Jesus died to set men free. Galatians 5:13 tells us that we have a holy calling to be free – to live free, walk free, stay free. One way that we can lose our freedom is to burden ourselves with ungodly demands and expectations. This can happen when we take scripture out of context. It can also happen when we read the Bible without an appreciation of what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf.
Let me ask you a simple question to see how well you know this. For the Christian, which of the following statements is true?
(a) Jesus will forgive all your sins
(b) Jesus has forgiven your past sins
(c) Jesus has forgiven all your sins
If you said (a) you’re probably thinking of 1 John 1:9 which says:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Some Christians take this to mean that Jesus will forgive our sins as we confess them. In other words we are free and forgiven only from the moment of our last confession until our next sin. The implication is that we need to confess all our mistakes, listing them out one by one. But what happens if we miss one? What about the sins we neglect to confess? When we get to eternity will we hear God say, “Oops, you missed one about 10 years ago. Sorry, I don’t know you”? I’m being facetious to make an important point: either we have to confess all of our sins or we don’t.
If we read all of what John is saying we see that confession for the forgiveness of sins is a one-time event. In this passage of scripture (verses 5 to 10) John is addressing unbelievers not Christians. How do I know this? Because it is the unrighteous who need to be purified from all unrighteousness (v.9). John is identifying with sinners when he says “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” What does John say sinners should do? Confess your sins and start living for Jesus. John promises that if sinners confess, Jesus is faithful to forgive. And when Jesus forgives, you are well and truly forgiven!
John is not preaching a doctrine of human confession but a doctrine of divine forgiveness. To make this plain John even brackets the confession verse with the double assurance that the blood of Jesus forgives us from all sin (v.7) and purifies us from all unrighteousness (v.9). All means all. “All sin” includes the sins we haven’t done yet. This is good news!
If you said (b) maybe you were thinking of 2 Peter 1:9. Here Peter mentions in passing that Jesus has cleansed us from our “past sins”. Although Peter doesn’t say it, some take this to mean that Jesus has not cleansed us from our present and future sins. In other words, Jesus got us started at the cross but now it’s up to us to stay on course. We have to take care and work hard to stay in that place of forgiveness.
What is the work that is required? Usually this scripture is connected with 1 John 1:9 and the need to stay ‘fessed up. The Devil must love this. Instead of telling the lost about the forgiveness Jesus offers, the church is cloistered away confessing its sins over and over again. Just when we think we’re all done the Devil hints, “are you sure you didn’t miss some?” And then we start confessing the sins we don’t even know about, just to make sure our insurance policy is topped up.
So are we completely forgiven or aren’t we? Look at what the Bible says happened at the cross:
“He forgave us all our sins.” (Col 2:13)
“When this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.” (Heb 10:12)
“I write to you dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” (1 Jn 2:12)
The Bible clearly teaches (c) – Jesus dealt with all our sin at the cross, past, present and future. If you are in Christ, you are completely forgiven. When we sin Jesus the Righteous One doesn’t judge us, He defends us (1 Jn 2:1) and then He teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions (Tit 2:12). When we sin we don’t fall out of grace, we fall into grace. Shall we then take this as a license to sin? Not at all. Why would we want to run back into that prison cell?
Jesus not only forgives all our sin but He surgically removes our sinful nature (Col 2:11) and gives us a new nature (2 Cor 5:17). Sin no longer dominates us. Thanks to His powerful and effective grace we are able to say “no” to sin (Tit 2:12). Thus Peter can reasonably speak of our sins and sin-dominated way of life as being wholly in the past (2 Pet 1:9).
Because of what Jesus has done, God not only forgives all our sins, He chooses to forget them too.
“(Because of the cross) God is no longer counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19)
“I will forgive their sins and remember their sins no more.” (Hebs 8:12)
It is human nature to keep score but the love of God revealed in Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. When the heroes of faith are hailed in Hebrews 11 their sinful deeds are strangely absent. Moses the murderer and Rahab the prostitute are praised for their faith, not rebuked for their sins.
Yes there is freedom and reconciliation in confessing our shortcomings to one another (Jas 5:16). But there is no need for the Christian to keep on confessing sins to maintain God’s forgiveness. You don’t need to work for something that you already have!
You might say, “but confession keeps me humble.” But this is a false humility based on what you have done or not done. True humility comes from appreciating the significance of what Christ has done. Confession makes you sin-conscious and paranoid, but we are called to be Christ-conscious and free. Haven’t you heard? He was wounded and crushed for our sin. The punishment that brought us peace was on Him (Is 53:5). So walk in that peace.
You might say, “but confession restores my fellowship with God.” It is true that when we sin we might feel guilty even though God categorically declares us not guilty. It is also true that sin has destructive consequences. Mindful of the mess we made we might have godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10). When we sin we should repent. But the Bible says we are led to repentance, not by being conscious of our badness, but by a revelation of His goodness (Rms 2:4). By all means be open about your failures and shortcomings, but do so from the solid ground of your secure position in Christ.
What does this mean?
It means that instead of being introspective, be Christ-centered. Instead of focusing on your mistakes, agree with what God says about you. Instead of flagellating yourself for your mistakes, start praising Jesus for the gift of His righteousness (Rms 5:17). Thank Him for making you righteous. Then “awake to righteousness and sin not” (1 Cor 15:34).
You might say “but I don’t feel righteous.” Well stop living according to your feelings and start agreeing with God’s word:
“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
The gospel reveals the gift of righteousness that comes from God (Rms 1:17). There are only two things you can do with a gift. Receive it or reject it. We receive it by renouncing our self-righteousness, by confessing we are sinful and acknowledging our need for a Divine Savior.
When we surrender to Jesus – when we walk out of the enemy’s camp and into His – He marks us as one of His own (2 Cor 1:22). From that moment on we are eternally untouchable. No angel nor demon, nothing in life or death, nothing in the present or the future nor anything in creation can now separate us from His love (Rms 8:38). We may still have rough edges. We may be a work in progress. We may reap the bad fruit of our mistakes. But we need not fear judgment because we are safely hidden in Christ (Col 3:3). When God looks at us, He doesn’t see an imperfect human struggling with this and that. He sees our perfect, infallible High Priest Jesus:
“Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (Heb 7:24-26)
Freedom is not found in observing empty human rituals. Freedom is found in Jesus.