What Does 1 John 1:9 Mean?

Question

What Does 1 John 1:9 Mean?

Answer

One of the most common questions we receive is, “What does 1 John 1:9 mean?” Many Christians have been taught the mistaken belief that they must confess their sins to God to be forgiven, and without this confession, forgiveness is unattainable. This belief is a misconception and a falsehood. The truth is found in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” If someone believes in Jesus and acknowledges that He has already taken away our sins, continually asking for forgiveness contradicts that belief. This confusion might be why you clicked on this link, seeking clarity on this important issue. 1 John 1:9 is not directed at believers but at unbelievers who claim to be without sin (1 John 1:8) and who say they have not sinned (1 John 1:10). A born-again Christian would never claim to be without sin or to have never sinned. These claims are characteristic of someone who is not saved.

The Context of 1 John 1:8-10

1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” John is addressing unbelievers, saying that if they deny their sin, Jesus, who is the truth, is not in them.

When you are born again, Jesus lives within you, and you become the temple of the Holy Spirit. 2 John 1:1-2 states, “To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever.” Read 1 John 1:8 again, and it becomes clear that John is addressing an unbeliever.

1 John 1:10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” Again, only an unbeliever would make such a claim, as a born-again Christian acknowledges their sin and God’s forgiveness.

1 John 1:9 provides the solution for unbelievers: if they confess their sins, “Jesus is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing occurs when one puts faith in Jesus and receives His righteousness. Jesus is faithful and just to forgive because He accomplished this at the cross over 2000 years ago.

Misunderstanding 1 John 1:9

1 John 1:9 is often misinterpreted. Many pastors, seminaries, authors, televangelists, and Christians misuse this verse, treating it as a mandate for Christians to ask for forgiveness repeatedly. This misunderstanding suggests that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon each act of confession, which undermines the completeness of Christ’s sacrifice and leaves believers in constant uncertainty and fear.

1 John 1:9 is actually a salvation verse for the lost, not a tool for believers to remain forgiven by God. Continually asking for forgiveness undermines the assurance of salvation and disregards the finality of the cross, causing believers to live in unnecessary fear and doubt.

The Purpose of 1 John

Gnosticism, which was infiltrating the church in Ephesus, denied the need for forgiveness of sins and claimed that salvation came through superior knowledge. John wrote this letter to counter these false teachings and to help people understand their sinful nature and need for Christ’s salvation.

If you believe 1 John 1 was written to believers, you will misuse 1 John 1:9 and struggle with the finality of the cross. However, if you recognize that it was written to unbelievers who claimed to be without sin, you will see that 1 John 1:9 is about acknowledging one’s sinfulness and turning to Christ for salvation.

John shifts his focus to born-again believers in 1 John 2, addressing them as “Dear children” throughout the rest of his letter.

In summary, understanding 1 John 1:9 correctly helps believers appreciate the completeness of Christ’s forgiveness and experience the joy and assurance that come from trusting in His finished work.

Let’s Answer Some Questions

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 1 John 1:1-2

Which 3 senses did John use in his encounter with Jesus?

1.

2.

3.

What was John proclaiming that is found in Jesus?

Verse 1 and 2 were written to counter the claim that Jesus did not come in the flesh.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:3-4

Why did John proclaim what they had seen and heard?

Would you ask someone to be in fellowship, if they already were?

Who did John say he had fellowship with?

What do you conclude from these verses?

Verse 3 and 4 were written to encourage lost people to have fellowship with the Father, Jesus, and John.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

What is the message John heard and was declaring?

What is the opposite of darkness? See 2 Corinthians 6:14

Is there any darkness in Jesus? See John 8:12

Can we have fellowship with Jesus and walk in darkness at the same time?

If we agree to walk in the truth (the light), who do we have fellowship with? See 1 Corinthians 1:9 

Do you think John was pleading with the Gnostics to agree to walk in the light and in truth?

How are we purified from all sin? 

​Verses 5-7 emphasize that you cannot claim to have fellowship with God and Jesus while walking in darkness and error. If you make such a claim, you are lying. John encourages unbelievers to turn from darkness to light—moving from being lost to being saved. If you walk in the light and believe in Jesus, you will have fellowship with God, Jesus, and fellow believers. And guess what? All your sins are forgiven.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8

What does John say about people like the Gnostics who claim to be without sin?

Are they deceived? Is the truth in them?

Would a Christian claim to be without sin? 

Who does “the truth” refer to? See John 14:6

Does Jesus, “the truth” live in a Christian?  What about a lost person? See 2 John 1:1-2

Verse 8 is again to a lost person who claims to be without sin.

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:10

What did John say about people who claimed they have never sinned?

Again, would a Christian claim they have never sinned? 

Who then do you conclude John is writing to in 1 John 1:10?

What do people who claim to be without sin call Jesus?

Are liars holding to the truth? Who is the author of lies? See John 8:44

Who does “the word” refer to? See John 1:1-2

Again, is Jesus “the word” living in a Christian? What about a lost person?

Verse 10 is to a lost person also.

How did John Answer These Gnostic Claims? (Be sure to keep this in context of 1 John 1:1-10)

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

Note: Synonyms for the word “confess”:  

If the Gnostics would confess and acknowledge that they have a sinful nature, what would Jesus faithfully do for them? He would forgive them and cleanse them from all unrighteousness.​

Making Conclusions

What does 1 John 1:9 mean? It is a salvation verse addressing those who claim to be without sin. It promises that if you recognize your need for a Savior and put your faith in Jesus Christ, you will be born again, made right with God, and purified from all unrighteousness. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven!

1 John 1:9 is similar to Romans 10:9, which says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” To “declare” in Romans 10:9 or to “confess” in 1 John 1:9 is simply to agree with God’s truth and acknowledge our need for a Savior.

Many popular Q&A websites suggest that we need to confess our sins repeatedly to reassure ourselves of God’s forgiveness. This is incorrect! Our assurance of forgiveness comes from the Word of God, not from our repeated confessions.

In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. When reading the Bible, it’s all about context, context, context. Without considering the context, we risk misunderstanding God’s Word.

For many Christians, understanding 1 John 1:9 and the Lord’s Prayer has been transformative, leading them to a deeper understanding of their salvation.

Friend, if this message resonated with you, I would love to hear from you

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