Must we Confess to be Forgiven? (1 of 3)

1 John 1 9 b

Q. I read a well-known pastor expounding on 1 Jn 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He said John was addressing Gnostics in this verse, and it does not apply to Christians. We were already forgiven once-for-all and do not have to confess and ask God to forgive us again. Do you agree?

A. I do not doubt that John wrestled with Gnosticism in his first epistle, but I do not believe that he was addressing only Gnostics and not Christians. I believe the identity of the recipients of the epistle should primarily be based on clues within the text itself, and only secondarily on historical background. The following clues are conclusive:

• There is no direct address of the readers in chapter 1 except “you” in 1:2, 1:3 twice, and 1:5. The first mention is in 1 Jn 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you … Remember there were no chapter or verse divisions in the original letter, just the entire letter written on a scroll. There was no abrupt change in the narrative to indicate that John changed from addressing one group in chapter 1 to another group in chapter 2, so a natural reading of the text would assume that the same readers (little children) were addressed throughout. The term “little children” is not literal but figurative, with the elderly John intimately addressing Christians.

• The group “little children” is expanded in 1 Jn 2:12-14 to include “fathers” and “young men”. These life stages do not refer to physical age, but spiritual experience:
* Little children – sins forgiven, know the Father;
* Fathers – know Him who has been from the beginning;
* Young men – overcome the evil one, strong, word of God abides in you.
There is no doubt that they represent Christians at different levels of maturity.

1 Jn 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One. Do Gnostics have an anointing from the Spirit? I don’t think so. Only Christians do. Rom 8:9 But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

• This is reinforced in 1 Jn 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. John called his readers “brethren” i.e. fellow believers.

1 Jn 4:4 You are from God, little children. The “you” were stated as “from God”, which Gnostics obviously were not.

• Finally, in 1 Jn 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. The “you” are those who believe in Christ and have eternal life, not Gnostics.

Based on the above, I believe John was addressing Christians throughout his letter, including 1:9. He warned them about some of the Gnostic heresies in chapter 1, but he wasn’t applying 1:9 to Gnostics only. While I believe we are forgiven all at the cross, I think the well-known pastor’s premise is wrong. His deduction process is faulty. I will comment further tomorrow.

(To be continued)

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