The Real Meaning of 1 John 1:9 (if we confess Our sins…)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

My guess is when you read a verse like this you get a little uncomfortable. We don’t really like confessing our sins. But this is a practice we could greatly benefit from. The meaning of 1 John 1:9 is pointing us in the direction of healing and restoration. 

This passage might be challenging, but if we follow what it says it can change our lives and our relationships with others.

The Context Of 1 John 1:9

Before we can look at the 1 John 1:9 meaning we need to understand the context in which these words were written. 

1 John was likely written by John to a number of churches around Ephesus. This letter was primarily written to edify these readers in the truth of Christ. At the time there were heretical teachings that were gaining popularity. John writes to correct these beliefs and point the church back to the life of Christ. 

1 John centers around Jesus, and we see this from the very beginning. Chapter 1 talks about Jesus being the eternal Son of God. In this we see Jesus’ teaching talked about as light and false teachings as darkness. John is trying to drive home his point that his readers have been living in darkness. 

This is a common theme especially in the opening verses of this letter. John is trying to show the goodness found in God’s truth, that those who hold to this truth are saved. And throughout we continue to see these comparisons between darkness and light. 

John is encouraging his readers to step into the light so that they can experience the grace and freedom that comes from following Jesus. 

We see in 1 John 1:8 that some of John’s readers thought they were sinless and didn’t need God’s grace. John is countering this false belief by showing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Therefore we should confess our sins. 

The Meaning Of 1 John 1:9

Now that we know a little more of the background, let’s look at the meaning of 1 John 1:9 to see how it applies to our lives today. 

If We Confess Our Sins 

Throughout the first chapter John uses a series of “if” statements to contrast living in darkness and light. This is the fourth of these statements in which John is encouraging his readers to step into the light. 

The confession of sins is seen as a godly practice throughout the Bible. Rather than hiding our mistakes, we should bring them into the light. When we keep our sins hidden they don’t go away; they feaster, they get worse. That’s why John encouraged his readers to acknowledge their sins in the previous verse and confess them in this verse. He’s showing the path to healing. 

He Is Faithful And Just And Will Forgive Us Our Sins

If we confess our sins then God will be faithful and just and will forgive us. This is why we should confess, so that we can find freedom from our sins. 

Confession should be a practice that every Christian regularly practices. That might seem strange to some; why should a Christian who’s already been forgiven ask for what they already have? God did remove the penalty for our sins when we accept him (1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 2:13). But we ought to still confess regularly. 

While we are forgiven by God and have eternal life, the effects of sin still can wreak havoc in this life, specifically on those around us. We continue to confess our sins so that we can find healing in our relationships with members of God’s family. Confession and forgiveness enable us to experience fellowship with God and his people. 

And Purify Us From All Unrighteousness

Those who confess their sins are promised that God will not only forgive but also remove the impact of sin in their lives. John is revealing the path from darkness into light; how we can find the life that God has for us. 

Jesus’ work on the cross saves us from eternal separation from God. But it also allows us to find healing in the separation from one another. Sin not only separates us from God but also each other. Through confession of our sins we can find restoration.

The promise of this verse is that God will purify, or cleanse, us from our sins. The reality is in this life we will continue to deal with sin. And that means that we need to continually confess to each other so that we can cleanse ourselves and find healing. 

Sin creates barriers in our relationship with God and others. Confession removes those barriers so that we can find the life that God has for us. 

How To Apply The 1 John 1:9 Meaning In Your Life 

So, how does the 1 John 1:9 meaning apply to your life? The clear message is to confess our sins. And while relatively easy to understand it can be really hard to live out. So I want to end by giving you some simple tips to confessing your sins. 

Who Should We Confess Our Sins To? 

To confess your sins means to admit that you did something wrong. But who should we confess to? 

  • We Confess Our Sin To Ourselves

This might sound a bit weird, but before we do anything else we need to admit to ourselves that we have sinned. So often we bury our sin and pretend it doesn’t exist. The first step in confession is acknowledging that we made a mistake. Remember, hidden things don’t go away, they feaster. 

  • We Confess Our Sin To God 

Ultimately all sin is against God, therefore we should confess our sins to him. This isn’t telling God anything new, but rather it’s showing that we are on the same page. Our sin was wrong, and we are seeking forgiveness for what we’ve done. 

  • We Confess Our Sin To Someone We Trust 

James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another if we want to be healed. The reality is we need others in our lives to help us move forward. When we confess to someone what we’ve done they can help us. This person should be someone we trust and who is following Jesus. 

  • We Confess Our Sin To Who We Hurt 

When our sin hurts someone else there’s a barrier in our relationship. To remove that barrier we need to confess. If we sinned against someone and hurt them, then the final step is to go to that person and confess our sin to them. We are seeking forgiveness from them so that both parties can find healing. 

Tips For Confession 

Let me end by giving you a few tips on confession. 

  • Pray

Prayer should be where confession starts, but also through each step. Confession can be hard, so pray for strength and boldness. Pray for the people you’ve hurt, and ask God to heal the relationships. Pray through your confession. 

  • Be Vulnerable

 I know this is hard and for many of us something we’ve never really practiced. But remember, hidden things don’t get better and ignored problems won’t go away. They will only get worse. If you want to find the healing that God has for you, then you will have to take the risk and be vulnerable. You have to confess your sins to someone. 

Again, this doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone. In fact you probably shouldn’t. Instead, find one or two Christians you can trust and confess to them. 

This isn’t just a one time time thing; this should be a regular habit. That we live in community with others and allow them to help us overcome our sin. 

  • Trust God 

I know this whole process might seem daunting for many of us. I get that, it can be a really hard thing to do. But trust God. It’s clear throughout the Bible that the confession of sin is how we find healing and life that God has for us. Trust that when you do what God says he will care for you and lead you into what is best. God doesn’t want to condemn you, but to free you. So trust in him.


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Jeffery Curtis Poor
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