Our heavenly Father knows everything about us and continuing unrepentant sin will greatly hinder enjoyment of our relationship with Him. However, the scriptures show us the great promise of restoration for all who follow the prescribed path.
In 1 John 1:5-2:2 the believer is given three warnings and three wonderful promises.
John warns us that there are three things we cannot say.
1. We should not say we are enjoying fellowship with a Holy God when we are living in unrepentant and continuing sin.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” – 1 John 1:6
Light symbolically stands for righteousness and John has clearly explained that God is light, reminding us that God is holy, separate from sin. As the believer has been called out of darkness and into God’s glorious light, then those who walk in darkness are not ‘with Him’. John is not speaking about Christians who sin but about those whose ‘walk’, the direction of their life, is in darkness. The proposition is clear; those whose manner of life is marked with unrepentant continuing sin can have no assurance that they are in a saving relationship with a Holy God. To say otherwise is a lie.
2. Believers must be truthful about themselves. Although their direction in life is not in darkness it does not mean there is perfection. The flesh is still with us.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” – 1 John 1:8
The great apostle, Paul, knew there was a part of him that would always choose sin, the flesh.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells”, Romans 7:18.
The flesh is that unredeemable part of the believer that is opposed to the new nature and causes us to sin. An honest assessment of our daily lives and the thoughts in our mind will show evidence of the flesh that is still with us.
3. Believers cannot say that they have not sinned.
“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” – 1 John 1:10
It would be ludicrous to state that we had not sinned, but some can live as if that is the case. Minimising or excusing sin has virtually the same impact as saying they had not sinned at all.
Fellowship with God, according to John, does not require lives of sinlessness but that we must be unambiguously truthful about our condition.
He is writing to Christians, urging them to take sin seriously and be honest about it. He does not want them to sin.
“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” – 1 John 2:1a
But he brings before us the divinely appointed remedy for our sin that can be summarised in three statements.
1. We can know that the death of Jesus Christ has cleansing power for all our sin.
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” – 1 John 1:7
When the Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross, He bore the wrath of God for all our sin. Blood is a metonym for death and all God's forgiveness is based on the death of His Son; that death provided God with a righteous basis on which He can forgive sins. Cleansing from sin is not based on denying or minimising my sin but on faith in the one who bore the punishment for it.
2. The believer can know that confession will bring forgiveness and cleansing.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9
The forgiveness referred to is not judicial forgiveness. Believers are children of God who know that there will be no condemnation for them as they have been forgiven by God, as their judge. This forgiveness is what we could call ‘parental’. Many people can recall a childhood experience of having a strained relationship with their father, due to some childish wrongdoing. A sincere apology would result in a complete restoration and enjoyment of the relationship. This is the forgiveness that the child of God can know. God is faithful in that He has promised to forgive, and He is just to forgive because He has found a righteous basis for forgiveness in the completed work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
3. The believer has an advocate in heaven, Jesus Christ the righteous.
“And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” –1 John 2:1b
Our advocate is not with a Judge but with the Father. Once you are a child of God that cannot change, the birth cannot be undone. In the Lord Jesus we have a High Priest, who lives and pleads for us. Unlike many advocates, he will not seek to clear us on a legal technicality. There will be a full disclosure of our wrongdoing and the utter seriousness of it, but our advocate will successfully plead that there will be no punishment as every rightful claim of justice has been satisfied by His death on the cross. I have never heard of an advocate who pays for his client's crimes; yet that is what the Lord Jesus Christ has done and, extraordinarily, He paid for them by the sacrifice of Himself.
As a young believer I was told, ‘keep short accounts with God’. This advice left me somewhat confused as no further explanation was given. Basically, the dear Christian who gave me this advice meant that I should come before my heavenly Father frequently, sincerely confessing my sin. Thus, I would know parental forgiveness and a greater enjoyment of fellowship with Him.