But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. (New English Translation)
“I never get it right.” “I feel like such a failure.” Ever say this to yourself with respect to your Christian relationship with God? You are not alone; in fact, you are not alone in more ways than this sense of moral and spiritual frustration. But, I’m jumping the gun a little; so read on.
The apostle John writes these words to a group of Christians that are actually having the opposite problem. As hard as it may be to believe, this letter was written to remind Christians that admission of spiritual and moral failures (sin) is actually a mark of faithfulness. Some had become so misguided to believe that how a person lives does not affect their relationship with God.
But the apostle of love reminds them that living in denial is actually lying (1:6), self-deception (1:8), and an outright attack upon God’s integrity (1:10). All this is a reflection of human arrogance, and as such reflects a life lived in darkness (1:6). It appears, then, that when we try to cover up our moral and spiritual failures, weaknesses, and limitations, we are in fact covering up our dependence upon a faithful and just God.
Growing up in San Francisco, I would often look out into the bay and see sailboats. Sometimes, if close to the breakers I can even see windsurfers speeding along. A sailboat depends upon the wind in its sail to propel it upon its nautical journey. Would it not be the most ridiculous thing for the captain of the vessel to say, “I do not need the wind!” Stuck in the bay would be his lot. For that matter, ask a windsurfer how important wind is to her endeavors. The matter is equally obvious.
The Christians who first read these words were struggling with a teaching that encouraged a sense of arrogance about their lifestyle, that they were not accountable for their decisions; however, today, many Christians are afflicted with an unbalanced sense of guilt for their past sins, and for those more current, to the point where they judge themselves beyond the borders of God’s continued forgiveness.
In putting these early Christians in their place, John gives all Christians in every generation the truth that consoles the self-afflicted: God is faithful – despite our sins – and He will not abandon His children should they approach Him confessing sin, seeking forgiveness. Forgiveness is a privilege of “sonship”; and as such restores us in conscience and service by the cleansing power of God as he imparts to us the righteousness that is not our own (Phil 3:9).
Knowing this, let us remember our shortcomings are a reminder that we are not always faithful and just – but God is. It is the faithfulness of God that should give us confidence and joy in the face of our spiritual struggles. If he prepared to forgive us initially through Christ, shall he not also keep us in spite of our sins through Him as well? The answer is obvious.
- New English Translation of the Holy Bible, Bible.org (Bible Studies Press, 2005).