In 1 John 1:5–10, the apostle John describes genuine fellowship with Jesus Christ as walking in the light. One way believers walk in the light is by honestly admitting their human tendency to sin: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
John portrays God and Jesus as light (1 John 1:5; John 1:4–9). Often, Jesus referred to Himself as light (John 9:5; John 12:35–36). God’s absolute holiness shines light into the utter darkness of a sinful world. Those who desire to have an authentic relationship with God must obey His Word and live in His light. But, to do this, the problem of sin must be dealt with openly before the Lord. John explains, “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).
The way to deal with sin is to repent and confess it as soon as we recognize it. Otherwise, guilt will weigh heavily on us, as it did on David (Psalm 32:3–4). “Finally,” David said, “I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone” (Psalm 32:5, NLT).
The word confess refers to admitting a sin. When we confess our sins to God, we agree with Him that we have broken His law and therefore deserve punishment. Confession recognizes that we are wrong—we are personally guilty. Confession confronts our denial of sin head-on. We are humble enough to say, “Lord, I have sinned against you.” And believers who want to walk in God’s light must be willing to let Him deal radically with their lives.
It’s important to note that, at the point of salvation, all of our sins are forgiven. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, once and for all time (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:6–11; Hebrews 10:1–18). After we are sealed with the blood of Christ’s covenant, there is nothing we can do that will keep us from heaven (Matthew 26:28). All of our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Yet, Jesus taught that believers must continue to seek God’s forgiveness daily (Matthew 6:11–12). After salvation, Christians frequently miss the mark (Philippians 3:12; James 3:2, 8; 4:17). For this reason, John stated, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Sins that are out in the open and confessed to God won’t hinder us from walking in the pure light of genuine fellowship with Jesus Christ.
So, first, we must be willing to admit our sins to ourselves. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,” said David in Psalm 51:3. We injure ourselves and hamper our relationship with God if we try to hide or deny our sins: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). But if we are honest with ourselves, we can repent and confess our sins to God and experience His forgiveness and cleansing (Acts 3:19).
Sometimes we may need to admit that we’ve wronged a family member, a co-worker, or a brother in Christ. Scripture teaches us to confess our sins to other believers and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt (James 5:13–16; Matthew 5:23–25; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
Maintaining any healthy, loving, intimate relationship will require the giving and receiving of forgiveness, for this is how relationships work. In our fellowship with God and other people, if we offend the other party, we mend the relationship by confessing our failures and asking for forgiveness.
Thankfully, God is “faithful” and “just.” These terms in 1 John 1:9 describe the nature of God. The word faithful means “characterized by steadfast affection or allegiance.” God will never give up on us. We can always count on His steadfast love and forgiveness (Isaiah 43:25; Romans 8:38). When we turn to the Lord, He will have mercy on us and freely pardon our sin (Isaiah 55:7).
Just refers to being “legally or ethically right, righteous, and especially free from bias, favoritism, or deception.” God is morally honorable. He has promised in His Word that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just.” Therefore, we can trust Him to “forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Paul affirms, “He himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, NLT).