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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « This Joyful Eastertide: A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb | Main | 2006 Pacific Northwest Reformation Conference »

    Is it Wrong to Confess Your Sin?

    Question
    Bob George says on the basis of 1 John 1:9 that we should not confess our sins because they were already forgiven us at the Cross. Does 1 John 1:9 apply to the Christian or to the non-Christian? If to the Christian, in what sense does God forgive our sins? Wasn't the issue of the Christian's sins settled at the Cross?

    Answer
    Bob George's doctrine that Christians should not confess their sins to God is totally unbiblical, his interpretation is unsound, and those who follow his teaching cut themselves off from an important means of grace: prayers of confession of sins.

    I have actually done a fair bit of work with 1 John 1:9, and I can confidently assert that it applies to believers. I have included below an adapted bit of commentary I wrote on this verse (a small portion of a research paper that I wrote on 1 John 1:7b-2:2). It is somewhat academic, so please forgive the style (I have done my best to make it comprehensible without totally rewriting it). I'll provide a summary at the end for you (in case the language is a little too thick to follow easily), as well as some additional comments (if you want, skip straight to these comments to get the main point of the argument).

    Also, in case you aren't entirely familiar with the terms "apodosis" and "protasis," these refer to conditional sentences (one that lists a condition, as well as what will or may happen if that condition is met). For example, in the conditional sentence "If my wife comes home late, then I'll have to make dinner for myself," the "apodosis" is the "then" portion of the sentence ("I'll have to make dinner for myself") and the "protasis" is the "if" portion of the sentence ("my wife comes home late").

    The apodosis of the condition ought to be taken as the entirety of "he is faithful and righteous, so that he forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness," not simply as "he is faithful and righteous." It does not refer to God's eternal character, but rather to the nature of God's relationship to the one who confesses. The longer apodosis indicates that "he is faithful and righteous" speaks not directly of God's eternal character, but more precisely of the nature of his dealings with those in covenant with him. John's only other use of the word pair "faithful" (pistos) and "righteous" (dikaios) is in Revelation 19:11, where it describes "the Word of God" (Rev. 19:13) coming in judgment, during which time he prosecutes the Adamic covenant.

    The Septuagint [Greek translation of the Old Testament that was current in Christ's day] supports this idea in that the words "faithful" and "righteous" appear together describing God in only 2 verses, both of which refer not to his character but to his covenantal dealings. In Jeremiah 42:5, the remnant of God's people asks for God's grace, and submits itself to his covenantal authority with these words: "May the LORD be a true (dikaios) and faithful (pistos) witness against us if we do not act according to everything that the LORD your God sends us through you." God's faithfulness and righteousness qualify the type of witness God will bear against them, not God's character. The other occurrence falls in the beginning portion of Moses's song in Deuteronomy 32:4: "A God of faithfulness (pistos) and without injustice, Righteous (dikaios) and upright is He." The song of Moses itself calls creation to witness the covenant between God and Israel (Deut. 31:24-30), so that this description of God pertains precisely to his administration of the covenant.

    Marshall picks up on this idea, without reference to Revelation or the Septuagint, in saying that "the faithfulness lies in [God's] adherence to his promises" and "the justice lies in the inherent rightness" (Marshall, p. 114) of the forgiveness of one who confesses. God appropriately administers his covenant.

    The protasis of this verse begins with "if ever" (ean) and the present tense "confess." This contrasts with the aorist tense "say" (in "say that we have no sin") of verse 8. This contrast indicates that "confess" refers not to initiatory confessions such as those rendered in baptismal ceremonies, but to a customary action. According to Westcott, the action here described is not simple confession to God, but acknowledgment of sins "openly in the face of men" (Westcott, p. 23). In support of this definition of "confess," he appeals, among other texts, to 1 John 2:23 and 4:2,3,15, all of which speak of confessing Christ. This seems unlikely, though, since the denotation of "confess" is not limited to "proclaim," and since confessing sins obviously differs greatly from confessing Christ. No doubt he makes this assertion based on his understanding of "if we say" in the parallel constructions of 1:6,8,10. However, these verses do not name the confessor's audience, and thus do not prove a public setting.

    It is quite possible that John here thinks of something like Jesus's parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18:11-14, a situation in which both men made their declarations to God. The point of the confession does not appear to be that it is made before man, but that it is made and that sin is not denied. John is concerned that people recognize their need for Christ on a perpetual basis as they continue to "abide" in him. It might be argued that John thinks of a public confession because he is writing to a church about those identifiable signs that indicate that those among them are either true or false believers. Neufeld's theory offers another possibility: the reader is being asked to consider himself as the potential holder of the orthodox assertion of this verse, and of the unorthodox assertions of the mated verses (vv. 8 and 10). "Each of the assertions is phrased in such a way as to force the reader to make a choice between two options" (Neufeld, p. 90). Thus, John may not have in mind the identification of false believers on the basis of their public confessions, but instead the self-evaluation of each one of his readers. After all, one of John's main goals is to build assurance (1 John 5:13), which cannot be had merely by external verification of one's qualifications but requires honest introspection.

    Another question this conditional statement raises is: Does God forgive only those sins which one confesses? In answering this question, it is important to remember that the verse does not intend to provide information about those sins one fails to recognize, but about the sins one recognizes and confesses as opposed to those sins one denies. Having said this, it is still possible to draw some inferences from the language of the verse. While the protasis describes the confession, the apodosis speaks not only of forgiveness of sins but also of cleansing "from all unrighteousness." This is a significant shift of wording because the apodosis also contains the word "righteousness" in its description of God's administration of the covenant. Thus, the verse seems to imply, not just that God forgives the confessed sins, but that he goes beyond this by completely restoring the confessors to a right standing under the covenant. The sum of the verse seems to be that those who characteristically confess their sins are regularly forgiven and maintained in right covenantal standing in Christ before God. This verse ought to grant great assurance to Christians that lives of confession go hand in hand with fellowship and acceptance with God. "It is of great moment to be fully persuaded, that when we have sinned, there is a reconciliation with God ready and prepared for us: we shall otherwise always carry hell within us" (Calvin, p. 167).

    Okay, so much for the relatively academic stuff. The point is that the grammar of 1 John 1:9 indicates that the confession of which John speaks is habitual as opposed to a single event, and that the words "faithful and righteous" refer to God in his ongoing covenant relationship with his people. John is speaking about the way God maintains his relationship with believers, restoring them to right covenant standing through the means of the confession of their sin. It is also worth noting that John speaks of forgiveness of "sins" not of the forgiveness of "sin." That is, John is thinking of sinful acts, not of the general state of sinfulness.

    Moreover, 1 John 2:1-2 demonstrates that John is writing to believers. Specifically, he says that he writes in order to help Christians avoid sin (2:1), and adds that if anyone sins, "we have an Advocate." That John uses the first person plural ("we") in response to the condition "if anyone sins" indicates that the "anyone" is "anyone of us," not someone who is not yet part of "us." That is, believers continue to sin, and when we do sin, Jesus pleads our case before the Father, obtaining forgiveness for us on the basis of his death on our behalf ("propitiation for our sins"). But John gives no indication that Jesus obtains this forgiveness for us apart from the means established in 1 John 1:9, namely confession of sins. Rather, the flow of the letter in these verses indicates that John is still talking about the same people and the same confessions of sin. In short, when believers confess their sin, Jesus pleads their case before the Father and the believers are subsequently forgiven and cleansed.

    This last point highlights an important distinction that Bob George fails to make, specifically the distinction between what Jesus did on the cross, and what the Holy Spirit and Jesus do now. Jesus obtained forgiveness for us on the cross, but we were not forgiven of all our sins at that time. Rather, the application of forgiveness comes to us in our own lives as the Holy Spirit applies forgiveness to us and as Christ intercedes for us - and they do not do these things before we sin. Rather, it is an ongoing application. As we continue to sin, the Holy Spirit continues to apply forgiveness to us. This is what makes Christ's current intercession so important. If his work on the cross had finished his intercession for us, then all that would remain for him to do would be to wait for his return. But the Bible tells us that Christ is in heaven right now interceding for us (e.g. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25), meaning that he is now before God's throne pleading the merit of his shed blood on behalf of believers who continue to sin. As Jesus maintains God's approval through this intercession, the Holy Spirit is free to forgive and cleanse us of the sins we regularly commit.

    According to John, our forgiveness takes place by means of confession (1 John 1:9). That's why I wrote at the beginning that prayer of confession is a means of grace. Our confessions are part of the means that God uses to apply forgiveness and cleansing to us. If we refuse to confess, we hinder our ongoing forgiveness and cleansing - a very bad situation indeed.

    Answer by Ra McLaughlin of Third Mill Ministries

    Posted by John on August 17, 2006 06:33 PM

    Comments

    I'm glad to see this! Bob George is one of those people who's driven me nuts for years. He was finally taken off the radio here in South Florida a few months ago, but (like a horrific car accident you can't turn away from) I used to tune in his show regularly on my way home from work. With his awful theology and large number of radio stations, I'm surprised more of his errors haven't been widely dealt with.

    The reason George fails to make the normal distiction between what Jesus did on the cross and what Jesus and the Holy Spirit do now is because he doesn't believe in the distinction. He believes that Christ really did remove all the sin from all the world and forgive everyone that day on Calvary. He believes nobody's sins are held against them any longer, whether they are a believer or not.

    What, then, is the basis on which God sends people to Hell? "The sin of unbelief" as George calls it. Granted, he's not much of a logician, but this is the argument he makes, usually in almost exactly these words: "Jesus took away the sins of the entire world at the cross and put them behind his back, never to be seen again. The only sin that is now attributable to man is the sin of unbelief."

    I used to shout at my radio "Jesus didn't die for the sin of unbelief? Then how will you be forgiven for once having been an unbeliever, Bob!" His position is not logical or biblical, but it's the position he must hold in order to maintain his antinomian scheme. In his view, belief is simply acknowledging what Christ has already done for you and everyone else, while unbelief is simply a failure to live in the forgiveness that God has already given you. Thus (in his view), confession is (at most) a one time thing, since God is no longer attributing sins to men after the cross.

    He also denies the bodily resurrection of believers at Christ's return, at which point in the program my head explodes...

    When I was in college, there was a debate going on over precisely this point, and for a while I was at a loss as to which position to take. I'm very thankful that God finally allowed me to understand the truth of the position you espouse.

    Thanks for the article. I'm sure there are many others out there who have the same struggles I did in college, and I trust that this post may be a help to them.

    While in general I agree, there also exists the danger of falling into a Catholic way of thinking that literally requires a specific confession of every individual sin in order for God to forgive it. If this is true, many a Christ-honoring, God-fearing Christian will find themselves out of the grip of grace when the day of judgment comes, because a) there are far too many sins that take place in our hearts and minds to even be fully aware of, much less make specific mention of, and b) there are times when it is not possible for someone to confess a sin before his death (as in the classic case of suicide).

    How would you reconcile these thoughts? I agree that we must be consistently aware of our sin and bringing it before the Savior, but I fear it is far too easy to slip into a legalistic teaching based on this doctrine. Confession is a means of grace, but it is not a means of SAVING grace.

    Kyle

    One huge differnce from Rome is that our confessions are as covenant children who are already sealed by the Holy Spirit with a guarantee for the day of rememption. Thus our confession is as a child to a parent. Our sin does not make someone any less our parent. Likewise when we sin as children God draws us back to him, sometimes through discipline, but not condemnation. But we judge ourselves and God disciplines us so that we do not be judged along with the world:

    Corinthians 11:31-32
    But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

    As the Holy Spirit works in us we could pray in the following spirit:

    Jesus forgive my sins. Forgive this sins that I remember and the sins I have forgotten. Forgive my many failues in the face of temptation, and those times when I have been stubborn in the face of correction. Forgive the times I have been proud of my own achievements and those when I have faied to boast in your works. Forgive the harsh judgements I have made of others, and the leniency I have shown myself. Forgive me the pain I have caused others and the indulgence I have shown myself. Jesus, have mercy on me and make me whole. Amen

    I believe John R. is correct when he says, "The reason George fails to make the normal distiction between what Jesus did on the cross and what Jesus and the Holy Spirit do now is because he doesn't believe in the distinction."

    1 John chapters 1&2 seem to me to be speaking of a believers habitual lifestyle. He habitually has fellowship with the Father and the Son, and habitually walks in the Light, and habitually confesses his sins in order to grow closer in agreement with God, and habitually loves his brother, ect....

    I came across this page as I googled for info on Bob George. He's also driving me nuts with his bad theology. He's on the radio as I drive home from work. He's always bad mouthing the reformed camp by misrepresenting what we (calvinists) believe and he seems to make unbiblical distinctions concerning the atoning work of Christ. Today he said that the cross doesn't save anybody, but only that it makes it "possible" for people to be saved since "all sin" was removed. The cross "prepeares us for salvation." He's so off.

    I was glad to find this page and enjoyed reading the comments. It grieves me how men like Bob George can continue to dupe people by the thousands into never confessing their sins. This is the Antinomian wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    I am a lover of the great Reformed Theology writers old and new, nevertheless have struggled with understanding the doctrine of The Perseverance of the Saints.

    Here are some notes I wrote in my Logos Bible Program on 1 John 3:9. Hopefully I can get some insight here among you guys.

    “It seems to me, through my studies that the only correct and logical interpretation of 1 John 3:9 (and its corresponding verses) centers on the "seed" of the believer. To say that believers do not "continue in sin”, or "habitually sin", is simply not true because, historically, they have. The problem with the "do not habitually sin" theory is that no time limit is specified. As Ryrie put it, "For how long can I be fruitless without having a lordship advocate (i.e. Perseverance of the Saints) conclude that I was never really saved?"
    Therefore, the only possible interpretation of this verse seems to be that the "seed" (i.e. the living Word of God, the Holy Spirit), does not sin. James says: "In many things we offend all", Proverbs says" The thought of foolishness is sin", and many other references can be presented. Every believer sins daily. One cannot go a half a day without some transgression, either in thought or desire, and many sins we commit we are not aware of. That the believer will confess sin regularly is true, but “continually sinning” is nevertheless a fact. The Catholics have introduced Venial and Mortal sins here to “help” the dilemma but sin is sin in this context.
    Now that this "seed" will produce good fruit and manifest righteousness there is no doubt. But to say that a believer cannot "continue in sin" is simply not true.”

    Everyone who reads this really needs to go back and read the Bible. Find a place outside of this verse in John where it talks about confessing your sins. It will be very hard. But when you do, you will come across a number of verses that talk about forgiveness taken care of on the Cross. Christ died for the remission of our sins. The end. We are called to live in the spirit, live holy, but none of this involves continually "putting Christ up on that Cross again"- like many do when we ask forgiveness of sins. This is something our forefathers of the faith understood. They would not be having this conversation. It's one of the simplest truths of our faith. I implore people to examine their strongholds on the 'religion' of Christ, and start believing the truth of Christ. That He died on the Cross for your sins. Once and for all. Studying one verse in the bible that is in reference to people understanding they are sinners, and confessing that, can be dangerous. Look at the Bible as a whole. As a book. Not as a bunch of verses.

    We always seem to start with man's dilemma--needing forgiveness. The Cross solved God's problem--whereby He would be just and faithful to forgive us of sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Christ is the Propitiation for our sins. He expiated the wrath of God away from us. God is fellowshipping with us without violating His own righteousness or law because it's demands were met in His Son and the wages of sin were paid in Jesus. Being free FROM the law means being FREE unto and toward God--in fellowship and relationship. Now, both parties may share communion with one another. But God is Holy. When we fail to be Holy we grieve the Lord. Our 'confession' according to 1 John, to me, assures me that God continues to offer Himself in this fellowship but I need to agree with Him about unrighteousness. We apologize to offended parties in human affairs; why not to God when we hurt His heart?

    If 1 John 1:9 was written to believers why in that chapter is there no address to believers? every other chapter John writes he address believers in one way or the other. Also if this is true how come Paul makes no mention of it at all in any book he writes? and lastly why does Jesus forgive sins of people without them asking Him to?

    "Jesus obtained forgiveness for us on the cross, but we were not forgiven of all our sins at that time."

    That one statement is so out-of-line with the entire New Testament it makes the rest of his case invalid. Jesus died for our sins, past, present and future. To believe otherwise is to believe we are saved by the confession of our sins, and if we neglect to confess one sin, we are doomed for eternity without God. Confession becomes a means of works and not of grace.

    I have recently come into the understanding that indeed Christ died for the sins of his chosen people..
    While sin is at the root unbelief or anything that lacks faith in God's provision for us, Jesus paid the price and is indeed interceeding or keeping us in His Grace..
    A Grace that is greater than our sin.. If our sins are in need of constant forgiveness, then Christ would have to be crucified over and over.. What a terrible thought..
    He satisfied the Fathers demand and has now sat down or should I say rested from His works..
    He is the propitiation for sin and
    Will continue to keep us until the end..
    In closing, confess and be thankful that God's grace is greater than our sin..
    None of us can lay claim to being worthy and especially those who think by the act of confession they could ever merit so great a salvation..

    While this is an excellent blog, if you want to understand why we confess our sins as believers the best incites I have found on this is by John MacArthur's sermon titled "Total forgiveness and the Confession of sin". at gty.org.

    http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/62-8/total-forgiveness-and-the-confession-of-sin

    Here is a taste

    " There are two kinds of forgiveness...judicial forgiveness, or forensic forgiveness. The forgiveness that was purchased in full by the atonement that Jesus Christ rendered on our behalf. That kind of forgiveness frees us from the threat of eternal punishment, eternal condemnation and that's why those who are in Christ Jesus are not under condemnation, Romans 8:1. It is the forgiveness of justification. But then there's not just the judicial, there's the paternal forgiveness. This is granted by God not as judge, but as father. He is still grieved when His children sin. Yes we are justified, but He also wants us to be sanctified, to be conformed to the image of Christ. He is pleased with that justification. He is displeased with the breach of sanctification. Forgiveness of justification takes care of judicial guilt, but it does not eliminate fatherly displeasure. We have been delivered from the penalty of sin by justification, but we haven't been delivered from the presence and the consequences of sin. That is an on-going process and that's why we are always confessing and always being forgiven and being cleansed. Your justification is a fixed and settled reality. Your sanctification ebbs and flows dependent on how you deal with the sin in your life. You are covered with the righteousness of Christ that pleases God and settles the issue of your eternity. In terms of punishment, there never will be any. But the sin in your life, in your humanness, displeases the loving Father, retards your sanctification which also displeases Him and muddies up the image of Christ which you and I are to manifest."

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