“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
These verses describe the problem that mankind has, and God’s solution for it. The problem is sin, and our attitude toward it. John reveals two things about how we view sin, and the result of those views.
First, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. This is a mistake that we make. Generally, people would say that they are not sinners. And this verse states that when they say that, they are deceiving themselves. Quoting from Psalm 14, Paul said in Romans 3:10-12, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” John goes further. If we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. Not only do we deceive ourselves but there is no truth in us. This is our attitude toward our sin in the present.
Second, John says that if we say that we have not sinned we make God a liar, and His word is not in us. Nobody is free of the sin nature that plagues the human race. It was inherited from Adam and Eve; a result of their disobedience of God. God told them that in the day that they ate from the tree they would surely die. They did not die physically that day, they died spiritually. In Romans 3:23 Paul wrote, “…For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…” If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar! Hebrews 6:18 tells us, “…it was impossible for God to lie…” This second attitude is about our view of our past sin.
So, present or past, we are sinners against God. He told us so in Romans 3:23. Because our sin is against Him, He is the only one that can forgive us.
The middle sentence is God’s solution for the problem. First, we must confess our sins. That is, we acknowledge that we are sinners. Scripture makes it clear that sin put a divide between mankind and God. As noted before, Romans 3:23 says, “…all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…” There is nobody that is left out of “all”. So, God first requires that we admit it. And scripture does state that God knows our hearts. Jeremiah 17:10 tells us, “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Not only does He know our hearts, but He searches them, and judges according to what He finds. He wants us to admit to Him that which He already knows. There is no escaping His gaze. The only and proper response to this is to admit that we are sinners: to agree with Him. A heart that has come to that conclusion will enjoy the next portion of this verse.
In 1 John 1:9 we are told, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Faithfulness requires an object. There is no other way to understand God’s reaction to our confession. To those who admit their sin God is faithful. That is, He is trustworthy. And, He is just to do so. Since He is the One we offend with our sin, He can justly forgive us our sin because of Jesus Christ.
Finally, this verse tells us that when we confess, He forgives us, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” He will not only forgive us, but He will make us right before Him! Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Though addressed to husbands, this portion reveals Jesus’ intentions toward the church: cleansing, and without spot. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Not only has He cleansed us, but He has declared His people to be the righteousness of God.
Our sin puts us at odds with God. His intent is that we be forgiven and, more than that, cleansed. Praise the LORD for His great salvation!
A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from His love.
My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in Heav’n. (Augustus M. Toplady)