Verse 9: Confession and Sanctification
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This verse unfolds a positive reinforcement of verse five’s “God is Light” statement by emphasizing the point that there is no shadow of unforgiveness in God because he is light; the amazing light of his love shines unapologetically in his willingness to forgive and sanctify those who acknowledge and confess their sins.
“If we confess our sins” is talking about confessing one’s guilt as the result of deep inward personal conviction:
Luke 18:9-14 (CSB) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth, of everything I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me,, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This kind of confession does not come from rote religious duty, but the deep, personal, piercing conviction of the Holy Spirit that comes from the word of God. To be pierced with sorrow by God’s double-edged sword produces godly sorrow and confession in the confidence that the God who dwells in unapproachable light will forgive.
The state of heart that leads to this kind of confession is what Oswald Chambers called “the pauper spirit” – a heart utterly bankrupt of all the currency of self-worth and pride – this is the condition of heart Jesus blessed:
Matthew 5:3 (CSB) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Pride inhibits this kind of confession and the blessed sanctification that follows. One cannot confess their sin to God where the deception of pride exists. So long as we are holding onto self-worth we cannot stand before God in the presence of Christ. Effectual confession of sin comes from a heart that is bankrupt of personal pride!
“God is faithful and righteous to forgive” because he is pleased to reconcile us in Christ:
Romans 5:6-10 (CSB) For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
The light of God’s love in Christ Jesus transforms us from children of darkness into children of light:
Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-10 (CSB) Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, 2 and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God… 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth—10 testing what is pleasing to the Lord.
It is this marvelous love that has been shown to us by Christ that transforms us into the same image of love that Christ was. By following Christ in this love, we learn to forgive others as he has forgiven us.
God wants us to be in a state of brokenness with one another in our fellowship. He does not want the pretention of self-righteousness to defile our fellowships with the false notion that we are not sinners:
James 5:16 (CSB) Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.
“And he will cleanse us from all sin” by the washing of the water of the word and the renewing of the Holy Spirit:
Ephesians 5:25-26 (CSB) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.
Titus 3:4-5 (CSB) But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
This cleansing from all sin does not nullify the condition of sin that the previous verse shows us to be in while on this earth; should this cleansing be merely a single event, there would be no need to continue to deny ourselves and carry our cross daily (Lk. 9:26ff). We would not need to continually walk in the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16ff). Rather, this cleansing is the progressive sanctification of the believer that occurs over the course of our appointed lifespan as we humbly walk in the Holy Spirit.