“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
- I John 1:9
In witnessing to others, this verse is a powerful tool in helping to explain the nature of God, as well as His promise to forgive sin and cleanse one’s life. For me, it always helps to find out what the original meaning of each word is. The word “confess” means to acknowledge and assent to. “Faithful” means trustworthy, and “just” means equitable, innocent, and holy. I thought it was interesting to note that the tense used for “confess” is the present subjunctive active. In other words, this tense gives the connotation that confession here is a repeated and continuous action. This makes sense when you consider that John is writing to fellow believers. This also coincides with Matthew 4:17, where Jesus used a similar tense when He gave the command to “repent.” Regardless, this truth can be applied to the life of both the saved and unsaved. With this in mind, I John 1:9 could be paraphrased:
If we confess and acknowledge our sins, Jesus Christ, who is trustworthy and holy, promises that He will (for He is fully able) forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We can share this promise of God’s forgiveness and cleansing power to those we are witnessing to. This verse can be used as a springboard to share about the holiness of God that can then be contrasted with man’s sinfulness. If a person does not recognize and acknowledge their exceeding sinfulness, they will never understand why they would need God’s forgiveness in the first place. Thus, it is vitally important that a person acknowledge that they are indeed sinful and have violated God’s moral law and are in desperate need of His forgiveness and cleansing blood. With this understanding, they will begin to appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on their behalf. Confession is always humbling, but God only dwells with those who are of a “humble spirit” (See Isaiah 57:15) and the proud He knows “afar off” (See Psalm 138:6).
I John 1:9 is a powerful promise that speaks of God’s holiness, His love, and His redeeming plan for mankind if they would but humble themselves, confess and turn from their sin, and seek His face.