Let’s tackle another auto-pilot verse. This is one of the ones we learn early in the Christian life, whether it’s in Sunday School, VBS, or a new believer’s discipleship class.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1Jo 1:9 NASB)
I carried this verse around with me for most of my Christian life, thinking that this meant, “When I sin, I’ll just pray a little confession prayer, and my sin is gone. Nobody else ever has to know, and it’s as if I’d never sinned.” If someone questioned me about my sin, I could lie my way out of it. Now that’s another sin, but of course it’s again easily remedied by my little confession prayer.
Reading it in context provides a different perspective on John’s meaning in this verse:
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous 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.
(1Jo 1:5-10 NASB)
Notice the “one another” buried in the middle of that passage. I am beginning to realize that the confession that John is talking about may mean more than confessing in a private prayer to God. The fellowship spoken of here is both with God and with His church. The more I meditate on this passage, the more I am convinced that John is prescribing the antidote to the masks that we wear in the church. An earlier letter to the church says:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
(Jam 5:16 NASB)
Fellowship comes from walking in the light together. If we withhold our sins from one another, we lose fellowship, and we lose the opportunity for healing. Perhaps fellowship is the instrument that God uses to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It’s a scary thought, living in that sort of transparency. But the steps I have begun to take in this direction have helped me to look at this as more of an invitation than a command.
In any case, it’s not what I learned in Sunday School. Your thoughts?