No More Conscience of Sins
Nearly 20 years ago, not long after leaving the Biblical research department where I was employed, I came across a section of Scripture that astounded me. I was stunned because the section seemed to contradict something I had long held to be an important and fundamental doctrine. I had read this section before, but apparently had never seriously considered what it was saying.
The section to which I refer is in Hebrews.
1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
The Israelites could get forgiven of their sins, but they had to keep coming back to the temple year by year to get forgiven again. If they had had a sacrifice that made them perfect (teleios: lacking nothing necessary to completeness), the Children of Israel would not have needed to offer any more sacrifices; and having been “purged” (cleansed), they should therefore have had no more conscience of sins. The record goes on to say that we DO have such a sacrifice, a one-time sacrifice that perfects us forever.
12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
The obvious conclusion is that we should have no more conscience of sins. How can this be? Israel had to be reminded of their sins once a year and God wanted to deliver them from that. I was remembering my sins and confessing my broken fellowship multiple times every day! I would gladly have traded that for only needing to be reminded of my sins once a year. And yet if I was correct about what I understood 1 John 1:9 to be saying, what I was doing was needful.
1 John 1:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
What Hebrews seems to clearly say contradicts what 1 John seems to clearly say. If I have to remember my sins to confess them, asking God for his forgiveness, thus obtaining His forgiveness and getting cleansed of my unrighteousness, I cannot have “no more conscience of sins.” Either my understanding of Hebrews was incorrect, or my understanding of 1 John was incorrect.
In 1972 at an “Advanced Class” of the Biblical research group I was then involved with, I talked to the founding president about the practical application of 1 John 1:9. I said:
Sir, I know there are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. I may have missed the revelation or not thought something through. Since this is true, I do not necessarily always know when I may have just sinned. Since all sin is broken fellowship, and since the only way to repair my broken fellowship and be forgiven and cleansed of my unrighteousness, is to confess my sins, and I never know when I may have just sinned, I confess my broken fellowship before the Father whenever it comes to my mind. It might be 5 or 10 or 20 times a day. Is this what you do?
He looked startled. Then he leaned back in his lawn chair and stared toward the sky for a moment or two with his hands clasped behind his head. Finally he looked at me and said, “Oh no son. You’ve got to get out of your sin consciousness. I go to bed at night and I thank God for forgiving me for sinning all day long, and other than that, I just never think about it.” I appreciated his practical advice, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the doctrine to back it up. From what I was taught and believed, what I was doing was the logical response.
It took a quest lasting many years before I understood the correct doctrine from God’s Word that freed me from sin consciousness. Reading Hebrews chapter 10 that morning was a major stepping-stone in the right direction.
There is an important principle in Biblical research. If there are 50 verses that apparently say one thing, and one verse that apparently says something else, believe the 50 and take a second look at the one to see if you understand it correctly. What do other Scriptures have to say about forgiveness, about righteousness before God, about our fellowship with Him, about confession of sins, etc?
Let’s take a few examples. Ephesians says we have already been forgiven.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
These verses say we already have the forgiveness of sins and that we have already been forgiven. They do not say we have been forgiven for some sins but still must do something to gain God’s forgiveness for others. I used to read that into these verses because of what I thought 1 John was saying, but they don’t say that. They just say we have the forgiveness of sins and have been forgiven.
Colossians states the same truth.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Colossians 2: 13
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Romans says we are dead to sin and freed from it.
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
1 Peter tells us the same.
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
How can it be said that we are dead to sin(s) and freed from it if God is holding certain of my sins (the ones I haven’t confessed yet) against me; these sins causing a separation between us such that God will not answer my prayers. That doesn’t sound like dead to sin(s) to me. (Incidentally, the words “sin” and “sins” are not used in God’s Word to distinguish between a state of sin and the acts, as some have taught.)
1 John seems to say I must do something to get cleansed of my unrighteousness. The Church Epistles say I don’t have any unrighteousness. They say I have been made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Righteousness basically just means rightness. Our righteousness is our rightness before God. The Church Epistles say I have that rightness before God as a gift (Romans 5:17) because Jesus Christ paid for my sins.
If it were true that any given sin would cause you to be “out of fellowship” with the Father, causing you to be in a state where He does not hear, much less answer, your prayers, and that the only way to get out of this condition is to confess your sins, doesn’t it seem like that would be important to know? What else could be any more crucial for the born-again believer to know? Why is it then that confession of sins is not discussed in Romans, the foundational book of doctrine? Why is it that confession of sins is never once so much as alluded to in all the seven Church Epistles? Confessing your sin to God is never mentioned ANYWHERE in God’s Word relative to the grace administration other than 1 John 1:9!
This whole doctrine of “broken fellowship” and the need to confess your sins to get back “in fellowship” and explaining away clear verses that say we have been forgiven, made free from sin, and made righteous is all based solely on one verse outside the Church Epistles. I had previously, without ever really considering what I was doing, redefined scores of clear verses “in light of” 1 John 1:9. When I read, for example, Ephesians 4:32, “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” I would automatically think “yes, for the sins I committed before being born again but not for the ones after until I confess.” But this verse does not say that.
Acts 13:39 has a piece of interesting information.
38 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:
39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
“Justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” What was it that people could not be justified from under the law of Moses that they can justified from by Jesus Christ? David was under the law, and God forgave him for murdering Uriah. There are many examples of heinous acts that God forgave people of in the Old Testament under the law. What exactly was it people could not be justified from under the law of Moses but can be justified from by Jesus Christ? The verse in Acts tells us. It is all things. The children of Israel could be forgiven of any one thing or a number of things, but as Hebrews shows, they did not have a one- time sacrifice that justified them from all things. If we today still have to piece meal getting forgiveness from God, confessing one sin at a time to gain God’s forgiveness, we have nothing better regarding forgiveness than did the children of Israel.
Let’s think about this from a practical point of view for a moment. It is simply not possible to confess all your sins. The verse does not say to acknowledge your state of sinfulness or as some say, “broken fellowship;” it says (or seems to say) that being cleansed of your unrighteousness is dependent on confessing your sins. Would you agree that willfully, knowingly violating the Word of God is sin? What about the verse that talks about leading every thought captive to Christ? Is there anyone who honestly believes that it is possible to identify and confess every bad thought? What about the guy who goes out in “left field” for 20 years, and then has a change of heart? He decides to come back to God and follow Him and love Him. Unfortunately, he will always have unrighteousness before God no matter what he does, because there is no way he is going to be able to remember all his sins for the past 20 years to confess them and get forgiven. 1 John 1:9 just cannot be telling born-again believers that they must confess individual sins to gain God’s forgiveness and get cleansed of their unrighteousness. That would be an absolutely unattainable standard for righteousness.
For a long time, I didn’t know what the story was with 1 John. I just knew that what I had believed it was saying was contradictory to many other Scriptures. For years I chose to believe the many clear records from the Church Epistles and other places regarding righteousness and forgiveness and hold 1 John 1:9 in abeyance, having no explanation. Whether I had an explanation for 1 John or not, it was life changing to finally begin to believe the Church Epistles: that I am righteous before the Father, not just righteous in one way but not another; that I am dead to sin(s) and freed from it; and that I have been forgiven all trespasses, not just some of them. (Also, not needing to spend half my prayer life apologizing and asking for forgiveness freed up a lot of time and mental energy.)
To understand what 1 John 1 is talking about, we must first understand what “fellowship” means as it is used in God’s Word. We must determine to whom the book is addressed. We must learn the meanings of the idioms: “walk in light” and “walk in darkness.” We must also examine what the sin is that is referred to, among other matters. These will be the subjects of future articles.