all sin is against God, first and foremost, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” v. 4 God is deeply offended at sin. All sin is against him. Though we have sinned against many people in our lives, all of our sins were against God most of all. He is the one with whom we must come clean and to whom we must confess our sin, before anyone else, since he is infinitely worthy of obedience.
Finally, in the Lord’s prayer, with the words, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, the Lord Jesus, giving us this formula or outline for all prayer, lets us know what an indispensable part of prayer it is to confess our sin to God. This prayer is a guide for all prayer, and prayer of confession of sin is included in it. So we can be sure that confession of sin is a part of prayer that we must not do without. By connecting our asking for forgiveness with the way in which we forgive others, we learn one important purpose of prayers of confession of sin, that they humble us to acknowledge our need for God’s grace, in order that we may reflect it to others by forgiving them just as our loving heavenly Father has forgiven us of our sin. Let us continue to include confession of sin in our prayers, even as we forgive others who have wronged us, for in doing so, we show that we are truly children of our beloved heavenly Father, and we walk in his light.
God is light, so let us who are his be truthful about ourselves, and confess our sins to him.