What is the Story with 1 John 1:9? (Part Two)

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In 1 John 1:9? (Part One)">Part One we examined the contextual evidence showing that 1 John 1:9 is addressed to those not yet born-again and is regarding what they must do to be cleansed of their unrighteousness and come into partnership with God. Part Two will offer further evidence of this truth and examine more fully what the sin of 1 John 1 refers to.

The purpose of this epistle of John is consistent with the purpose of the gospel of John as stated in John 20.

John 20:30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

This does not mean, however that the entire epistle is addressed only to those not yet born-again. Both groups are included as is indicated by 1 John 5:13. The King James Version is in error with its rendering of this verse because it was translated from Stephens critical Greek text. (See our posting “An Introduction to Biblical Research” for a discussion on why The New American Bible, among others, is more accurate for this verse. )

1 John 5:13 I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. [NAB]

Parts of 1 John are certainly for those who have already attained eternal life, but much of it is to convince others to accept God’s son.

Some have taught that 1 John 1:9 cannot be about the unbeliever’s need to get saved and thus be cleansed of his unrighteousness, because salvation is dependent on confessing Jesus Christ as lord and believing God raised him from the dead, not confessing one’s sin.

Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

This argument would be convincing if the narrative ended with verse 9, but it doesn’t. Forget about the verse and chapter divisions. The epistle must be taken as a whole. Recognizing one’s separation from God and thus his need for the Savior is not all that is necessary for salvation, but it is the first step. After one recognizes his need for a savior, then he must also accept the Savior and John continues on in his writing to convince people to do so.

Consider the following from 1 John:

2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

2:8 Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his [the "brother's", Jesus Christ's] name’s sake.

2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.

3:5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.

3:15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he [the "brother" of verse 15] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

3:23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

4:9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

5:1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

5:5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

5:9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

Throughout this epistle, John never gets far from the topic of who Jesus is and the need to accept him. There are, of course, other topics like loving one another, but how could anyone claim that reaching out to people to accept God’s son is not a major focus of this epistle?

We should also carefully consider the word, “sin,” and how it is used in this epistle. The two verses surrounding 1 John 1:9 are illuminating regarding who this section is addressed to.

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

And yet, later in this epistle we read:

1 John 3: 5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 5: 18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

So which is it? Are we who are born of God unable to sin or are we deceiving ourselves and calling God a liar if we say that we don’t?

The resolution to this apparent conflict is twofold. First, as was pointed out in Part One, the “we” of 1 John 1:6-10 does not include the apostle John. It is the euphemistic “we” used when the desire is to soften the statement. The “we” of verses 6-10 refers to the same group of people as the “you” of verses 1-5. (See 1 John 1:9? (Part One)" By Ken Brown">Part One for documentation of this. ) These people did not have koinonia with John as John had with the Father. They were not born again. 1 John 3:9 and 5:18 above clearly address the condition of those who are born again. 1 John 1:6-10 addresses the condition of people who are not born again.

Second, none of these records (1 John 1:8-10, 3:9, and 5:18) make much sense without applying the appropriate definition of “sin.” Most people think of sin as doing bad things, and certainly that is one thing the word “sin” can mean, but it isn’t the only definition. The Greek word commonly translated “sin” (and the one occurring in the above records) is the noun hamartia. The verb form is hamartano. This is the information from Strong’s lexicon:

266 a`marti,a hamartia {ham-ar-tee’-ah}

Meaning: 1) equivalent to 264 1a) to be without a share in 1b) to miss the mark 1c) to err, be mistaken 1d) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong 1e) to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin 2) that which is done wrong, sin, an offence, a violation of the divine law in thought or in act 3) collectively, the complex or aggregate of sins committed either by a single person or by many

Origin: from 264; TDNT – 1:267,44; n f

Usage: AV – sin 172, sinful 1, offense 1; 174

264 a`marta,nw hamartano {ham-ar-tan’-o}

Meaning: 1) to be without a share in 2) to miss the mark 3) to err, be mistaken 4) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong 5) to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin

Origin: perhaps from 1 (as a negative particle) and the base of 3313; TDNT – 1:267,44; v

Usage: AV – sin 38, trespass 3, offend 1, for your faults 1; 43

3313 me,roj meros {mer’-os}

Meaning: 1) a part 1a) a part due or assigned to one 1b) lot, destiny 2) one of the constituent parts of a whole 2a) in part, partly, in a measure, to some degree, as respects a part, severally, individually 2b) any particular, in regard to this, in this respect

Origin: from an obsolete but more primary form of meiromai (to get as a section or allotment);  TDNT – 4:594,585; n n

Usage:  AV – part 24, portion 3, coast 3, behalf 2, respect 2, misc 9; 43

Clearly, the definitions include the usual associations of “to miss the mark,”  ”to err, be mistaken” etc. But the FIRST definition given is too often ignored, “to be without a share in,” (not meros, not a part) and this is the only meaning that can fit each of the above records from 1 John.

Koinonia, translated “fellowship”  in the KJV, means, “to have a share in.” Hamartia, translated “sin” in the KJV, means, “to be without a share in.” These two are set in direct contrast in chapter one. People either have a share in God or they do not. Those who have not accepted the light of the world, do not. If they will acknowledge that they have no share in God and accept God’s son, then God will cleanse them of their unrighteousness.

In chapter 3 of 1 John, we see that whoever does not have a share in God is of the Devil. (This cannot be talking about born-again believers who do something bad. ) We also see that whoever is born of God can never be without a share in God because His seed will remain in him. 1 Peter calls it incorruptible seed.

1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

When one confesses Jesus as lord and believes God raised him from the dead, God gives him salvation and righteousness before Him (Romans 10:9 & 10). He becomes born of God with incorruptible seed that can never be lost; a partnership forms that can never be dissolved. Such a one can never ever again be without a share in The Almighty God.

1 John 1:9 is not addressed to people who already have this share. It is a portion of the apostle John’s discourse to bring more people into having this share in God as His sons and daughters.

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