1 John 1:9 (ESV) … “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Perhaps no verse is more misapplied than this verse in the Bible. As a matter of fact, I would gander to say that no other verse is more wrongly used by well-intended people who are wanting to do right in the handling of their sin problem, than this verse. You see, there is a big difference between conviction of sin and accusation of sin. Furthermore, there a big difference between the admission of a sin and the confession of a sin.
We can admit our sin without confessing it, in the Bible sense. We can say, “Oh, yeah, I did wrong.” That is an admission of sin. A confession of sin is the result of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The word confess here is a word, homologeo, and it means “to say the same thing” - “to say the same thing.” When the Holy Spirit of God says, “That is a sin,” we agree; we say the same thing. We say about that sin what God says about that sin.
We don’t just say, “Oh yes, I have sinned.” That’s the admission of sin. A confession of sin happens when we come to God’s side of the argument and say, “God, I will say with You what You say about it. I agree with You. I say the same thing as You say. God, I see sin as You see sin.” That is a confession of sin.
When we make a real confession, we then become open to the work of God in our lives. Confession of sin opens a person to the work of God within them, relinquishing the power of sin over their life through the power of Jesus.
John is not suggesting that the act of confession is required for salvation. God does the saving work; remember that people cannot save themselves. Instead, confession simply opens us up to the saving work of the Holy Spirit, leading to the removal of sinful behaviors and desires (1 John 3:24). By the way, that’s a good test for whether or not you have truly opened up your heart for the working of the Holy Spirit. Have your desires for that sin changed? Has your behavior that leads you into sin changed? If not, then you haven’t truly confessed sin. You may have admitted sin, but you haven’t confessed sin and agreed with God about it.
Finally, don’t forget that we confess our sin out of respect and love for the person we have sinned against. That is what David said in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” True that David had sinned against many others, but it was God who was the focal point of having sinned. The good news is that God forgives our sin, purifies us from all unrighteousness, and restores us to his fellowship. The even better news is that we need judicial forgiveness only once, once are we saved through the work of Christ. However, we need parental or familial forgiveness whenever we sin. David was a child of God who was out of fellowship with God. David went to God as a child and confessed his sin. He changed his attitude towards his sin. He changed the behavior of his life regarding his sin.
David had been walking in darkness with unconfessed sin. David chose to confess his sin and immediately he came into the light of God’s love. When we as a believer lose personal touch with the God of light, we begin to live in darkness. But confession of sin is the way back into the light. Confession of sin is the way back into the joy of a fellowship with God.