Do Believers Need To Confess To Be Forgiven?

Sooner or later, in the discourse of the message of grace, 1 John 1:9 comes into the discussion concerning confession and forgiveness. The question is, Does God require that we confess sin before He can forgive us of those sins? Or have all sins been forgiven at the cross because of the blood of Jesus?

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.

Context is very important to understanding verses like these. They seem to stand against what the rest of the New Testament says about our sins. That we have been forgiven once for all by the blood of Jesus already (Romans 5:8, Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 2:13, 1 John 5:19).

The Book of Hebrews actually contrasts the difference between a continual, on-going system of forgiveness, as compared to the one where all payment was done in Christ (Hebrews 9:25 – 28).

The Purpose of 1 John (Context)

John is writing a letter to address a heresy that had crept into church by a group of people know as the Gnostics. They had come into the Church, and set about interpreting the Gospel through a Gnostic mindset.

They held certain beliefs such as, salvation was through some secret hidden knowledge that must be discovered in this life. Also, they believed there is no such thing as sin and everything physical was evil. Therefore Jesus actually came spiritually rather than physically.

John addresses some of these issues. He testifies as an eye witness to what Jesus was actually like, and that they had physically touched him (1 John 1:1-2).

Then John continues and addresses his intended audience concerning his testimony.

1 John 1:3 -4 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us. And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write “we” unto “you”, that your joy may be full.

In this passage, we identify the two groups. There are the eyewitnesses of Christ, conveying what they experienced to another group of people, “that they may have fellowship.”

So the group that John is writing to are not like-minded with the eyewitnesses. And he’s talking to them in the hope that they may come to agreement. In short, he is addressing Gnostic unbelievers.

John identifies the two groups

John goes further to identity the two groups. There are those who walk in darkness and those walk in the light.

Those who walk in the light enjoy fellowship with one another. They are cleansed of all sins by the Blood of Christ, NOT by confession.

This letter is clearly an invitation to those that walk in darkness to come and enjoy the fellowship of the believers in the light.

Then comes 1 John 1:9, where he invites the unbelieving Gnostics, to first admit they have sinned. Then they are to confess their sins, and receive their forgiveness. Having done that they should remain cleaned like the people who walk in the light in the previous verse, by his blood.

In essence, John is inviting the Gnostics to repent of their Gnostic doctrine. He wants them to trust in the testimony that he is sharing about Jesus to be saved. Thus they can enjoy true fellowship with himself and the other believers.

Just to cap the verse off, verse 10 is again addressing the Gnostic heresy that there is no such thing as sin. 1 John 1:10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Gnostic teaching denied the existence of sin. They saw no need for forgiveness. This verse is talking directly to that issue, for people who say they have no need for the blood of Jesus.

Brook Potter – Explains the context of 1 John 1:9

7 thoughts on “Do Believers Need To Confess To Be Forgiven?”

  1. Was the Book of First John really written to Gnostics? Not!
    by Soger Sapp
    Was the book of First John Written to Gnostics and not to Christians?

    This note will look at the internal evidence of the book First John itself to determine to whom it was written.

    Some are sharing that First John was written to Gnostics. They share a historical scenario that describes, in their minds, why this book was written by the apostle John to Gnostics rather than Christians. While some aspects of the three letters by John are warning about the Gnostics, all three letters, First, Second and Third John are written to Christians. They are right about the Gnostics being the problem that John is addressing but they are very wrong that this book is written to Gnostics rather than Christians.

    Why do they want to this book to be written to Gnostics rather than Christians? Their interest is more than just historical. There are portions of this book that strongly contradict what they believe theologically and therefore they must somehow prove that it is not for Christians in order to present their teaching. This is a common tactic of cultists that don’t want to accept a portion of the New Testament. So let us take a look at the internal evidence that this book was not written to the Gnostics but to Christians. If we can show only one verse that is clearly written to Christians and not Gnostics, then the whole book must be written to Christians. We will not have any trouble finding one verse. In fact, there are many verses to cite.

    Affectionate Language. The first obvious thing is the familiar and affectionate language John uses to address these people. He would address Christians in this way but not Gnostics. How do those who are teaching that this book is written to the Gnostics deal with this affectionate language? They say that John is simply being polite to the Gnostics. This is very wrong. John would not have been polite to these Gnostic heretics. How do we know this? We know this simply by the fact that John commands other Christians not to be polite to Gnostics. John writes in 2 John:

    For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (2Jo 1:7-11)

    John is writing to Christians in all three books. He is not being polite to the Gnostics in any of them. John is warning believers about Gnostics. He says that they do not have God. He says don’t invite them into your house and don’t even greet them. If John was being polite to the Gnostics in First John, it would be inconsistent with what he told other believers to do. Therefore, John is writing all three letters to Christians. There is much other evidence of this in First John itself.

    John uses very affectionate language in writing to these Christians in First John. He calls them “children” fourteen times. Five times, he uses the more affectionate “little children” and twice he refers to them as “my little children”.

    Inclusive Language: John includes himself with these other Christians by using the words we or us in many places. The we and us in these passages mean only what they would ordinarily mean. They mean that John, as a Christian, was writing to other Christians. He was not being polite to the Gnostics by being inclusive.

    Lets take a look at some verses. There were many that I could have chosen but in order to keep this note shorter, I settled on a few. I will comment briefly after each verse about affectionate and inclusive language and if the content of the verse would fit Gnostics or Christians.

    1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

    This verse both uses the affectionate phrase My little children and the inclusive word we. John says in the 2 John passage that the Gnostics do not have God. He is not contradicting himself by saying that the Gnostics have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. The Gnostics do not have God or Jesus. Clearly John is writing to Christians and includes himself by writing we.

    1 John 2:12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.

    John uses the same affectionate language to these Christians. The sins of the Gnostics are not forgiven because they do not have God. This verse is written to Christians only.

    1 John 2:13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.

    The Gnostics do not have God and therefore the fathers he is referring to here have to be Christians because John says that they know Him (God). Gnostic young men are clearly not overcoming the evil one because they are deceived. This is written to Christian young men. Gnostic children do not know the Father only Christian children know the Father.

    1 John 2:18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour.

    Again, John uses the affectionate word children to address these Christians. He warns these Christians about antichrists. He uses the inclusive we at the end of this statement. John sees himself as part of this group of believers.

    1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.

    As a reminder to the reader, in 2 John, John writes:

    Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.

    A Gnostic does not hold to the teaching of Christ and therefore cannot abide in it. He cannot abide in Christ. There is no way for a Gnostic to have confidence at the coming of Jesus Christ. This verse and the whole book of First John is written to Christians not Gnostics. John also uses the inclusive we in this verse. This means that he, as a Christian, is writing to other Christians.

    1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

    John uses the inclusive words us and we in this verse. He writes that they are the children of God. Clearly John would not write this to Gnostics because he has written that they do not have God. These people are the children of God in the same way that John is a child of God. They are not Gnostics but ordinary believers in Jesus Christ.

    1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.

    This verse is a continuation of the verse above and has the inclusive word we five times in it. John is declaring that these people and he are the same. They are Christians and not Gnostics. Only Christians will be like Christ when He appears. Gnostics will not become like Christ. They do not have God.

    1 John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;

    Any doctrine that says that it doesn’t really matter what you do is a deception. Grace transforms. Grace ultimately produces righteous behavior or it is not New Covenant grace. Again, John uses the familiar affectionate phrase little children to address these Christians.

    1 John 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

    The Gnostics, among other things, taught that righteous behavior was not necessary. According to John, they are children of the devil and do not have God. Clearly John was not trying to be polite to Gnostics.

    1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

    Since John has written that the Gnostics do not have God. This cannot be written to Gnostics since John says You are from God.. John would not write this to Gnostics. He also use the affectionate term little children to describe them. He would not tell Gnostics that they have overcome because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. This is a statement that could only be made to Christians.

    There are many other verses that we could cite but these should suffice to point out that the internal language of this letter is inconsistent with the idea that it was written to the Gnostics. It was writen to Christians!

    The real motivation for saying First John is written to the Gnostics that they reject portions of what this book says and do not want it to be for Christians. Those portions of First John contradict what they are teaching. They need to do the right thing. They need to reject or adjust any theology that doesn’t line up with First John and any portion of the New Testament. They should not try to adjust the Bible to fit their doctrine. They should let the Bible adjust their doctrine. The choice to reject First John as doctrine for Christians marks them as cultists. Don’t be misled. Every word in First John is for Christians.

  2. When a letter is written, the intended audience is usually Identified first, followed by the instructions. Mr. Sapp’s continued use of Chapter 2 references, to define the audience in Chapter 1 is ridiculous and denies the very basics of biblical exegesis.

    This is a desperate attempt to deny the context of the verse and force it to say something that it does not say by using another chapter as reference when there has clearly been a change of audience in between. Anyone who reads the text for itself, without imposing their theology on it, can see the difference.

  3. when the book Of 1 john was written it was a whole letter, chapters and verses were added centuries later…ooops

    • Thats alright, it was an easy mistake for you to make. Like i said, it is a letter, read from top to bottom, with the subsequent changes in audience addressed followed by John’s instructions to that audience. Glad we can clear that up.


    All sins have to be washed in the blood of Jesus in order to be forgiven.

    Revelation 1:5 and Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

    The question is what are the terms men have to meet in order to have the blood applied? At what point do men contact the blood of Jesus Christ?

    When did Jesus wash Saul (the apostle Paul) in His blood?

    Saul Believed in Jesus on the road to Damascus and ask Him “What shall I do Lord?” (Acts 22:6-10) Did Jesus wash Saul’s sins away with His blood at that moment in time? No, Saul was still not forgiven. Saul was not forgiven the minute he believed.

    Saul was in Damascus three days later at the house of Ananias. Ananias land hands on Saul so he could receive his sight. (Acts 22:13) Did Jesus wash away Saul’s sins by His blood at that time? No, Saul was still in his sins.

    What was the contact point for the blood of Jesus Christ?

    Acts 22:16 ‘ And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

    1. Jesus did not wash away the sins of Saul, with His own blood, the minute Saul believed while on the road to Damascus.
    2. Jesus did not wash away the sins of Saul, with His own blood, the minute Saul repented while on the road to Damascus.
    3. Jesus did not wash away the sins of Saul, with His own blood, because Saul prayed for three days while on the road to Damascus.
    4. Jesus did not wash away the sins of Saul, with His own blood, until Saul arrived in Damascus three days later, when Saul was baptized in water.


    The terms for forgiveness. 1. Faith, John 3:16. 2. Repentance, Acts 2:38 3. Confession, Romans 10:9-10 and 4. The point of contacting the blood of Christ—WATER BAPTISM Acts 22:16

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  5. For greater clarity and benefit of your readers, I think you are dealing primarily with the question, “Who saved you?” (1 John 1:7).
    The question, “… what shall we do ? (Acts 2:37) is also important.
    See also the Scriptural demands in, e.g. Romans 10:9, Acts 2:38 and Acts 20:21.
    Hope you will find the above rejoinder helpful.
    Robert K.

  6. You are one of the few people who explain this verse correctly. Thank you for the clarity. 1John 2:26 further illustrates your point: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” ‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬


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