1 John 1:8-10 – If We Claim We Have No Sin

After stating the blood of Jesus cleanses the believer from all unrighteousness, he twice declares anyone who denies they have sin is a liar (1:8, 10). Why would anyone claim to “not sin”? It is possible someone thinks they are completely righteous, they actually do not sin. This might be the result of a defective view of sin (only literally breaking the Ten Commandments counts, not our thoughts).

Another possibility is someone thought the behaviors which are sin for some people are not sins for them. Paul deals with a similar problem in Romans 14-15, for some eating meat (presumably sacrificed to idols) was a sin, for others it was not a sin. The church at Corinth struggled with eating food sacrificed to idols, although the situation was complex.

Is this a description of the opponents, those who have left the church? For many commentators n 1 John this is a hint of the beliefs of John’s opponents. Although this is teased this out over the whole book, the “ones who have gone out” from John’s community seem to claim they do not sin. At this point it is impossible to know if this means they do not sin ever, or some particular practice John’s group claims is sin is not really a sin at all. By way of analogy: some Christians think drinking alcohol is a sin, others do not.

But this analogy does not do justice to the problem because John uses very strong language to describe this person: they are a liar and God’s word is not them. That God’s word is not in them may refer to John’s own eyewitness report of the Gospel and the revelation from God he has given to his churches. This type of person is self-deluded and never understood what John had taught them in the first place. Perhaps they read passages like John 3:20-21 and misinterpreted it, thinking John meant if they were in the light whatever they did no longer counted as sin.

“God’s word” can also refer to Jesus in John’s Gospel. If the ones who went out from John’s community claim to have no sin, then they do not have Jesus! This is a self-deception, the one who denies they sin (for whatever reason) knows they do in fact sin and are suppressing that truth so they can continue in that sin. They are telling themselves lies.

John therefore stresses the importance of confessing our sin (1:9). The opposite of denying we sin is to confess our sin (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 71). This verse can be problematic for several reasons. If we have been declared righteous (as in Pauline Theology, good reformed theology), then God has already completely forgiven all our sin, past present and future. Why should we continue to confess our sin? Does this verse actually command Body of Christ believers to confess their sin in order to be forgiven?

Although he gives no details on how this ought to be done, John does not have in mind here anything at all like the Catholic sacrament of confession. For many modern readers, their only conception of “confess sin” comes through their experience in a Catholic church. Even if it was based on this text, Catholic practice developed over centuries and cannot be what John had in mind.

Equally problematic are unfortunate attempts by evangelical Christian churches to require someone caught in a spectacular sin to make some sort of public confession of their sin to the whole community in order to stay in fellowship with that church. There are many sides to that discussion (theological, practical and legal), but we need to set aside that modern church practice in order to understand John’s point here.

The Jewish practice of confession of sin is an important for understanding this verse. Just as purification is required for fellowship with God on the Temple Mount, so too confession of sin is an important element of worship in the Old Testament.

If we confess our sins we can be assured God will forgive us because he is faithful and just. God’s faithfulness and justice and foundational elements of Old Testament theology, both are part of God’s self-revelation in Exodus 34:6-7. God is faithful to his promises, in this case he has promised forgiveness as part of the new covenant. Since Jesus’s blood has enacted the New Covenant, God promises to forgive our sin.

3 thoughts on “1 John 1:8-10 – If We Claim We Have No Sin

  1. I have always wondered if God already has forgiven me then why do I have to ask for forgiveness? I listened to a video on youtube I think it was. it was by a professor who had his students ask really hard questions about christianity. One thing that stood out to me when he was speaking is he said, ” God is Love”. If you look at love like marriage for example. Love wants to be told the truth. Love wants to be asked. it is the 1 corinthians 13 passage. Love does not rejoice with wrong doing but rejoices with the truth. That is what I believe God wants. he wants us to confess to him our wrong doing and our convictions. He loves us so much that he wants to know our struggles and faults. Not just our good sides. I think that is why John emphasizes that we need to confess our sins. It is not because God does not know them but more because of the relationship and the love.

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  2. 1 John 1:8-10 is a Biblical passage that all Christians should read and understand. It would be an excellent verse for Christians to memorize. This verse explains a mindset that Christians should not ignore. In the blog post, an excellent point about this mindset is made. It is hard to believe that people have truly believed that they do not and have never sinned. Therefore, who would claim the idea that they are without sin? Well, as the blog post indicates, perhaps the people that this passage is speaking of are people who believe that behaviors that they partake in are sins for others, but not sins for themselves. This is a much more realistic, plausible, and probably common mindset in these times. That being said, this does not take away from the fact that this mindset is critically dangerous to the hearts and minds of believers in Christ.

    This passage from the New Testament book of 1 John clearly indicates that Christians and believers in Christ are to confess these sins of our actions and habitual behaviors. In doing so, God is faithful and forgiving. The blog post mentions the connection and importance of the new covenant that is ratified and possible because of the death and resurrection of Christ. The book of Hebrews deliberately discusses the importance and meaning of the new covenant. According to Jobes (2011), “Jesus transposed the law by establishing with his blood the new covenant and its promises to write the law on hearts (Jer. 31:33) and to provide new hearts and spirits (Ezek. 18:31; 36:26)” (p. 204). Therefore, it becomes evident that there is a connection between this passage and the new covenant that was established by Christ.

    Why is this connection with the new covenant important? Well, there are couple key and notable reasons. First and foremost, one of the obvious and evident themes of this passage from 1 John is the fact that we as Christians are lying if we claim that we are not sinning in our lives. That being said, the connection with the new covenant means that these sins are forgiven and cleansed. This new covenant means that those sins are covered. This does not license Christians to freely choose to sin without repercussions. Rather, it leads to a a new and transformed lifestyle in Christ.

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). The Letters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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  3. John stresses the point and importance of confession of one’s sin in 1 John 1:9. He says the confession of our sins earns us forgiveness because God is faithful and just.
    I have always known and been taught, that in Pauline theology, as also said up in the post, that if we repent and get declared righteous, our sins are already forgiven, the past, present and future. I have lived and believed this, but I also agree when John says if one says they are living a sin free life, they are liars.
    My opinion about the question why we continue to confess our sins especially when Paul says once declared righteous, we are completely forgiven is;

    In Romans 3:9-20, It talks about how no one is righteous. Neither Jews nor Greek, all are under sin. With this I do believe that we are to continue in repentance even when we know that God has forgiven us, but it’s important as a believer to stay in check with your walk with God and to continue strengthening your relationship with Him. Confession of sin and seeking forgiveness is a right way to go.

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