1 John: 1:8 – 10


Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

(1Jo 1:8-10 ESV) 8 If we say 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 we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Notice the ABA structure of these three verses. Each begins “if.” Verses 8 and 10 are closely parallel, providing two different results from the same hypothesis. If we claim to have no sin, then (i) we deceive ourselves, the truth (gospel) is not in us, (ii) we make God into a liar, and his word (logos) is not in us.

Now, Hebrew writing — not just the poetry — is filled with parallelisms. Verses 8 and 10 are obvious parallels. They aren’t exactly the same, but they are very similar and talk about the same thing.

But Hebrew parallelism is not only about synonyms. It can also be about antitheses, that is, opposites, and v. 9 is the opposite of verses 8 and 10. And what’s the opposite of claiming to have no sin? Well, acknowledging sin.

One of the great mistakes of the 20th Century Churches of Christ is to interpret v. 9 as referring to confession in the Catholic confessional sense. That is, many of us teach that sins are not forgiven until specifically confessed. It’s a Catholic doctrine, except we confess to God or the congregation (by “going forward”) rather than the priest.

But this, despite the translation, is not what the verse says. You see, the opposite of “say we have not sinned” is “say we have sinned.” This is a call for acknowledgement of sinfulness, not for particularized confession of each sin.

The promise we read about in the last post is that we’ll be continuously forgiven if we’re in the light. Now we’re told we’ll be continuously forgiven if we “confess our sins.” “Confess” is, again, present tense. We are to be continually “confessing” sin.

The difficulty with this verse arises from the poor translation of homologeo as “confess,” whereas in this context, it actually means “acknowledge.”

John is not talking about a legalistic requirement that we confess each sin to be saved (who could meet this requirement?) No, he’s insisting that we admit our sinfulness.

Consider, for example–

(1 John 4:15) If anyone acknowledges [homologeo] that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

The same word is translated as “acknowledge” in 1 John 4:2-3, 15; 2 John 1:7. In fact, it’s never used of confessing sin in the New Testament. Rather, the word used for confession of sin is usually exomologeo, as in James 5:16 and Matthew 3:6.

After all, we can’t claim the grace of God until we admit we need this grace. We can’t come to the throne of grace arrogantly claiming perfection. To ask for forgiveness is to admit the need for forgiveness.

It’s the reality and generosity of God’s grace that gives us permission to admit our sin — to God, to ourselves, and to each other. It allows us to live as forgiven sinners rather than people pretending to be good enough.

Now, John isn’t teaching antinomianism, that is, the idea that we don’t have to be obedient. Rather, he’s starting with the basics and expects us to keep up. And the basics are that if we’ll admit our sin to God, he’ll be faithful to forgive us.

(Realize that he is writing to Christians. Therefore, he doesn’t have to start with a lesson on faith in Jesus. That does comes later in the book. Rather, he’s decided the people he’s writing to need to renew their humility before God before he provides further detail. It’s a good lesson plan.)

Now, with the broad outline of the three verses established, let’s consider some particulars.

Verse 8

(1Jo 1:8 ESV) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Any truly self-aware person will admit his sinfulness. In modern America, this is not so easy for some — including some Christians. But John says it’s essential. You see, if you can’t admit your sin (not every sin — who on earth is aware of every single one of his own sins?), then you’re a self-deceiver.

Now “deceive” is the same word found in such passages as —

(John 7:12 ESV) 12 And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”

(Rev 12:9 ESV) 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

In all the other uses by John, “deceive” refers to someone (or Satan) deceiving someone into damnation. And so John is saying that those who can’t admit to their sin are tempting themselves to leave Jesus. It’s a very serious charge indeed.

John then says, “the truth is not in him.” That phrase has become idiomatic for “lies all the time.” But what John means is “the gospel is not in him.” He is damned. You see, those in the light are free to admit their sin because they are entirely forgiven — “there is no darkness at all” — continuously.

And so, if you want to fall away from Jesus, become so hard hearted and so arrogant that you can’t admit to your sin.

Verse 9

(1Jo 1:9 ESV) 9 If we [acknowledge] our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

“Sins” is plural in the Greek and the word used can refer to particular sins or sins in general. Plainly, in verses 8 – 10, sins in general are in John’s mind. After all, if we had to confess every single sin to be forgiven of every single sin, we’d all be without hope. It’s not possible.

Now “faithful” refers to keeping a promise or covenant, and this is surely an allusion to God’s many promises to forgive those who are his sons — those with faith in Jesus. That’s plain enough. But John also says God does this because he is “just”! But we all know that a truly just God would damn us all!

But the Greek can mean “observant of what is right.” God does the right thing. But, again, the right thing is to damn us. That is — unless God has changed the rules. After all, God is bound only to keep his word. There’s no law higher than God! And if God gave his word to forgive those who have faith in his Messiah, then the right thing to do is honor his word.

Therefore, John is subtly reminding us that God is acting on his covenant promises. This is no mere whim or favor. This is not about God’s mood or whether he likes us. It’s not about how hard we pray. It’s about being true to his promises. And God always keeps his promises.

I can’t count on God to be swayed by my confessions, my prayers, my pleas for forgiveness, the deals I try to make with him, or my winning personality. Rather, my confidence is in God — that he will keep his word.

Verse 10

(1Jo 1:10 ESV) If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

“Make him a liar” means, of course, that God has declared that we’re all sinners in need of grace. Now, there are plenty of verses in the Bible that say this, but I think John is thinking more cosmicly. I think he’s referring to the crucifixion. God’s Son died on the cross for our sins, and that means we’re sinners. The cross proves our need for forgiveness even if nothing else does.

“Word” is logos, and that’s a reference to the gospel and to Jesus, not to the Bible. In 1:1, John referred to Jesus as “the word of life.” To say the “word is not in us” is to declare that we’re separated from Jesus. This is not a condemnation of our Bible study habits but of us. If we can’t bring ourselves to admit our sinfulness, we’re damned.

A reflection

Notice the contrasts. We’re either in light or in darkness. We either admit our sinfulness or we don’t. We’re either forgiven continuously — or not at all. We either saved or lost.

John admits of no in betweens. And you can’t be in light and unforgiven. Either you’re in light, admit sin, and forgiven — or none of the above.

John will explain his view of the world in much more detail as we go.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to 1 John: 1:8 – 10

  1. Loribelle says:

    When I first was taught about Jesus, a young man was speaking, but the interaction that was taking place was with Christ. HE was asking me if I could leave my life of immorality and drunkenness (although the young man was saying nor asking of any of these things). Sort of like the rich young ruler who thought he was guilty of nothing when he was introduced to Jesus, but then Jesus highlighted one thing in his life that was hindering him from making an about face. I agree that it isn't every single sin that we need to confess. Jesus highlights in our hearts the very thing that is keeping us from HIM. When we agree with HIM and acknowledge that sin and make a decision to follow HIM and to turn from sin (whatever it may happen to be), we are welcome to HIM. I made that decision, was baptized and my conscience was cleared. I was free IN HIM. The first time, I fell, which was soon after, I robbed myself of a guilt free conscience. I kept beating myself up, jumped into the pool hoping I could bring that sense of forgiveness back again. Then, HIS word came to my mind (I am sure by His Holy Spirit), "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I stopped beating the water, I looked into Heaven with spiritual eyes and by faith in what he said and promised, I once again had that guilt free conscience restored. From that point on…there was then no condemnation for me who was in Christ. Sorrow sometimes, remorse, but NO CONDEMNATION!!! However, I will say, that sometimes, I think it's important to acknowledge openly of sin and our repentance, because some sins can have an effect on our "fellowship" with others, and in that case, I think it is more for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to give God glory.

  2. Laymond says:

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

    Jay, I don't believe John is saying Christians live in continual sin here, I think he is saying, those who say I don't need Jesus, because I have never sinned, are fooling theirself.

    Hbr 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

    1Jo 1:7 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.

    1Jo 3:3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
    1Jo 3:4 ¶ Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
    1Jo 3:5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
    1Jo 3:6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

    You say we are continualy cleansed of our accidental sins. What is an accidental sin, and where does it say we are automaticly forgiven of them.

  3. John says:

    Being that imperfection is a part of reality the question arises "at what point does one step out of the light; what sin puts one across the line?" No individual or church, can answer this.

    Conservatives accuse liberals of having no standard. The truth is, conservatives are constantly moving the standard, depending on which mistake, weakness or frailty has taken control, or which manner of life has become common place.

    There are preachers across our land who once held that divorce and remarriage was a sin; until they or someone in the family divorced and remarried. There is a well known TV preacher still on the air who once held that a divorced man could not be in the pulpit; he then went through a divorce; nothing else was said. There are Christians, too numerous to count, whose standard of movie watching changed with cable. We could go on and on.

    The fact is regardless of how many prohibitions we find in scripture, and they are there, and they are there for a purpose, the purpose being they create a world in which we know how to treat one another, imperfection is still an undeniable part of existence, and each person's imperfections are as unique as their individual souls. But, in spite of this, there is something that keeps our desire for God and faith in Christ intact, and that is love; it holds all things together.

  4. John says:

    Sometimes we realize that something could have been said better. Rather than saying that the prohibitions create a world in which we know how to treat one another, I should have said they are part of the wisdom that reminds us how children of God treat, or do not treat, one another.

    My apologies.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    I said nothing about "accidental sins." The text says (1Jo 1:9 ESV) "cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "All" means all.

    The condition is that we be walking in the light, which is the state of all Christians who haven't fallen away. Therefore, the question is what might cause someone to fall away.

    We've covered that here many times, but the gist is a loss of faith. All with faith are saved, and therefore you become damned by losing faith.

    "Faith" has three elements:

    * Acceptance of certain truths about Jesus — that is the Messiah, the Son of God. (Faith)

    * Trusting Jesus to keep his promises, especially his promise to save us from destruction and give up eternal life (Hope)

    * Being faithful to Jesus ("faithful" is the same word as "faith" in Greek), being defined primarily in terms of "love your neighbor" (Love)

    Therefore, those who lose their faith fall away (1 John 4:2-3); those who deny the resurrection also fall away (2 Tim 2:18); and those who rebel against Jesus by willfully continuing in sin (Heb 10:26-27) fall away. They all loss their faith.

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